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A wife doubts her husband's doubt about their marriage.
August 4, 2009 9:41 AM   Subscribe

What would you do if your husband of many years, with whom you had created a family and with whom you led what you considered to be a successful life, suddenly said he thought he no longer loved you? One woman's approach: refuse to believe it. Not everyone agrees.
posted by shivohum (168 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not everyone agrees.

Usually they don't. People live their own lives and if they are pleased with the outcome, God bless them.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:45 AM on August 4, 2009


Perhaps this lady is from the old school of thought which says that she's spent x years thinking for him and she's not about to let him start now.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


not everyone on metafilter agrees on anything, ever. even so, i'm still in love with myself.
posted by the aloha at 9:48 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


forgot the i in the link.
posted by the aloha at 9:49 AM on August 4, 2009


Wow. You made that sound like it was going to be awful, but it was actually quite powerful.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:51 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Interesting. Someone who apparently understands and is prepared to deal with the less positive side of the 'for better or worse' vow. Not saying this would work for 98% of situations, but I guess I'm glad it worked out for her.
posted by Pragmatica at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


The fact that she put her name on the story makes it a little fishy. In her place I would write it anonymously out of respect for my husband. Or is this supposed to be fiction?
posted by creasy boy at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2009


Pretty good read.

And I can easily see the scenario...on occasion I've felt it. The author's conclusion isn't far off the mark.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:53 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This would work so much better as a reality TV show. Maybe one where the estranged couple were set tasks which involved bugs. And celebrities appeared in week two.
posted by rhymer at 9:54 AM on August 4, 2009


Interesting response, but her, "I would not suffer" mantra really seems like a passive-aggressive way of saying, "look how awesome I was for putting up with all the suffering so well".
posted by adamdschneider at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'm kinda jealous they live in Whitefish.
posted by notsnot at 9:56 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


This is why it's for better or for worse.

Not everyone can expect the same outcome. I tried for years to maintain a marriage that should have been ended long ago. It almost killed me.
posted by Xoebe at 9:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Wow. I really thought it would be about some psycho woman who refused to break up, but that was very reasonable. I really liked her thought on it and her solution. Kind of reminds me of what my little brother was like, during adolescence, how he'd just sulk. He grew out of it eventually. It sounds like her husband went through a patch of depression, but got out of it.
posted by stoneegg21 at 10:01 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


In her place I would write it anonymously out of respect for my husband.

Judging from the piece I would say he probably didn't have much say in the matter.
posted by The Straightener at 10:03 AM on August 4, 2009 [10 favorites]


When I read this I immediately thought of one of my close friends, who went through a very similar scenario with her husband. I don't know that he said "I don't love you any more," but he did say he was restless, tired of being a dad, tired of family, was regretting all the missed opportunities he had when younger, etc. etc. He went into therapy to work on what was definitely a midlife crisis, and she took the tack of, in her words, 'making the time he spends at home as peaceful and stress-free as possible.' She didn't pick fights, didn't challenge him on any of this, listened, and didn't respond too much. She basically made herself unavailable as a foil for his feelings.

This was really, really hard for her. The whole time, she was still pretty scared that the marriage was going to break up. And it took a lot out of her, too, since she didn't let herself blow up and retaliate at any point. She leaned a lot on her friends. But she felt it was really important not to let the whole thing pollute their home life, because then it would be providing the 'push' to match the 'pull' he was then feeling to live a younger, cooler life.

They ended up striking a couple of deals - there were some activities he wanted to do that he just wanted to alone, things that would comprise 'his' world away from his family life. And there were things they agreed to do together, fully together, with the focus on the family. But during the time he was working this out, much like the guy in the article, he came and went as he pleased, stayed out late, didn't always give information about what he was doing, etc. It was trying. But eventually, he straightened out, and they have been doing fine for a few years now.

It took a lot of self-control, and I still wonder about the fairness - at any point in life, can everyone say "I'm fed up, I need a break" and walk away from family life without repercussions? Would her husband extend her the same freedoms - especially the freedom from managing the kids and the house and the meals? But I think there's a wisdom in it. The midlife crisis is kind of a real thing - grief at the passing of youth, sometimes accompanied by an attempt to recover part of what one once was - and the only solution for it is really acceptance of aging and change, which just takes time. It's so easy to see your partner as The Problem, when really it's a predictable rite of passage. Some people struggle with it a lot more than others. It seems like a good idea, to me, for couples to acknowledge it for what it is, take a deep breath, and ride it out, as long as there are no other issues hiding in the closet. It sounds like in this case, there weren't - the wife saying she "didn't buy it" reveals that she didn't see it as an inevitable breaking point in a deeply troubled relationship, but a predictable blip in a long life together.

Good for them for solving this for themselves. Patience with one another is an important part of any relationship. I do wonder how many marriages that broke up might have made it through under similar conditions (knowing also that many people just sucked it up when they probably should have split). Life's tough.
posted by Miko at 10:05 AM on August 4, 2009 [41 favorites]


Honestly, I find this fascinating-- thanks for the post.

I suspect the long, long leash and long long long long timeline would make this approach impracticable for most of those-on-the-verge-of-divorce.

Still, I expect to see "We're Not Divorcing, Honey: That's Just Your Mid-Life Crisis Talking" to hit the bookshelves soon enough.
posted by darth_tedious at 10:06 AM on August 4, 2009


Judging from the piece I would say he probably didn't have much say in the matter.

The end of the piece reads:

In fact, he encouraged me to write about our ordeal. To help other couples who arrive at this juncture in life. People who feel scared and stuck. Who believe their temporary feelings are permanent. Who see an easy out, and think they can escape.
posted by Miko at 10:07 AM on August 4, 2009 [17 favorites]


I wouldn't say it was passive-aggressive. What I found admirable was her unwillingness to give up on the marriage, and her practical attitude - "what do you need to get past this".

Marriage is for better and for worse and you don't give up on a good thing just because someone has a wobbly. I'd never suggest people stay together if they're bad for each other, but they'd been good so far, why not at least make the effort to make it work.
posted by arcticseal at 10:08 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be interested in hearing the husband's point of view. Why did he feel he didn't love his wife anymore? Had it been building for a long time, and he realized suddenly that this woman was not someone he wanted to be with anymore? And how did that realization change? Did he just surrender and submit to her stubbornness of clinging to the relationship? Did he just decide that he wasn't going to be allowed to be happy, so he should just be as happy as he can in his misery? Or did something really change and he became the person that would be happy with what he had?

That interests me more than her little "watch me suffer and be brave" rant.
posted by teleri025 at 10:09 AM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


I read this this past weekend, and thought it was one of the better Modern Love pieces I've seen in some time. The keys seem to be that she knows her husband quite well, and he trusts her (even if subconsciously, when all this was happening).
posted by rtha at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Haven't read it yet, but recently I ended up realizing I didn't love my partner of 8 years romantically. There's many variables involved.

When we first were on the verge of breakup, it was rough. She fought me on it, and I agreed to go to therapy to work out some of our issues.

Therapy didn't do much to help. Alas.

I ended up breaking up with her near the end of May. She took it quite well, in fact. Seems quite the opposite of this. We are still friends. And there are times I experience sadness, mostly for her. But we both know that if I don't love her in that way, it would be folly to pretend. We're both grateful that we still care for each other enough to be friends, and mature enough to be able to be friends.

I understand "for better or for worse", and I know the long term, friendship and steadfastness is an important component of any healthy relationship. But if it isn't Romantic love... Well you can't really FORCE someone to feel romantically, now can you?
posted by symbioid at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Missed that part, thank you for pointing it out and bolding it like that for me, Miko.
posted by The Straightener at 10:12 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I agree that the husband's side of the story would be interesting to hear. I find it hard to believe that the way his issue was cast (midlife crisis, death of youth, etc.) would lead him to say that he didn't like what his wife had become and that he didn't love her unless he was just projecting as a way to avoid confronting himself (probably true now that I think about it..). In any case, while I find this compelling more information would be helpful.
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:13 AM on August 4, 2009


This is the nut of the piece: "If he could turn his problem into a marital fight, he could make it about us. I needed to get out of the way so that wouldn’t happen."

Lots of people misdirect their problems at other people so it can be someone else's fault. I think she was totally right, and while you can call her a martyr for standing by while we thrashed around, it seems like he did find some resolution to his own issue, and she succeeded in not letting him make the marriage a casualty of his problem.
posted by fatbird at 10:15 AM on August 4, 2009 [18 favorites]


This is one of the better "Modern Love" pieces I've read. He made his decisions, and she made hers. It came out OK for both in the end but it could easily have gone another way, no?

It seems like a common pattern on the internet, where someone writes about their own life, the decisions they made, and the outcomes that resulted, and everyone else assumes that the writer is trying to force them to do whatever the writer did.
posted by muddgirl at 10:18 AM on August 4, 2009 [15 favorites]


This story is the story of the changing readership of the NYT. Broadly I think it is moving to a middle-aged female center. Sometimes it shows itself in harmless or interesting ways, like this. Sometimes it's just obnoxious, like that horrible Shamu article that was at the top of the Most Emailed list for weeks.
posted by grobstein at 10:20 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


How bizarre. I was just talking to my wife yesterday about mid-life crisis and how it might well represent something akin to adolescence or menopause - a physical change that has accompanying mental complications or ramifications - and so shouldn't our society approach mid-life crisis with a little more understanding than the typical male-bashing one encounters so often? And this lady appears to have done just that.

Thanks for this.
posted by stinkycheese at 10:21 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I swear to God I normally read very carefully, but I just skimmed the last paragraph. It's true that her husband told her to write about it. I would be mortified if everyone knew this much about my marriage.
posted by creasy boy at 10:21 AM on August 4, 2009


It took a lot of self-control, and I still wonder about the fairness - at any point in life, can everyone say "I'm fed up, I need a break" and walk away from family life without repercussions? Would her husband extend her the same freedoms - especially the freedom from managing the kids and the house and the meals?

I had this thought in reading the article, too. I know my own mother often had feelings of detachment, of wanting to leave it all and start over, of wishing she'd join the Navy as a teenager rather than start a family. But there's really no cultural narrative for mothers to up and leave their families the way there is for fathers. So I feel a lot of women keep their head down and stick it out

On the other hand, I like the idea that a mid-life crisis can be about just one person, not about the couple and the family. I think that one of the benefits of marrying younger for me was that we had a chance to grow together once as a couple (when we were both in our early 20s, right out of college), so that later periods of introspection and growth won't come as much of a surprise.
posted by muddgirl at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Anonymous authorship and pseudonyms are not allowed in the Modern Love column. From an email about their guidelines:

-Send submissions to: modernlove@nytimes.com
-Length: approx. 1500-2000 words
-Please attach your essay as an ms-word compatible doc AND
paste it into the body of the email.
-No pseudonyms (including the author), composite characters or
invented situations may be used.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:24 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


The midlife crisis is kind of a real thing - grief at the passing of youth, sometimes accompanied by an attempt to recover part of what one once was - and the only solution for it is really acceptance of aging and change, which just takes time.

I agree that the midlife crisis is a real thing for many people, especially men, apparently, but I think our culture (American) sets us up for midlife crises early on by valuing Marriage and Family so highly as the Big Life Goals to meet so that you're finally a Real Adult. Many people get married before they're ready for that kind of serious life-commitment, have kids before they take the time to become a healthy, whole adult who knows who they are and what they're about, and most importantly, before they live lives for themselves.

Being in my late 30s now, some of my friends who married and had kids fairly (to me) early are now feeling real tensions as they realize what long-term commitment really, really entails, and realizing that maybe they sort of rushed into this stuff.

Of course, my point is not that no young people should start families, but rather that maybe such significant, looooong-term commitments should not be made as a matter of course because of the strength of the cultural imperative. Making such choices before you really understand them lays the foundation for a mid-life crisis, I think.

I enjoyed the essay, but it's certainly not a prescription for all relationships--this woman clearly understood her husband very well, and had the wisdom to make him take ownership of his issues, and to get out of the way while doing so. We should all be so lucky with mates.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:27 AM on August 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


The fact that she put her name on the story makes it a little fishy. In her place I would write it anonymously out of respect for my husband. Or is this supposed to be fiction?

Laura A. Munson seems to be a real person who writes and lives in Whitefish, Montana, unless her profile is fabricated and her flickr account is 'shopped (I'm not stalking her, it was the 3rd result for Laura Munson whitefish). Maybe her husband realized she gave him an amazing amount by letting him "find his pride" or whatnot, or maybe Whitefish is small enough (population: 5,032 at the 2000 census) that everyone already knows about it.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:33 AM on August 4, 2009


I did not expect to like this article. But it turned out to be a surprisingly sharp piece. That woman has brains to spare, and I'm kind of shocked that she was able to see her husband's problem for what it was (a problem he had, deep down, with himself rather than with her) and to do what must have been incredibly difficult (to simply get out of the way and let him deal with himself) despite living with the stress that must have brought on her. I think that took a lot of personal strength, and an almost inhuman amount of understanding. It felt, at times, a little dismissive at first glance, as though she were just clucking her tongue at a mid-life crisis. But in the end, I don't know how dismissive she really was. I think, now, that she was giving something difficult (though typical) its proper space and respect. Really, I'm kind of stunned, here.
posted by shmegegge at 10:37 AM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


That essay turned out to be better than it sounded it was going to be.

Still, though, I think one of the commenters at the NYT nailed the dynamic of what was going on exactly: he was having an affair, and the wife was just waiting for the affair to burn itself out, which it did. The problem is that the author is deliberately obscuring what was going on in her husband's life. That's partly because the article itself was about her response, but also because she's trying to distract the readership from anything he might have done which would make her decision appear like a bad one.
posted by deanc at 10:37 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think there's one simple word for what the author of the piece exhibited: Maturity.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


I would be mortified if everyone knew this much about my marriage.

What makes you think that your friends don't know that much about your marriage? Married couples tend to display more than they imagine.
posted by fatbird at 10:45 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just because you don't believe it (I'm looking at you moon landing, KFC Famous Bowl, Milli Vanilli Grammy award, Catwoman movie) doesn't mean it isn't true.
posted by schleppo at 10:46 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


also because she's trying to distract the readership from anything he might have done which would make her decision appear like a bad one.

Maybe it would be nice to see our culture move beyond the idea that an affair must mean the end of a marriage, that physical monogamy is more important than emotional fidelity. The affair is mere speculation, anyway, but I don't see where, even if there had been one, the decision to allow her husband the time and space he needed has to be a "bad decision".
posted by hippybear at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


This fits the old line about relationships: they're like sharks, when they stop moving they die, and what we have here is a dead shark. Except here the wife has taken the position of Schrodinger's shark refusing to believe that we can empirically know whether or not the shark is dead, even admitting that it is possible for the shark to be both dead and alive.
posted by geoff. at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


@LooseFilter - Regardless of how long it takes to become a "healthy, whole adult" (whatever that is) there is a definite time factor involved in procreation.

Hell, its only the blink of an eye since nearly all humans were dying of old age long before they would be, by your terms, an adult at all.
posted by Riemann at 10:47 AM on August 4, 2009


'I don't think we should see each other.'
'But your friends are my friends and my friends are your friends. I don't think it would work.'

A lot of guys have problems communicating whatevers' going on in their heads. I see this a lot. Much of it is cultural as well, we just have to suck it up. And, really, my first thought in reading "He’d lost pride in himself" was "f'ing pussy."
But very often, and so often that like birth we forget it for the miracle it is, your family, those human relationships, are all that really matters and yet - very very often - it's completely overlooked and devalued by society. (Glengarry Glen Ross comes to mind "Good father? Fuck you! Go home and play with your kids!")
So where a man derives his pride from can be problematic. And I do see a lot of older guys, in their midlife crisis, working out harder, fighting harder, telling younger guys they don't know dick, trying to prove something to themselves.
But that's common, we lack a lot of those social cues. For example - when do you become a man or a woman in the U.S. (or other western countries). In some tribes you get circumcised, in Latin America you have your Quinceañera, apart from getting your drivers license or being able to serve in the military or buy lottery tickets or drink, there's not a lot in the way of coming of age.
So too - not a lot in the way of becoming an honored elder. I mean, yeah, we're pretty youth obsessed (on t.v.), but in the job market too (what do you do when an engineer turns 40?) age and experience are not valued.
So at that age - what are you?
I haven't gone through that yet, for me I think being 'daddy' and 'husband' is enough. And hell, I like doing the lawn. But I've got the advantage of a large family and growing up valuing that and identifying myself through those human relationships (military, family, martial arts community, etc. etc.)
A lot of guys are cast to the wind, and even if they do it to themselves, that's a shame.
And I think very very highly of this lady for not allowing that to happen to someone she loves and to someone who, it's obvious, did love her and was looking for an excuse to fail rather than having done and (as she mentions) had an affair or done drugs or some other catastrophic thing.
And most of the time those catastrophes come from people who feel they've been cut lose and have nothing to lose. People who feel they're alone in the world. You see that all the time with kids. The ones who grew up with a strong support structure - whether it was the guys on your football team or the guys you played D&D with - don't get into the kind of trouble the kids who drift (and often into gangs) did.

I think, by doing this, especially while he's not bringing home the money, he's losing emotional control and getting a gut and getting soft - she made him feel valued. Part of something.
Sometimes, hell, most of the time, that makes all the difference in the world. One less lost soul on Earth. Well done.
"He who saves a single life, saves the entire world" - Yerushalmi Talmud
posted by Smedleyman at 10:49 AM on August 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


he was having an affair, and the wife was just waiting for the affair to burn itself out, which it did.

Possible, but certainly specious--not all of men's discontent centers around women, or affairs, or sex. Men do actually have lots of feelings, and sometimes crises about self-worth, self-confidence, life choices, etc., are really just about that. We don't all act out by fucking another woman, though many men do.

(Which, to me, is a symptom of just how terrible American culture is about teaching/allowing men to acknowledge, understand, and actually feel their feelings.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2009 [12 favorites]


deanc: "That essay turned out to be better than it sounded it was going to be.

Still, though, I think one of the commenters at the NYT nailed the dynamic of what was going on exactly: he was having an affair, and the wife was just waiting for the affair to burn itself out, which it did. The problem is that the author is deliberately obscuring what was going on in her husband's life. That's partly because the article itself was about her response, but also because she's trying to distract the readership from anything he might have done which would make her decision appear like a bad one.
"

That's funny, I thought he'd secretly bought an alligator farm, and ended up becoming a secretly successful alligator farmer, at which point he could return to married life happily. I guess we'll never know.
posted by TypographicalError at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2009 [23 favorites]


I'm going through the agony of this right now: The bad side of 50, dazzled by someone outside our marriage (platonic and continents away), imprisoned by circumstances, behavioral expectations, and breadwinning commitment. I feel profoundly depressed, close to tears half the time, and the future seems a gray tunnel leading to the grave. Ambition is permanently suspended.

My wife isn't particularly happy either, and our marriage seems totally flat-line. I feel her misery too.

I'll try to embrace this woman's perspective and priorities, and rationalize my state of mind as a passing chemical and hormonal imbalance. Evidently it seems possible to enjoy the 'Golden Years', but I'm really struggling now with how to get there.
posted by marvin at 10:50 AM on August 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


I think it is amazing the level of judgment about a couple who are claiming to have kept their family together and be happy. Are people claiming they aren't really happy? They shouldn't be? It will blow up in their faces later? She's in denial? He's in denial?

Maybe he was having an affair. Maybe he couldn't accept that his income no longer was as significant to the family and spent the summer fishing and getting too drunk for his own good. Maybe he just reached that point where he was saying "is this it?" and came up with some pretty crappy answers.

It sounds to me like they both have a self-confidence to get through this and share the story that should be admired. They aren't claiming to have found the one right answer for everyone, but it does reinforce that sometimes when you are provoked the best response is not to just do something. Her ability to keep a focus on what she cared about, and not be distracted by what others say she should care about, allowed her to keep her family. Is that so bad?
posted by meinvt at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think there's one simple word for what the author of the piece exhibited: Maturity.
Maybe. But would we really be saying that if the author wrote an essay along the lines of, "My husband was having an affair/running an alligator farm behind my back, and I found out about it. I expressed my displeasure but continued my life as normal until he got over it and came back home" ? We'd be mocking her as more of a Carmella Soprano than a "wise matriarch."
here the wife has taken the position of Schrodinger's shark refusing to believe that we can empirically know whether or not the shark is dead, even admitting that it is possible for the shark to be both dead and alive.
I'm going to give her more credit than that. I think she decides that she's going to keep the shark moving along for as long as it takes until the shark starts swimming on its own again.
posted by deanc at 10:53 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Still, though, I think one of the commenters at the NYT nailed the dynamic of what was going on exactly: he was having an affair, and the wife was just waiting for the affair to burn itself out, which it did. The problem is that the author is deliberately obscuring what was going on in her husband's life.

Yes--naughty naughty author for failing to confirm your idle and baseless speculations.
posted by yoink at 10:58 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


imprisoned by circumstances, behavioral expectations, and breadwinning commitment. I feel profoundly depressed, close to tears half the time, and the future seems a gray tunnel leading to the grave. Ambition is permanently suspended.

At 46, I go through this in fits and starts. I'm extremely lucky to have a wife in whom I can confide these things. When she asks me what's really the matter, and I get honest, it gives me a chance to breathe and see things for what they are. We all missed opportunities. Life is a constant barrage of forking roads. Responsibility increases for all of us who have children and careers. What I get after having a chance to talk and think it over is this: I am not a special snowflake that can make 25 years go away by being a jerk-off and ditching my family. That, and I do love them. Like I said, really, I'm lucky.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2009 [8 favorites]


@LooseFilter - Regardless of how long it takes to become a "healthy, whole adult" (whatever that is) there is a definite time factor involved in procreation.

For sure, I wasn't speaking to some unattainable ideal where we all spend four or five decades cultivating wisdom and then proceed forward with life with others. My point is that too many people make these commitments before they understand themselves or the commitments very well, and that that lays a foundation for an existential crisis that will, sooner or later, erupt. And that I am continually surprised that so many make these commitments as a matter of course, without really considering them, because that's the dominant cultural imperative.

(and my quick definition of a healthy, whole adult is one who doesn't look to another to fill a lack in themselves, but rather to enhance and enrich what already is. But that discussion could become a long tangent.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2009


It is the lady in the flickr photos - see comments underneath, for instance
posted by A189Nut at 11:06 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, hahaha it's ok now to make light of secret alligator farmers?
posted by everichon at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2009


Oh yeah, hahaha it's ok now to make light of secret alligator farmers?

Only the secret ones. Come out of the handbag, and get some respect.
posted by Pragmatica at 11:08 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


She basically made herself unavailable as a foil for his feelings.

Yeah, exactly. It's possible that the husband in this essay was going through stuff that had everything to do with his wife and his marriage....and it's also possible (highly likely, given the outcome) that it had little or nothing to do with his wife and his marriage. Even in a long-term, committed relationship, your partner's feelings or actions may not have anything to do with you or the relationship, what with them being a separate person and all.
posted by rtha at 11:14 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This was a fascinating read: it's all too rare to see seriously [adult | mature | whatever] behavior modeled in this way, and I find it nutritious.
posted by everichon at 11:18 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


The author of this piece displayed great maturity, but she also took a gamble. She assumed that whatever he was going though was not about having sex with college co-eds or going on 3-day benders in Vegas,which depending on the type of man he was might have been precisely what he needed to get out of his system to return to his family.

However there is a lesson here about the "unexamined life." It took him and her 6 months to realize that what he needed was to take pride in something he was building, even though earlier in the piece she noted that "his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family."

What they both misunderstood is that his "crisis" was not about being the breadwinner. His crisis was about how the thing he built collapsed. His crisis is that he's worried that after a lifetime of being a builder, he sucks at it. I mean that literally, the way a child who painstakingly erects a tower becomes frustrated and despondent when a minor imbalance sends it toppling over.

At some point in our lives we have to understand who we are, and a lot of that is understanding why we do the things we do. It requires some self-awareness. But that is at odds with the stoic approach to life men in particular are often expected to take. But all things considered she did the best thing, which is to let him work it out on his own.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:23 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was all ready to snark and critique, but my only conclusion is that this woman's husband is a lucky man.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:26 AM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Reading between the lines, it appears the lesson is that wives should just look the other way if their husbands want to go out and get a little strange on occasion. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by ND¢ at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Tilth, a short story by Laura Munson that deals with a woman's grief when her father dies, and her husband has an affair with another woman in the same year.
posted by misha at 11:29 AM on August 4, 2009


Broadly I think it is moving to a middle-aged female center

The horror... the horror....
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:29 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've learned in life that no one - not even the best intentioned of people - can be trusted to give a truly objective assessment of interpersonal conflict in which they are embroiled. This is even more the case for people involved marital strife.

Hearing one side of the story may be interesting and even edifying (and this article has a bit of both) but it seldom captures the broader truth. From that perspective, these kinds of one-sided articles are kind of unsatisfying for me.
posted by darkstar at 11:31 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


By the way, the first rule of Alligator Farm...
posted by darkstar at 11:33 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Some alligators are more equal than others?
posted by echo target at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2009


Imagine both of the participants were 17.

Boy: You know, I like you a lot, but... I don't think this is working for me any more... I think we should start seeing other people.
Girl: No, you're just saying that - it's just a phase you're going through, I'm not going to let you.
Boy: What?!

And so forth... they end up staying together.

Wouldn't you find that disturbing? I would, as I found this piece disturbing. Why does the length of the relationship matter in our reactions?

Something about the refusal to recognize the other person's agency, the hubris of claiming to know what is going on inside their head. This is the way adults treat children - she makes the comparison herself! - and I can't help but feel she was infantalizing him for his (admittedly culturally taboo) desires, a deeply disrespectful attitude.

We aren't even sure she turned out to be right in her initial assessment - perhaps he really did want to leave and her unusual reactions changed his once very made-up mind. Is that a good thing? In pragmatic terms, it seems good for the children, but maybe the guy really wanted to go sow his oats far and wide. Whether that's noble or not is, I think, a completely separate issue from the ethical nature of the way she treated him. He was being a cad, but grown adults deserve to be taken seriously when voicing intentions we chalk up to baser aspects of their personalities.

Another thought experiment: gender reversal. What if the woman voiced a desire to do walk away from the family around menopause. Her husband rejected it as the author, but this time rationalizing it as the product of a hormone-saturated mind. I would find that outrageous - especially if she "bought it".

On the flip side, I'm sure people do go through phases like this, and say things they don't mean (or won't mean very long). Dealing with it by getting aggressive and lawyering up is not the way to go if you suspect this is the case - and the author should be commended for that. On a personal level it seems like her approach could have been more along the lines of: "I think we'd both regret it if you acted on this feeling right now, and I'd ask that you give it some time before doing anything that could dissolve our family. I'm willing to give you space as long as your respectful of X, Y, and Z. I hope you come to see this feeling as not worth acting on" yada yada.

That doesn't have the same triple-snap you-go-girl patronizing-matron attitude to it, though.
posted by phrontist at 11:35 AM on August 4, 2009 [13 favorites]


Something about the refusal to recognize the other person's agency, the hubris of claiming to know what is going on inside their head. This is the way adults treat children - she makes the comparison herself! - and I can't help but feel she was infantalizing him for his (admittedly culturally taboo) desires, a deeply disrespectful attitude

Assuming that the author had an accurate read on what her husband was going through, the opposite of infantilizing would be enabling him: to trash their marriage and hurt their kids over his misdirected mid-life crisis.

I don't think it's infantilizing to not play the part the husband cast her in. She didn't override his agency, she simply didn't co-operate with him. He could have moved out. He could have initiated divorce proceedings all on his own, if that's what he wanted. As time demonstrated, it's not what he wanted.
posted by fatbird at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Why does the length of the relationship matter in our reactions?

In many cases, relationships accrue "capital" in proportion to their age. Not always, and very unevenly, in my experience, but capital accrues nonetheless. By capital, I am gesturing feebly at something like mutually-engendered maturity, or some such. After a certain amount of time, it becomes (I would imagine) very difficult to make a hard reset pencil out.
posted by everichon at 11:46 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


While it is an interesting model, and the author seems to have her head on straight, I'd say they're more lucky than anything.

The couple that follows this model and ends up in an acrimonious divorce and custody battle doesn't get an article in the NYTimes.
posted by whatnotever at 11:47 AM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Wouldn't you find that disturbing? I would, as I found this piece disturbing. Why does the length of the relationship matter in our reactions?

Because if you've lived with someone for decades it's reasonable to assume that you do, in fact, know quite a lot about them, but if you've met them in recess and lunch at school for a few months and at a couple of parties it isn't?

This wasn't a trick question, by any chance?
posted by yoink at 11:48 AM on August 4, 2009 [9 favorites]


Why does the length of the relationship matter in our reactions?

You really don't think a 20-year relationship, almost all of it happy, is worth more effort to preserve than a two-month summer fling? Or that it's a bigger deal when the former ends than the latter?
posted by echo target at 11:48 AM on August 4, 2009 [7 favorites]


Imagine both of the participants were 17.

Why?

Seriously, what's your point, phrontist?
Why do you want to change the factual basis of the article?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:49 AM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Boy: You know, I like you a lot, but... I don't think this is working for me any more... I think we should start seeing other people.
Girl: No, you're just saying that - it's just a phase you're going through, I'm not going to let you.
Boy: What?!


Here's the problem with this analogy, phrontist: The girl's not in a position to "not let [him]". She can act like it, but the boy can say "fine, you believe what you want to believe. Meanwhile, I'm going to start hanging out with Becky under the bleachers.". If he does that, and the girl continues to not believe him, then she's just being delusional. There's nothing infantilizing about her behaviour, though. She's just wrong in her belief.
posted by fatbird at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I tried to explain to her that the break up was not in valid effect without bilateral ratification. The WTF pause, and the brief interval spent picking her jaw up off the floor, has bought some me some small amount of time to restate my case.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:57 AM on August 4, 2009


I think that some folks have missed an important piece of this story. The author didn't take the ball and run with it. "You want a separation? You figure out how you're going to do it."

She didn't start calling lawyers, or dividing up the stuff, or packing his suitcase. She didn't construct a drama around a very dramatic announcement.

Instead she provided the bare minimum of support necessary to indicate that she heard and understood her husband's statement, but that unless he actually DID something about it, she wasn't buying it.

Let's face it, if the guy were serious, he'd pack up, move out and file papers. He didn't do any of that. If he were having an affair, he could move in with his girlfriend. He didn't do that.

It wasn't that the wife fought the husband on the break up, it's just that she didn't do any of the work. Which makes me believe that he's either the laziest man in Christendom, or he didn't really want to break up.

I'm willing to believe that she knows him better than we do.

Lot's of people wake up in their 40's-50's and realize that all that stuff they wanted to do in their youth either didn't get done. Mature people roll with the punches, and immature people lash out and blame others.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on August 4, 2009 [38 favorites]


@Ruthless Bunny - "Lot's of people wake up in their 40's-50's and realize that all that stuff they wanted to do in their youth either didn't get done."

Isn't that pretty much fundamentally fucking dumb? I'm 28 and I'm keenly aware of stuff I might have liked to do that never will get done. But even if I dumped my current life overboard and tried, they still never would be. The past is the past. Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.
posted by Riemann at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I have to confess, when I first saw what this article was about my gut reaction was along the lines of "What a complete doormat! Talk about co-dependent!". So I was really surprised at how touching I found it to be and how moved I was after reading it.

More power to you if you've never reached the point in your adult life where you start to question every decision you've ever made, including the decision to get married and have kids. I don't see why so many people are assuming this has to be about an affair. When things are going badly for you (professionally, financially or otherwise) and you're starting to feel like shit about yourself it is easy to fantasize that what would really make your life better is an escape from the burdens of responsibility you've created for yourself.

What impressed me is how incredibly self-actualized this woman must be to have been able to look past the personally hurtful things her husband was telling her and simply commit to loving him unconditionally (I know that's an overused cliche, but rarely seen in action like this).
posted by The Gooch at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.

At the risk of sounding ageist, I'm going to opine that at 28, you probably haven't reached the point where mid-life crisis is likely to be an issue (or even understood).

As time goes on, the number of things you're certain about tends to diminish. Or at least, it's true for me (can't really say how it is for everyone else). Heh.
posted by Pragmatica at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore?

Yup. Luckily all you have to do is wait until you turn "Renaissance." That pretty much straightens everything out.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [16 favorites]


She asked him what he needed, which doesn't sound to me like removing his agency. She qualified it with "without hurting the family." He could have said "I'm moving out and filing for divorce," and he could have actually done that. He didn't. When presented with a list of what would be required to engage in a responsible separation, he had a choice to make: look at the list and think about what that really meant, or ball up the list and say "Fuck it. I'm outta here." At no point did he not have choices in this. One of the choices was to somehow trust the woman he claimed to not love any more, and he picked that.

And if you can really compare the throes-of-adolescence relationship between to 17-year-olds to a 20-year-plus marriage (with kids in the mix), I don't know what to say about that.
posted by rtha at 12:15 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Isn't that pretty much fundamentally fucking dumb? I'm 28 and I'm keenly aware of stuff I might have liked to do that never will get done. But even if I dumped my current life overboard and tried, they still never would be. The past is the past. Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.

What a lovely little snowflake. Please post an update to MeTa when you're 55.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


And there are times I experience sadness, mostly for her.

wow. i don't know if i find that pretentious or pathetic. regardless, i experience sadness for you.
posted by msconduct at 12:19 PM on August 4, 2009


sounds like she has read the book "Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself " by Melody Beattie. Her definition of a codependent is a person "who has let another person's behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person's behavior." It sounds simple, but encompasses a whole lot of misery and dysfunction. I disagree with those have said that her actions were passive aggressive. I think she was the opposite of passive aggressive in that she was doing what she needed to do for herself and her family. I've learned we can't control someone eles behavior, only our own. She did what she had to do for herself and her kids. If he didn't want to come along for the ride then she had to let him go off and do what he had to do. For this couple it worked.
posted by brneyedgrl at 12:20 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


"...he's either the laziest man in Christendom, or he didn't really want to break up."

Considering that I myself am the proud holder of that title, it's probably the latter.

Someday I'll be the laziest man in the world, too. Someday...
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Interesting that nobody's brought up that she's evidently based part or all of her approach here on a book called "The End of Suffering." Don't know anything about the book and haven't read it, although the excerpts online look potentially interesting. But adopting what amounts to something you've read in a self-help book as a strategy for negotiating the shoals of a relationship? Is that a wise strategy? I'm not snarking, and maybe I'm totally misreading what's happened here. If it's worked for her and her husband, which it presumably has, terrific. But not everybody is as successful in "exiling the voices" in his or her head as she seems to have been. Something about the finality of her gloss on her self-development and self-actualization makes me feel a little off-kilter.

I would also agree with darkstar and others here that there is always, always another side to the story, indeed multiple sides. It made me somewhat uncomfortable reading her side only, as compelling as her side was, even though she says that her husband encouraged her to write the piece. I think that same discomfort comes through in some of the comments appended to the piece.
posted by blucevalo at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.

You, sir, will have an absolutely marvelous experience when you get to that age, I'm sure -- or maybe even long before then.
posted by blucevalo at 12:23 PM on August 4, 2009


@Pragmatica - Oh I can completely understand why someone would want to escape their responsibilities. Would want to be young again. No question there. But no matter what anyone wants there is no escape, no way to turn back time. Suppose I left my family (and yes, I do have a family and a child) in some effort to be a useless early 20s hipster. That wouldn't get me off the hook. Still would, at the very least, need to come up with child support and probably alimony and the like (and rightly so). I certainly would have to own up to all the negative consquences of acting like such a jackass. And, after paying the price, I still would never be an early 20s hipster.
posted by Riemann at 12:24 PM on August 4, 2009


Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.

Wow - that was certainly a bracing comment, young Riemann!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:24 PM on August 4, 2009


The only thing I find my brain contracting around is the writer's insistence that she knows. She KNOWS.

She knows what's going on for her husband, (though he doesn't), for herself, for her children.....In fact, I was with her until she had that paragraph that she knew us too - all of the readers - and apparently we were all thinking the exact same things:


I know what you’re thinking: I’m a pushover. I’m weak and scared and would put up with anything to keep the family together. I’m probably one of those women who would endure physical abuse. But I can assure you, I’m not. I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chain saw.


The thing was....I wasn't thinking any of those things. (Also the logics kind of off on that one - all sorts of women who do natural childbirth - perhaps because they don't live in a country where medication is available - and ride horses, etc., and that's about physical resilience. But I'm not sure it leads to the outcome that she not weak or scared in other parts of her life. Who isn't is less than heroic in at least one aspect of their life?)

So perhaps if she's got me wrong, perhaps she's got some of the rest of it wrong as well. Unreliable narrator, as it were.

I think it's important for people's emotional wellbeing to feel like they can tell a narrative that makes sense to them. Sometimes that means diminishing some parts of the story, and giving significance to others, and wrapping it up in a coherent timeline.

So I'm not saying her behavior was mature or not, only that I gently recognize that her narrative relies upon skills that no one has - the ability to consistently and accurately know what (many, many, many) other people are thinking. It might be make the world seem more certain, but I don't know if that's a good thing.
posted by anitanita at 12:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something about the refusal to recognize the other person's agency, the hubris of claiming to know what is going on inside their head. This is the way adults treat children -

She never refused to recognize his agency. What she recognized was that he needed "space." As noted above, he could have taken concrete action to sever the relationship despite her offer to create that space for him. He didn't do that. He had choices, and they were always his alone to make - that's the point.
posted by Miko at 12:30 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


So perhaps if she's got me wrong, perhaps she's got some of the rest of it wrong as well. Unreliable narrator, as it were.

Er, she lived with her husband for many years; she doesn't in fact claim to have personal knowledge of every single person who is reading this article. One claim is a plausible statement based on years of actual lived experience, the other claim is a literary device designed to create a hypothetical "counter argument" which you can then dispose of. Your inability to distinguish these two things certainly makes you an "unreliable reader" but it doesn't reflect any light on the writer at all.
posted by yoink at 12:33 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Does turning "middle ages" just make people unable to process reality anymore? No amount of irresponsiblity is going to make anyone young again. Just old and fucking pathetic.

Hee! Said like someone who is easily 20 years away from middle age.

It screws with your head...big-time.

Even people who have accomplished EVERYTHING they set out to do when they were young wake up and wonder, "was all of this worth it?" As well as, "what about the road less traveled?"

Those like me, who bought into the whole college, corporate job, house, marriage, wonder if it's too late to form a band. People who followed the Grateful Dead wonder if they shouldn't have majored in something more useful than Fine Art in college.

Most of us are freaked out about our lack of a retirement account (especially those of us who had a healthy one before the crashes of 1999, 2001 and 2008.)

I didn't have kids and now I can't. I don't regret that decision, but there are days when I wonder what it would have been like to have kids. My friends who have kids wonder if 16 is too old to put them up for adoption.

It is the human condition to have regret about what one didn't do, and to wonder if what they did do was worth the effort.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:40 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


@Ruthless Bunny - "It is the human condition to have regret about what one didn't do, and to wonder if what they did do was worth the effort."

I completely agree.

But the fundamental gap is between regret and wondering what might have been and actually believing - and acting upon the belief - that you can do something now to actually live what might have been then.
posted by Riemann at 12:42 PM on August 4, 2009


I had a friend get up one morning and tell his wife of 13 years and mother of his two daughters "I don't love you anymore".

The difference from this case was that he then packed a bag and moved out, and, six months later, the divorce proceedings were complete, and with lawyers they'd worked out custody and support.

That's not a mid-life crisis. That's "I don't love you anymore."

I don't find it difficult to believe that the author recognized in her husband what he didn't. Everyone now and then gets that feeling from watching someone else do something that's obviously wrong but the person is deluding themselves that it's not. The trivial example is arguing with a junkie over his addiction. He doesn't think he has a problem, but everyone else can see what he can't. Emotionally, there are a million analogous situations. It's not necessarily creepy or arrogant or infantilizing to privilege your own judgment of what someone's doing over their own, given how often people are wrong about their own motivations.

Hell, the field of psychiatry is based on the premise that a knowledgeable outsider can help you see what you can't already.
posted by fatbird at 12:43 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


Too bad we don't hear his side. I doubt it's this precious.

My first wife tried this when I told her I didn't love her and I wanted to leave. She didn't "buy it". Unfortunately for her I really did want to leave, and I really didn't love her.

Even though I'm sure it makes me a scumbag on some level, I am *extremely* happy I left her. Not because she's a bad person, but because I didn't love her, and I needed to leave. Sometimes it is that simple.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


She knows what's going on for her husband, (though he doesn't),

Well, she might have, and he might not. I have been in the depths of depression where I absolutely did not know what was going on for myself. Depression can seriously fuck up your sense of reality, not to mention your judgement. If I hadn't had friends and loved ones (and therapists) - people I trusted - to kind of help me stay...upright and not make any irrevocable choices when I was in a place where I wasn't in any condition to be making such choices - well, I'm glad they were there.

Was the husband actually clinically depressed? I have no idea. But the fact that he hadn't thought beyond "I want out" - didn't have a plan, hadn't really thought about what it would mean (for him, even, let alone his wife and kids) to move out - I read as pretty good evidence that he didn't know what was going on for himself.
posted by rtha at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reading between the lines, it appears the lesson is that wives should just look the other way if their husbands want to go out and get a little strange on occasion. Seems reasonable to me.
posted by ND¢ at 2:28 PM on August 4 [+] [!]


I totally agree and think if you reversed the genders on both the article and your extrapolation it would work. Yes I know you're joking but I do believe that you have to overlook a certain amount of shenanigans if you are serious about being together forever-ever.

In fact in general it seems like the best responses to many issues in relationships seem to begin with realizing your partner's issues have nothing to do with you, and that your concern should address the underlying cause, not the symptom--which sometimes might mean doing nothing at all and letting them figure it out.

But one thing does disturb me: that a reader might interpret this type of article to mean that
A. All marriages can be saved through the right reactions and
B. If yours failed you didnt try hard enough or tried the right things.

Some people just shouldn't be together (for example: 99% of couples that got together in their early 20s).
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:44 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Salon has posted about this, and gotten many letters. One of which was from me, so I'm going to shamelessly repost it here:

What a grown-up response to marital problems....
This was a really interesting article. Thanks, Broadsheet, for highlighting it, because I would never have seen it otherwise [oh how I underestimated Metafilter].

I've been single for almost all of my adult life, and paradoxically it's given me a lot of time to reflect and learn a lot about relationships, because I had the time to really process the events of my own failed relationships as well as be confidante for my friends in their own relationship struggles. And I'm continually amazed at the way people are generally at their worst (in terms of behaviour and coping ability) with their romantic partners. One really does need to bring those good interpersonal skills from relations with co-workers, friends, family and children into a romantic relationship. You don't get to turn off your brain because your heart and certain other body parts are involved. You still have to be a grown up, to stay focused on problem solving, to be sensitive to the other person and self-aware when problems strike rather than to get all caught up in emoting, rhetorical questions, rage and self-flagellation. And yes, sometimes other people's problems are really not ours to solve. The "leave them alone and maybe they'll come home" approach really can be so much more effective than being too proactive or aggressive, or making the problem all about oneself. I know I've ruined several relationships by taking the latter road.

I hope in the future I'll have the maturity to react as this woman did, and I'm definitely going to look for this kind of maturity in anyone I date.

Incidentally, I don't think we should just assume that this woman's husband had an affair. Is it possible? Of course. But there's no textual evidence for that, and it's equally possible the man just needed time to himself, that his evenings out were spent in a fairly harmless pursuits such as hanging out with casual acquaintances or driving aimlessly for hours. I can totally imagine being in a state of mind where being close to people was just too unbearably painful and I needed that space.
posted by orange swan at 12:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Even though I'm sure it makes me a scumbag on some level, I am *extremely* happy I left her.

Let's start a club called the Happy Scumbags and we'll sit around toasting our regrets while Riemann pickets outside protesting our contentment on the basis of logical impossibility.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:47 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yoink, while I agree that living with someone or knowing them for a period of time increases your knowledge of their behavioral patterns, likes, dislikes, etc., I think that in the beginning of something significant happening to another person, we can only guess what is going on for the other person. We can make good guess, an informed guess, but it's still a guess. But I got the sense from her language "I'm not buying it", that implies certainty. Knowing.

Second, what I am questioning is the significance of the language she used and the assumptions she made. Both imply knowing. It would have been slightly different intent, but still the same literary device if she had said: "I can imagine what you're thinking", or "You might be thinking". But there's no lack of certainty. She knows.

We can disagree about the meaning or the significance of her language. I think it's meaningful. You don't. Fair enough.
posted by anitanita at 12:48 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


this was utterly fascinating. it obviously wouldn't work for everyone, but this woman understood her partner to a degree that i think most do not.
posted by radiosilents at 12:53 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I can imagine what you're thinking", or "You might be thinking". But there's no lack of certainty. She knows.

"I know what you're thinking" is an idiomatic English expression. To pretend that it's a claim to clairvoyance is either disingenuous or ignorant.
posted by yoink at 12:55 PM on August 4, 2009 [5 favorites]


Too bad we don't hear his side. I doubt it's this precious.

My suspicion all along was that he was cheating on her, and cheated on her long enough that the fun wore off and the woman he was cheating with started to seem too much like what he was running from to begin with, so he figured: "Fuck it, I'm going home." I'm not taking any sides here; just my guess.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 12:57 PM on August 4, 2009 [6 favorites]


Records date on Google calendar, makes note to check in a few years time.
posted by fixedgear at 1:00 PM on August 4, 2009


My suspicion all along was that he was cheating on her, and cheated on her long enough that the fun wore off and the woman he was cheating with started to seem too much like what he was running from to begin with, so he figured: "Fuck it, I'm going home." I'm not taking any sides here; just my guess.

Sure, that's possible. But if that's what happened, how does it change the message of the essay?
posted by Miko at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2009


"But no matter what anyone wants there is no escape, no way to turn back time."

In this context, you can indeed turn back time and escape. That's the point of the thing. People can, and they do, and they like it. Some more successfully than others, but it's not even marginally unusual. Sometimes those left behind get hurt, but it's just as likely everything will work out fine in the end.

Just as possible - Staying in a loveless marriage can become a horrible and tragic existence for everyone involved.
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2009


Great story.

People can surprise you sometimes, and not act like 5 year olds.

My wife hung in during my MLC, now I get to return the favor during her thyroid problems.

Letting things that are aimed at you just fly past is a great technique. The poo-flingers do come around eventually...
posted by Liv Pooleside at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


(Which, to me, is a symptom of just how terrible American culture is about teaching/allowing men to acknowledge, understand, and actually feel their feelings.)

Not to start a side-debate-thingie, but in what culture exactly is male sensitivity more encouraged than in the US?

Latin America?
Africa?
Russia?
Japan or Korea?

The only place I can think of *maybe* is somewhere in western Europe, but then they tend to be pretty macho/stoic too. As an American male, I feel perfectly comfortable talking about my feelings. I guess it depends a lot on a)generation, b) social class, and c) part of the country you live in, but sometimes it seems to me the only place where men are afraid to talk about anything but sports and babes is on network sitcoms.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:05 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


Speaking of being single and having insight into relationships (and in some cases that's from having men make moves; or from having women confide in me that they not only have doubts about having had children, but imagine they are the only woman alive who has a big "what if" fantasy about a childless life; but mostly from being a disinterested observer) I can say that most of the divorces I've seen end up with both people married to essentially the same person a few years later. For all the drama friends (like me) and their kids had to go through, I've often wondered why they didn't just try to work it out.

Some people like to play chicken in relationships. Pretty much sounds like what this guy did. No idea what was going on with him, but evidence indicates he was acting out and she did the right thing.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


And if you can really compare the throes-of-adolescence relationship between to 17-year-olds to a 20-year-plus marriage (with kids in the mix), I don't know what to say about that.

That's not what I meant. My point was to establish a continuum ranging from puppy-love to Diamonds-Are-Forever Relationship Posterchildren. The implicit premise of her article that I'm having trouble accepting is that somewhere along the line it's possible, even admirable, to know better than your partner what they want or are thinking. By bringing up the seventeen year old example, I just wanted to establish the firmest form of the gut reaction I think shouldn't be attenuated in light relationship duration.
posted by phrontist at 1:12 PM on August 4, 2009


My point was to establish a continuum ranging from puppy-love to Diamonds-Are-Forever Relationship Posterchildren. The implicit premise of her article that I'm having trouble accepting is that somewhere along the line it's possible, even admirable, to know better than your partner what they want or are thinking. By bringing up the seventeen year old example, I just wanted to establish the firmest form of the gut reaction I think shouldn't be attenuated in light relationship duration.

I don't want to be rude, phrontist, but I don't have a fucking clue what you're on about:)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:19 PM on August 4, 2009


Okay, let me try that again (sorry, I just woke up, and haven't been getting a lot of sleep).

The author seems to assume that as you spend more time with a person, you get to know them very well. This much is uncontroversial. She goes one step too far in asserting that you can come to know someone so well, you can dismiss their stated feelings (e.g. I want to break up with you) as being somehow illegitimate. It's just a phase, you're going through a midlife crises, etc. You'll thank me when you come to your senses.

So I asked people to imagine a similar situation at a very different age. rtha thought the comparison was misleading. I just wanted to clarify that in the very specific case of asserting to know what someone wants better than they know themselves, I don't think the length of the relationship of the two people involved matters. The 17 year old example probably gets a gut reaction from people as being absurd, and I think that reaction should be elicited by the situation described in the link, but it's not because of the maturity smokescreen.

In summary: You can get to know people very well over time, but there is a limit, and dismissing something as important as a desire for divorce as being inconsistent with someone's "true" desires is beyond that limit. We can't know one another that well, and shouldn't pretend to.
posted by phrontist at 1:29 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


phrontist.

That was better!

But: You can get to know people very well over time, but there is a limit, and dismissing something as important as a desire for divorce as being inconsistent with someone's "true" desires is beyond that limit.


I can't see where you've proved that you can only know lots of little things about a person you love over a long time - but not the Big Stuff?

Why is the Big Stuff necessarily off limits?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:38 PM on August 4, 2009


We can't know one another that well, and shouldn't pretend to.

Ok. But you sure can have a good basis for suspecting what someone's deepest feelings might be. And again, even if she was presuming to know his feelings better than he himself did, he still had the opportunity to prove her wrong - and didn't. So she wasn't wrong. Her guess was an excellent one. Would the 17-year-olds' guess have been so good?
posted by Miko at 1:42 PM on August 4, 2009


May I interject? Sometimes you really don't know.

You take what you think will be your best shot. Sometimes it works.
posted by Liv Pooleside at 1:43 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


But sometimes, in a long (or perhaps even not so long, but length of knowledge is an advantage) relationship, you do know better. I have a friend who came out of a decade-long relationship recently, and within months had fallen madly-in-something with someone who seemed to be the complete opposite of her former partner. Except....she wasn't the opposite. And while my friend was telling me about this one, true amazing person, I was thinking "Uh-oh."

I didn't say this to her. I told her I loved her and I was glad she was happy. But I knew that she was making a bad choice (we've known each other 25 years). The choice she was making wasn't potentially life-wrecking, and she's a smart person who's pretty good at being honest with herself. If she had suddenly started talking about making big big changes, I would have said something, but she didn't. After a few months, she realized that One True Love was really...not, and broke it off.

Sometimes, yes, someone may know you better than you know yourself, and can help keep you from doing serious damage to yourself and those who love you. Sometimes knowing someone like this requires active intervention, and sometimes it requires getting out of the way. If you have someone like this in your life, count your blessings.

And to this, specifically: She goes one step too far in asserting that you can come to know someone so well, you can dismiss their stated feelings (e.g. I want to break up with you) as being somehow illegitimate.

In the 20-odd years they've been married, I imagine they've both seen each other repeat all kinds of emotional patterns, good and bad. The author contextualizes her interpretation of his feelings - his business not going well, his role in the family changing - and I read this as not her dismissing his feelings, but understanding that they weren't actually about her. If they had been about her, then he could have simply left. He didn't.
posted by rtha at 1:47 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I see, I think, what phrontist is getting at. Yes, you can get to know someone better and better over the years, and very possibly you may know them well enough to know their "true" desires. But no one can guarantee that you actually do know that person as well as you think you do. Your beloved could be an amazing actor, you could be amazingly incapable of reading people, or and in my mind this is the most likely, your beloved could not know what exactly it is that they want themselves. And in that case, it is extremely presumptious to claim you know what the other wants better than they do.
posted by teleri025 at 1:50 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


This was a great article, and I almost hesitated before coming back here to read the comments, but it seems like most people get what she was trying to do. I understand exactly what she means when she says she didn't buy it. She knew he still loved her. She knew his problems lay within him, and not between them.

We certainly haven't had moments like THIS in our marriage, but I can definitely identify with being the calm one who lets the temper tantrum burn itself out. It's not easy but it's always worth it, and we're always stronger afterwards.
posted by desjardins at 1:52 PM on August 4, 2009


p.s. I am insanely jealous that she lives in Montana.
posted by desjardins at 1:53 PM on August 4, 2009


phrontist, the author of the article made an educated guess, and put a 6-month-ish time limit on the approach she chose.
posted by everichon at 1:54 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, yeah, but it's a reality that two people create, so extending an invitation to try a different course is a game-changer. I don't see that as controlling or manipulative. I see it as creative.
posted by Liv Pooleside at 1:55 PM on August 4, 2009


(my last comment was directed to the statement that you can't really "know" what the other person is really about)
posted by Liv Pooleside at 1:58 PM on August 4, 2009


And in that case, it is extremely presumptious to claim you know what the other wants better than they do.

teleri025,
Except for your claim to stick - you have to (rather presumptuously!) assume there is no validity in the writer's list of external factors backing up her decision.

The fact his salary had taken a knock, he was physically below par - and all the rest.

Additionally, it doesn't strike me as "presumptuous" to offer your partner a time out from some of the burdens of married life to think over what he should do.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 1:58 PM on August 4, 2009


I was all ready to snark and critique, but my only conclusion is that this woman's husband is a lucky man.

Definitely. This was a very interesting article. I don't think very many people could do what that woman did even if they did have the insight to see what was happening with their spouse.

Oh, and she can handle a chainsaw. Cool.
posted by caddis at 2:08 PM on August 4, 2009


My suspicion all along was that he was cheating on her, and cheated on her long enough that the fun wore off and the woman he was cheating with started to seem too much like what he was running from to begin with, so he figured: "Fuck it, I'm going home." I'm not taking any sides here; just my guess.

If he was having an affair in a town of 5000 people, everyone would know. Everyone. The author may have omitted this, but why would she bother, if it didn't change the outcome?
posted by desjardins at 2:14 PM on August 4, 2009


My suspicion all along was that he was cheating on her, and cheated on her long enough that the fun wore off and the woman he was cheating with started to seem too much like what he was running from to begin with, so he figured: "Fuck it, I'm going home." I'm not taking any sides here; just my guess.

>>Sure, that's possible. But if that's what happened, how does it change the message of the essay?


I'm not sure it does, if the message is to just basically hang in there and maybe your SO will see the light. But I'm not sure she's grappling with the idea that he could have been having an affair to the extent that that (an affair) seems to be a realistic possibility, and I wonder whether she would have hung around had she six months earlier acknowledged this as a more likely scenario to herself.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2009


If he was having an affair in a town of 5000 people, everyone would know. Everyone. The author may have omitted this, but why would she bother, if it didn't change the outcome?

What I'm wondering is whether that outcome would have been the outcome if she had seriously looked into the idea that he was cheating on her, and found that he was. How much of her ability to stick it out was founded on hoping for the best, and to what degree might that have kept her from seeing things that were really going on? I mean, in a town of 5000 people she might well have known had she been interested in hearing it at all, but it sounds to me like she most certainly was not interested in hearing any such thing, thank you. (And, of course, there's no reason to think his choices were limited to residents of the town anyway.)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:54 PM on August 4, 2009


I read the article because it was the "most e-mailed" # 1 on the new york times home page. I read it all the way to the end, but not attentively enough to grok the piece where her husband encouraged her to write it so my initial reaction was the same as The Straightener's initial reaction above. I write a bit and I have a few writerly friends and the wisest of these is fond of saying,

"do not write about your friends if you want to keep them".

If I ever get married the vows are going to include a proscription on blabbing. I always thought that was included in cherish, but with the whole population becoming memoirists it is time to update the vows and make that bit really specific.
posted by bukvich at 2:55 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


Something wrong with a man buying an alligator farm? Maybe putting on a bath robe?
posted by Smedleyman at 3:00 PM on August 4, 2009


what is with all the bolded usernames? that is driving me up the wall. did I miss a memo?
posted by shmegegge at 3:12 PM on August 4, 2009


I'm not sure she's grappling with the idea that he could have been having an affair to the extent that that (an affair) seems to be a realistic possibility

I had the same thought, and then I reflected that though it was odd she didn't mention wondering or knowing whether he was having an affair - ultimately, it's none of my business, and it's not the point of the story. She does say that after the husband's return, they had the "hard conversations," a statement certainly vague enough to include conversations about what he was doing and with whom.

She's smart; obviously it occurred to her he was having an affair. She didn't write about his activities during his absence; just about her response. I don't think it would change her message if he were having an affair, if he were not having an affair, if he were running an alligator farm, if he was hooking up in airport bathrooms, if he joined the circus. I'm sure she grappled with the idea, and maybe with the reality - she just didn't include those details in her piece, because the piece is more about her choices than his.
posted by Miko at 3:51 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's with people assuming he's having an affair?

I have to say, as someone who is going through this right now - in my twenties, and not married, but still, longtime gf - it's amazing to me how many people, when I give them a brief overview of my situation, immediately assume that I have met someone else/am having an affair.

Fact is, its the other way around, and I've learned that my significant other is stepping out with someone else. I'm reluctant to say it, and paint her in a bad light, but it's still the truth. I just can't understand why the assumption is always aimed towards the guy in the relationship.

And thanks for the post .... it applies very directly to my own situation and is helping me to take some new perspectives.
posted by mannequito at 4:14 PM on August 4, 2009


What I'm wondering is whether that outcome would have been the outcome if she had seriously looked into the idea that he was cheating on her, and found that he was.

So what if she did find out he was having an affair? Obviously that wasn't a dealbreaker for her, and he had his chance to flee with the mistress (or just leave in general). Of course she was hoping for the best, or why stick it out? "Whether he cheated" is a red herring here and speaks more to the reader's moral judgment than the author's. Cheating does not have to mean the automatic dissolution of a marriage.
posted by desjardins at 4:16 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is the Oprah-demographic version of regularly sporting pinstripes and a fedora AKA "My penis is so big that it's uncomfortable to ride a bicycle. What other problems will my big penis and I encounter?" but menopausal.
posted by blasdelf at 4:33 PM on August 4, 2009


This is the Oprah-demographic version of regularly sporting pinstripes and a fedora AKA "My penis is so big that it's uncomfortable to ride a bicycle. What other problems will my big penis and I encounter?" but menopausal.

I don't see it, maybe you could elaborate on the similarities?
posted by everichon at 4:41 PM on August 4, 2009


So what if she did find out he was having an affair? Obviously that wasn't a dealbreaker for her, and he had his chance to flee with the mistress (or just leave in general). Of course she was hoping for the best, or why stick it out? "Whether he cheated" is a red herring here and speaks more to the reader's moral judgment than the author's. Cheating does not have to mean the automatic dissolution of a marriage.

No, it doesn't. All I'm saying is that it reads to me as though she -- with some deliberation -- may not have looked very closely at what was going on with him that may have prompted him to want to end the marriage. By which I mean to say, even if an affair were just symptomatic of the larger personal crisis he was then experiencing, it seems to me that she was very deliberately paying no attention to the symptoms, which themselves may have been quite meaningful to him, and hurtful to her, had she been more willing to pay them mind. I'm not making a judgment on either of them, per se -- obviously it had all the outcome that she was looking for, and I presume he ultimately found he was looking for that, too, and didn't just basically give in to relationship inertia. However, if the survival of this marriage comes down in part to her putting her fingers in her ears, then I wonder where it's headed, really. I can't say that that isn't what the survival of a great many marriages (and relationships, romantic and otherwise) comes down to, because I'm sure it is, but I don't know that that's some triumph of the heart so much as it is obstinacy, or just the power of routine in both of their lives. Trust me, I certainly don't know what makes marriages work, so there's nothing damning or prescriptive coming from me. Maybe a few intentional blind spots are necessary for long-term marital survival.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:42 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


kittens: I didn't see it as her putting her fingers in her ears. you said:

she was very deliberately paying no attention to the symptoms

but she says

But his new endeavor hadn’t been going so well, and his ability to be the breadwinner was in rapid decline. He’d been miserable about this, felt useless, was losing himself emotionally and letting himself go physically. And now he wanted out of our marriage; to be done with our family.

She seems pretty clear about what was going on.
posted by desjardins at 4:57 PM on August 4, 2009


She seems pretty clear about what was going on.

I'm not so sure. She also alludes to unexplained disappearances. I suppose he could have been sitting in his car counting his sorrows, but it seems more likely to me that he was with somebody else. Again, I think she's likely right about the overall problems he was experiencing, but seems oddly incurious about what they motivated her husband to do.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:06 PM on August 4, 2009


everichon: The article is a perfect setup for a wish-fulfillment Lifetime Original Movie. It's about how her stubborn condescending mothering directed at her husband got her everything she wanted, exactly as she planned! and everyone's clapping!

More female versions of Fedora-wearing
teleri025 referred to it earlier in the thread as "watch me suffer and be brave"
posted by blasdelf at 5:09 PM on August 4, 2009


She doesn't allude to unexplained absences, she talks about them up front:
Well, he didn’t move out.

Instead, he spent the summer being unreliable. He stopped coming home at his usual six o’clock. He would stay out late and not call. He blew off our entire Fourth of July — the parade, the barbecue, the fireworks — to go to someone else’s party. When he was at home, he was distant. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. He didn’t even wish me “Happy Birthday.”
This happened after he announced he didn't love her any more, and she said she didn't buy it, here's some space, honey. What you read as fingers-in-ears she's quite clear about it being "here's space." She didn't believe the problem was hers to fix - it was his to figure out and fix, or ask for help fixing, or deny, whatever, but it was his. She was trying to give him the room to figure it out. Maybe it was an affair, and maybe the affair was symptomatic of his struggling business or his wigging out about lost chances or whatever, or maybe the affair was he really really fell in love with someone else, or maybe there was no affair at all. In any case, it was up to him to figure out what he wanted.
posted by rtha at 5:40 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Maybe a few intentional blind spots are necessary for long-term marital survival."

As someone who's lived with a woman trained to make pistol head shots at seven meters in under a second and a half, can hit a moving target with a rifle consistently at 200 yards, has the combo to the safe containing my surgeon action.308 and my pistols, and had a ferocious case of postpartum depression, yeah, I'd say so.

But I do think it is most definitely a triumph of the heart. At least in some cases. I can think of no one else I would have gone through the kind of hell I went through with her. Not everyone goes through that. She had a pretty extreme case, borderline psychosis. All things being equal, I'd rather been in a combat zone. So, bad enough.
I'm not saying I love my wife more than some other guy. Every one has different things to deal with. But at some point you make a choice as to whether it's worth it or not. Whatever "it" is.
For me, with her, it was.
For some people, they never have anyone about whom they can say that. Some people have a bunch of people. For me, I'd tear my own guts out for most of the people I'm close to, but the postpartum thing, no, I don't think I'd be able to forgive most people to that depth and with that degree of intimacy.
On the other hand, the person I'm most intimate with is my wife and I don't think anyone else is capable of hurting me to that depth or to that degree of intimacy.
Again - different for some people.

Now I don't know that her situation is analogous. But I understand the underlying emotion - I would not abandon my wife under any circumstances or allow her to make a mistake that I am certain she would regret later.
(On a side note - imagine this were a man. This would be thought of as so overbearing.)

And that's a fine line to walk really. But it costs you either way. And more if you were right but decided it wasn't worth it.
I mean - on the one hand - ok, he's serious and he really doesn't love her and it's not a midlife or passing thing and it's not about healing him so she's wrong - what happens? Well, he walks and the same damage is done as if she didn't try.
And on the other - it is a midlife crisis, he is hurting, but she can't, or won't deal with it the way she did or he goes and really does have an affair or whatever it might take to cross that threshold so there's no going back - and that is, or at least can be, blameless. Sometimes things just happen that way. I mean, even if you don't do anything wrong and don't mean to hurt someone that can happen anyway. Not condoning having an affair, but sometimes it's not a willful thing. You think someone wakes up in the morning or sits there as a kid and says "I want to be an alcoholic!"? So - things happen. And it is complex.(Passion is the evil in adultery - to quote augustine) Of course, sometimes you're just hiking the Appalachian trail... but anyway - she let's it go, he has his affair or doesn't or whatever - and again - same damage. Except this time you didn't try.

And I'm not casting the effort in objective terms here at all. We know in our hearts whether we're acting in accordance with our own wishes or rules or whether we're in earnest or not.
Although sometimes, we don't.
And I think it's not a bad thing for those who do to help out those who are lost. And vice versa. My wife has straightened me out when I've lost it.
It's nice having a partner. And our relationship takes effort but hell, some people break a sweat jerking off. Just getting up in the morning takes effort.
But y'know, I don't look down on anyone who doesn't, say, hit the gym in the morning. They've got their priorities, I've got mine.

All that matters is determining what it is that makes you happy. As it is, my wife makes me endlessly happy. So, is love blind? I suppose. But I don't know what it is I'm supposed to see or what it is I've lost by that. I've only seen how much love has freed me.
How can one lose something to what one considers a part of oneself? Only way that would happen to me is to lose my wife. And for what? If you have decent hygiene and you're not in atrocious shape, it's not hard to get almost any woman you want. Me, I don't want anyone else. It's that simple. I like the intimacy. I like the closeness. I like being a partner, and most importantly her partner, because it makes me part of her and vice versa and both of us part of something larger.

This sounds to me like the guy here needed to be reminded he was a part of something. Because it doesn't sound like his priorities lay elsewhere.
I mean what'd he do on the 4th? Get drunk? Get laid? If that was his thing he'd have been doing it. She gave him the space to do it and the time to figure it out.
What'd he do? He came home and mowed the lawn.
I have to agree with the assessment from the piece, that's a pretty clear statement of priorities to me.
The people saying 'maturity' are dead on. Getting laid all the time, getting drunk, acting wild, that was ok as a kid. You grow up and many people stop. Not because they can't do it anymore (hell, I just got hit on today) but because you learn that there are things that are more important, more fulfilling to have and be part of.
Maybe it's sad we outgrow these things. Hell, recess was a lot of fun. I miss strapping on football pads every fall too. But we do outgrow them. And not because of physical age or infirmity or the comfort of routine, but because we learn there are better things.

At least better things that suit some of us. Hef wants to fly around, play in the grotto at 104 years old, stick denture cream in moist crevasses, hey, that's what he really wants, so that's his thing.
posted by Smedleyman at 6:12 PM on August 4, 2009 [4 favorites]


It's about how her stubborn condescending mothering directed at her husband got her everything she wanted,

Man, we really read different articles.
posted by rtha at 6:45 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


He was having an affair, and the wife was just waiting for the affair to burn itself out, which it did.

Probably a fair summary. But, so... "understanding and/or patient women actually exist" is now considered news?

That's a bit offensive, in that "believe it or not, not all librarians are nasty harpies" way.

This scenario happens thousands times per day, and has happened for thousands of years... but I guess now that it's in the New York Times, it's somehow more real and meaningful.
posted by rokusan at 7:08 PM on August 4, 2009


It's about how her stubborn condescending mothering directed at her husband got her everything she wanted,

Man, we really read different articles.


It is nearly like an inkblot, how different people in different mindsets at different phases of their lives can interpret the content of this article in different ways...

It nearly makes me wish Wikipedia had posted "most common responses" to this article instead of the Rorschach test.
posted by hippybear at 7:13 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm going to go right out there and say that this lady has BALLS.

Even if it hadn't worked out and he had actually gone through the steps to get a divorce, to truly stick by this without jumping straight into making it worse takes some serious stones.

I've been through a divorce and I have to say that in hindsight, even if we couldn't salvage the relationship, if both of us had just worked harder to NOT MAKE IT WORSE, it would have been a zillion times easier for everybody. But that's truly your first impulse when the shit hits the fan - "Oh boy! Let's fling some more shit!"

Yeah, it was a risky move, but it's way better for everyone than finding some extra feces in a corner and flingin' em right back.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:39 PM on August 4, 2009 [3 favorites]


This story is the story of the changing readership of the NYT. Broadly I think it is moving to a middle-aged female center. Sometimes it shows itself in harmless or interesting ways, like this. Sometimes it's just obnoxious, like that horrible Shamu article that was at the top of the Most Emailed list for weeks.

I think you may be on to something, grobstein. But I must disagree with your characterization of the Shamu article as "horrible." I regularly apply some of the lessons I learned from that article at home and at work, and it's been quite beneficial. Further, the gist of that article is a lot like the gist of the one we're all discussing in this thread.

As ND¢ so succinctly put it:

Reading between the lines, it appears the lesson is that wives should just look the other way if their husbands want to go out and get a little strange on occasion. Seems reasonable to me.

Exactly. Right on.
posted by limeonaire at 8:06 PM on August 4, 2009


if the survival of this marriage comes down in part to her putting her fingers in her ears, then I wonder where it's headed, really.

If there's an affair, and if the affair is not about the superior qualities of another woman but about a man's unhappiness with himself, how important are the details? Fucking's fucking. She clearly knew it was a possibility if not a reality. If the marriage breaks up, it's not because she "put her fingers in her ears," it's because he chose to leave the marriage. She really doesn't need any details, because it's not about her.
posted by Miko at 8:16 PM on August 4, 2009


Reading between the lines, it appears the lesson is that wives should just look the other way if their husbands want to go out and get a little strange on occasion. Seems reasonable to me.

Exactly. Right on.


Yep, and what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander...just ask the wife!
posted by Miko at 8:17 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I feel really ashamed to say that, had I been her, I would have agreed to a divorce because I would have been very proud and then stewed/been resentful about everything later. The article really made me think what "family" meant (outside of the family you're born into), especially when you're middle aged and your parents have passed and the people who loved you and raised you that you thought you could return to for help and guidance and comfort are gone.
posted by anniecat at 8:41 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I thought that what Riemann thought was that it was unfortunate (I am trying to use more polite language) that there were people in their 40s and 50s who suddenly realized that they would not accomplish their goals, or question whether those goals were even worth accomplishing, since he does those things every day at age 28. The chorus responded, "Just wait till you get to middle age and then you'll see, young buck!"

I am 27 and feel like I am acutely aware both that even my most important projects probably won't be completed or won't satisfy me in the way that I'd hoped even if they were completed, and more broadly that every step I take closes a hundred doors forever. I think I'm in the boat with Riemann. Can a chorus member take a crack at educating me? What don't I understand about middle age?
posted by Kwine at 8:49 PM on August 4, 2009


It is nearly like an inkblot, how different people in different mindsets at different phases of their lives can interpret the content of this article in different ways...

It's interesting, isn't it?

I went back reread the piece, with blasdelf's words in my head. And I can kind of see where you're coming from. I'm really wishing that the 10th anniversary meetup were this coming weekend so we could argue about this over beers and a flaming table! But this what I got out of reading that with condescending mothering in mind.

He needed a damn mommy. He didn't even have a plan! I mean, if you want out of something badly enough - a job, a relationship - and assuming no threat of violence, then the plan is simple. "I'm leaving," you announce.

And then you leave.

But he didn't even have that together, and hoofbeats tell me that he didn't leave because he didn't actually want to. He didn't know what he wanted, except perhaps a very vague "not this." He wanted to make it about her because that was easier (and less scary) than looking at what he really wanted and why he was feeling the way he was feeling. If it really had been about her, he would have left.

He needed someone to take care of him for a while, and she was able to give him that. I think they both got something out of this struggle. I hope they continue to.
posted by rtha at 9:02 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't know, blasdelf--I was expecting what you describe before I read the article. Having read it, I just don't see what you're seeing based on her words. Which, who knows, right? We are looking at this narrative through a carefully constructed paper-towel tube. Rashomon, man! I'm going to bed.
posted by everichon at 9:26 PM on August 4, 2009


Reading between the lines, it appears the lesson is that wives should just look the other way if their husbands want to go out and get a little strange on occasion. Seems reasonable to me.

If you replace "wives" and "husbands" with "spouses" up there, you have the makings of a much healthier relationship than all this absolutist and unrealistic-expectation nonsense that's been pummeled into US culture for the last sixty years.

People whose relationships are so fragile they can't survive a couple of drunken fucks don't have meaningful relationships to begin with. They have houses of cards glued together with self-deception.

There's nothing heroic about this, either way.
posted by rokusan at 10:38 PM on August 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I read it as her being practical. A divorce dissolves the marriage but the children ensure he would be in her life, dictating her choices to a large extent for a decade or more. As a married couple she might present the idea that they live in Paris for a year and they decide as a team to do so. As exes, she would probably have to live physically close to him and the expense of having the set up two separate households would impede any major moves even if they agreed in principal it was a good thing. She would still need to negotiate all the petty things parents have to do on a daily basis (can you pick the kids up today instead? let's celebrate the first-born's birthday a week late because it fits in my schedule better) without any of the leverage in a marriage. If the divorce is acrimonious (shocking, I know) all those mutually beneficial favours co-parents do disappear and everything becomes much harder.

Having seen a few friends go through the exact same thing lately, although I admire her long view in determining that a flawed husband was better than a flawed ex-husband who would still be in her life on a regular basis I do also admire the people that say "THIS is a dealbreaker". If THIS continues I will no longer be your partner. And follow though on it. Of the recent MLC with affairs (cheating, denied affairs - not "agreements") my friends have gone through so far 100% of the men have said afterward they wanted the affair but did not want the consequence (losing familiar wife, status, money and daily access to children). Which sucks for them. But it also sucked for the person who's trust was betrayed. And who feel rightly insulted they were expected to wait it out and not experience change themselves. The space the husband needed opens up a perfect little spot for the wife to decide she likes the new arrangement and doesn't want to go back to the familiar when hubby decides he liked the old way better. Actually, a friend who I was talking about this with today (before I read this post) was commenting that back home in the former Eastern Bloc all her friends accepted their straying husbands back not out of love but solely because of finances even though they felt very different about them.

The person upthread who equated the hormonal changes of MLC with adolescence or menopause strikes a chord in me. But society doesn't do either of those two well, not to mention toddler temper tantrums or people with mixed up brain chemistry. Just speaking for myself I know too many men that used the MLC as an excuse to shirk their own responsibilities they created (children, no time for dates with wives because they are too busy at the gym, mutual savings blown on sports cars) versus women that experience menopause (or a MLC) and decide they want less of other people's responsibilities (do your own laundry - I'm not your maid, now the children are older I'm going back to school, I want to travel more so you have to find someone else to visit your mother weekly etc). Yes, they are clichés but I have seen too many to not notice a pattern in my middle aged friends.
posted by saucysault at 11:08 PM on August 4, 2009 [2 favorites]


She let him have the space to see what it would be like to have his freedom. He went out and found out he missed his family and that he wasn't going to do any better than that.

In 10 years of marriage... I can remember many times that I didn't feel that I loved my partner. But I knew that these would pass and that our marriage is about a lot more than love and I responsible for my own happiness. Sometimes my partner does know what I are thinking better than me and it is embarrassing to admit it to her.

Also I think that our culture really needs a better way to deal with mid-life crisis. It seems to be portrayed as a weakness and ridiculed, but there is something valuable within the experience that is mostly ignored.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 2:43 AM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was all lol crazy woman and then I was like whoa she's totally awesome and then I was all oh god I'm 35 and what if I'm a bad husband please don't let me die alone.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:24 AM on August 5, 2009 [7 favorites]


Can a chorus member take a crack at educating me? What don't I understand about middle age?

What you don't understand, because you CAN'T understand it, is the ticking of the clock. At 28 you can intellectually grasp the idea that life is finite and your ability to accomplish different things within it is finite as well. BUT, you still have years and years to recalibrate and redefine what your accomplishments will be.

At 47 things are quite different. As a woman, you are past child-bearing (or SHOULD be). That door is closed. If you are single, at this stage of the game, you have a significant number of romantic failures, becoming more acute as you age, because your window of opportunity to find someone is closing or closed. If you are married, you've settled into a companionable, happy arrangement, but you can't help but wonder, what happened to the passion. Is this it?

Women in corporate careers are hitting the glass ceiling and have become frustrated with the lies that they've been told their whole careers: "work hard, please everyone and get as much education as you can and you can go anywhere." Men with corporate careers have watched other people get the jobs they wanted, or they have the upper echelon jobs and have discovered that they don't want to be THAT involved in their jobs. Both parties wonder if they shouldn't have discovered their disenchantment sooner and have made a career change.

People who have made a career change and have the same feelings of discontent wonder if they shouldn't have stayed a drone in sector R at "Big Corporation" because at least they still would have had a pension.

At 47 the dream of retiring at 50 is looking ridiculous. There's no way, and it seems that there's at least another 20 years of work ahead, and dammit, I'm still going to have to work as a Wal-Mart greeter, just to make ends meet when I do retire.

If you had kids, they're grown and having their own problems, and because they're your kids, they're your problems too.

Your parents are old and the parts are falling off. They've become dependent upon you and turn to you for advice, assistance and help in setting the VCR to tape Oprah so that they can go to Curves. It's frightening to see the people who were always there for you, reaching out for your help. Especially if you're not in a position to be of much help.

At middle-age your dreams are revealed as frauds, and you're too old, too tired and too disillusioned to get back up off the canvas and try again. At middle-age you have to decide, can I live with this situation for another 40 years? If you can, then it's 40 more years of...this. If you can't, then you've got to figure out what your plan is, and that's so much work.

At middle-age, you're body is betraying you, your face tells a story and if you don't want it to, you've got to get some Botox.

When you see a mid-life crisis, what you are seeing is a desperate attempt of some poor soul to redefine his or her life so that it has meaning. Usually this redefinition hurts the people who have been in this person's life for the previous 47 years. In most cases, this action just prolongs the agony. Then they're stuck with a different job, different spouse and maybe some new kids and they're just as miserable as they were before.

Luckily for some of us, we gracefully accept our limitations, external and internal. We're blessed with a spouse whom we love unconditionally and hope to grow old and doddering with. We view our careers as a misadventure at best and continue to plod on, with no expectation of finding fulfillment in our work per se, but rather in the connections and relationships we make while earning our paychecks.

If you can accept and embrace the ephemeral nature of life and you can laugh at how it turns out, then you can usually navigate the shoals of mid-life. It takes a hell of a sense of humor.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:39 AM on August 5, 2009 [37 favorites]


MeFi's software is a wonderful thing, but it has its limitations- one of which is that it is only possible to favorite something in a binary way. Given that limitation, the best I can do is click the little plus sign beside the post, then say to all and sundry:

THIS.
posted by Pragmatica at 7:02 AM on August 5, 2009


Can a chorus member take a crack at educating me? What don't I understand about middle age?

You still have a lot of time to make changes. You still have a lot of time. You have a lot of time. There are many more branchings left in your path. Fewer formative decisions have been made. Your life may yet take many disparate shapes.

Of course at 48 your life might, too, but the possibilities are exponentially smaller because there are simply fewer branching points left to you. An unknown number are still left, but it is by definition orders of magnitude smaller than the branching points you have before you now.

In addition to the things Ruthless Bunny said, your body feels different. Though in many ways I'm healthier than I was at 28 (I don't smoke anymore and I weigh less), I don't have the reserves of energy I did up until pretty much my mid-30s. I can't do all right on not enough sleep. I can't go days on end with a crazy schedule of back-to-back work and social engagements and still bounce back to rage on the weekend. I've had a couple medical scares - these make you stare the Big C in the face and remember everyone you've ever known or or heard of who died of cancer or heart disease at 42, or 48, or 53, and realize how possible that could be for you, not in the abstract future, but like right now.

You've got a lot of miles on you, have adapted to a lot of changes, rarely had much of a chance to catch up with yourself, and a lot of the time just long for peace and quiet instead of high adventure and feats of daring. You've experienced disappointing yourself. You're intimately acquainted with your flaws, many of them flaws you probably didn't even know you had when you were 28.

You've seen a lot of people you love die. The world in which you were a child and an adolescent is completely gone, meaningless, the stuff of vague nostalgia.

I don't mean to paint an overly dark picture - life is very happy and a great opportunity and I'll take it over the alternative. It's just that when I was younger, I felt there was essentially no difference between my outlook on life and what would be my outlook 20 years later. I was wrong. There was just a lot I didn't know. Experience leaves its mark on you. I am the same person, but I sure don't make all the same kinds of decisions, want all the same things, have the same hopes, or feel the same way most days. If there's a single guarantee in this world, it's that life will change you, gradually.

Even if you don't believe you will change, I suggest writing yourself a letter which you will open 20 years from now. Write down all your thoughts about how you see yourself in middle age.

I agree that we have developed few cultural rites of passage that ease the onset of middle age. Part of this is that 'middle age' is a recent historical phenomenon. In most centuries past, adulthood consisted of Childrearing Years/Prime of One's Powers and then immediately Old Age followed by Dying. I just encountered some mortality statistic about how when most women died in the 19th century they still had at least one child under 18 in the house. "Midlife" is a meaningless concept in that world. We've created it by reducing family size and extending average lifespan, so that now there is a stretch of decades between completing your family if you have one/deciding not to have one and entering the phase of dying/failing health. At some level we are not sure what to do with that time, since we have no good script for it. The previous generations have not necessarily hit on models with widespread applicability: the WWII Generation buckled down and focused on work and dreamed of the rewards that would come with retirement - something that economics makes unlikely for the generation presently entering middle age. The Boomers pretty much pretended middle age didn't exist, continuing to live like young adults ("50 is the new 40!") rather than deal directly with the passing of youth, providing a model of dealing with aging through denial and maintenance of high standards of activity and achievement. On the other hand, they've blazed a trail that does say you don't have to "act old" unless you want to - no one would seriously say there's a specific age at which you should stop wearing short skirts, or stop dying your hair, as they would have said 30 years ago.

Both those models embrace and celebrate some of the positive aspects of aging - increased freedom from responsibility, freedom from expectations, increased power of choice, better economic security, time to pursue one's passions, etc. But neither really addresses the mournful aspects of aging in a realistic, head-on way.

I think this is also why we have rituals with long, deep cultural roots for births, coming of age, marriage and death but not for the life phase of midlife - because it really never existed as a demographic reality until the past century, and we have yet to invent the cultural response we need.
posted by Miko at 7:11 AM on August 5, 2009 [19 favorites]


Society as a whole is less forgiving of mistakes that were once dismissed as inexperience. Breaking someone's heart, flubbing up at the job, blowing your savings on a frivolous purchase are looked at by older people as life lessons they also made that hopefully the younger person will learn from. But if you are on the other side of forty and still don't know that lying in relationships is wrong, or blowing off work is stupid or are struggling to pay the rent people will start to look at you as pathetic and someone that isn't smart enough to learn from their mistakes. I think most people accept that mistakes are normal, but you should be doing NEW mistakes each year, not repeating the ones from your teen years.
posted by saucysault at 7:14 AM on August 5, 2009


I am old enough to have a mid life crisis but I cannot be bothered. Consider the following thought experiment. You were created by the big model railroader in the sky 15 seconds ago with all your previous 40-50-60 years' (whatever the # is for you) intact.

Look at the actuary table. You got 45-36-27 whatever years and you can do whatever.

Just go do it. None of us 6 billion people out here in the peanut gallery really care what you do.

NOW HOW HARD IS THAT?
posted by bukvich at 7:54 AM on August 5, 2009


Those were quite interesting and helpful responses, Miko and Ruthless Bunny. Thanks!
posted by Kwine at 8:45 AM on August 5, 2009


Ruthless Bunny is ruthless. And correct.
posted by rokusan at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome post ruthless bunny, and greetings from Sector M.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:50 AM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's a lot that people in their twenties (me included) can't even imagine about middle age, but I'm surprised no one's brought up what a Baby Boomer/Gen-X thing the mid-life crisis cliché is.

Middle-class Americans who are now in their 20s grew up in a very, very different world than people 10 or 20 years earlier. We watched our parents and our friends' parents go through midlife crises (including many, many divorces) that our grandparents did not, we were invited into older people's uncensored thoughts through the internet, and the Chicken Littleing of the current recession has made everyone born 1985-1988 question their ability to make their dreams come true before they even had a chance to try. There's hardly a corporate track to get on anymore, no one wants a mortgage-- we've all seen how unattractive and ill-advised these things can be.

So, in short, we may be stupid and young, but the world's changing and we're watching.
posted by oinopaponton at 12:12 PM on August 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, but you could say the same thing about Generation X, which I'm in, and we still have to face the reality that increasing age = declining opportunities. It's not necessarily about not achieving the corner office or some such affluent Boomer dream, it's about not having as many other choices left as you once did.
posted by Miko at 12:18 PM on August 5, 2009 [2 favorites]


Echoing Miko that everything you said about being in your twenties now is exactly how I felt in the late eighties/early nineties (big recession, lots of divorced parents, an adult-focused culture). We survived. You will too.
posted by saucysault at 1:42 PM on August 5, 2009


Why an affair? Why not credit card debt? or a really bonehead move that cost him the job/position he seems to have lost? What about a health issue that both threw him for a loop and also was largely his fault because he refused to see a doctor until it was very serious? I've seen divorces over those and other issues...
posted by Lesser Shrew at 2:02 PM on August 5, 2009


I think it's pretty modernly universal for each generation to feel as though they are inventing the world as they move forward in time. But I doubt there is much which any age group has encountered that is somehow "new", except for the internet and the vast resources of information and connectivity which it allows. But even that has been around for 30 years now, at least.
posted by hippybear at 4:09 PM on August 5, 2009


Ms Munson herself seems to imply it was not an affair (or else I am reading her comment wrong) on her own blog. "Mine was a different story, but I think that it’s always helpful to look at the reasons why someone is going outside a marriage. " Sex sells though and people perfer to gossip about other people's sex lives...
posted by saucysault at 4:44 PM on August 5, 2009


Late to the party, but thanks so much for this.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:07 PM on August 7, 2009


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