The Old Woman and the Snake: A Parable
An old woman was walking down the road when she saw a gang of thugs beating a poisonous snake. She rescued the snake and carried it back to her home, where she nursed it back to health. They became friends and lived together for many months. One day they were going into town, and the old woman picked him up and the snake bit her. Repeatedly. “O God,” she screamed, “I am dying! Why? I was your friend. I saved your life! I trusted you! Why did you bite me?”
The snake looked up at her and said, “Lady, you knew I was a snake when you first picked me up.”
I read this parable in the bookstore, as I flipped through a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s Better Than Sex: Confessions of a Political Junkie. In truth, I didn’t end up buying the book, but the fable stuck with me, and I was determined to share its truths with whoever would listen.
In short, this is how I feel about relationships.
I have no sympathy for douchebags. Or the women that date them. Or the mean girls and the friends that are burned by them. In the case of the former, there’s always a point, after hours at dinner or on the phone with a friend, her voice no louder than a squeak, eyes puffy, tears streaming down her face, that I give up. “You chose this,” I want to say. “You knew he couldn’t be trusted, you knew he didn’t value you, you knew he was immature and you stayed with him anyway,” I want to reason.
Perhaps I seem cynical, but my skepticism isn’t delusional. Real, Paul Newman-Joanne Woodward style love exists. I absolutely believe that love is real and romantic partnerships are possible—relationships with someone that you not only love, but value and respect, someone that makes you better, lifts you higher, and is willing to watch that one Nora Ephron movie for the umpteenth time without too much of a grumble. And if or when this love ends, it sucks—I’m not doubting that. But let’s save the whining and weeping and Ben and Jerry binges for the termination of something substantial.
We’re students: each of us are young and ambitious and driven. College is a totally unique sociological experience in which we’re unfettered by careers, partners, mortgages and children. This is something to enjoy and take advantage of, not a time to waste your efforts on that one guy you drunkenly give your number to or that one girl that rolls her eyes every time you bring up the afternoon lecture you can’t get enough of.
I won’t mince words here and say that I’m not guilty of this too, because I am. I’ve idealized doomed relationships—both romantic and platonic— and created expectations for people that clearly were unwilling or unable to meet them. Still, something about college has made me start this weird habit of holding myself responsible, no matter how much it hurts. It sucks when you’re conned by a liar or disappointed by a slacker, but I’ve realized all too often in myself and in others that the danger or lackadaisical carelessness we’re attracted to is the very thing that becomes our undoing.
I’m sure the old woman in the parable was kind-hearted and well-liked. In a movie, I’m sure she’d be played by that woman from Titanic, Betty White, or someone equally as honest and grandma-y. Yet at the end of the day, she befriended the snake knowing full well he was a snake, and then questioned him when he asserted his true character. We are all better than that. Don’t act surprised when that boy makes it clear he doesn’t care or when it’s obvious that your friend makes it clear that she can’t be trusted: they’ve been sending you signals all along. Instead, as multi-millionaire daytime TV guru Oprah once advised, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” Doesn’t that just make sense?