The (Mopey, Entitled) Piano Man | Vol. 4 / No. 46.2

Lonely Piano | Photo: Todd Dwyer, CC BY-SA 2.0

Last year for Valentine’s Day, I wrote a post about our troubling tendency to romanticize talking behaviors and grand gestures as things that prove a man’s love.  And oh look, I get to do it again!

Today I’m going to focus on the “grand gesture” idea. You’ve seen grand “romantic” gestures in tons of films and TV shows, from Big Fish to Beauty and the Beast to the (otherwise perfect movie) 10 Things I Hate About You.  Elaborate public proposals are a constant favorite of news sites. Because the world hates me and wants me to develop a drinking problem, “Promposals” are now a thing, where teens elaborately and publicly ask one another to prom.

But intrinsic to these grand gestures and public proposals is one very sinister thing: peer pressure. As Dean Burnett points out, we as humans have a very large desire to not rock the boat, to not be seen in a negative light, and to not cause any problems when we’re being viewed in public. These instincts are often stronger in women, who have been socialized against public aggression and problem-making, and who are taught to fear any action that could get them labeled as a bitch. Grand gestures and public proposals weaponize these instincts. It is romance via public scrutiny—do you really want to be “that bitch” who turned a guy down in front of two hundred people at the county fair, after he got all the carnival workers to do a flash mob of a Bruno Mars song? Or do you want to nod quickly, agree to marry them, and get the hell out of dodge?

Grand gestures are treated as if they are somehow a gift for the woman, but most often, they’re a symbol of male entitlement—if they do a big enough thing, they deserve the woman. Enter exhibit A, 34-year-old Luke Howard, or as Wonkette hilariously refers to him, Manic Pixie Asshat. Let’s just call him MPA for short, shall we?

So MPA is an English musician, whose girlfriend of four months broke up with him. MPA decided that this wasn’t gonna work for him, and hauled a huge ass piano to the park, declaring he was going to keep playing until she took him back. He refers to his ex as “Rapunzel,” (because he would rather keep her locked in a tower until the Stockholm sets in?). He also chose a park that was going to have one of Bristol’s largest ever protests against budget cuts to public service programs. He chose the park supposedly without knowing about the protests, which makes him either unobservant or a liar. MPA said he hoped the publicity from the protest would bring more awareness to his cause (having the girl that already dumped him agree to fuck him again. I think.)

So let’s unpack all the many, many ways this is idiotic and entitled. First, note how public and performative (literally and metaphorically) he has made this. He is literally performing this, and the entire point of his gesture is public attention.

Next, note that his relationship lasted four months. Four. Yes, you can get intense and hot and heavy in four months, but it is still four months. You can go longer in between oil changes. I have had cartons of ice cream that lasted that long. He is getting absolutely crushed, as a man in his thirties, by the end of a relationship with less staying power than that stupid haircut of his.

Third, we have his own defense of his actions, and his own acknowledgment that he doesn’t know how she will react:

“I don’t know what will happen. She’s a very organised person, very practical and I’m just trying to show her I’m really serious about us. It’s a kind of off-the-cuff thing, and I just want her to know how much I love her, to give us a chance rather than leave it there. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.”

So this is an “off-the-cuff” thing where he figured out the logistics to bring an entire piano into a park. Right. And she is organized and practical, so he decided to appeal to her through constant piano playing. To show that he can be serious, too. And he wasn’t ready to give up on their relationship, and he wants to let her know that.

You know a really good way to let someone know you aren’t ready to give up on your relationship? Calling them. Works bloody wonders. And again, this is all about his entitlement, and his feelings. He doesn’t want them to stop yet. And instead of talking to her rationally or just acknowledging that you don’t always get what you want out of life, he decided to start harassing her by proxy.

He didn’t just call his ex. He didn’t even start singing songs outside her window. He didn’t even start playing guitar across the street from her. All of this would have been creepy enough, but he didn’t even stop there. He took a piano to a park. And subsequently set up signs about himself. The entire point of this is the public nature. This is “proposing in a crowded restaurant” on a grand scale. He wants thousands of people to see this. He wants all of her friends and family to see it. He wants everyone this woman knows to send her links about his mopey piano playing. He wants everyone this woman knows to sigh and go “oh isn’t that romantic? Why don’t you just take him back, he’s trying so hard!” He even wanted to use an austerity protest as more public attention for his stupid idea.

In news that shouldn’t make me laugh but does, MPA was punched in the head at 4 in the morning while playing the piano. Probably by some neighbor who thought it was unseemly that he was playing the piano at 4 in the morning. So he quit. But not, he claims, because he was punched in the head. But because he magically started caring about the feelings of the person he is in love with, and also the rest of us are so mean. He explains thusly:

I stopped playing yesterday because I realised that what I had wanted to do had spectacularly failed. The social media reaction turned it very quickly into something that would cause the one person I didn’t want to hurt embarrassment and pain. That was the last thing in the world I had wanted to happen, so I left.

I do not blame or in fact feel anything negative towards anyone who has commented on what I decided to do. On the contrary, the lack of understanding just reminds me of how very rare a thing pure love actually is and even though it has hurt me so deeply, I was very lucky to have felt it at all.

So to the girl I didn’t want to name, whose house I didn’t want to sit outside, didn’t want to flood with text or emails I want to sincerely apologise for all of this.

Let’s play “unpack the creepy and entitled things” again! It’s my least favorite game and yet I play it so often. So first he claims that the reaction to his quest has caused the woman he loves “embarrassment and pain.” Do you know what probably caused her “embarrassment and pain,” MPA? Her entitled ex-boyfriend of four months going on a very public quest to win her back by playing the piano in the park like an idiot. It wasn’t the social media reaction (which again, you invited; you even had signs) it was you.

Second, he says he apologizes to the girl “I didn’t want to name, whose house I didn’t want to sit outside, didn’t want to flood with texts or e-mails.” He presents these as if those were options that he considered and then didn’t do, because he’s at least self-aware enough to know it’s creepy. But this was his plan B. If he knew it was going to be weird to sit outside her house or flood her with messages, why did he think it was ok to go on a public quest for her affection with 24/7 piano moping? I will tell you why: because most of us are at least to the point where we recognize that house stalking and constant messages are stalker-y signs of a bad ex, but the majority of people still swoon over grand signs of affection. He thought about the stalker-y things he did want to do but couldn’t, and deliberately went with the option that (he thought) would be more publicly acceptable.

Third, he claims that anyone who was negative towards his quest doesn’t understand what he is doing and doesn’t understand true love. Bro: you are the one who doesn’t understand love. Because you obviously don’t understand boundaries, or communication, or consent, which are very, very important to that whole “love” thing. You don’t respect your ex enough to abide by her wishes, and you tried to publicly shame her into taking you back. If anyone doesn’t understand true love, it is you.

Anyone is allowed to break up with their partner. You can discuss said breakup with them, you can politely and rationally try to change their minds, but at the end of the day, it is a choice they are allowed to make.

It was actually fairly heartening to see the near-instantaneous turnaround in the media from “Aww, twu wuv!” to “…kinda creepy, man.” Maybe we’re finally making the cultural changes necessary to recognize excessive behavior when we see it. So note to guys: don’t play the piano constantly to win back your “true love.” While we’re on the subject, don’t hold up any boomboxes, either.

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Elle Irise is a regular contributor to This Week In Tomorrow. When she’s not forced to explain that nobody’s entitled to a relationship, she studies gender in popular culture.

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