Re: Modern Love: It's Beyond Your Control Edition

1

If you can assume a reliable narrator, it's positive, but unfortunately it carries that faint whiff of bullshit that so often accompanies Modern Love columns.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:37 PM
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Wow. No idea what to say to that.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:40 PM
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Assuming a reliable narrator, I didn't find it positive. I heard about a guy who was going through something and all he can get from the wife is "I don't buy it." Not that I endorse threatening divorce as a ploy to make someone else react, but geez. How about, "What is it you don't like? When did you start feeling this way?" Something.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:41 PM
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It's a bit weird because it's a complete role-reversal from the traditional portrayal of the male-female dynamic (from way back on the veldt). The man is all flaky (they never really give a reason from his own mouth as far as why he wanted to leave; are we supposed to draw believe there wasn't one except for the cute tying-together one at the end?) and shit-testing (complete with a temper tantrum), the woman shows she has balls & a cool head, can deal with the unexpected with aplomb, and basically proves she is an alpha male.


Posted by: bbass | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:51 PM
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The author appears to be some sort of heartless psychopath. I blame editing.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:51 PM
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I can't make up my mind about the tenor of the entire thing, so I'll leave that for others to hash out.

I did have my hackles raised by her assertion that just because she was a woman capable of doing physical things she wasn't a pushover who would put up with physical abuse. But that's probably a can of worms that shouldn't be re-opened.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 9:57 PM
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wise woman, if she let her husband believe that all what they (her it seems) achieved was actually the husband's achievement, just like illusion of that maybe there could be all around harmony without the crisis
matriarchy


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 10:02 PM
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6: Yeah, I was thinking of that other thread at that point, too.


Posted by: Hamilton-Lovecraft | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 10:21 PM
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I liked the "He's so tall, his whole being is like a playground for me," she said. "I make up songs about his hairy legs." story better.


Posted by: E | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 10:46 PM
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I liked it a lot. Reminded me of a lot of therapeutic strategies I have encountered. Or just me, but I believe in giving people as much space as possible.
It's rarely about me, and I don't try to force my way in.

Boy Interrupted being wayched about a foot away from the keyboard right now. Documentary about a suicidal 7-year-old.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 10:52 PM
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I liked it. One of the things my therapist would say to me is "stay on your side of the net." She decided to stay on her side of the net.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 10:55 PM
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9 great story, a fairy tale like
if she was wiser i meant
matriarchy patriarchy what's the difference, one of the partners is controlling and another one is unhappy
and she treats her husband as her kids, if she cried made a scene or something he would have felt more desirable and like a man perhaps, otherwise what's fun and happiness in that, that man coming back to family sounds as unhappy as ever, just as if like a beaten up dog
in the end the woman must feel lonely if she's not that thick-skinned


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 11:06 PM
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the


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 11:07 PM
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Follow-up to 10:Evan Perry went thru every therapy possible, including multiple institutionalizations. Bi-polar. Lithium worked very well, so well for years that he, his parents, and his shrink let him go off the lithium. After a few weeks, he jumped into an airshaft. 15 years old. Not enough warning, he learned how to lie to get it done.

The shrink says:"They always, always go off the drugs. Bi-polar is the psychologists cancer, you lose your patients."

Like a lot of modern docs, all done with real home movies. I'm leaving out all the feelings and stuff.

Mom says:"There isn't choice afterwards. You have no choice but to cope, to put one foot before the other. I have family...I have no choice." Isn't that...interesting.

I guess this is off-topic.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 11:23 PM
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chas ot chasu ne legche
i can't sleep and the threads are on the children's suicide, pig slaughtering
shouldn't have opened the blog


Posted by: read | Link to this comment | 08- 3-09 11:29 PM
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"Boy Interrupted" (the title) must be based on "Girl, Interrupted", a movie from 1999 with Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.


Posted by: paranoid android | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:40 AM
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That sounds like a fascinating movie. I might watch it if...no, I don't want to watch it.

This bevy of new posts means Apostoprher will have to wait a couple of days before announciung his new Unfunkked. I look forward to hearing it at work tomorrow.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:53 AM
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4: I thnk it's a completely traditional narrative; not quite Patient Griselda or Erec et Enid or Cuid and Psyche -- in which she admits she's suffering -- but the scene about halfway through every other big thick women's book in which a older auntly woman tells the heroine that all men stray, that making a fuss does no good, that keeping the muffins hot and finding comfort in God/money/social position/the children/the footmen is the only sensible path.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:16 AM
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I liked it. The reasoning that Di suggests in 3 doesn't seem likely to have worked, because the guy clearly wasn't being reasonable. "I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did"?? Come on.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:37 AM
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Disagree with #4: this is not a role reversal but a traditional "mummy knows best" story. Irresponsible male says he's going to hurt himself, but mummy refuses to take it seriously and through her patience makes him realise he was wrong. Bog standard sitcom plot.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:22 AM
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I must watch different sitcoms than yall...


Posted by: bbass | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:42 AM
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I'm not saying my husband was throwing a child's tantrum. No. He was in the grip of something else - a profound and far more troubling meltdown that comes not in childhood but in midlife, when we perceive that our personal trajectory is no longer arcing reliably upward as it once did. But I decided to respond the same way I'd responded to my children's tantrums.

So, he is having a profound and troubling meltdown and she responds by treating him like a child. Perhaps she wasn't in reality so cold as it appears here, but as it appears here, ouch. It seems a very lonely world for him. She continues in her self-satisfied" life; he faces his troubles alone.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 6:56 AM
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My armchair psychology impression was that part of what he was going through was feelings of shame in the face of his wife and kids centered around his self-image as successful, a provider, etc.

His proposed "solution" was to leave and alienate them, likely thinking that he would then no longer feel under their gaze and so the painful shame he felt would somehow magically go away.

Her response, to try to maintain as much normalcy as possible, while trying to give him space to figure his shit out without making any impulsive decisions, makes a lot of sense to me. Probably not the right approach for every relationship, but it seems to have worked here.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:10 AM
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22 is my take, too.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:14 AM
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22:she responds by treating him like a child

Husband didn't directly ask for help, but mostly "acted out." In such situations, you can ignore him as long as he doesn't get in the way. She did ask him what he needed, which is the good question.

I don't think she treated him "as a child", she responded not as a punishing or nurturing parent, but as a rational adult. She acted like a shrink, keeping cool at a safe distance. Shrinks can look cold to some people, but they are trying to create stability, a still point in a relationship. That is how it works.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:16 AM
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So, he is having a profound and troubling meltdown and she responds by treating him like a child.

I didn't really read it that way. She should probably have obeyed the analogy ban, but I took it as her way of framing the issue and response in her mind, a way for her to remain calm and avoid melting down herself, not as her actually treating him like a child.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:18 AM
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23 gets it right.

I predict a lot of stories like this, including unbearable pop-sociology books, in the next five years. I believe that of the 4% of Americans who have been lost their jobs in the last two years, 80% are men.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:20 AM
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"I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did"

I can't even read that phrase without hearing it in Billy Crystal's voice. I blame Hollywood.


Posted by: Populuxe | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:29 AM
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25: A spouse is not a shrink. If I was to tell my spouse something and get "I don't buy it" I'd be inclined to leave. In fact, that happened, and I did want to leave, but stuck around for another year plus of spiraling mutual misery out of a misguided commitment to keeping my vows.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:34 AM
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30

To me the story highlighted just how difficult it is to tell persistence from delusion without the benefit of hindsight.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:36 AM
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23 rings true to me as well--though I'd have framed it in terms of pressure and burden rather than shame. I just don't like the "leaving him to deal with it on his own" part. That feels very lonely to me.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:38 AM
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A spouse is not a shrink.

Right. There's an infantilizing feel to this response even without the child's tantrum analogy. I suppose that works in some relationships.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:45 AM
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taking some turns through squicky to get there

This seems to me to be a highly useful phrase which should be immediately adopted by one and all.

"I said 'yes' to the date, but I had to take a couple of turns through squicky to get there."

"You're well rid of him/her. S/he required way too many turns through squicky."

"What's your upper limit on number of turns through squicky before you can't vote for someone?"


Posted by: Sir Kraab | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:53 AM
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I liked the article. Noteworthy was that the writer omitted what husband said he disliked about her. Also missing was whether the difficult conversations were actually conversations, or whether they were negotiations, a verbal settling of accounts. But a nicely described, reasonably perceptive summary of a couple finding a way to live together when it was easier to break up.

Hurt pride in midlife is definitely hard to deal with-- up to a certain point, there is a definite trajectory, an illusion that you are in control of how much better things get, and they keep getting better. Then there is either stasis, or unpredictable buffeting, or both. It's a big change, usually not marked by any sudden event. Loss of energy and initiative is an easy result, and a terrible one; once you stop trying, you stop living.

Did people here weigh in on the Sandra Tsing Loh essay?


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:07 AM
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I just don't like the "leaving him to deal with it on his own" part. That feels very lonely to me.

I hear you, but I'm not seeing a more supportive option for her. He seemed to have clearly conveyed that he didn't want her support or help.

The story bothered me, because "I don't buy it" seemed very contemptuous -- telling someone that you don't believe them about a decision as big as ending a marriage is telling them that you really don't take them seriously. On the other hand, she was right: he apparently wasn't to be taken seriously about it. So, I can't say she was wrong, really, but it's not a marriage I'd want to be anywhere near.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:13 AM
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First line of that last should have been italicized -- it's Di's.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:14 AM
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If we treat the narrator as unreliable the whole thing becomes much more palatable. If her response is driven by insecurity, fear, and denial, retconned into steadfastness then she seems much more sympathetic.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:15 AM
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If her response is driven by insecurity, fear, and denial, retconned into steadfastness then she seems much more sympathetic.

Yes, somewhat. But adds to the "not a marriage I'd want to be anywhere near" part. So, he's having personal issues that he doesn't deal with directly but instead projects onto her as marital satisfaction and she emotionally withdraws out of a fear of abandonment. I've been near several similar marriages, come to think of it -- lots of turns through squicky.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:20 AM
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If her response is driven by insecurity, fear, and denial, retconned into steadfastness then she seems much more sympathetic.

Right -- I'd expect that to be a situation that's frightening and painful for her; instead, the article implies that she just placidly powered through it, which comes off kind of disturbing.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:26 AM
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40

I'm thinking of fixing our broken door so my wife will know I care. Maybe then she'll let me buy that yurt.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:27 AM
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I'm thinking of fixing our broken door so my wife will know I care.

This is intended as sarcasm, I guess, but the everything-is-connected part of living together means that disputes about storage or food preparation can segue quickly into wholesale personality analysis, or that small household gestures can have real emotional resonance.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:37 AM
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41: The yurt part was joking (we don't have anywhere to put a yurt), but I do mean to fix the door. And the wall in the bedroom. And the skylight. And get some brick repointed (not doing that myself).


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:43 AM
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I hear you, but I'm not seeing a more supportive option for her. He seemed to have clearly conveyed that he didn't want her support or help.

Right, and her trying to be more involved or to fix him would likely result in him feeling greater shame and greater desire to just run away, with correspondingly greater dickishness on his part in order to blow things up beyond repair.

And I didn't read her response as emotional withdrawal. As narrated, she still clearly wanted him to be part of the family, and continued to show her love and commitment through action. She just didn't respond to him with the emotions he was hoping to evoke in her.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:44 AM
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She just didn't respond to him with the emotions he was hoping to evoke in her.

From that perspective, I can't fault her -- but I hate her for being capable of doing that....


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 8:57 AM
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And I forgot about the grout in the bathroom. Fucking houses.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 9:01 AM
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This sentence bothered me:
He had enjoyed many years of hard work, and its rewards had supported our family of four all along.
I think "enjoyed" is doing an awful lot of work there.


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 9:01 AM
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This is intended as sarcasm, I guess, but the everything-is-connected part of living together means that disputes about storage or food preparation can segue quickly into wholesale personality analysis, or that small household gestures can have real emotional resonance.

This wasn't about X! This was never about X! This is about communication!


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 9:04 AM
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30 and 43 make sense to me, esp. as I thought, from the article, that she was unhappy and wound like a top the whole time.

One adult can't impose help and understanding on another; that would be treating the second much more like a child than offering them plans they could join or leave alone.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 9:50 AM
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One adult can't impose help and understanding on another; that would be treating the second much more like a child than offering them plans they could join or leave alone.

Oh, this I disagree with vehemently. Offering help is not treating someone as a child. Accepting help is not childish.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 10:38 AM
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I think the key word there is "impose". You can't help someone who's announced that they're leaving you and that they don't like what you've become, like the husband in the story; or, at least, you may be able to help them, but you can't make them accept the help. You can offer, but not impose.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 10:44 AM
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I still can't help but wonder if the genders were reversed if I could read this without expecting it to end with somebody buried in the basement.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 10:48 AM
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Right, "impose", not "offer". And I'm not sure what help she could have offered him other than the offer of allowing him space.

Well, I guess she could have offered to help him pack, but . . . .


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 10:52 AM
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I had trouble with the entire narrative because I can't accept that anyone could so calmly handle a spouse saying: "I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. I'm moving out. The kids will understand. They'll want me to be happy."

Any story that following with anything other than "Get out now" leaves me puzzled. I mean, we're to believe that he never said anything like that before in the previous 20 years of marriage, and yet, she refuses to believe him?! Why wasn't she angry?


Posted by: Elizabeth | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:07 AM
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I don't know exactly what she could have done to help him. Maybe nothing. She says in the end, though, that she learned the problem was that he'd lost his pride. Dismissing his expression of unhappiness with "I don't buy it" just strikes me as more likely to add to his hurt than to help it.

Also, I just have an intuitive discomfort with someone who can stoically refuse to react in the face of that kind of turmoil.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:13 AM
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53: Doesn't she specifically say that she was angry? And hurt, betrayed, etc.?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:20 AM
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53: Not exactly. She says she wanted to fight, to rage, to cry. "Instead, a shroud of calm enveloped me, and I repeated those words: 'I don't buy it.'"


Posted by: Elizabeth | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:25 AM
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Oops, I mean, 56.


Posted by: Elizabeth | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:25 AM
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Dismissing his expression of unhappiness with "I don't buy it" just strikes me as more likely to add to his hurt than to help it.

I don't think she was dismissing his unhappiness. What she wasn't buying was his assertion that he didn't love her and maybe never had. It seemed to me in fact that she acknowledged his unhappiness, but wasn't going to go along with his panicky "this is uncomfortable, so I'm just going to flee from that feeling!" response. Rather, she offered to work with him or let him be so he could find a way to deal with his unhappiness without unnecessarily blowing up the relationship.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:26 AM
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56: Isn't the "shroud of calm" just describing that moment, not the entirety of her reaction to the situation over the period of time the narration takes place?


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:28 AM
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The only winning move is not to play.


Posted by: Joshua | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:29 AM
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The only winning move is not to play.

Mean household size down to 2.6 in the US. Solitude gets pretty solitary after a few years.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:34 AM
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The only winning move is not to play.

True. If you are in it to win it. I never conceived of marriage as a competition -- but then, perhaps that's why I "lost."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:37 AM
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62: Well, at least you didn't nearly start a nuclear war.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:38 AM
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As is so often the case, the final step of writing it up for publication in the New York Times has a non-salutary effect on the whole.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:38 AM
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I think M/tch and I read the same article very differently. M/tch's reading is more generous, and paints a more compelling picture. Perhaps that's the problem with modern love -- trying to capture that entire period of trial in 1000 words or less just leaves alot of gaps for the reader's imagination to fill in.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:40 AM
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65.cont. (And maybe that's the problem with me -- my imagination is not filling in the gaps very generously...)


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:41 AM
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As a generally placid person and a huge avoider, I understood her approach and had a lot of sympathy for it. I can imagine seeing your spouse all twisted up in an identity crisis and while acknowledging the depth of the emotion (feelings of wanting out), disagreeing with the spouse's attribution of that emotion to a faulty marriage.

I actually think it is fairly common for people to think the problem is the relationship when it is more the circumstances. For example, one person being involuntarily unemployed puts terrible stresses on a relationship but the problem isn't the relationship. It is that one person can't find work and the whole set of problems that come with that ("You were home doing nothing all day. Couldn't you at least have washed the breakfast dishes?" "I'm not the maid just 'cause I'm out of work.") When the person gets work, the relationship is suddenly solid again. In the same line, I think there is a very foreseeable mid-forties slump (or maybe it is a slump that comes from living the same life for 20 years. If you only transitioned from grad school to professional life in your early thirties, the slump is pushed back.). The problem is the slump, not the marriage. The dude is thrashing about to get free of his established life, but I don't necessarily believe that he is picking the targets accurately. Most people aren't particularly good at assessing their moods, or emotions, or preferences and I don't trust them to predict their feelings about what will make them happy ten years out any better. Domesticity? Living on a boat in the Caribbean? Buying a farm? They don't know. (Unless they strongly do, but in that case, I suspect there would be consistent evidence of that.)

Maybe that whole attitude is dismissive and condescending, but considering a big picture view (15 years of good marriage, costs of divorce, doubts about how well people in general interpret themselves) I can understand how she could flat-out not accept his declaration that he wants out.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:52 AM
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There are parts where she seems like someone that has joined a cult that insulates her from reality.

And maybe what really happened isn't what she thinks happened at all. Maybe her husband was in love with another woman and having an affair with her, and all along was trying to persuade this other woman to run off with him, and then she dumped him, and so he decided he might as well stay with his family.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 11:53 AM
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There's an infantilizing feel to this response even without the child's tantrum analogy. I suppose that works in some relationships.

This is precisely where I don't understand the critical stance toward the author. I read her reaction as respectful of the emotional turmoil her husband was going through, but as making him take responsibility for getting through to the other side. When she asked him what they needed to do to give him the space he needed, he could certainly have reasserted his intention to move out.

(Has anyone read Nora Vincent's book Self-Made Man? This ML made me think a lot of the kind of anger she analyzes in the men's movement chapter.)


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:01 PM
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There are parts where she seems like someone that has joined a cult that insulates her from reality.

Refusing to accept the picture of reality painted by a man clearly in the middle of a mid-life crisis doesn't strike me as so batty.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:03 PM
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68.2 occurred to me, too, but I ascribed it to the fact that I'm catching up on Savage Love podcasts, so I assume everyone is cheating left and right and having fantasies about threesomes with unicorns.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:03 PM
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Refusing to accept the picture of reality painted by a man clearly in the middle of a mid-life crisis doesn't strike me as so batty.

So concise, so clear.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:05 PM
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68.2 also crossed my mind-- and the author's too, I would wager. But given the ultimate outcome, would divorce necessarily have been preferable?

Maybe that reading runs the risk of playing into the 'men will inevitably stray, you just have to wait it out' narrative. Except that in the two married couples I know with similar stories, it was the woman who had the affair and considered leaving.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:08 PM
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Has anyone read Nora Vincent's book Self-Made Man?

Is that any good? I remember her columns in the LA Times were drek of a lower-order Camille Paglia bent, but then the reviews of that book made it sound excellent.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:10 PM
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70 - Skepticism, maybe. Refusing? That's not how you treat someone you want a respectful adult relationship with.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:11 PM
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70: Maybe not.

Certain things in the article made me think she believes that she can create her own reality. Sometimes this means something like, "I create my own happiness, so nothing anybody else does can make me unhappy." And other times it's more like, "My will is all-powerful. My husband can't leave me, because I refuse to accept that possibility."


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:15 PM
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Having now finally read the article, I find myself pretty sympathetic to her.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:18 PM
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made me think she believes that she can create her own reality

The fact that she had set a time limit for waiting for her husband to come around makes me think otherwise.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:19 PM
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I get the Di perspective here, in that when one party in a relationship suddenly starts provoking drama and saying horrible things, it's natural to react as if horrible things are being said, and repressing that reaction is rather cold. But treating an isolated behavior in the larger context of the relationship can be a really generous and even productive thing to do.

I'm imagining two extreme kinds of people. There's the kind of person who, in a relationship, treats every action and utterance of the partner in complete isolation from the rest of the relationship. Every time their partner is a little down or grumpy or detached, they flip out and start screaming, "What is wrong with you? You don't love me anymore!"

Then there's the opposite kind of person, equally dysfunctional, who can't hear anything their partner says about needs or desires because they're reading everything in terms of some general sense of stability or love. Or maybe this person is being abused and insulted, and they keep saying, "It will all work out because I know s/he really loves me."

The first is completely detached from the intimacy and narrative of the relationship, and the second is so devoted to that intimacy and narrative that they can't take new information into account.

I think most of us want something in between. I would like to be able to have a bad day, or occasionally be grumpy, without it becoming some kind of terrible omen of doom. But I would also wish that a partner would notice and care if something had seriously changed, or if I asked for change, or if I was angry.

An article like this provokes a lot of different responses, I imagine, because of where on that continuum we think we have been (and whether that seemed like a mistake) and where on that continuum our partners have been (and whether that seemed cruel). I've had both extremes, in bad ways--partners who were constantly watching my every move for the slightest hint of anything other than perfection, and partners who were completely oblivious to my expressions of need. And I've probably been both myself, too.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:24 PM
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Is that any good?

Parts of it are better than others, and she overreaches with some of her experimentation. Lots of good observations though, definitely an important contribution to the discourse about American masculinity.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:25 PM
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I actually think it is fairly common for people to think the problem is the relationship when it is more the circumstances.

I agree with this and (as I'm sure you all suspected all along... ) a large part of my reaction to this is projecting from my own marriage/divorce.

Of course, I didn't start from "I don't love you, I never loved you, I'm moving out." I started from, "Hey, this sole breadwinner thing is alot of pressure and I'm having alot of trouble trying to do that well and still be a good wife and mother." I got, "Don't worry. Everything is fine." I moved on to "No, really, I feel like it's too much. I don't get the time I want with my daughter, and the fact that we are not getting ahead financially is stressing me out. We need to try to adjust things." I got, "Don't worry. Everything is fine." Finally, "I am not happy with this relationship -- we're going to a marriage counselor." I got "You insist on blaming me for all of your unhappiness! It's not my fault all you care about is your career and money and that you are never around for Rory!"

So I guess this is part of why I'm leaning skeptical on the setup that everything was super-perfect and then one day, out of the blue, he decided he didn't love her anymore and wanted out. It's also why I feel critical of her making him take responsibility for getting through to the other side -- it is, after all, a partnership, and while she is enjoying the fruits of his labor, he seems alone saddled with its burdens. Also, I tend to see some connection between his statement that he didn't like what she'd become and her statement that she'd just recently signed on to this "The End of Suffering" business.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:26 PM
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You can respectfully refuse bad terms. If he had said, "I feel lost in our relationship, and I need to talk to you about it, I don't know how," she presumably would have either a) met him on that ground and there wouldn't be a Modern Love piece or b) flipped out, taken the kids and the house, and he would have written it.

But instead, she remembered her War Games and went with 60 above. Perhaps it's a little too narratively convenient that the whole thing passed like bad weather; perhaps they did eventually break it down and talk about their needs. But the critical move, and the one you build a story around, was not letting the drama queen run the show by refusing the terms that were offered.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:26 PM
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66: I just have more experience filling in gaps. Laydeeez.

But yeah, there are definitely a lot of gaps in the story, and some seemingly meaningful details and turns of phrase that are left unexplained.

For example, she talks about having decided on "The End of Suffering" but doesn't tell how that came about, and adds that her husband "hadn't yet come to that understanding." And her husband saying "I don't like what you've become", which is likely tied into the above, comes off really odd to me and is never explained.

There are a lot of hints that she's been in therapy and he hasn't (for example, he says "you're going to make me go into therapy"). And I definitely detected an air of superiority on her part around that.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:27 PM
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78: Yes. That is a good point.--


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:28 PM
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But yeah, there are definitely a lot of gaps in the story, and some seemingly meaningful details and turns of phrase that are left unexplained.

Indeed. For one thing, while it's never stated explicitly, they seem to have rather a lot of money. Knowing what, exactly, he (and, for that matter, she) does for a living would provide some helpful context.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:33 PM
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82 to 75.

An article like this provokes a lot of different responses, I imagine, because of where on that continuum we think we have been

Yeah. I totally enjoyed the fantasy of having stoically endured WWI's acting-out period. It wouldn't have worked.

There are two different abilities at play in a scenario like this. One is the ability to self-soothe. The other is the ability to empathize. She comes off as impressively capable of the first and maybe-maybe-not on the second. I read her as displaying the empathy necessary to realize that it wouldn't help him for her to get wrapped up in his drama. Others don't.

Self-soothing is not something that there are a lot of models for in storytelling about emotions. The closest we have is stoicism, which seems to be more easily translated into men's absence. I think it has features of both, but there's no real model of emotional accessibility combined with strong boundaries -- if you're emotional, the popular imagination is that you're necessarily wrapped up in the emotions of those around you.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:34 PM
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85: It was in the Sunday Styles. You can just assume they have a bunch of money.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:36 PM
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not letting the drama queen run the show by refusing the terms that were offered

Though I'm sure there really are people who simply live for the drama, I tend to suspect that most "drama queens" are simply people who've been unable to make themselves heard at lower decibels.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:39 PM
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86: Further to my 79, I have often wished that my more intensely empathic partners would love me enough to take my occasional moods less seriously. My most traumatic relationships have been with men who, like my father, react to everything immediately and without context, so I felt with them like I had to be always happy, always pretty, always sexually available, always calm, because any variation from that would provoke judgment, outrage, criticism, or abandonment. That kind of in-the-moment emotional engagement is a major part, to me, of abusiveness.

The "I'm ignoring your stated needs and feelings because I know you love me and everything is actually fine" is also horrible and deadening, but in the opposite way.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 12:42 PM
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88 - I've certainly known people who have a tendency to create drama because they relish the emotional intensity of it. These people create cover for the oblivious or abusive to pigeonhole those who have to crank it up to 11 just to be heard, so double poopies on them.

The root of my distaste for the column is this dynamic:
A: "I feel X"
B: "No you don't"

That's a basic pattern in a lot of emotionally abusive relationships, and it's a major warning flag for me. Sometimes people cross wires internally, as Blume points out, but there's ways of handling that in a way that aren't infantilizing.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:03 PM
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90.1 gets it exactly right.

90.rest: I'm not seeing how her reaction to his declaration was infantilizing.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:17 PM
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I tend to suspect that most "drama queens" are simply people who've been unable to make themselves heard at lower decibels.

In her telling of it, caveat lector, his opening salvo is "I don't love you anymore and I'm leaving."

That's drama.

If he opened with "I feel terrible" and she said, "No, you don't", we'd have a very different story.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:27 PM
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There are a lot of good comments on this thread, some of which almost convince me to feel generous toward this woman, but I still like the Oakland pig farmer better.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:28 PM
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men who, like my father, react to everything immediately and without context

My mother-in-law, exactly! Her listening process goes like this: receive input; figure out how input can be construed as a complaint; take complaint personally; panic.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:29 PM
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93: "He came to me one morning and said, 'I never loved you, and I'm leaving.' But I didn't take the bait. Instead, I ate him."


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:30 PM
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I should go back and re-read the column, but my internal monologue if I were watchly closely would be:

A: I feel X - where X is "no longer love you and want a divorce"

Me: What exactly do you feel? Because "no longer love you" is an interpretation of a feeling. Confined and frantic? Intensely wanting out? (Of the marriage? Of twenty-year career? Of feelings of shame? Of being observed and known during this transition? Of suburban ennui?)

B: "No you don't." would be a pretty shitty response, but she went along with his feeling (some variant on) frantic wanting out, but not his interpretation of what would solve that. Given the stakes, and the (convenient) fact that she was right, and the existance of people who do regret divorces, I think she played this right.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:36 PM
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91: Well, she explicitly compares her reaction to his outburst to how she would respond to a child's tantrum. If that's not infantilizing, what is?

On the other hand, his outburst as described, ""I don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did. I'm moving out. The kids will understand. They'll want me to be happy." was pretty infantile. Especially considering that he apparently had no actual plan to move out, and seems to have just been trying to hurt her and start a fight.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:42 PM
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Well, she explicitly compares her reaction to his outburst to how she would respond to a child's tantrum.

But isn't she there describing her interior thoughts, not the actual actions she took towards him?

She also says "Let me be clear: I'm not saying my husband was throwing a child's tantrum. "


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:47 PM
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I don't see any way for "You've just said something fundamentally emotionally important to you about our relationship. I think you're wrong about your own feelings and desires." not to be infantilizing. On the other hand, she seems to have been right. So I'm uncomfortable with her actions, but mostly I'm stunned that it worked out.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:57 PM
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I don't love any of you. I'm not sure I ever did.


Posted by: Kobe | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:59 PM
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Here's a visual: Child throws a temper tantrum. Tries to hit his mother. But the mother doesn't hit back, lecture or punish. Instead, she ducks. Then she tries to go about her business as if the tantrum isn't happening. She doesn't "reward" the tantrum. She simply doesn't take the tantrum personally because, after all, it's not about her.

In this paragraph, isn't she saying that she reacted to her husband the way a mom ought to respond to her child's tantrum?

Of course then she says "I'm not saying my husband was throwing a child's tantrum." No, he is an adult so he is throwing an adult's tantrum, which is best handled exactly the same way as a child's tantrum.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 1:59 PM
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99: Exactly!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:01 PM
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So I'm uncomfortable with her actions, but mostly I'm stunned that it worked out.

The only way I can reconcile that piece with any version of human nature I've encountered is to assume an unreliable narrator and a whole lot of important omissions. But other people's relationships are fundamentally opaque, so I dunno.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:02 PM
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I think she's in a position to feel that he may just be trying to provoke her when he says he never loved her. She feels she has twenty years of evidence that he does--or did, at least--love her. So while it's not reasonable to deny that he's having different feelings now (which I don't think she does), it is reasonable to deny that the past twenty years of your love has been somehow a sham. The thing she denies him is not his current feelings, nor the right to act upon them, but the right to retroactively invalidate their shared emotional life together and force her to accept that it was all meaningless and unfelt.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:02 PM
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I don't see any way for "You've just said something fundamentally emotionally important to you about our relationship. I think you're wrong about your own feelings and desires." not to be infantilizing.

To me it's more "you've just laid out a course of action that you think is the best answer to what you're currently feeling. I don't agree."


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:03 PM
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In her telling of it, caveat lector, his opening salvo is "I don't love you anymore and I'm leaving."

Yeah, I'm just saying I'm skeptical of this -- it seems unlikely that yesterday he was telling her "life is perfect" and today, out of nowhere!, he suddenly announced that he doesn't love her anymore. Um, I don't buy it.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:05 PM
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100 broke peep's heart of stone.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:05 PM
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105: But the background to that seems to be the bliss-ninny stuff about how she'd attained a higher level of enlightenment that enabled her to understand his feelings better than he did. To say "I'm looking at the same evidence you are and reaching a different conclusion" isn't necessarily infantilizing. To say "now that I'm enlightened, I can recognize that you don't really mean that" is.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:07 PM
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Maybe I'm overly sympathetic to her because I've often been in the position (in much shorter relationships) of feeling that it's just true that we have shared some kind of emotionally important thing, and when the other person suddenly behaves as if I was never even fully a human being to him, treats me worse than a stranger, and does not even do me the honor of saying, "My feelings have changed," but instead pretends there never were any positive feelings there, I have felt as this woman does, wanting to say, fine, OK, you feel differently now, but you don't get to retroactively say you didn't feel anything for me, because, you know, I was there and it happened.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:10 PM
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108: True.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:10 PM
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But yes, the "I'm so enlightened and strong and perfect" stuff is overkill.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:11 PM
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109: I do agree with this.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:14 PM
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112: No you don't.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:15 PM
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I liked her account a lot, but this thread has definitely made me more thoughtful about that.

I just don't like the "leaving him to deal with it on his own" part. That feels very lonely to me.

See, to me it actually felt very loving for her to refuse a hostile reaction to this nuclear-level attack he delivered ("I don't love you and never did"). I mean, that's not a problem she can help him with or an issue she can reasonably engage around. If she tries to engage with it in an emotionally open manner it will destroy her love for him, which is sort of what it's intended to do. He's going for the quickest, most direct way out of his marriage. Her reaction seems like "I love you too much to be driven away by this attack, so I'll be over here waiting when or if you're ready to be with me again". The whole situation seems different from what Di described in 81. It seems like Di went to her partner with specific problems she wanted to address, not a general desire to flee the relationship.

Has anyone read Nora Vincent's book Self-Made Man? This ML made me think a lot of the kind of anger she analyzes in the men's movement chapter.

Yes, I liked this book a lot. I haven't liked a lot of Nora Vincent's other writings, but I thought this book was excellent, actually. Quite thoughtful, plus a lot of fun to read just in the sense of voyeuristic fly-on-the-wall descriptions of different social settings.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:17 PM
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113: Mommy, M/tch is infantilizing me again! Wah!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:18 PM
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101 - If you wanted, you could use the jiu jitsu framing, that your opponent is your best friend having a bad dream. That's not infantilizing, but leads to the same sort of non-engagement with the outburst or attack.

To say "now that I'm enlightened, I can recognize that you don't really mean that" is.

What about "now that I've done a lot of therapy, I have better tools for processing my emotions. I remember how I used to feel and react and contrast that with what I do now that I know how to name things and use my new techniques, and I can recognize that you don't really mean it."

I don't see any way for "You've just said something fundamentally emotionally important to you about our relationship. I think you're wrong about your own feelings and desires." not to be infantilizing.

Even if I think that being wrong about your own feelings and desires is true for most adults?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:20 PM
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What about "now that I've done a lot of therapy, I have better tools for processing my emotions. I remember how I used to feel and react and contrast that with what I do now that I know how to name things and use my new techniques, and I can recognize that you don't really mean it."

Nope. You can maybe think it just a little, but you can't say it, and you'd better be pretty careful even about thinking it if you want to have an adult relationship with this person.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:22 PM
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Yeah, I'm just saying I'm skeptical of this -- it seems unlikely that yesterday he was telling her "life is perfect" and today, out of nowhere!, he suddenly announced that he doesn't love her anymore.

Well, this is the question this thread raised for me. I read the piece more or less trusting the narrator's account. But I do think it's possible for the opening salvo to be "I want out". If he's generally unhappy with his life it's quite possible he can't think of any specific fix he wants to his marriage, he just feels generally trapped and wants to shed committments. He may start off in attack mode because he doesn't want to engage around specific solutions, the whole issue of his unhappiness is too overwhelming. That doesn't seem unrealistic to me.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:22 PM
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114b: yes, but the first part he heard was "I want out."


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:24 PM
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To my surprise, when my (now-ex-) husband came to me out of the blue and said "I don't love you any more, I don't want to be married, I'm leaving," I did essentially what the author did. I stayed calm (despite feeling sad and angry and terrified and everything else), told him that I loved him, I hoped that we could keep the marriage together, and asked him how we could get him the separation he needed, without him leaving the marriage altogether. It turned out in the end, of course, that he really did want to leave. But I felt better for having spent a summer trying to give him the time and space to work through whatever was going on with him. I acted that way because I thought it was the best strategy for coming out the other side. Tears, rage, probing, engagement in the drama, all felt like they would simply drive him away faster.


Posted by: Gingerlily | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:26 PM
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91.last "I don't buy it" (which I take as being functionally equivalent to "No, you don't feel X")

I just can't reconcile "I don't buy it" as a response to what is clearly a factual claim about his internal state (to which she has no access) with anything but a superior and disrespectful attitude. At minimum, basic respect demands taking the possibility seriously that he is actually correct in his understanding of his own emotions, at least as they stand right this minute.

Having deleted much of this comment due to multi-pwnage while I was rereading the article (and beginning to think that this guy is probably deserving of a little infantilizing), let me just add that "bliss-ninny" is my new favorite word.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:27 PM
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"I don't buy it" (which I take as being functionally equivalent to "No, you don't feel X")

Could also be "I don't believe it, make your case."


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:33 PM
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121: I would trust him as an emotionally intelligent and capable person, and her a lot less, if his announcement was about his feelings as they stand now. Instead, the way she's written it, he's saying he's never loved her, and that the kids will be delighted for him. Those are two things she has no obligation to verify for him. What can she say? "I see. You have never, not in twenty years, loved me, and I respect that, and our children will be so happy for you when you leave, and I respect that." What the fuck is she supposed to say? Her options are to flip out, because both of these things he's asserting are crazy and pointlessly hurtful, or to be patient.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:35 PM
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If you wanted to be cruel, the best response to "I don't love you and never did" is to make a dick-size joke and start dating a professional bowler the next day.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:36 PM
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You could maybe think it just a little, and then when you were discussing it with a third person, report that you doubted your spouse's interpretation of his feelings? PGD's description sounded entirely plausible to me (not that we know what happened) and I can see myself trying to sketch all that out on the phone to a girlfriend.

No one here has ever experienced this, of course, but it isn't rare for people to make emotional decisions they regret later. Given that lots of people make emotional decisions they can't understand later, it makes sense that sometimes their partners are right to contradict them at the time.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:41 PM
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123 spells out what I was trying to get across in 19. She's got good reason to think he's being antagonistic, rather than just reporting his internal state.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:43 PM
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125: Agreed, but it must be done carefully. It's OK to think and say that your partner is wrong. What I'm on about is thinking or saying that your partner is wrong because they don't have the intellectual or emotional tools to understand the truth.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:47 PM
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a factual claim about his internal state (to which she has no access)

She has a couple decades of living with him and observing him. She might have a pretty good idea about his general self-awareness or his history of emotional shifts. She could probably assess his withdrawal from the household. She caught hints when he came back and mowed the lawn. It might well have been true that his love was gone. But she didn't think so. Going by the essay, her assessment of his internal state was better than his in the end.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:49 PM
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My initial resonse was along the Di, Togolsh, NPH axis. At the same time, setting aside the hitting toddler metaphors (which, parents, isn't that like a red line thing?), I have a lot of sympathy for the generous reading, "I hope you stop feeling that way. I'll give you some time and space to figure it out. I'll be over here taking care of myself (and our children) as best I can." I dunno. My own marriage having gone through some shit this spring and reading John Gottman right now, I'm more inclined to the position "I don't understand how other people's marriages work and I don't have to."


Posted by: Jimmy Pongo | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:53 PM
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But I think that mostly, people don't have the intellectual or emotional tools to understand themselves well, unless they were taught how (in therapy or meditation class or something).


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:54 PM
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123: He makes three claims, as she reports it. That he doesn't love her, that he never did, and that the kids will be happy for him. The last is nuts, as he has no basis for it other than hope, so not buying that is understandable. The second is pointlessly hurtful but more or less irrelevant to the core issue, which is the first claim. That's the meat of the whole issue AFAICT. If he really doesn't love her now, then they have some serious issues to shake out. I read her rejection of his statement as being a rejection of the whole thing, and most importantly of the core issue, effectively a claim that he does love her.

I agree that he's being a horrible prick to her, and the format elides a lot of useful backstory that might make her response more intelligible (if he has a history of grandiose bullshitting, for example). My reaction is somewhat visceral here, having been on the receiving end of "I don't buy it" type behavior, and not in the context of "...and never did."


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:56 PM
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I don't know the right way to break things off with someone without being ambiguous. I usually go for an assertion of my feelings as they stand and, if asked, an explanation, if I can give one. I don't go back and pretend I never saw anything in the person, or tell them they've always been awful, unattractive, or horrible in my eyes. Those are the breakups I've dealt best with from other people, too. "This isn't what I want right now," "I'm not happy with this situation anymore," "I feel I need to be alone"--those I can handle, and they're clear and non-manipulative. They don't lead one to believe there's something one could do to win the person back. One just has to deal with it, remember that it was a good time once, and move on.

But generally people are not good at being unambiguous in breakups, and instead do this silly "I've never liked you," "I guess I've just always found you unattractive" stuff. The latter I found particularly laughable. There are 9 million people in this city, and you chose to seduce and lavish affection for months on someone you have "always found [...] unattractive"? I'm willing to believe he thought I was unappealing, but it doesn't say much for his powers of judgment that he would pursue a sexual relationship with me. It's too stupid to hurt my feelings.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:57 PM
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Sounds like the way she learned was whatever that "End of Suffering" thing was, which is probably an annoying self-helpy version of self-awareness and meditative distancing from immediate emotions. But she had, at least, developed those skills (however they were packaged) and it sounds like he hadn't.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 2:59 PM
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The writer demonstrates ass-kicking levels of sang-froid. I think the account holds up as responsible emotional engagement, but even if I didn't I would enjoy the gamesmanship of it. It's all in! It's use the Force, Luke!


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:00 PM
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your opponent is your best friend having a bad dream

Please, more on this.


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:00 PM
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130: And I agree with you, at least up to the "unless" part (therapy or meditation class or whatever may just teach new forms of self-delusion). But "I'm better than you" is not a message that works well in relationships, even when it's true. (Maybe that's only true of relationships that I'd want to be in; some couples seem to do fine with big power differentials of that sort.)


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:01 PM
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telling someone that you don't believe them about a decision as big as ending a marriage is telling them that you really don't take them seriously.

This is from way back upthread, but I think this really depends on the situation and the person's emotional state.

If someone seems obviously distraught and to be acting impulsively and in a destructive manner, I don't think not taking them immediately at their word that they want to end a marriage (or their career or their own life, etc) indicates you don't take them seriously. It can just mean that you don't think they're necessarily thinking as clearly as they could be about the situation given their emotional state.


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:05 PM
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But "I'm better than you" is not a message that works well in relationships, even when it's true.

True. But at a crisis point in a relationship, one person may declare that she is going to fight for the relationship, stand her ground, and show the other person what the thing is that he can come back to.

It's not as if one person is saying, "We need to change" and the other stands their ground and says "no we don't." It's not "better than you," it's "I am clear about what I want, and I want it more than what you're offering."


Posted by: Wrongshore | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:05 PM
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Sounds like the way she learned was whatever that "End of Suffering" thing [. . .]

I just googled this. It apparently involves self-help through understanding the" implications" of quantum mechanics and Godel's incompleteness theorem.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:07 PM
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131: If P is false, then P+Q is false, even if Q is true.

In this case, B and C are obviously false (and C is silly), but even if A is felt to be utterly true, the fact that it has to be flanked by B and C actually puts it in question -- B and C are there as apparently stronger claims to fall back on if A fails. Which means that he secretly thinks A might fail; which means he isn't certain; which means she is right to call him on it.

A: I don't love you
B: I never loved you
C: The kids are looking forward to the fireworks


Posted by: tierce de lollardie | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:07 PM
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But "I'm better than you" is not a message that works well in relationships, even when it's true.

This seems overly broad. "I'm better than you in all ways", yes, would be horrifying. But is it so bad to say "I'm better than you in respect A, and you're better than me in respect B"? IME, naming these sorts of things has been a useful way for me to emulate and learn from my partner's strengths.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:07 PM
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I'm gonna kick your ass, wrongshore.


Posted by: Wrongshore's Best Friend, Having a Bad Dream | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:08 PM
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Oh, Wrongshore. I don't know much more than that. I remember it from chatting with some jiu jitsu dude, not as an extended lesson from a jj instructor. No wait! Not even jiu jitsu. Aikido.

Something about how the purpose of Aikido is to protect yourself with minimum damage to the other person, who should be blocked or immobilized without harm. Guided around you, and dangerous situations prevented in the first place, or something like that. You remember not to beat the crap out of the person attacking you by thinking of them as your best friend, flailing in a bad dream. You would want to stop but not hurt your dreaming best friend.

Kinda parallel to the toddler tantrum, which is why I remembered it.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:10 PM
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138: Right. I think it's possible that the writer handled the situation well and that her telling of the story is more problematic than her actual behavior. My comments above are about her claim that her whatever-it-was training prepared her to deal with the situation better than he could, not about the overall question of whether she behaved well or badly toward him (which I don't think is answerable based on the piece).


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:11 PM
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that her telling of the story is more problematic than her actual behavior

The ML form almost requires this.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:12 PM
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I'm gonna really enjoy kicking your ass, best friend.


Posted by: Wrongshore, Having an Awesome Dream | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:12 PM
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146: I don't buy it.


Posted by: Wrongshore's Best Friend | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:17 PM
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141: Agree completely. But that needs to start from some degree of trust and commitment, which these people apparently didn't have at that point.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:19 PM
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I actually really liked the themes that this ML explored, although I'm agnostic about how accurately this particular couple's journey was portrayed.

I guess the general concept just doesn't seem very far off from reality of (a certain percentage of) marriages to me. People have immensely different abilities to understand and predict their own emotions -- in fact, a lot of us are demonstrably awful at predicting how we're going to feel in some hypothetical future situation. Otherwise "The grass is always greener" would not be a cliche.

Sure, it would be maddening if it felt like your spouse was denying your feelings. But if you've been through two decades with someone and you have watched them spin-cycle through various infatuatuions and fads, I can absolutely see a little internal monologue that goes "OK, he says this is what he wants now, but I think he's completely not imagining what it's going to feel like when he gets it, and if I want him to figure that out for himself, I have to give him the breathing room to do it. And in the meantime, I need for my own sake and our children's sake to carry on with life, keeping a place open for him."

I dunno, maybe I just know enough people who are sort of emotionally clueless about themselves (that sounds harsher than I mean) that I find this cycle completely believable. Obviously not a guarantee, and obviously there are many other ways for relationships to go forward or dissolve -- if you get to the point of announcing a Trial Separation, as I think I noted a few weeks ago, IME it pretty much always goes on to divorce. But still, I could imagine a minority of situations that would play out in just this way.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:20 PM
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Maybe I just like this theme because it fits my preexisting biases about how generally poorly our culture does in giving boys/men the permission and opportunity to observe and communicate their own feelings.

You don't have to agree with the pop-psych flavor of the month for how to do it to understand that it is generally useful for humans, as social animals, to have a way of doing it.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:26 PM
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132.1 is how I've handled all of the breakups I've initiated.

132.2 is alien to my experience, thankfully.

143 - I did Aikido for a while (stopped due to it aggravating a back injury). I wouldn't say it's about minimizing damage so much as about keeping things in perspective even as someone is putting serious effort into hurting you. It's a really cool martial art, though not as immediately applicable as some others. Really fun stuff, with tumbling and bashing each other with sticks of various shapes and sizes, plus it's low key and lacks the dick-waving that goes along with a lot of hard styles.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:26 PM
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If only there were some way to make a joke about 151.last.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:30 PM
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But I do think it's possible for the opening salvo to be "I want out". If he's generally unhappy with his life it's quite possible he can't think of any specific fix he wants to his marriage, he just feels generally trapped and wants to shed committments. He may start off in attack mode because he doesn't want to engage around specific solutions, the whole issue of his unhappiness is too overwhelming

It just seems unlikely to me that he could reach this level of unhappiness without her knowing he was unhappy. And if she does believe that he is displacing these powerful feelings of unhappiness onto the marriage, then "I don't buy it" is still really cold and invalidating. "I know things have been really overwhelming lately. I still believe in us, though, so even if you feel like the love is gone, I plan to give you whatever space you need so that we can figure this out."

OK, you feel differently now, but you don't get to retroactively say you didn't feel anything for me, because, you know, I was there and it happened

Just had a conversation very much along these lines. It turns out that the retroactive acknowledgement that, yes, those feelings were there and meant something is surprisingly unsatisfying. "Huh. It turns out that, in the interim, you persuaded me that it was all a lie. And now I guess I just don't really care."

What about "now that I've done a lot of therapy, I have better tools for processing my emotions. I remember how I used to feel and react and contrast that with what I do now that I know how to name things and use my new techniques, and I can recognize that you don't really mean it."

My experiences with therapy are admittedly limited, but as a general rule, therapists don't give you the conclusion; they guide you through the process of reaching one, right? Not that it sounds like this guy was interested in going through a therapeutic process with his wife, of course.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:37 PM
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"OK, he says this is what he wants now, but I think he's completely not imagining what it's going to feel like when he gets it, and if I want him to figure that out for himself, I have to give him the breathing room to do it. And in the meantime, I need for my own sake and our children's sake to carry on with life, keeping a place open for him."

This response I find eminently reasonable in a way that "I don't buy it" is not.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:47 PM
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And now I guess I just don't really care

Sort of a rhettroactive annulment?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:49 PM
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154: Witt is kind of the Heebie of wisdom.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:51 PM
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It also occurs to me that the form of such a column demands that the woman writer make herself sound all tough and parental toward her husband so she won't sound like a pushover. Imagine how this column would read if she said, "And he said he never loved me and was leaving, and I was just like, 'I know he doesn't mean it. He'll come back to me.'"


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:55 PM
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157: There's a lot of merit to that reading, but it would be a more interesting piece if it challenged the idea that being a pushover in a relationship is the worstest thing ever. If the reality is that you decided to let yourself be shit on for a while because you believed it would pass and that the relationship would be better on the other side, it would be courageous to go ahead and say so.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 3:59 PM
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It just seems unlikely to me that he could reach this level of unhappiness without her knowing he was unhappy.

I dunno, Di, willful ignorance can be pretty powerful. And a lot depends on how people normally communicate. Back in the days of making terrible relationship choices, I blindsided a boyfriend this way. He was the sort of person, described in 79, who can't seem to interpret new data in light of the rest of the relationship, which meant that I spent a lot of time tiptoeing around and being way more chipper than I felt. Until wham, I can't take it anymore and I want out now. (In retrospect, of course, it would have been wildly, hugely better for me to have been more open along the way; that might even have had the salutary effect of torpedoing the relationship earlier, and lord knows that would have been a blessing.) Anyway, it's not at all hard for me to imagine taking very serious stresses and relationship worries and bottling them up tight until you feel sure you know what you want to do with them. Not recommended, but not uncommon either.


Posted by: Gabardine Bathyscaphe | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:02 PM
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"I don't buy it" is still really cold and invalidating. "I know things have been really overwhelming lately. I still believe in us, though, so even if you feel like the love is gone, I plan to give you whatever space you need so that we can figure this out."

But for someone who is feeling closed in and wanting to shed commitments, the 'us' and 'we' talk is exactly the wrong tack. Smother smother smother.

Also, isn't the point to be invalidating? Of that particular thing he's claiming, anyway.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:12 PM
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willful ignorance can be pretty powerful

Okay, then it seems unlikely to me that he could reach this level of unhappiness without her knowing he was unhappy if she were actually as emotionally enlightened and wise as she seems to be claiming. I guess my point is that if he has reached that level of desparation and she is totally oblivious to it then there seem to be actual problems with the relationship, not just problems with him. That's not saying who's to blame -- but if your spouse is on the brink of a breakdown and you don't know, then there is a problem.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:13 PM
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Also, isn't the point to be invalidating? Of that particular thing he's claiming, anyway.

Well, apparently that was her point, yes. I'm not a fan of invalidating a partner's feelings -- anyone's -- though. Feelings matter. Even if they are "wrong."


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:16 PM
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It's a pretty important part of relationships for me that my partner can call me on my shit.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:18 PM
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I'm sympathetic to the writer. Yes, it's all Modern Love-ified, but I think it's a little unfair to harp on her response "I don't buy it." She, presumably, knows her husband better than we do, and so chose phrasing that she thought would be more effective. Di's version in 153.2 definitely looks better on paper, but maybe it wouldn't work for this couple. (I also don't read "I don't buy it" as cold or invalidating--I read it as trying to defuse the situation, not invalidate it. And I think her strategy could be described at worst as patronizing, but not infantilizing.)

It's weird to Monday morning quarterback the winning team.


Posted by: emdash | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:20 PM
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163: Just go buy an iPhone if you can't stop from insulting your current one.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:21 PM
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It's weird to Monday morning quarterback the winning team.

You must be new here.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:22 PM
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165: ??


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:22 PM
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163: I don't buy it.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:22 PM
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It's a pretty important part of relationships for me that my partner can call me on my shit.

I'm not sure I can articulate the distinction, but I think this is different than invalidating.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:22 PM
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I guess our disagreement is on to what extent the husband was expressing his feelings, as opposed to just trying to stir shit up (that she didn't think had directly to do with their relationship).


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:25 PM
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170: or inchoately expressing a feeling that he needed to stir shit up, somehow, for some reason.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:26 PM
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I'm still going to hang on to my assertion that the husband was not expressing feelings. Examples of feelings are: smothered, frantic, annoyed, melancholy, bored, resentful. That's the source material. The author did address those, by saying that he should attend to them however he needed to.

He announced his interpretation of those feelings, as "I don't love you and I never did." There are people whom I would completely trust to get that interpretation right, but I'm not confident that most people do. He wasn't one of them, evidently. She didn't reject his feelings. She rejected his interpretation and solution, correctly so in this case.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:34 PM
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170-71: yeah. I just don't see any evidence that he was gratuitously stirring shit up. Lashing out self-destructively, yes. Butsomething serious was going on with him.


Posted by: Di Kotimy | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:35 PM
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Butsomething serious was going on with him.

Oh yeah, definitely. And I wouldn't call his attempts gratuitous. But likely wrongly directed.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:43 PM
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167: A "call me on my shit' joke that was apparently not very clear.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:48 PM
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I kinda reconstructed the unclear joke in the aftermath.

But no! I won't get an iPhone! Not yet, anyway. I like talking on the phone too much.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 4:50 PM
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I won't get one because I'm cheap. I already sprang for a Nano.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:02 PM
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OT: 28 year old journalists really shouldn't generalize about management. We love you, Sausagely, but rolling eyes is the only possible response to that "in my experience."


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:31 PM
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178: "Love" is a strong word.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:37 PM
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Her approach reminded me most of an Al-Anon spouse dealing with an alcoholic. Detach with love is a difficult method and too often a way of being passive aggressive.


Posted by: md 20/400 | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:44 PM
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179: I don't buy that.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:44 PM
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Can't buy love, NPH.


Posted by: soup biscuit | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:49 PM
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BUT YOU CAN RENT IT BY THE HOUR.


Posted by: OPINIONATED ELIOT SPITZER | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 5:51 PM
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They probably live in a state with no-fault divorce; certainly Reno wasn't far away. Had he really wanted to go, he'd have gone. I don't think it was her job to make it easy, just not to make it harder (and calmly taking care of the kids did that).

Similarly, whatever his true emotional state, it was not her job to have whatever emotions he expected. All the freedom he has to say 'I never loved you', she has to say 'I don't buy it' if she chooses. These are both expressions of internal state.

I can think of a couple of possible backstories, and one of the ones that explains why she wants to write this -- other than to save a few other good marriages, if she thinks it saved hers -- is that for twenty years it had been her job to have both their emotions, but especially his (because the unexamined life ferments). When she found Happiness for the Epicti-curious or whatever, she was fertile ground; and next time he had an emotion and handed it over, she handed it back. Perhaps he'll find a local chapter of Man and Supermom and the adventure will continue.

Another possible backstory is that they went underwater on their mortgage and he didn't want to live on half of a debt, but that's unpleasantly exogeneous.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:03 PM
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"but that's unpleasantly exogeneous."

That's what the committee said about the theory in my thesis.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 7:35 PM
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I like talking on the phone too much.

I like talking to people, but man do I hate doing so on the phone. Especially cell phones (the not being able to tell if the line is still open if no-one's speaking, how hot they start to get against your face after a minute or so of continuous use, etc. etc. etc.).


Posted by: M/tch M/lls | Link to this comment | 08- 4-09 9:05 PM
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