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August 18, 2014 3:45 AM   Subscribe

when my boyfriend proposed, I cried — more like panic tears. but I wasn't certain I should end it — until I met her
posted by yeoz (115 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I didn't hate it, but it left me wondering what happened to her former fiancé, and whether she was reacting to the idea of marriage in general, or with him, or whether she simply couldn't be happy with any man. Is she in a relationship with "that girl"? It just seemed like a very drawn-out vignette and it wasn't really satisfying.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:26 AM on August 18 [20 favorites]


That was some very good writing.

The content, less so. It's a rather prosaic story of someone breaking an engagement. Her reason for breaking it is muddled: it is vaguely implied that she had no idea she liked women before this, but when she develops a crush she's much more concerned about open relationships than any sexual awakening. In fact there's not much awake at all about the story; it's just someone coasting along not really wanting to get married until at the very last moment, lo and behold, her biology gave her a way out that she didn't have to take personal responsibility for.

If that seems cynical that's because it is. Given how poor her relationship skills are she's in for some heartbreak whether she's dating an innie or an outie, and it would be interesting to see where's she's at in ten years.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:41 AM on August 18 [43 favorites]


CTRL + F results for "bisexual" = 0.
CTRL + F results for "lesbian" = 2.

And people say bisexual erasure isn't a thing.
posted by fight or flight at 5:03 AM on August 18 [43 favorites]


I came in to say mostly what Tell Me No Lies said. Well written, for sure, but pretty vapid subject matter. Its hard not to think of how trite this would be if she'd fallen for another guy instead, and how maybe in 2014 flipping that bit isn't enough to make a clichéd story interesting.
posted by mhoye at 5:10 AM on August 18 [25 favorites]


it would be interesting to see where's she's at in ten years

She'll probably be in exactly the same place she's in now: blithely unconcerned with other people's feelings, frustrated with those around her when they don't resolve her own dilemmas, and justifying it all in beautifully written pieces without a shred of self-understanding.

In my experience, once they're out of adolescence, people with this kind of solipsism unfortunately never grow out of it. Not in their 30s and not in their 60s, either. Then again, maybe 26 is the new 16?
posted by fuzz at 5:11 AM on August 18 [58 favorites]


CTRL + F results for "bisexual" = 0.
CTRL + F results for "lesbian" = 2.

And people say bisexual erasure isn't a thing.


To be fair, both instances of the word "lesbian" are her ex-fiance calling her that. She never defines herself in particular terms.
posted by explosion at 5:21 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Well, that was certainly a Salon article.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 5:26 AM on August 18 [82 favorites]


Jeeze. I kind of do want to see her in ten years, when she's got an actual grasp on her feelings rather than apparently doing things for the sake of them. If she is gay, then how she convinced herself that she wasn't, or was bisexual, or at the very least was interested in her partner...

So I recently read Stoner, which I didn't like that much because the woman the protagonist's wife is just remarkably cruel and seemingly gets married just for the sake of it. She felt like a caricature and not a real person. Having read this article I feel like I was maybe a little unfair. Imagine wanting to get married to someone who appeared to be miserable about the prospect.

Of course the other perspective is that after a break up people can misremember how happy they were or weren't. To justify our decision one can forget the good times and remember the bad times: perhaps her situation wasn't quite as miserable as she remembers.
posted by Cannon Fodder at 5:27 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


What I got out of it is this: Even in 2014, even in NYC, even if you went to a liberal arts college, even if your home life with a traditional partner is what most people believe is ideal, even if you recycle and do everything else you should, and even if you have supportive friends and family, coming out as queer and accepting yourself can still be a confusing ordeal. And it's harder still if the last person to accept it is you.

The Salon comments are pretty cruel.
posted by mochapickle at 5:27 AM on August 18 [26 favorites]


I was with her until those last two sentences. They scream MFA program.
posted by GrapeApiary at 5:37 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


I think some of the frustrations with this author's intent here are actually strengths of the article. I could be being too generous, but it seems like her motives aren't pristine or even clear because the confusion she felt then wasn't pretty and neat and edifying and beautiful. It was ugly and muddled, and it still is. It's not being bisexual or a lesbian that was hard, it was being in a relationship with someone you're not 100% sure you should be with. And unless you are in some magical couple where everything is great always and you've never busted out of a 10 year pairing with nothing to show for it but 10 fewer years than you went in with, you've definitely been as shitty as she was to her almost-husband for nearly identical reasons. The person you're with is the most important person on earth, and you should fight to stay with them--unless they aren't and you should get out as soon as possible and stop wasting time. That indeterminacy is maddening, impossible to figure out except in retrospect, where, like a romantic Heisenberg principle, it seems obviously doomed but in the middle of it there's no true feeling or center to hold on to. She's lucky, or blessed, to have a good honest mom who helped her figure out how to escape.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:44 AM on August 18 [45 favorites]


It's just the story of this, how she didn't get married and coming to terms with herself. It's very well written and it's not anything more or less than that. Not every story has to be all-encompassing.
posted by h00py at 5:51 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


I, I, I, me, me, me; her reminiscence is merely a description of affects, surface details, "accouterments;" marriage and other people are just lifestyle accessories. She appears to have zero awareness or concern for the practical effect of her actions on others; zero awareness or concern for the inner lives of others. There's a word for this kind of person, they're called narcissists.

She's so self-absorbed she even re-named the bachelorette party to remove any reference to marriage or her boyfriend: “How about we just say ‘Celebrate Ariel’? Here's an idea, when you can't even bear to call your bachelorette party what it is, maybe it's time to call for a little introspection!

The lucky one here is the fiancee, who dodged one hell of a bullet.

But I didn't care. I was happy.

And really, isn't that literally the only thing that matters in the entire world?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 5:57 AM on August 18 [28 favorites]


Agreed, Potomac.

To me the point of the story wasn't what happened to her fiancé or how she defines herself sexually, it's that some decisions we make take on a life of their own and that their aggregate momentum overwhelms our ability to deal with changes in circumstance.

The key line for me was when, after she tells her mother that the wedding shouldn't happen, that she hated the whole thing and obviously was not doing well with her fiancé, her mother responds “You sat there and picked out a typeface for the invitations. You have a dress. People made travel plans. What are you going to tell them?” as if the wedding is for the dress or the accouterments or anything but the union of two people... who, in retrospect, it's very clear should not be getting married.
posted by psoas at 6:01 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


Oh, the places you can't bother to go!
posted by Pudhoho at 6:02 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I mean, who didn't make out constantly with their best friend in grade 5 to practice for the 'real thing'?
posted by Flashman at 6:06 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Her friends are getting... impregnated? Like, in their sleep? Without their consent? By aliens? Otherwise that's a really gross way to say that your friends are getting pregnant/having babies.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:09 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


In fifth grade my best girlfriend and I frequently made out so we’d have concrete techniques when the real thing came around.

I've heard so much about kid girl friends kissing each other (for practice or "practice") that it feels like my friends were probably all off having makeout parties together without me. :(
posted by nicebookrack at 6:10 AM on August 18 [14 favorites]


“I don’t understand,” she said. “You sat there and picked out a typeface for the invitations. You have a dress. People made travel plans. What are you going to tell them?”

What her mother is pointing out is that she said "yes" when proposed to, planned and prepared for the wedding, put other people through great expense, stress, and effort, while knowing the entire time she almost certainly did not want to get married. It's not "You have to get married, now that you bought a dress," it's "Why did you buy a dress, [and all the rest of it] if you never intended to get married?"
posted by mrbigmuscles at 6:13 AM on August 18 [29 favorites]


Seems a lot of flannel.
posted by Segundus at 6:15 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


I'm more than a decade older than her (or than her age during the story, rather), but I remember an enormous amount of expectations and pressure for long term college relationships to follow that path from college dating to living together to engagement to marriage/kids/house, with grad school and/or career attached in lockstep. That's great for the people for whom it works, but lots of people get out of synch with that -- it takes them a few years to find a job that they like ok, or they realize that the person (or gender!) who was perfect for them at 19 isn't who they want to be with at 27.

But the pressure and expectations are there and it is hard to get off a moving train, so there were a bunch of weddings and a few years later an awful lot of divorces, plus lots of people like her who pulled the plug at a late point before marriage. My own relationship from that time would have been a lot easier to navigate (and end when it should have ended) without all those expectations, too. She's describing a very normal pattern in her social class, with very good writing but not always very good insight into the patterns involved..

What isn't clear in the article, and probably won't be clear to her for some time, is what the real problem was: the bad relationship itself; her sexuality; her discomfort with the very narrow heteronormativity of wedding invitations and white dresses; or even the geographical issue she keeps bringing up of being unhappy in the big city?

Like others above, reading this makes me want to meet her in ten years when she has things figured out and isn't trying to live someone else's life anymore.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:18 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


If this were an askme, there'd be a million comments advising her to get therapy, to tell her mom to stow it (because come on, changing one's mind is allowed, and doing so before the wedding is definitely better than doing so after), and to step back from dating anyone for a while.
posted by rtha at 6:20 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


It's not "You have to get married, now that you bought a dress," it's "Why did you buy a dress, [and all the rest of it] if you never intended to get married?"

But the point I'm making is that she made the choice to get married thinking it was the right thing to do (and feeling a lot of social pressure)--she talks about feeling comfortable, just not elated--and didn't even have that first crush on another woman until after they got engaged. I don't think she says she never intended to get married, it just became increasingly more apparent after the engagement that it was not the right choice. Problem is, costs of wedding planning rose faster than the dawning of her awareness.
posted by psoas at 6:31 AM on August 18


It's funny - I thought this piece was pretty good, and frankly, not to put too fine a point on it, I'm a queer person who came out late and had a lot of problems identifying what I wanted. I could easily see myself having drifted into an engagement.

I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes. And that's because folks who have not grown up with the whole compulsory-heterosexuality piece, and the "women are socialized to make others feel nice which means it can be very difficult to identify what they actually actively want" piece....well, you didn't experience it and you are thus reluctant to believe how powerful it is.

I thought the "I am settling into this emotionally and sexually muted relationship while I try to convince myself that this is what everyone feels" part was particularly good. The quality of mutedness - there's this sort of narrative about being queer where it's assumed that you actively, actively don't want straight relationships (even if you have them) and you actively do want queer ones, even if you don't. But if you're a nice, obliging, idealistic person, it's very easy to get in the habit of not wanting much of anything, because wanting is selfish, and so you can't really identify the relationships you do want.

I also found it sad to reflect that the younger generation hasn't gotten past this yet - I tend to write off my life as the product of the last gasps of eighties-style homophobia, but I assumed that kids today all figured it out when they were, like, twelve, as my friends' kids seem to.

If anything, I'm glad that she doesn't write about feeling guilty. I felt really guilty for a long time, and in fact it delayed my actual coming out, because I felt so ashamed that I had not only made trouble by not being straight but also made trouble by pretending to be straight, and I tried for a long time just to tough it out.
posted by Frowner at 6:33 AM on August 18 [59 favorites]


I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes.

I did not like this piece at all and I am a bisexual woman in a 15 year f-f marriage, who came out after dating and being in love with men.
posted by arcticwoman at 6:39 AM on August 18 [16 favorites]


CTRL + F results for "bisexual" = 0.
CTRL + F results for "lesbian" = 2.

And people say bisexual erasure isn't a thing.


Well, with evidence as concrete as "One time I read this terrible overwritten Salon article where a potentially bisexual woman's fiance angrily called her a lesbian twice as an insult but never thought to angrily call her bisexual as an insult", you will surely remove all doubt.
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:40 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies put it really well: this is beautifully written, and even if the story itself feels obvious it's very well told and relatable. But it's very much a "I didn't even have to read past the first paragraph to know that you should not get married now" situation.

I didn't get a sense of self-absorption from her, more like a serious (but not unusual) lack of self-awareness. A total disconnect from her own internal compass. It's easy to be self-absorbed when you don't know where your self begins and ends, and people do things like leave an established relationship for another person when they don't have the awareness or strength to leave for themselves. This seems really common for people in their mid-twenties, and I have a feeling it's even more common in young people whose heart wants something dramatically different from what they're "supposed" to - not only in terms of sexual orientation, but the whole engagement-wedding-babies path with cute professional pictures and the right ring and attractive place cards. It's hard for me to sympathize with the "I left because I kissed someone else" angle, but I very much sympathize with the feelings of being stuck, and of trying to fit your uniquely-shaped life into a hole that just doesn't line up.

I'd love to read more from her, and I hope she continues to gain strength and wisdom.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:44 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


It's funny - I thought this piece was pretty good, and frankly, not to put too fine a point on it, I'm a queer person who came out late and had a lot of problems identifying what I wanted. I could easily see myself having drifted into an engagement.

I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes. And that's because folks who have not grown up with the whole compulsory-heterosexuality piece, and the "women are socialized to make others feel nice which means it can be very difficult to identify what they actually actively want" piece....well, you didn't experience it and you are thus reluctant to believe how powerful it is.


I guess what bugged me about the piece was a certain lack of self awareness. It reads almost like a diary entry with no examination of quite what made her keep going, what pressures she felt.

So Metroid Baby just said this before me...
posted by Cannon Fodder at 6:46 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Self-awareness is poisonous to honest writing. It's so easy to drop cheap wisdom all over a retrospective of your own failures, and to blur your crappy behavior into rationalizations. It's far harder and braver to just tell it like it happened.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:53 AM on August 18 [6 favorites]


Reading this primarily made me think "Oh, thank FUCK I am not this young anymore." Not in a bad way, I found the author quite sympathetic, but definitely un-self-aware and concerned about Adulting Correctly and about what everyone else expects in a way that I remember, but am very happy to find receding from me with each passing year.

It was well-written and I'm glad it was posted here. But I agree that what I would really like to read is another piece written in 10 or 15 years, with more perspective on how she drifted into this place and (I hope) on how she's found a place where she has more agency in her own life.

(Key stats: 35, cis woman, bisexual, 15-year relationship with a cis man.)
posted by Stacey at 6:55 AM on August 18


What typeface did she choose?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:55 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


It's not "You have to get married, now that you bought a dress," it's "Why did you buy a dress, [and all the rest of it] if you never intended to get married?"

See, here's the thing. I marry people for a living.

Marriage is an industry in the U.S. It extends and insinuates itself into the pre-engagement period ("Together we looked at rings. I picked one; it was ethically sourced and unobtrusive.") It completely railroads couples from start to finish - it's like a pair of iron tracks that leads inexorably to the altar.

I help get couples into counseling prior to their wedding ceremony. I usually suggest both an hour with a financial planner and at least six hours with a licensed marriage and family therapist - but sometimes this feels like it only adds to the momentum.

I give every single couple that walks through my office the following boilerplate speech:

"We don't have a divorce epidemic in this country - we have a wedding epidemic. Please remember that an engagement is not an agreement to get married. It's an agreement to strongly consider getting married. If at any time before today and 'I do' you need to take more time, or reconsider, or call the whole thing off - please know that I will treat your decision with a great deal of respect. If you want - I'll even call [your parents / the caterer / the event coordinator / your guests / your sad grandma] and explain the situation. Nobody ever gets to 100% certainty before they get married - but I want you to feel as certain as possible."

I am a divorced person. It sucked. It ruined a small part of my young life. I work very hard to keep others out of that dark place. At any point in an engagement - if your child tells you that they aren't sure or want to call it off - please treat them like an adult, don't make them feel guilty, and offer to help them disentangle themselves from the wedding-industrial-complex.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:56 AM on August 18 [124 favorites]


If anything, I'm glad that she doesn't write about feeling guilty. I felt really guilty for a long time, and in fact it delayed my actual coming out, because I felt so ashamed that I had not only made trouble by not being straight but also made trouble by pretending to be straight, and I tried for a long time just to tough it out.
Thank you for this.
posted by yeoz at 6:57 AM on August 18


I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes. And that's because folks who have not grown up with the whole compulsory-heterosexuality piece, and the "women are socialized to make others feel nice which means it can be very difficult to identify what they actually actively want" piece....well, you didn't experience it and you are thus reluctant to believe how powerful it is.

I'm a straight, cis guy. I thought the piece was well-written, yet don't think she comes across particularly well. She strikes me as immature and lacking enough self-awareness to examine her feelings and behavior beyond a superficial level. Those are solvable problems and certainly not uncommon ones.

Self-awareness is poisonous to honest writing.

I disagree. Self-awareness shows that a person has learned something from their experiences. Those conclusions don't have to be "cheap wisdom." But they can reveal maturity.
posted by zarq at 6:58 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


It is unsurprising that, sexuality notwithstanding, someone who was in a serious relationship since the age of 20 didn't really know what she wanted. I'd be surprised if many people do know, especially if they haven't done a lot of dating beforehand. I almost got railroaded into buying a house with (for) my voluntarily unemployed partner because my parameters at that time were limited to tall and probably won't leave me.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:02 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


The problem is not sexuality, the problem is the treatment of other people as if they are supporting cast in one's personal movie, a total lack of concern for the feelings of others or even awareness that they exist.

Example: when the fiancee proposed, how about telling him right then or shortly thereafter, what her true feelings were? Don't you think this guy would liked to have known that she was not excited or happy, but instead was filled with panic and dread at the prospect of being married? Oh, but that would require actually being concerned for his emotional welfare, a capacity never demonstrated anywhere in this writing.

Anyhow, this all hits close to home, as I've seen several of my friends' families blown up over the past few years - of a variety ages, genders and sexual preferences - that played out exactly like this. "[He/she] doesn't make me happy any more." "What about your children?" "But I want to travel the world." OK well, yay two Christmases right kiddoes?
posted by mrbigmuscles at 7:10 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


I feel like I say this a lot but :

If you're in your mid-twenties and feel put upon to get married because all of your friends are already married and having kids, you either need to get over yourself or find some new friends. I can't think of any of my close friends that even talked about getting married before 30, and even then it was often for health insurance/financial reasons.

Heterosexual woman, late thirties here
posted by thivaia at 7:10 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of that one movie where Piper Perabo and Lena Headey make googly eyes at each other.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:15 AM on August 18 [5 favorites]


the article pissed me off because I want to celebrate people shucking the bonds of marriage and being true to themselves, whether that be gay, straight, bisexual, but I also wanted to give her poor boyfriend a hug. I mean, the dude should have extricated himself, but I've been there when a long-time partner is pulling away for vague reasons and oh boy it sucks.
posted by angrycat at 7:16 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes.

I'm a heterosexual black dude who enjoys cunnilingus, cooking and walks on the beach.

The piece was trite to me probably because I'm in my 40s, but understand that everyone grows at their own pace and that there seems to be a particular segment of the population that treats life a series of checkboxes and this woman probably grew up in that.

So.

That's the world she knew and it was probably difficult to imagine a life different from what she society taught her. I'm glad she found a way to reach her own happiness, but am so glad I'm not in my 20s anymore, no doubt having been trite and insufferable myself in those years.

If you'd like other demographic info to put into slots on your survey let me know.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:20 AM on August 18 [8 favorites]


I can't think of any of my close friends that even talked about getting married before 30, and even then it was often for health insurance/financial reasons.

My husband and I started dating when I was eighteen, got engaged a couple of weeks after I turned twenty-two, and got married when I was twenty-three (I'm thirty now). We got married because we loved each other very, VERY much and we still do. Our marriage and my husband are the best part of my life.

THAT SAID, neither of us are the same people we were when we got married. We have different jobs, different friends, different interests, we live in a different place, we relate to our families differently, we eat differently, we spend our weekends differently, we dress differently, pretty much everything about us is different, the only thing that's the same is that we still love and support each other very, very much and he still makes me laugh. Despite the fact that I got married at twenty-three and my husband is the most amazing and wonderful part of my life, if my (hypothetical) child told me at twenty-three that s/he wanted to get married I would be very, very anxious about it because I know that my husband and I have worked hard at our relationship but also that we got INSANELY lucky. The two people we are now love each other even more than the two people we were then and that is amazing, but it is also very much a function of luck.

The thing is, in my early twenties I seriously didn't know better. I didn't know how much we would change and how differently our lives would be structured now. I just had no idea. It's a hard and scary time when you're done with college and you don't really know what you're doing next and so much is changing and you're living in a different place and it turns out maybe everyone lied when they kept telling you that you were the best and brightest and people aren't actually falling all over themselves to give you jobs even though you did everything you were supposed to do and went to a good college and worked hard and it can feel like everything was lies but you've still got the possibility of a beautiful, idealized family so maybe it's not too late to achieve that dream.*

It's just really hard because I don't know that I would have survived my twenties (not exaggerating) without my husband and the love and support he has provided to me, but on the other hand thinking you know who you are and what you want when you're in your early twenties is I think both very common and, very often, wrong.

*Note that this is NOT why I married my husband but I also remember the fear and uncertainty attendant on that part of my life.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:24 AM on August 18 [17 favorites]


This reminds me of that one movie where Piper Perabo and Lena Headey make googly eyes at each other.

Imagine Me & You, with Anthony Head!
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:26 AM on August 18


So she hated NYC for treeless streets and aggressive strangers? Honey, you should've moved out of fucking Bushwick! My neighborhood has nothing but tree-lined streets and friendly neighbors... It's in a land far far away called Queens.
posted by ReeMonster at 7:41 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Self-awareness shows that a person has learned something from their experiences. Those conclusions don't have to be "cheap wisdom." But they can reveal maturity.

Sorry I should have been more clear. DEMONSTRATING your self-awareness is poison, not true self-awareness. Showing how self-aware you are that your actions were actually bad as you depict them ruins lot of memoirs with egocentric sentimentality and/or manipulative justifications. "Yes I acted like an immature prick but..." is worthless. Show what really happened in such a way that your reader will gain the wisdom you did--that's what makes great autobiography writing imho.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:41 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


"women are socialized to make others feel nice which means it can be very difficult to identify what they actually actively want" This. Exactly. Is what resonated with me. As did the part where she realizes that the aftermath of her ultimate decision was not as difficult as she had dreaded/anticipated.

Her experience is not my experience, and her reasons were not my reasons, but man oh man have I been caught in that express train of expectation and people pleasing and trying to extricate yourself when you're not even entirely sure yourself why you need that escape, and the thought of everyone judging you and calling you selfish and cruel, and the subtle subtext that someone else's happiness is maybe slightly more important than yours, and besides you're in too deep you may as well just keep going because you see everyone is counting on you.

This piece definitely spoke to me.
posted by lilnublet at 7:44 AM on August 18 [14 favorites]


I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes.

There's room to dislike the piece, or the people as portrayed in it, without bringing heteronormativity into it.

I didn't like the author-character as presented as I don't much like people who describe their crush on someone else and then propose an open relationship, complete with the implicit threat of ``...or should I just fuck them anyway but not tell you?'' It's emotional bullying or blackmail at its grossest, and that doesn't much matter whether it's a straight man looking for some action on the side, or this couple, or Dan Savage and his husband.

Likewise, I didn't much like Mr. Fiance. If you're at the point where you're calling your schmoopy names you intend to be hurtful, maybe you should call it quits yourself instead of clinging to the relationship even harder.

Are both of them understandable, especially in young people? Sure. Do their actions reveal lower character than someone who had declined the offer of marriage, or who had left rather than try to have their not-really-wanted cake and eat it too, or who had said "No, an open relationship won't work for me?" Indisuputably, but it's more a difference of normal or average character versus the high character doing things like that requires, not normal versus low.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:50 AM on August 18 [13 favorites]


Frowner: "I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes."

Unless I'm seriously out of touch with recent sexuality theory, I'm under the impression that greater than 50% of the population self-identifies as "straight". So, yeah, I suspect most who dislike this article will be straight. I also suspect that most who like this article will also be straight.
posted by Bugbread at 7:55 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


We had furniture. We took turns making dinner. We recycled.

... the subway was always too cold or too hot and usually reeked of urine, but his snoring was reliable.


Good lord, stop being so pretentious.

Partner seemed a little p.c.

A little? This whole article is so p.c. my meter just broke.
posted by Melismata at 7:59 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


IAmUnaware: "Well, with evidence as concrete as "One time I read this terrible overwritten Salon article where a potentially bisexual woman's fiance angrily called her a lesbian twice as an insult but never thought to angrily call her bisexual as an insult", you will surely remove all doubt."

Was there really any need to be that snarky, IAmUnaware? Was fight or flight claiming to prove with one stroke the existence of bisexual erasure? No, because it's already well-established as a thing that exists, and it seems to be that wearily expressing that this article does feel like an example of it -- no, not the defining ur-example, no, not definitive and clear as the moon on a clear night -- but another wearying straw added onto the pile -- doesn't warrant such a sniping.
posted by Drexen at 8:00 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


The thing is, in my early twenties I seriously didn't know better.

When I was in my early and even mid-20s, I thought I was the only person with crippling doubt and an abyss of terror as my emotional center. Everyone else seemed to have their shit together, and they all seemed so certain about who they were and what they wanted and where they were going. It's horrifyingly easy to just stay on the cultural this-is-what-you-do train because you assume everyone else on there is there because they want to be, and if you have even the slightest bit of doubt then you are a freak.

Those who read this as her being deliberately selfish and acting like an asshole: I'm so happy for you that you have never been mired in this kind of fear and terror of disappointing people who love you. You are very, very lucky. Maybe consider that your experience isn't universal, and that people who didn't or don't have that emotional bedrock of certainty aren't assholes.

I have very little nostalgia for my early and mid-20s. I was so unhappy, and so afraid, and had so little compassion for myself.
posted by rtha at 8:07 AM on August 18 [56 favorites]


I don't think this story has anything to do with queerness or coming out. It would be one thing if she talked about never having feelings for another woman before, or discovering her own true sexuality on the eve of her wedding, but that's not the case at all. Instead, she says:
In college, most of our friends were in sexually complex situations with multiple partners. I gently reminded him of this history as I made my case. We had been these people, had this life.
I took this to mean that these crushes were not her first foray into bisexuality. Instead, this is a story about a woman who agreed to get married when she didn't really want to, and later backed out after having feelings for other people. To me, it is a case study into the sort of blithe self-absorption possessed by many in their 20s (particularly those who have moved to NYC), characterized by a complete lack of empathy for other people.

And yes, I am a straight white male, so feel free to disregard my every opinion.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:08 AM on August 18 [8 favorites]


I wonder how things would've turned out if they never moved to New York for "work." By the way, what exactly is a "youth worker." A nanny? A youth who simply does work, of any kind? Starbucks? Whatever the hell youth work is, it seems to me a youth could do that anywhere there is work for youths to do. For example, anywhere that isn't NYC and won't offend her body temperature or sensitive nose. And really, why should anyone feel bad for Mr. Fiance? They shopped for rings and she chose one for being unobtrusive (nobody will notice it) and ethically-sourced (is this an engagement ring or an artisinal fruit-salad?) and then gave the wonderful encouragement of "Whatever you do, don't get on one knee.." Boy, she's a real charmer! After that and all of the other complaints, grievances, issues and neuroses on display, you'd think he'd wake up and realize this girl wasn't marrying material. Perhaps he has written his own blog posting about it. Title? "I Might Be The Biggest Idiot In NYC, And You'll NEVER Believe What Happened Next!!"
posted by ReeMonster at 8:27 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


It's not so much of a complete lack of empathy for other people as it is too much empathy.

Many years ago, I was in a similar situation:

- I was engaged to a smart, decent man I had deep feelings for, who could picture a life with me
- In many ways, it really did feel right: we had great conversations, a spark, and we made each other laugh
- I'd moved in with him, and my very traditional, Southern parents objected to cohabitation (even though I was pitching toward 30 at the time), so we committed quickly and rushed the wedding date to assuage them
- I'd given up my job and my apartment in another city to be with him
- He was applying for work overseas that would be easier to arrange were we married instead of just living together
- We announced the engagement and we started receiving gifts, and I was so mortified by the thought of insulting these thoughtful people by returning them
- We'd bought rings and tickets to Scotland to get married
- I'd told him I'd marry him, and my word is my bond

I'd told a few close friends that I was having doubts, and they all chalked it up to cold feet. My parents felt that if I was living with someone, I needed to do the honorable thing and be a married woman -- my mother said being divorced was better than having been someone who lived in sin. (Yes, this was during the 21st century.)

So I married him. And he wasn't a bad person, and I wasn't a bad person. If we hadn't been trying to please everyone and do the right thing, we never would have gone through with it. And now we're divorced and I'm sure both of us are happier now than we ever thought we could be.

How do you extricate yourself from something that isn't right when you've been groomed all your life to just try harder, to accept, to change, to work harder to make something fit? How do you stop the momentum when it's really just this ephemeral, half-formed sense of unhappiness and unease that's more like a vapor instead of a wall?
posted by mochapickle at 8:33 AM on August 18 [36 favorites]


Upthread someone compared this piece to an AskMe question and I had to laugh, as that was my first thought too. This reminded me of a more articulately written version of the same essential AskMe question that pops up on here all the time: "I've been in a relationship with my significant other for X number of years, he/she is a wonderful person who I love dearly but things have gotten a little routine. Everything was going fine until [SHINY NEW PERSON] appeared and made me realize I want more out of life..."

This isn't to be critical of the author's choices, necessarily. Being in a relationship that is running more on inertia rather than passion is something I would think most people have some experience with. If I have a criticism of this piece it is indeed that the story it describes is so commonplace that it came off as self-absorbed navel-gazing, since there really isn't anything unique about this story that differentiates it from any other "person realizes LTR isn't working out" tale. If this were an AskMe question, it would be one that people complain about for including the "Snowflakes Inside" disclaimer, when the TL:DR designation is really all that was required.
posted by The Gooch at 8:38 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


mochapickle, it may very well have been an excess of empathy in your case, but I'm not reading that in this story. She never once talks about loving her fiancé - her reasons for getting married seem to be "everyone is doing it" and "husband sounds better than boyfriend". She says that he told her he loved her and wanted her to be happy, but I don't see her ever say that to him in return. She never once talks about how her decisions affected him, or anyone else.

Based on your description, it sounds like you were trying to avoid hurting others, but this article is all about how she feels.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:51 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I guess what really made me shudder is that she didn't call it off until she got permission from her mommy. It wasn't a story of her breaking free from expectations; it was a story about her willing to make someone else (not that he sounds like a prize either) miserable with her indecision and sulkiness forever until someone who seemed to have more authority over her life than she did told her it was okay to call it off. This would be fine if the piece were introspective about how she felt she needed permission and what that means for her life now, etc., but she doesn't examine it or even seem to notice it. UGH.
posted by pineappleheart at 8:53 AM on August 18 [12 favorites]


I thought this was a great piece, thanks for posting it.
posted by threeants at 8:54 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


By the way, what exactly is a "youth worker."

Jesus H, does this sound mean-spirited. A youth worker is someone who does community work with people between the ages of about 13 and 19.
posted by clavicle at 8:54 AM on August 18 [21 favorites]


Baby_Balrogs' comment flagged as fantastic. If I could send an email to myself in the past, I might choose it over lotto numbers. (Married in haste, repented in leisure.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:05 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


When I was in my early and even mid-20s, I thought I was the only person with crippling doubt and an abyss of terror as my emotional center. Everyone else seemed to have their shit together, and they all seemed so certain about who they were and what they wanted and where they were going. It's horrifyingly easy to just stay on the cultural this-is-what-you-do train because you assume everyone else on there is there because they want to be, and if you have even the slightest bit of doubt then you are a freak.


She mentiones seeing her friend's shiny-happy lives in Facebook, and I think that's gotten more prevalent. But Facebook is only a symptom of the problem of external appearances.

I remember reading (was it Huxley? Orwell? Maugham?) a writer who said that memoir is always a litany of failure. He meant that looking back on life, we always focus on the things we experienced as bad, and didn't understand our impacts, for good, on other people.

We don't put pictures up on Facebook of dinners alone and laundry unfolded. We don't share stories with our friends of standing in the shower, wondering if we are really happy. It's easy to construct other people as perfect, because that's what we see - we don't know the insides.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:15 AM on August 18 [15 favorites]


We don't put pictures up on Facebook of dinners alone and laundry unfolded. We don't share stories with our friends of standing in the shower, wondering if we are really happy.

Hello new Tumblr idea!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:19 AM on August 18 [20 favorites]


In short, judging your own life based on what you think other people's lives are like (based on Facebook or whatever) is a really bad idea.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 9:21 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Better to break off an engagement than end a marriage, for the most part. She sounded so unhappy. I hope the guy fins somebody who wants to be with him, and I hope she finds whatever it is she wants. It's a pretty long story that translates to Vaguely dissatisfied, uh-oh. It's still a very girly story because it's still My relationship(s) or lack thereof define me.
posted by theora55 at 9:45 AM on August 18 [4 favorites]


Some harsh responses up in here. I wish I had had her courage to do the smart, messy thing 18 years ago. The alternative was Very Bad.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 9:56 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


the other thing that angered me is i wanted to hug her boyfriend, who does indeed come off as lacking. i don't want to root for a jerk.
i was just reading this thing by Richard Russo about i singer telling a bunch of writing students that the purpose of literature is to entertain and instruct, nothing more
of course many of us have been solipsistic people in relationships in our twenties where we may or may not have been pretty shitty. but this piece neither is a)particularly entertaining and b) instructive in the sense of why so many of us (me included) get caught in our twenties in relationships that are not good for us but we cling to them nonetheless, with a general result of all-around pain
posted by angrycat at 10:54 AM on August 18


I don't get the relevance of she sometimes wears flannel. It's such a writer-ly, person-in-a-writer's-program trope.

I get it. You were engaged. You met someone else and reconsidered everything. It didn't help that your betrothed was so easy going about your confusion.

It's like she's trying to REALLY GET ACROSS THE POINT THAT IT WAS A WOMAN WHO TURNED HER HEAD and she thought all along she wasn't into women.

If you change the sexes and it was another man, this would just be eh. When you add in the element of bisexuality, is the reader supposed to care more? Find it more titillating?

I didn't.

**Having said all of this, I connected with her mom and that initial reaction of hyperfocusing on the wedding details and how it took the mom 24 hours to truly support her.
posted by kinetic at 10:55 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


or maybe it's an object lesson in terms of how many twenty-somethings were/are narcissistic
posted by angrycat at 10:58 AM on August 18 [1 favorite]


The whole thing of her getting crushes on women is a red herring. If the article focused on her getting stuck between her mother's expectations and the social media public "adult checklist" she sees herself failing at, it could have been more interesting. The "kiss that ended her engagement" didn't really have anything to do with it. (I'm so glad, for both their sakes, they didn't get married or continue the relationship. God, they seemed miserable from the beginning.)
posted by sfkiddo at 11:03 AM on August 18


I don't get the relevance of she sometimes wears flannel. It's such a writer-ly, person-in-a-writer's-program trope.

She's losing the point of her own metaphor. She presents flannel as a "nice, comforting fabric", as a symbol of the comfortable, familiar rut she'd settled into with her boyfriend (sounds more like Seattle in 1993 than NYC in 2013, but whatever). She sticks with it by alluding to washing the flannel shirts as a symbol of domesticity and domestication. Then she differentiates the first crush by saying "she didn't wear flannel." OK, fine - contrast. The new girl must be wild and spontaneous because she doesn't wear flannel.

Then, she doesn't mention flannel again until the very end, when she says that the new crush occasionally wears flannel. What? Is she trying to imply that she's falling into the same rut with the new girlfriend as she did with the old boyfriend? Because that would be stupid. More likely, she needed a zinger to close the piece with and that's what she went with, consistency be damned.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:06 AM on August 18 [7 favorites]


When you add in the element of bisexuality, is the reader supposed to care more? Find it more titillating?

Salon certainly seemed to think so by adding that stock photo.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:07 AM on August 18 [3 favorites]


There is a longstanding trope of flannel-wearing dykes. Maybe that's what she was reaching for.

Part of me is pleased that people are like "wtf, why make such a big deal out of her crush being a woman that's not a big deal!"

Part of me is irritated and finds that reaction almost willfully ignorant. Homophobia and biphobia exist. The internalized expressions of these exist. Even educated, middle-class white people who had same-sex flings in high school are afraid to come out - because it's scary. I can imagine that it it made ending her engagement and telling people why that much more difficult and fraught.
posted by rtha at 11:20 AM on August 18 [12 favorites]


I'm really looking forward to getting old enough that I can regard people who remind me of my 20-something self with sneering superior contempt instead of a big internal whirlwind of shame and regret and fear and "oh honey, I know."

Judging from this thread, it looks like I can expect that to kick in around 38-40?

I was going to put a snark tag on this post but I actually sincerely believe it. It really sucks to still feel connected to and part of that terrified human who did horrible things without knowing any better. Even knowing better now, and failing better, and trying much much harder, I'm not free of those years. And I really do hope that there comes a point where that girl doesn't feel like me anymore, and I can look at her the way everyone else does--with contempt followed by forgetting.

But until then when I read articles like this all I can think is "oh honey, I know. And I'm sorry."
posted by like_a_friend at 11:26 AM on August 18 [9 favorites]


Part of me is pleased that people are like "wtf, why make such a big deal out of her crush being a woman that's not a big deal!"

Part of me is irritated and finds that reaction almost willfully ignorant. Homophobia and biphobia exist.


Absolutely agree, but in her own telling, she wasn't happy in her relationship even before they got engaged. That's why I believe her anxiety was stemming from thinking I have to do certain milestones and I'm with this guy, so hey, I guess I have to marry him now.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:35 AM on August 18


rtha: Part of me is irritated and finds that reaction almost willfully ignorant. Homophobia and biphobia exist. The internalized expressions of these exist. Even educated, middle-class white people who had same-sex flings in high school are afraid to come out - because it's scary. I can imagine that it it made ending her engagement and telling people why that much more difficult and fraught.

All of that is true in theory, of course. But I think the reaction some of us are having is based on the fact that this story doesn't appear to be about her coming out or even internally coming to terms with same-sex attraction. That's why some of us are saying that the fact that the crushes are women is essentially irrelevant to this particular story. Written another way, I can certainly imagine it raising all of the points you mention, but it's just not in this story.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 11:43 AM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Oh man, reliability can be so seductive post-college when you have no idea what the hell you are doing.

In some ways I was this girl. I was engaged to my college boyfriend. I broke it off. I had always known I was interested in women but had never dated one because, well, it's hard to find any partner sometimes, much less a gay one.

I felt HORRIBLE about ending it. We had talked about getting married. I knew he was going to propose. I really, really thought I wanted to be with him. Post-college life seemed so unknown and it was so easy to think well, at least we'll do it together. I said yes when he asked. I thought I would be an idiot to throw away a good relationship because I thought I might be gay, when I'd never even dated a girl.

Within a few days I knew gut-deep that it was a mistake. I still can't tell you if I had masterfully shoved down every gut feeling I had beforehand, or if it was only the actual "proposal" that made the gut feelings arise. The worst thing was, we stayed together for awhile. He still wanted to stay with me after I took back /"postponed" the engagement. And I did, because I couldn't bear to break up with him on top of being the asshole who un-fianced him, and I was a coward and still wanted my reliable boyfriend.

We broke up eventually. I never ever told him we broke up or I couldn't marry him because I was pretty sure I was gay, but I imagine he had to guess it. (He knew I was, at least, queer). It was so, so shitty to break our engagement, and so, so easy to imagine I could have been this girl, picking a dress and invitations and etc. because I SAID THAT I WOULD and I didn't want to hurt anyone. It really can seem less painful to just do it and convince yourself that you'll be happy than to fuck up everyone's ideals by breaking it off.

Later I met the woman who became my wife. I was obviously shy about making sure I didn't screw anyone over again. I wanted to propose to her, in part so that I would know I was doing it because I wanted to. Planning our wedding was fantastic. I've never had to convince myself that I'm happy.

I do wish she had written more about the dimension of leaving him specifically because of a woman. In my experience, "girl on girl" crushes are often treated very dismissively, especially in 20-something women. It was very easy for me to internalize that I was also probably just wanting to experiment, and wouldn't I regret it if I threw away my possible-marriage for a hypothetical woman that didn't even exist at the time? How could I end a real, good relationship for the possibility that I might be gay? How could I even say I might be gay when I'd been with a guy up through a proposal? This shit is intense in your 20s. I'm 29 now, and even a few years ago, I didn't have the same sense I do now that if you fuck up, it'll all work out. I really did think I might be making a catastrophic, fuck up your life mistake if I broke up with him.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:09 PM on August 18 [20 favorites]


Determining motive in articles like the linked one are basically impossible, because being really, really out of touch with your own needs and desires confounds looking for motives. Reliability and following the path of least resistance stands in for facing or even knowing one's own needs and desires. Sometimes if you are told that your needs or desires are not real, or worthless, or wrong, or you absorb knowledge that it will not end well for you to voice those needs and desires, you will hide them from yourself and everyone else until it comes out bad and too late.

So many people I know have been hurt by feeling like they NEED to follow the path that is set for them and that they CANNOT for whatever reason know themselves.

I'm not saying like these people need to whip off their ties and cosplay that "IIIII QUIT WITH NO NOTICE" Toothpaste for Dinner comic or whatever, but, you know.
posted by beefetish at 12:36 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


So many people I know have been hurt by feeling like they NEED to follow the path that is set for them and that they CANNOT for whatever reason know themselves.

And it's telling that her mother's first reaction was to talk her out of cancelling the wedding. I honestly wonder where would she be if her mother hadn't (finally) stopped her? Unhappily married? Divorced? We are given the impression by this essay that the only reason she's not either of those things is her mother insisted her daughter be happy and refused to send out the invitations.
posted by zarq at 12:51 PM on August 18


And it's telling that her mother's first reaction was to talk her out of cancelling the wedding

Yes.
posted by beefetish at 1:17 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Her mother's first reaction from the article wasn't to talk it out of her though? She said she didn't understand and then asked what she was going to tell people. The next thing we hear about her mom is her telling her not to cancel it. Did I miss something here?
posted by Carillon at 1:27 PM on August 18


In fact saying leave the invitations here is likely because she wants her daughter to cancel is how I read it.
posted by Carillon at 1:28 PM on August 18


Unless I'm seriously out of touch with recent sexuality theory, I'm under the impression that greater than 50% of the population self-identifies as "straight".

More like 95%. Because of all the publicity lately, studies have shown that most Americans now massively overestimate the prevalance of LGBT folks. Most people think they're at least a quarter of the population, but actually more like 3% (overall; it varies from area to area.)

It's a classic example of Misleading Vividness.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:33 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Regardless, I don't think it would be out of line for the mother to initially suspect cold feet rather than something more serious.

What is more striking to me is how little agency the writer has. She agrees to get married because she thinks she's supposed to, has feelings she doesn't know how to deal with, and then breaks off the engagement because her mother tells her to (or gives her permission to, as someone upthread put it).
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 1:35 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


I'm really looking forward to getting old enough that I can regard people who remind me of my 20-something self with sneering superior contempt instead of a big internal whirlwind of shame and regret and fear and "oh honey, I know."

Huh. I'm not seeing the sneering superior contempt here.

Judging from this thread, it looks like I can expect that to kick in around 38-40?

Wow.
posted by sfkiddo at 1:39 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


Her mother's first reaction from the article wasn't to talk it out of her though? She said she didn't understand and then asked what she was going to tell people.

I took that as "You made a commitment. You can't cancel. People are expecting/depending on you to do this."

I might be wrong about that.
posted by zarq at 1:45 PM on August 18


Some people still have trouble with their sexual identity and preferences. Thanks, Salon.
posted by Revvy at 2:01 PM on August 18


It's striking to me that people find it striking that someone - a woman, especially - in their mid-20s feels they don't have much agency and lack confidence in their own judgement. Were you all born gods or something? Honestly, how she describes herself doesn't sound weird to me, nor is it that rare. Y'all should spend more time on the green, maybe.
posted by rtha at 2:09 PM on August 18 [7 favorites]


What is more striking to me is how little agency the writer has. She agrees to get married because she thinks she's supposed to, has feelings she doesn't know how to deal with, and then breaks off the engagement because her mother tells her to (or gives her permission to, as someone upthread put it).

Yeah, I found her lack of agency troubling, too. But there are probably a lot of good reasons for it and many possibilities have been mentioned upthread. Also, people often remain in bad relationships for a wide range of reasons, including their own warped expectations of what "normal" is, or is supposed to be.
posted by zarq at 2:11 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


It's striking to me that people find it striking that someone - a woman, especially - in their mid-20s feels they don't have much agency and lack confidence in their own judgement. Were you all born gods or something? Honestly, how she describes herself doesn't sound weird to me, nor is it that rare. Y'all should spend more time on the green, maybe.

I don't think that "lacking agency" and "born gods" are the only two options here. Speaking as someone who moved to NYC at age 22, I made a *ton* of mistakes, but I made them boldly. Not necessarily with confidence in my own judgment, but with agency. That's all I mean. I can't personally relate to someone who doesn't really make any decisions. I don't deny that her experience is what it is.

Yeah, I found her lack of agency troubling, too. But there are probably a lot of good reasons for it and many possibilities have been mentioned upthread. Also, people often remain in bad relationships for a wide range of reasons, including their own warped expectations of what "normal" is, or is supposed to be.

Yeah, agreed. I would be interested to see more of an exploration of why she felt the way she did.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 2:23 PM on August 18


It's striking to me that people find it striking that someone - a woman, especially - in their mid-20s feels they don't have much agency and lack confidence in their own judgement.

Is it not possible to have pity for / empathize with what this woman went through and also acknowledge that she did make bad choices? This woman hurt herself by staying in a relationship that she should have walked away from and it weren't for outside intervention, she probably would have married the guy. Who, per her account sounds like an ass. She knew that the relationship wasn't working and probably shouldn't marry him.

Of course it's not unusual for people to stay in relationships they should not be in. To feel trapped. But sometimes when they do remain even when they know they shouldn't, it's entirely appropriate to say, 'that's self-destructive.'
posted by zarq at 2:28 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested to have a gender-and-sexuality breakdown of commenters who just hated this piece and thought it reflected poor character, because I suspect that most will be straight and/or dudes.

Late 30s lesbian here. I mostly felt her discussion of realizing how much pressure she was under was too understated. I also cannot relate to what it would be like to be under pressure to get engaged or married, or to feel comfortable talking about my romantic interests with a parent.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:40 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I'm probably about the same age as the author.

My 20s have unquestionably been a time of "figuring things out, and making lots of mistakes along the way. I've been timid when I should have been bold; I've been bold when I should have been timid.

I'm probably still making a lot of mistakes.

At 22, I thought my 20-year-old self was an idiot, and that I'd had it all figured out... By 26, I was aware enough of my ongoing evolution that I sure as hell wouldn't write intimate details about my relationships in a Salon editorial, under the guise of a retrospective.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't share our internal monologues in public... But the tone of this story is weirdly contradictory.
posted by schmod at 2:41 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


It's not particularly rare for women in our culture to be taught that agency is kind of like a super-bonus special treat, which you get to use only after you have made sure that everyone else in your life is 100% happy and satisfied. You can make all the choices you want! Just as long as none of those choices upsets anyone else, ever. And all people in U.S. culture are prone to receive the message that making yourself happy is at best a little bit selfish and at most, gravely sinful.
posted by like_a_friend at 2:44 PM on August 18 [19 favorites]


Well-written sentences building up to a poorly-written piece. The whole thing reminded me (seriously) of something I'd written for an undergrad creative writing class.

The thing about self-awareness being toxic seems about half right — "I made a dumb choice" during the narrative is detrimental to the overall effect of a piece, since the choices made therein are supposed to be what you did, lacking, as it was, in self-awareness. It's at the end that we're supposed to have it shown to us, rather than told, that you'd realized something important or worthwhile, even if it's as simple as "I was making poor choices."
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:24 PM on August 18


> "And all people in U.S. culture are prone to receive the message that making yourself happy is at best a little bit selfish and at most, gravely sinful."

We've seen a bit of that attitude here in this thread, frankly.
posted by kyrademon at 3:29 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


I'm roughly the same age as the author and I identify with her confusion and under the right circumstances I might behave similarly, but at least I'd feel bad about stringing everyone, particularly my ex fiance, along. It's not that I want her to forever live in guilt, but writing a piece in a highly visible publication that made my ex alternately look like a jerk and a besotted buffoon would not be how I would handle the situation.
posted by geegollygosh at 3:38 PM on August 18


And all people in U.S. culture are prone to receive the message that making yourself happy is at best a little bit selfish and at most, gravely sinful.

Interesting. My perspective as a non-American is precisely the opposite - that the USA by and large venerates personal happiness/fulfillment above pretty much any other value, far more so than other cultures I am familiar with.
posted by modernnomad at 5:35 PM on August 18 [7 favorites]


I can't personally relate to someone who doesn't really make any decisions.

My guess (and this is just a guess -- I don't know anything about the author beyond this piece) is that in real life she makes all kinds of decisions and has plenty of agency, but that in the piece she is foregrounding (deliberately or unconsciously) a common narrative technique in literary depictions of women's experiences.

I just yesterday finished Michelle Huneven's new book Off Course. It got great reviews in the New Yorker and the New York Times ("this skillful and perceptive novel"), and it really is good. But it's 287 pages of this article -- a young woman constrained by familial and societal expectations and often unable to make the decisive choices that seem so obvious from the outside.

This is the trope that Erica Jong was directly writing against in Fear of Flying and similarly that a set of very smart authors complicate so wonderfully (e.g. Doris Lessing, Lorrie Moore, Jane Smiley, Susanna Moore...). (Less happily, it is what you see so inexpertly used in Fifty Shades of Grey.) It remains common because it resonates with many women's lived experiences (and with some feminist theory, for that matter), but when an author isn't totally in control of it, as in this piece, it serves to obscure agency and individuality rather than illuminate.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:48 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


the USA by and large venerates personal happiness/fulfillment above pretty much any other value, far more so than other cultures I am familiar with.

Not really. Or rather, this is what our media venerates. On a deeper level we are mostly a Puritan/Calvinist culture aptly described by H.L. Mencken: "The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

Not to mention that the veneration of "happiness" in our culture is limited almost entirely to things which can be acquired through capitalism. Nobody really shills for peace and contentment except insofar as it sells $70 yoga mats.
posted by like_a_friend at 6:28 PM on August 18 [4 favorites]


rtha's comments are spot-on. like, I guess I'm glad for so many of y'all that in your lives you've never felt any confusion or disarray whatsoever concerning How To Adult or How To Straight?
posted by threeants at 7:30 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Interesting. My perspective as a non-American is precisely the opposite - that the USA by and large venerates personal happiness/fulfillment above pretty much any other value, far more so than other cultures I am familiar with.

Yeah, and certainly the author does. Every word is about how she feels, every decision is about how she feels, and she never once tries to imagine what anyone else– mother, boyfriend, girlfriend, etc– are feeling. She talks a lot about their expectations for her, but never about their subjective experiences.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:09 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Expected white MFA discovering herself, was not disappointed. Of course, if it was a guy it would be a falsely self-effacing memoir set 15 years later about leaving his wife, and it would also be a novel that gets published through the graces of a something related to somewhere he interned and/or is related to. Because dudes get that kind of consideration.

The main issue with the writing is that she provides very little sense of the internal lives of people she should have emotional bonds with. We fairly expect people to be interested in their lovers in a non-instrumental fashion. I will say that as someone who has dated writers and at times suffered for it, I eventually learned to see any piece like this as a warning sign. Not that the writer is a bad person, but that he or she is on a journey of self-discovery with a heavy emphasis on the self, and your time with that person will be a transitional narrative that will end with the relationship being crudely stuffed into an arc with a life lesson for the writer. Consequently, its description of your relationship will probably be bullshit, because these arcs do not happen to real lives.

Also, the idea that you should marry anyone you met as an undergraduate is kind of the relationship version of an extraordinary claim. You better have damn good evidence.

Also, relationships that you thought would last and didn't including marriages, were not necessarily mistakes to have ever been in. Good relationships can end and not be retroactively bad.
posted by mobunited at 11:40 PM on August 18 [5 favorites]


I'm sorry, but the breathtaking emotional entitlement involved in demanding an open relationship from your fiancée is worthy of scorn and ridicule. And that's just one of her stunts. There are all sorts of excuses -- including youth and stupidity -- for doing something that selfish, but it doesn't change the fact that you've done something appalling.

On one hand I have compassion for who she is, and I realize that with a different roll of the die I could have been her. On the other, social approbation is one of the ways we establish standards for how we treat each other. She exhibited bad behavior and I think it's natural and justified for people to want to make sure she knows that.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:55 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


Jeeze, Tell Me No Lies.

She didn't demand an open relationship, she quietly asked 'what if' one night, as a way to try and salvage their relationship. Scorn and ridicule are not warranted for that. In fact scorn and ridicule are mostly bullshit as a way to try and regulate the romantic concerns of others. They don't have a good track record as ways to "establish standards for how we treat each other".

The piece isn't terribly substantial and yes, it doesn't reflect much of the inner lives of the other people she was affecting. And maybe that is a little self-centred, but you know, that's sometimes how we get when our world, our assumptions about ourselves, our path in life, our identity, self-image, standing, etc, are being stress-tested. I think there's plenty in her actions that speaks of a motivation to avoid hurting her fiancee, family and friends -- too much so, in some ways.

Does she manage it perfectly, or even particularly well? No, not really. But then that unbalancing, whirling off-kilter grind that can shut you down in some ways and get you flailing counterproductively in others, in the manner of a drowning person, is something I recognize in the way I've dealt with crises and expectations and sudden shifts in goals and assumptions in the past. I've hurt people in similar ways myself. So I was much more interested to read the article for ways to recognize and perhaps improve parts of myself, than I was to get all red and indignant in the face and wagging in the finger.
posted by Drexen at 5:23 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


 I think it's natural and justified for people to want to make sure she knows that.

So why are you posting this here?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:44 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


BECAUSE LADY NOT NICE DO SIN MUST TELL BAD
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:41 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


BECAUSE LADY NOT NICE DO SIN MUST TELL BAD


There are many things in this world that are not sinful or bad, which do not automatically become virtuous and good as a result of not being bad. They simply are, though some provide insights about what you should do (get out when an open relationship is proposed to save a relationship instead of for shared pleasure and discovery) and not do (be in a relationship with any memoir-focused writer who does not portray others well--yeah, you feel good because you're the Real Person after reading about the Fake Person and Lessons Learned, but trust me you actually aren't). Some of these things can even occur within marginalized subject positions.
posted by mobunited at 6:47 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The main issue with the writing is that she provides very little sense of the internal lives of people she should have emotional bonds with.

This, etc.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 6:52 AM on August 19 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think that if she had attempted to write about the subjective feelings of people who are not her, she would've gotten criticism for that, too (for projecting, for making assumptions, for being presumptuous, etc.).
posted by rtha at 7:02 AM on August 19


I can't help but think that if she had attempted to write about the subjective feelings of people who are not her, she would've gotten criticism for that, too (for projecting, for making assumptions, for being presumptuous, etc.).

Maybe? If it was either bad writing or bad criticism in response.

I sure do think there is an element of gender and sexuality privilege here. Like I said, litfic seems to include a veritable mill of novels about dudes and their relationship problems where other people are portrayed pretty ephemerally.

Is equalizing a form that seems kind of broken a solution? Certainly, the opportunity should be equal but man, this kind of testimony.

Don't get me wrong. She deserves unconditional acceptance, and shouldn't be thought of as a bad person or anything, and maybe we should set that down as a ground rule lest some overexcited person respond in ALL CAPS.

But sure you can call the writing into account. But even then, I suppose I should specify, as I did when I first dived in, that this is no worse then stuff that is far more popular. I just don't know whether this actually makes it good.
posted by mobunited at 7:17 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


i feel there is a conflation here between the lines of argument of a) the piece is bad because she acted poorly and b) it wasn't a worthy piece of writing for national publication.

it's easy to conflate because one criticism of the writing is that she seems very solipsistic. for people who are getting annoyed at those of us who are criticizing the piece, speaking of myself, i'm annoyed at a piece that a) tries to shoehorn a hook of sexual identity into a narrative for purposes of enticing readers and b) shows an absence of self-awareness.

itoh, i just am probably bitter because this writer is published in Salon and I'm not
posted by angrycat at 7:45 AM on August 19 [2 favorites]


What I took away is there was an unfortunate pairing of young people. That and the pull of institution while being adrift takes many casualties - your postponement may vary.

I see BOTH parties here as weak and culpable. The male is panicking to the point of trying to will a marriage into being at all costs, for reasons we do not know. The author appears to accept each step (but doesn't) - with qualifications that the man appears to accept (but doesn't). She simultaneously throws very lame hints that she wants the man to make the move to abort the event because she can't bring herself to do so - and the man responds by trying to use shame and control to run out the clock.

Ugly denial on both sides, but it is quite possible to find oneself as either character in this story - and it is possible to have played both roles within a lifetime.

I wanted to learn more about the mother. The author did not give us much to go on. But this was the mother of the bride to be, she was involved, and she offered to do for her daughter what the groom would not do for her daughter. I think that she is the heroine here - maybe tardy timingwise but brave.

tl;dr If a person seems to need a tow rope to get through life, it is important to tell him/her that gambling on institutions like college and marriage have worked for some but not all.
posted by drowsy at 8:12 AM on August 19 [1 favorite]


The issue, however, is that we know nothing about the boyfriend except the surface-level stuff the writer tells us. He says he loves her and wants her to be happy, but that's all we see about his inner life or motivations. Yes, sometimes he gets angry and says mean things to her. But all we can do is guess about what the boyfriend is like, because she doesn't even begin to speculate on what is going on in his head.

(This is one of the reasons why it's bad writing.)
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 8:20 AM on August 19


i feel there is a conflation here between the lines of argument of a) the piece is bad because she acted poorly and b) it wasn't a worthy piece of writing for national publication.

This is probably evident in my first comment, but I definitely fall into category (B).

This is a personal essay, of course it is going to primarily be focused on the thoughts, feelings and emotional state of the author.

Yes, the author took some actions (and non-action) that could possibly open herself up to criticism for her own role in creating a dysfunctional relationship. But who, in the course of being involved in a long-term romantic partnership, can honestly claim to have always behaved ideally?

My criticism of the essay is simply that there is no insight or unique take on the story that separates it from any other tale of a twenty-something couple calling it quits or anything special about the circumstances here that makes it different than any other breakup story. The writing is good, but not so spectacular that this otherwise mundane tale is elevated into something worthy of publication.

One of the challenges of personal writing is taking a personal experience and making it universally relatable to total strangers without veering into, "My life is just endlessly fascinating, huh?" territory. Knowing what stories are worth sharing and which are interesting only to oneself is a big part of the battle. What struck me about this essay is that it really did remind me of something you would expect to read on someone's personal blog. I'm possibly placing Salon on an undeserved pedestal by assuming they have higher editorial standards than publishing random breakup stories that don't have much to say beyond, "This couple dated for awhile and then they didn't".
posted by The Gooch at 9:39 AM on August 19 [4 favorites]


There's no other person in the story whose feelings are needed to support the correctness of her decision she made. I don't begin to understand what people mean to imply going on about her selfishness. The one thing she's sure about is that it's not going to work for her. What else do we need to say it should end? Is it the way she breaks it off - not much detail on that as far as I can see - or that she doesn't try somehow to make it work? That it took her too long to screw up the courage to do the very hard thing she had to do? At least it was before the wedding - that's better than a lot of people manage.

The issue, however, is that we know nothing about the boyfriend except the surface-level stuff the writer tells us. He says he loves her and wants her to be happy, but that's all we see about his inner life or motivations. Yes, sometimes he gets angry and says mean things to her. But all we can do is guess about what the boyfriend is like, because she doesn't even begin to speculate on what is going on in his head.

If anything is frustrating about this piece its how little grasp the author seems to have even on her own internal life. But one reading, which is supported I think by looking at how she describes loving this woman versus her current relationships, by the line about how she previously thought herself incapable of romantic feelings is that it really comes down to a revelation about her sexuality (or a realization that there is too much she hasn't figured out about it) in which case it may not matter what his personality is. And in the tidbits we do get he seems to react to this possibility rather poorly. If that's not convincing, if you want to say she is unwilling or unable to examine emotional life with depth and honesty then, sure, she does not impress as a writer. But I don't understand the judgmental reaction to anything she actually did.
posted by atoxyl at 1:37 PM on August 19 [1 favorite]


She didn't demand an open relationship, she quietly asked 'what if' one night, as a way to try and salvage their relationship.

She may have said it quietly but what she asked wasn't hypothetical: she wanted to renegotiate a major part of the understanding between them, and she did. He accepted the new state of affairs only reluctantly.

She claims he went along solely because he wanted her to be happy, but I have strong doubts on that score. Given what he tolerated over a couple of years time I'd say he had a tremendous amount invested in that relationship. Having his fiancée say "By the way, I want to sleep with other people" was in all probability not a casual low-stress encounter for him. I'm guessing with a request that drastic he felt the relationship was on the line and did what he needed to do to save it.

However, there's no question that I'm bringing my own experiences and those of people around me to fill in the depth missing from the man's description in the article. It could be I'm misreading the situation entirely.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 11:34 PM on August 19


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