Who’s clueless? The ox, the gazelle or me?

oxApparently me.  Possibly more bewildered than clueless.  Or maybe something in that ox just reminds me too much of someone from my past.

Lo these many years ago, I went to a few things with a dear friend’s somewhat lonely friend, a guy who claimed to only want to have someone to hang out with.  Ok, fine, I thought.  He seemed to like similar movies and restaurants, and my friend said he was not looking for a relationship.  Neither was I.

A few short weeks later, however, he showed up on my doorstep, worried because my phone had been busy for a few hours, and he thought I might be hurt or the phone might be broken.  (This was back in the days when I regularly spent Saturday afternoons on the phone to friends in other states; I did not have call waiting or caller ID.)  Then, he showed up a few hours after that to apologize for showing up before.  This time he brought flowers.  Before I managed to get him out, he announced that he knew if he just waited long enough, I would change my mind about things and decide I loved him.  I know.  WHAT?  That  wasn’t part of the deal.  My response?  “Um, no.  That’s not going to happen.”

But it took a few additional weeks of saying no for him to leave me alone.  He somehow thought he could change my mind, that he knew better than me what I wanted.  He was harmless, but I still checked before answering the door and didn’t want to answer my home phone until after the machine clicked on.

This is why I found XO, OX: a love story unsettling, although it’s probably a delightful epistolary picture book romance to many.  Gazelle, the object of Ox’s love letters, is vain and full of herself, but she’s pretty clearly saying she’s not interested.  Does this deter Ox?  No.  He keeps writing.  He doesn’t seem to understand that she might really not be interested in him.

Ox’s affection and persistence was meant sweetly.  It’s a picture book, people.  I get that.  But we’re supposedly teaching kids that “no means no,” right?   The message I see – which I fully admit is colored by my past experience with someone who claimed to care about me but did not want to believe I knew what I wanted – is more along the lines of “Keep contacting someone who says she’s not interested and eventually she’ll change her mind.”

Gazelle seems to be rethinking things at the end of the book.  Really?  Gazelle would be a terrible girlfriend.  Ox is willing to overlook her shabby treatment of him and says he loves her without knowing her at all.  This is not the start of a healthy relationship.  Having been a terrible girlfriend myself many times, I’m begging you, Ox.  Move on.  Give up.

XO, OX: a love story by Adam Rex and Scott Campbell

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