Willful Devastation – Hiding One’s Lack of Empathy in Relationships

There are certain things that must be disclosed in relationships lest they eventually come to life and devastate the unaware.  Fertility, biological sex, previous offspring, criminal record, etc. are all such items that should be laid out in the open for the other party to evaluate whether the relationship can continue.  I would suggest that these types of matters not be discussed on a first date, but they definitely should be discussed before the relationship gets serious or otherwise headed toward long-term status.  I’m sure the reader can name other types of characteristics that should be revealed as well, but one sticks out for me as particularly worthy of discussion: the ability to empathize (affectively).  Many would be devastated to learn that their partner has no capacity for affective empathy toward them, much less the ability to truly “love” the person they are with.  In many ways, this would be a selfish dealbreaker if the relationship was otherwise functional, but the very fact that it could irrevocably damage a person makes it worthy of required discussion between two individuals.  This is a realization that I struggle with as I explore the possibility of one day having another relationship.

I do not believe that a marginalized status confers a magic status of invulnerability or of excuse-making.  For instance, I am not entitled to have a relationship with just anyone because of my transgender status.  In fact, it is because of my transgender status that most relationships are off-limits to me.  I am not entitled to that which is against me.  Likewise, the psychopath is not entitled to relationships in which affective empathy is critically important to the other person.  It may be a bad hand that was dealt regarding one’s alignment, but that does not excuse bad behavior toward those that have differing requirements.  As such, it is terribly important that one that has an inability to affectively empathize make known their limitations to those around them.  It would not be fair to waste another person’s time – something they can never have back – by leading them on, no matter how good of an actor the psychopath may be.  Even if the appearance of true affective empathy is indistinguishable from a neurotypical’s affective empathy, the other person in the relationship is entitled to evaluating whether to continue or not.

I end this post with a short summary of a case I heard about nearly a decade ago.  A woman was married to a transgender male (born with female biology), but did not know of his true biological sex for the first fifteen-plus years of their marriage.  When she found out – having not known due to their asexual and non-intimate relationship – she was devastated and far too old to easily embrace another relationship.  Regardless of her desolation, she ended the relationship, believing that she did not truly know the man, for he had hidden something so very important to her from her.  To waste a significant amount of another person’s time is cruel.  To destroy their trust is even more nefarious.  You are not entitled to anything because of your marginalized status.  Get over it and be a respectable individual.

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  1. Andre S. says

    Amen to that. I found that, for me, people fall in one of two categories:

    1) The vast majority who I don’t care about, who are to be kept at a distance unless contact is required to make my life more comfortable…. people, that is, who I would never want to have a relationship with.

    2) People who I, for some reason, sincerely like. It happens rarely, but it does. With them, I am being as frank as I possibly can, simply because I want them to accept and like me the way I am. Manipulation can go a long way to provide amusement, power and whatever The one thing it can not provide is closeness.

    • Jessica Kelly says

      “Manipulation can go a long way to provide amusement, power, and whatever; the one thing it cannot provide is closeness.”

      This is a very true and powerful statement.

  2. Andrew says

    Are you serious Jessica? If you are then you have some empathy! Someone who has no empathy has no motivation to disclose their lack of empathy but what you just said aligns with what most neurotypicals think.

    • Jessica Kelly says

      Do not confuse my cognitive empathy for feeling states. I prefer a level playing field these days, if that makes sense, so I am concerned with how advantage is gained and lost. I have not decided what I will do personally when the situation arises that I need to disclose to a loved one.

    • FNP says

      There are a number of reasons that I have or would disclose my lack of affective empathy.

      1. If I want to manipulate someone, drawing them into a semi-close relationship and then revealing once it’s serious-ish that I care as much about them as I care about a dead spider.

      2. Because I’m tired of interacting with them and want to see their reaction before I tell them to piss off.

      3. Because I felt like doing it in that specific (and often random) moment for the hell of it.

      • Anonymous says

        Do you ever use stonewalling as a way of letting someone know that you have no feeling for or interest in them?

        • FNP says

          Stonewalling? I’d never do such a thing. It’s preposterous you’d think I’d stoop to such a level. Now shut up and let me watch my TV shows.

          See what I did there, anon?

  3. Julian says

    I have found that certain individuals I wanted to keep around were perfectly fine discussing my lack of empathy, but then became seriously uncomfortable when I began to blatantly demonstrate it (toward others and not toward the individual in question). Regardless of the scruples of others, they’re often okay enough to have me around as long as they feel they’re not the direct target of my antisocial behavior. I’m just too damn charming, interesting, and enjoyable for them to not like me, and they usually consider themselves fortunate and special that I’ve chosen them to be a more frequent instance in my life. I’ve found that if I can disclose my condition to certain people who are going to be around enough to eventually see the mask slip anyway, I save myself a lot of exhaustion and irritation by not having to keep up a facade around them.

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