So Diamond Took recently mused about "Dead Things", and then I got wordy.
Her words: "both characters put the label "using" on it in season 7, but I wonder if that's just the safer route for both of them, and in the end what she calls using is actually her working out her internal conflict in a very physical way"
Actually this is what I have been saying from the start, but no one seems to get it, really. Earth is round, Pope is catholic, people don't understand my ship.
I mean, everyone can agree that Buffy was using Spike in S6 as a way to punish herself, but the understanding seems to stop there. I think it's accepted opinion that the self-punishment comes from the fact that Spike is evil and soulless and wrong, ergo what she deserves. But. It's more complicated than that. (Haha, tagline of Buffy and Spike much.) Their relationship hinges on the fact that, despite her unwillingness to accept that he loves her, Buffy is completely aware that Spike is the only person currently on Earth who will accept her unconditionally. He will accept all the parts of her that are wrong.
And the fact that he is soulless is what makes this unbearable.
Because it translates to the knowledge that the only person in her life who will take her without condition, is a soulless monster. ("I just target the impossible ones, with deadly accuracy.")
Much is made about Buffy's reaction of betrayal to "I knew the only thing better than killing a slayer would be f- " But I disagree that it drastically changes her perception of Spike's feelings for her. What it does is throw in doubt what exactly he sees in her.
Because she clearly does recognize that Spike sees something of value in her. Sometimes ("As You Were", specifically) it seems as though she's with him to try to find out what that is. (And "Touched" is such a revelation because it's the first time she gets her answer.) I think deep down, she's still hoping that it'll be Spike who can make it better. (“Life Serial”; “Once More With Feeling”; her dream in “Dead Things”; “As You Were”, etc.)
-- But it's not.
Note: I'm not saying that Spike will accept her unconditionally because he's such a selfless guy; but rather, because of the opposite. She can be as ugly and vicious and dark as she feels like with him, because who is he to judge? She can treat him like crap, and he'll still come back.
Buffy is certainly aware of that, and it's partially what motivates her bad treatment of him in the first place. Spike is the part of her that she hates, this is true, but especially because he’s the part that won’t let her give up on herself.
And you know what, that has always been my gut interpretation of “you always hurt the one you love.” In the context of that scene -- Buffy beating the living crap out of Spike for coming between her and the (institutional) punishment she believes she deserves, i.e. Buffy attempting to metaphorically kill the part of her that is wrong because it (he) is telling her that she isn’t – the interpretation that Spike is declaring that she must love him because she’s hurting him just doesn’t make sense on its own. Rather, he’s telling her that love or no, he is a part of her, and she can try to erase him from her, but she’d have to erase herself too. *
I want to talk about the Warren parallels for a second: Buffy most strongly resembles Warren in that alley, when she’s trying to punish her lover for having any sort of power over her. I’ll beat you black and blue, and that’ll prove how very little your opinion of me is worth.
To throw in another completely random example - I was watching that French New Wave film Breathless recently, which also features a very ambivalent not-romance (haha I so have a type). And - spoilers ahoy - towards the end of the film, the lead female Patricia ends up leaving and betraying the guy, making a very interesting confession which goes something like,
"I stayed with you because I wanted to make sure if I was in love with you or not. And since I am now treating you badly, it proves I'm not in love with you."
(Unfortunately, everyone else I know thinks that film is stupid. Woe.)
So we come back to this: Spike's feelings for Buffy mean something, but Buffy rationalizes that in the long run, they can’t mean anything, because of what he is: An error. Everything about him is wrong. That includes whatever he may feel for her.
(And this is why I will always maintain that Spike getting his soul was indisputably essential, because it proves my girl wrong.)
His feelings for her mean too much, which is why she has to make them mean nothing.
And what better way to do that than to completely strip their interaction down to the physical?
By doing this, I think she's also hoping to prove that his feelings really do mean nothing, because all he wants is Teh Sex after all. (Except really not.)
Buffy doesn't do casual sex. But when she's with Spike, she's not really Buffy, she can rationalise.
Except it is her. She is more herself with Spike in that season than any time she's with the people in her life whom she counts on to tell her who she is.
* And that's why her taking all the responsibility in "As You Were", by telling Spike that she's just using him, ultimately backfires. Because she's trying to erase the self she wasn't trying to be (unlike the "right" Buffy she consciously tries to be). But it's too late, he's already seen it, and he won't. let. her. And you can see him thinking in "Seeing Red", Stop being someone you're not, just be with me.
But unfortunately, there is a multitude of things that Spike doesn't understand, including the fact that Buffy is the first one who has to accept Buffy. And that Buffy&Spike? Do not have to exist solely in the realms of the unacceptable.
Oh look I wrote an essay. Yep. Still OTP.