Pride, Rejection and Emotional Cowardice

This post is born of a comment by duckbutt60 on another post, all about why it was that Eric didn’t just admit his feelings. Why he keeps asking Sookie, and then all of a sudden comes out with it in Dead in the Family. It’s one of the things I think that shows how wrong fanfic can get it when they make Eric the talking love interest. Mainly because Eric doesn’t feel safe and sure admitting anything for Sookie until she goes first.

If you want to know one of his faults that Sookie is aware of, and that he actually needs to work on, it’s how Eric deals with his pride and when he feels rejected. They have faults matching up nicely, as I’ve set out before. But this particular fault is one that could actually break them up if Eric doesn’t do something about it – and Sookie’s already drawn her line in the sand.

Usually the storyline is presented in fanfic as Sookie “finally” admits how she feels to Eric – when the truth is that Eric has never admitted how he feels about Sookie first, in actual words. So don’t buy the argument that he offered up his feelings and she shot him down – because he never ever has. I always cringe at the “finally” because really, it’s continuing a pattern that will lead Sookie to doubt that Eric gives two shits about her. If you’re wondering why she doesn’t trust that Eric’s all in, then this post will show you why.

Every single admission of caring about Sookie has been made only after Sookie makes her own admission. And when he feels slighted, or like she’s rejected him, he’s a cruel arse, often using words to slash at the self-esteem of a girl who occasionally cries over her loneliness. Don’t get me wrong – I like Eric, and I am for him for HEA, but anyone who believes that Eric is the perfect husband is a fool. And changing this pattern of behaviour is what will actually go some way to changing their relationship for the better. This is why Eric isn’t the perfect suitor, and why he hasn’t won the battle for HEA definitively at this point and why the books aren’t over.

For Eric’s part, he acts this way because he fears rejection. But the truth is that all he’s doing is pushing Sookie away – not drawing her closer. He has difficulty letting anyone in – which is understandable. For a man who takes physical and political risks, he takes absolutely zero emotional risks. They are all a done deal for him, excepting one – his acknowledgement that he wants to be married – and Sookie won’t go first on that one.

I’m going to start after Dead to the World, because while Eric shows his penchant for hating rejection before that, with his “I don’t like having feelings” dealie, it really ramps up after that book. That’s when Eric’s stubbornness comes out. For all the shit Sookie takes for not just telling Eric everything, he’s a bit of a prick about it, and if he’d got his head out of his arse sooner and put more than sex on offer, he would have won Sookie long ago. It’s not Sookie anyone should be angry at for delaying their love affair – it’s Eric – because he’s an emotional coward.

The only way Eric ever puts himself at risk is when he offers sex – or setting up an arrangement for Sookie to come to him…and have sex. Despite the fact that he has feelings for her way before she’s finished dating Bill, he doesn’t say anything about it. This is because Eric is a manbaby about rejection. If he’d actually put himself out and admitted to even the slightest feelings, he could have resumed their DTTW relationship long ago. Right about here:

Maybe I’d expected Eric to grab me and kiss me silly and tell me he
still felt the same. Maybe I was too fond of daydreams.

Dead as a Doornail, p. 217

If Eric had done just that at that point in time, I have no doubt that they’d have been able to have some semblance of a relationship. But the truth is that that’s not who Eric is – he’s not an easy-peasy love interest. He had to work to opening up so that they could have a proper relationship. Eric was still too shut down with or without his memories, and he needs time to open up to being more free with Sookie. As I’ve mentioned before to quote Mr. Minty there is not a transubstantive element to amnesia to change the personality, even if he got the memories back. It all would have crashed and burned at that point if Eric had thrown his arms around Sookie and tell her he felt the same. But of course, the fanfic bashing will go on, that it’s Sookie fault that she gave it up as a lost cause and moved onto Quinn.

And I’d like to point out that he knows about the curse – and what it was meant to do, because he tauntingly references it:

“How could I know that your heart’s desire would be for me to help someone else?”
Dead as a Doornail, p. 218

He’s trying to fish for information on how much Sookie knows. He’s not doing that for her sake – but to see how deep in the hole he is – what Sookie knows and what she doesn’t. Thus he’s looking for some flash of recognition from Sookie that she knows what the curse is. Eric wouldn’t come out and tell Pam all of his problems and feelings – he doesn’t let anyone in that deep for a while, not even Pam. So he can’t get that information from Pam even if he was willing to sacrifice his pride and ask. The only person who knows what Amnesia Eric said while he was with Sookie is Sookie. Pam can’t tell Eric what she doesn’t know.

But that seen is the first indication we get of Eric, the prick who’s been rejected. When Sookie tells him all about the time that they stayed together, rather than putting himself out there for real (because Sookie doesn’t know what the curse was) he asks her why she refused to allow him to stay with her – and she answers him honestly and doesn’t put herself out there. She tells him that having Eric stay with her wouldn’t have been right. Eric fears that Sookie never really wanted him at all – because he’ll be damned if he puts his feelings out there. Instead that turns into anger and cruelty to Sookie, inferring that she’s a slut as I’ve discussed before and threatening to kill her.

Rather than coming out and telling Sookie that Charles Twining chose to try to kill Sookie because Eric cared about her, Eric couches it in terms of gossip:

“Why would killing me cancel the debt?”
“Because he decided after listening to gossip and much reconnoitering that you were important to me, and that your death would wound me the way Long Shadow’s had him.”

Dead as a Doornail, p. 292

Eric is making it seem as if it’s all just about Charles Twining’s perception, rather than Eric’s actual feelings. Of course, Eric wants to tell her that he cares about her, but he can’t quite bring himself to do it, and instead looks for Sookie to put herself out there first. So Eric misses opportunity after opportunity because he can’t take emotional risks.

In fact, after this is when Eric gets all stand-offish and tries to keep away from Sookie because he can’t handle the rejection, and what if she doesn’t feel the same way? After all, she didn’t give Eric what he wanted when he asked her why she didn’t get him to stay with her. What Eric was looking for was some indication from Sookie that she wanted him then – but he suspects that she really didn’t want him to stay with her. Of course, hatred and scorn is poured on Sookie in fanfic, because she’s supposed to read his mind while she’s recovering from the emotional fallout of having Eric wake up and forget her. But Eric doesn’t like the hint that maybe she didn’t want him all along, furthered by this earlier incident:

“You were scared and alone, and you liked to talk to me. It was fun having you around.”
“Fun,” he said thoughtfully. “I’m not fun now?”
“No, Eric. You’re too busy being…yourself.” Head boss vampire, political animal, budding tycoon.
He shrugged. “Is myself so bad? Many women seem to think not.”
“I’m sure they do.” I was tired to the bone.

Dead as a Doornail, p. 173

Eric fears that whatever it was that drew Sookie to his Amnesia self is not there any more. He can’t really discern why she didn’t want him to stay with her – bu Eric fears that at the heart of it, she didn’t want him. That’s where all this bad behaviour comes from – that Eric has been rejected, unwanted. If Eric had actually had emotional fortitude and told Sookie he cared about her, it would have all been over with. But as I mentioned above, CH had to make it more viable and Eric’s character needed to grow and change.

He proceeds to be a prick quite a bit of course. In so doing, he doesn’t just act badly, he actively pushes Sookie away, reinforcing the message that she shouldn’t open up to him and expose her feelings, or he’ll treat her like trash. She did that when she told him about when they spent their time together, and Eric reacted badly:

He didn’t talk to me anymore. He stared at me when we met, as if he were trying
to resurrect his own memories of that time to prove me wrong.
It made me sad
to see that the relationship we’d had – not the secret happiness of the few days
he’d spent with me, but the entertaining relationship between a man and a woman
who had little in common but a sense of humor – didn’t seem to exist anymore.

Definitely Dead, p. 27

It wasn’t just the night that he inferred that she was a slut and threatened to kill her. He continued to act badly, and Sookie is driven away from him. There’s no happy banter here – she’s mourning what she’s lost with Eric. It’s only with the advent of Quinn on the scene that Eric realises he might have to re-engage with Sookie. Here he was thinking that all the supes in the area had heard she’s off limits, and along comes Quinn whom Eric doesn’t control. You should thank Quinn – both for lighting a fire under Eric, and for taking Sookie on a nice date. 😀

Eric thought with all his heart that if he just left Sookie in her house that she’d stay and wait for him until he was ready. She’s his, and he’s not ready to come talk to her, date her or be with her:

“You should be mine. I have slept with you, I have cared for you,
I have…assisted you financially.”
“You paid me money you owed me, for services rendered,” I answered.
“You may have slept with me, but not recently, and you’ve shown no
signs of wanting to do so again. If you care for me, you’re showing it
in a mighty strange way. I never heard that ‘total avoidance aside
from orders coming from flunkies’ was a valid way to show caring.”

“I do not have to hang around you to show you. I am sheriff. You…you are in my retinue.”
Definitely Dead, pp. 89-90

Rather than tell her he wants to date her – even though she’s explicitly told him all he had to do is show an actual interest in her – Eric refuses to do so. He’ll be damned if he puts himself out there, and she’s put herself out there, and he forgot about her and then started ignoring her.

It’s usually  at this point that Sookie is exhorted to put herself out there to be Eric’s potential doormat – confess her love, throw caution to the wind and such. For a start, that’s actually ignoring the time that they spent together – acting as if Sookie didn’t care either way if Eric hurt her emotionally by turning into an uncaring arse. It’s turning Sookie into a plot device for fanfic – to get them boning much sooner. It lessens Sookie’s emotional integrity – and I want her to care about the time she spent with Amnesiac Eric, not treat it like it didn’t matter because it didn’t hurt at all. It’s at that point that in that fic, I start to wonder if this version of Sookie really gave a shit about it at all. I don’t overimpose CH’s Sookie, because she’s just changed – and I find her shallow and without emotional integrity. Plus, I hate to read Sookie the doormat.

Of course, after all this bad behaviour and Pam’s visit, Sookie tries to make it clear yet again that all of this drama could be stopped if Eric fesses up, but he’ll be buggered – he wants an admission from Sookie before he does that:

“I don’t know why you’re here, and I don’t know why we’re having all this drama.”
“Are you Quinn’s now?” His eyes narrowed.
“I’m my own,” I said. “I choose.”
“And have you chosen?”
“Eric, this is beyond gall. You haven’t been dating me. You haven’t given me any sign that was on your mind. You haven’t treated me as though I had any significance in your life. I’m not saying I would have been open to those things, but I’m saying in their absence  I’ve been free to find another, ah, companion. And so far I like Quinn just fine.”
“You don’t know him any more than you really knew Bill.”
That sliced down where it hurt.
All Together Dead, p. 92

See? Eric’s still feeling rejected, so he lashes out at Sookie, and he still won’t tell her how he feels at all. Sookie’s playing it cautious because she’s already been hurt by Eric, but he just re-proves she really shouldn’t open up to Eric. All of this drama is Eric’s fault – she’s not coming to him and saying things that cut him to the core – she’s keeping to herself and shutting him out. It is Eric who is lashing out in his pain, driving Sookie further and further away from him, shutting her down further.

This is a bad trend with Eric – where he is cruel when he really feels deeply about things. As I’ve discussed before, Eric hates the discrimination he faces for being a vampire – he hates the idea that Sookie might not think he’s good enough. But rather than manning up about it, or just doing nothing, Eric resorts to lashing out at Sookie for failing to put herself out there first. That doesn’t stop Eric from trying to get some sort of indication from Sookie again:

“Did I love you?” I knew Eric wasn’t going to give up, and I might as well figure out an answer. “Maybe. Sort of. But I knew all along that whoever was with me, it wasn’t the real you. And I knew sooner or later you’d remember who you were and what you were.”
All Together Dead, p. 223

This isn’t definitive enough for Eric to put himself out there and take an emotional risk. He fears her rejection of him on an emotional level, so he’s not going to come out after that statement. Nevertheless, he bucks up at the idea that she might care for him, and dump Quinn, and riding the high of that, dances with her at Rhodes. But finding her with Barry after she goes to the toilet and comes back pushes Eric over the edge – he feels like he’s been rejected again. Behold how well he reacts to the thought that he’s getting through, they’re having fun, and she doesn’t feel the same way. He’s a jackovasaur again.

Of course, Eric gets some sort of confirmation that Sookie cares about him – and that’s what he needs to turn around his behaviour and start being open and showing her his feelings. When Sookie saved Eric at Rhodes, he finally had the indication that she cared about him. So much so that he starts to probe cautiously about how she feels. Eric does a Clayton’s emotional risk – this is the first time for him. He asks her out on a date (finally) when he’s taking her for dinner with Niall – but he couches it in a way that he’ll be able to save face and save his pride if it doesn’t go right. He asks her out to a restaurant to feel out what her reaction would be if he really did ask her out on a date. When she replies “Eric, I’m dating Quinn” he tells her about Niall – but then he doesn’t ask her on any more dates, because she might say no and his pride can’t take it.

Instead, more tentative probing without putting himself out there, the emotional cowardly lion he is:

“You saved my life and Pam’s too.”
I shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, well.” Miss Articulate. The silence lengthened until
I felt I had to say something else. “We do have the blood tie thing going.”
Eric didn’t respond for a stretch of time. “That’s not why you came to wake
me, first of all, the day the hotel blew up,” he said.

From Dead to Worse, p. 56

Eric wants Sookie to put herself out there before Eric’s having any of this emotional vulnerability and admitting he wants her more than just sex. Of course, since Eric is not putting himself out there, it would take a bigger and braver idiot than Sookie ever is to front up for some more hurt and jerk arse behaviour from Eric. It’s easy for me to see it because I’m not emotionally invested in Eric – Sookie would be thinking from his behaviour that she’s trying to see what’s there – that she’s fooling herself that there could be more because she wants more. So she doesn’t put herself out there because Sookie doesn’t want to be hurt seeing something that isn’t really there. And who could blame her when Eric doesn’t do it first? It was Eric running along her road, not Sookie running along his.

Of course, Eric just skips the idea of dating Sookie – and goes straight to marrying her. His rationale for that is “Felipe wanted you”. As I’ve discussed before, Eric hasn’t offered more to Sookie because he wants her to admit that she wants to be married to him. Of course, that’s pretty arsey of him, because he’s the one who married her. In my world, the one who does the proposing (or in this case the surprise marrying) should be the one to put themselves out there. This coming from the woman who proposed to her husband – and told him I loved him first – so I practice what I preach in Eric’s case.

Still, he’ll be damned if he comes out and says that he wanted to marry Sookie. Instead, he wants her to confirm her feelings before he does anything, asking how she feels about Quinn. The only feelings Eric offers up first are the ones he always offers up first (and freely):

“I’m also very…” He dipped his head and kissed me slowly, leisurely.
“Horny,” I said.
“Exactly,” he said, and kissed me again.

Dead and Gone, p. 169

Oh, but he really wants Sookie to put herself out there again:

“You love me,” he said, and he nodded.
“I appreciate you,” I said cautiously. “I have big lust for you. I enjoy your company.”

Dead and Gone, p. 177

Sookie catches a lot of shit for the ‘appreciate you’ remark in fanfic, but Eric doesn’t catch any for saying he’s there cause he’s horny, and married her to keep her away from Felipe. Not a surprise after a few years in this fandom of course, because Sookie always catches shit for not dancing to Eric’s tune. Alan Ball is at home hereabouts for good reason – home of great market research to blame chicks for any and all problems. 😉 But rather than put himself out there and say how he feels, Eric fears that he may be deeper in than Sookie is, so he keeps schtum.

Instead of admitting how he feels first, that he wants to be married, he waits until Sookie’s guard is down and asks her to put herself out there again:

This was direct, even for Eric. “Do you love me?” he asked, his eyes fixing mine.
“If I asked you the same question, what would your answer be?”
“I would say exactly the same thing,” Eric said.

Dead in the Family, p.83

As duckbutt60 mentions, it’s as easy as falling off a log now that Sookie’s said it first, and Mr. Fraidy Cat never has to put himself out there first. All he does is confirm that Sookie feels that way, and he’ll admit to her that he also feels the same. Instead of coming out like a stand up guy and saying that he loves Sookie, he forces her to come out with it first. Eric’s trying to spare himself some rejection, and not saying what he feels straight up.

Of course, one could exhort Sookie to look at Eric’s actions…you know, where he hurts her when he’s pissed off. In the interests of length, I’m going to point out the ones that Sookie also takes into account when she’s looking at actions:

Eric had gripped my shoulders, and the pressure was excruciating.
Dead as a Doornail, p. 172

And recently, rather than setting to slashing at her self esteem as he has in the past, Eric has taken to more of that barely restrained anger to show how pissed he is with the thought that she doesn’t need him:

“Of course, my darling,” he said. “You’re absolutely right.” But his hand took mine and squeezed too hard, and his eyes were so brilliant they looked like little blue lanterns.
Dead Reckoning, p. 15

Eric doesn’t like that Sookie’s shut down his concern for her – fine, but I don’t know why he has to hurt her because he’s pissed off. She just got fire bombed, and selfish Eric is worried about himself and how rejected he feels, compounded by the pressure he’s under. And lest any fangirl argue that Eric doesn’t know when people are being hurt, or when they’ve been injured, I refute that with this:

He was the injury expert.
“She’ll heal without going to the hospital,” he said briefly.

Dead as a Doornail, p. 227

Eric can’t both be expert enough to treat Sookie gently, tell with a glance and a look what is wrong with Tara after Mickey gives her a beating, and also unaware that he’s hurting Sookie. He does it, and he doesn’t care that he does it. He doesn’t seriously injure Sookie – but he knows what he’s doing enough to exert pressure. He’s not Bill – out of control with rage and hurting her for goodness sake. But he’s no innocent lambikins who hurts her by accident.

Of course, then Eric does it again when he hurts Sookie with the hard bite at the end of Dead Reckoning. That’s when he’s crossed a line. He’s finally made Sookie cry, and if he keeps hurting her and never putting himself out there to show he cares first then he’s going to fuck it all up with Sookie. This is why I cringe when I see fics advertised as Sookie “finally” putting herself out there – because Eric comes to her, and when she doesn’t react well, when he feels rejected Eric hurts her. She doesn’t go to him and stab him in the side with an arrow – this is the guy who never takes an emotional risks and she doesn’t go along and hurt him. It is his move to make.

This is why CH had to make up the Freyda deal – to force Eric out of this pattern. He’s a thousand years old, and he needs a jolt to make that move – even if it’s just to fight like a wildcat to stay with Sookie.  It’s not to ruin their relationship – it’s to force change on a character who won’t do it himself. This is his persistent pattern – one that will eventually ruin what he has if he doesn’t pull his finger out and show that his propensity to hurt her is matched with a propensity to put himself out there. Mr. Eric Northman has been swimming at the shallow end of the pool, and he needs to make a leap. Without Eric making the first move and actually showing that he wants the marriage that he has with Sookie, their HEA wouldn’t survive past the end of the books.