The Crane Wife
July 22, 2019 4:23 AM   Subscribe

"Surely, I will cancel this trip, I thought, as I shopped for nylon hiking pants that zipped off at the knee. Surely, a person who calls off a wedding is meant to be sitting sadly at home, reflecting on the enormity of what has transpired and not doing whatever it is I am about to be doing that requires a pair of plastic clogs with drainage holes."
posted by Catseye (74 comments total) 167 users marked this as a favorite
Compounding shame: the shame of having needs; the shame of having to articulate them again and again in order to get them met; the shame of having those explicit needs unmet; the shame of realizing how small all of this is compared to external emergencies; the shame of not being able to talk about any of this; the silent shame of mis-locating self-worth, and calling that maneuver a good idea. Good essay, Catseye; thanks for posting.
posted by MonkeyToes at 4:51 AM on July 22, 2019 [56 favorites]

"That I wanted someone to articulate that they loved me, that they saw me, was a personal failing and I tried to overcome it."

Thank you for this story. It hit home in ways I'm going to have to sit with for awhile.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:12 AM on July 22, 2019 [16 favorites]

... oof.

Thanks for posting; this is going to sit on my heart for a while.
posted by minsies at 5:15 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

What a powerful story. Thank you for sharing.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 5:27 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Feels almost as if there is a small series going right now, a theme of MeFi posts about women's needs, desires, hungers, having them met or not, the feelings associated with noticing them, just all sorts of perspective around that. It makes me really cognizant of how rare that is, so thank you to those who are opening these discussions.

Anyway, reading and thinking so much about this has been a difficult journey that is spurring what I would call a minor nervous breakdown.

the shame of having needs; the shame of having to articulate them again and again in order to get them met; the shame of having those explicit needs unmet;

The shame of being told that you need to stop giving the silent treatment. Be vulnerable. Communicate. Let the walls down. Talk about your needs. "I'd do anything for you." Anything, evidently, except the basic things I have explicitly asked you to do in a moment of great vulnerability that took enormous courage to overcome and proved a pointless breach to have jumped into.

I did the mental gymnastics required.
posted by ramble-on-prose at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2019 [35 favorites]

I keep thinking of this article a friend posted yesterday: The Quiet Cruelty of When Harry Met Sally (written by someone who loves the movie, by the way). “You’re the worst kind. You’re high-maintenance, but you think you’re low-maintenance.”

Also, The Valentine’s Day Dilemma and the Perfect Girlfriend Who Never Wants Anything.

How pervasive is the social pressure to be “cool” and “ low-maintenance,” to never request any emotional labor at all from the person who supposedly loves you.

As you may be able to tell, I’ve spent a lot of my life struggling with this pressure. Even with a partner who doesn’t apply it himself. It only takes one past partner who did, and you’ve got that voice in your head for years.
posted by snowmentality at 5:50 AM on July 22, 2019 [41 favorites]

i needed to read that. thanks for sharing.
posted by the thought-fox at 5:52 AM on July 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I had a boyfriend once in front of whom I couldn't say the word "emasculated". This story made me think of him a lot. I felt things.
posted by wellred at 5:55 AM on July 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

One particular time, I had put on a favorite red dress for a wedding. I exploded from the bathroom to show him. He stared at his phone. I wanted him to tell me I looked nice, so I shimmied and squeezed his shoulders and said, “You look nice! Tell me I look nice!” He said, “I told you that you looked nice when you wore that dress last summer. It’s reasonable to assume I still think you look nice in it now.”

In my long term relationship that caused long term problems for me I had a similar situation. So much so that this passage caused me to nearly burst into tears and have gasping sobs for several moments because I could not believe it was Not Just Me.

In an effort to be sexy and feel sexy and because sex was important to him the way intimacy was to me, I went to great lengths to find actual thigh highs that connected to a garter belt, not the kind that stayed up with a silicone strip. I got a fancy teddy. I got fancy underwear. This was about a six-week effort on my part, going to tjmaxx and target and the mall.

On the night I had it all, I went to the bedroom and stuck one leg in classic sexy entrance also just being silly.

I came in quite proud of myself with a huge smile on my face.

Only to see him looking somewhat confused, continuing to read his book, looking at me over the tops of his glasses.

I can’t recall the conversation any longer except the part where he said “you don’t need to do this” after I just told him I did it for him to be special.

He never got off the bed to come embrace or tell me I looked sexy. It wasn’t that kind of “you don’t need to this, you look sexy anyways.”

There was no comma.

I think I stayed for another year. But that night I grabbed a pillow and slept on the couch. That was the first night I really saw that even with my issues that I was trying my best to work on, this is what the reality was.

I had begged him for years to just tell me loved me, that he thought I was pretty and smelled nice. That exact phrase. I learned from askme to say explicitly what I wanted.

I said it for years. I said it the night I moved out when he asked what he could do to make me stay.
posted by sio42 at 6:11 AM on July 22, 2019 [102 favorites]

I, a person who does not care a single bit about birthday cards and cares only about 1/10th of a bit about birthdays at all, just went incandescent with rage when I reached the bit about the birthday card. That's not "not being into celebrating birthdays," that's "blatant contempt." Good lord.

I love this; thanks for sharing it.
posted by Stacey at 6:11 AM on July 22, 2019 [47 favorites]

I realized it was not that remarkable for a person to understand what another person needed.
posted by sallybrown at 6:14 AM on July 22, 2019 [53 favorites]

"I realized it was not that remarkable for a person to understand what another person needed."

THIS. I teared up when I read it. I feel like I have a sensitivity in my brain all the time that tries to figure out how to make others feel safe and wanted and needed, but I continually downplay what I need because I know I'll be ok. I think this is a common problem.
posted by evelvenin at 6:19 AM on July 22, 2019 [26 favorites]

I realized how sad it was that I’d bet so low. That I wouldn’t even let myself imagine receiving as much as I’d hoped for.

This was the line that made me catch my breath. Wow.

Thank you for sharing this.
posted by bookmammal at 6:20 AM on July 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

Still reading but this:
There are sadder stories than this. There are species going extinct, and a planet warming. I told myself: who are you to complain, you with these frivolous extracurricular needs?

Has me saying “this is a reason for demanding your needs, not the time to hold back”
posted by nikaspark at 6:23 AM on July 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

Welp I meant to hit preview and edit out my detailed story part but hit post apparently and then put my phone down, so I’m out of the edit window.

Anyways yeah this really hit home in many many ways. It’s reassuring but also quite sad that so many can relate to this article deeply.
posted by sio42 at 6:28 AM on July 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

I keep thinking of this article a friend posted yesterday: The Quiet Cruelty of When Harry Met Sally (written by someone who loves the movie, by the way).

snowmentality, me too. Couldn't stop thinking about that article during the whole read. The note in that article about how defending yourself against the charge of being 'high maintenance' was simply a sign that you are, gave me so much shaking anger and resentment of the recognition that that trap and so many other traps exist.
posted by ramble-on-prose at 6:30 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

What a gem, what a jewel of an essay! I'm torn between how strongly this resonates with me on a personal level and how much I admire the way she has interwoven everything so tightly, how well every sentence is crafted...

Nothing that makes me hate myself more than being burdensome and less than self-sufficient. I did not want to feel like the kind of nagging woman who might exist in a sit-com.

These were small things, and I told myself it was stupid to feel disappointed by them. I had arrived in my thirties believing that to need things from others made you weak. I think this is true for lots of people but I think it is especially true for women.

Especially true. Especially true.
posted by drlith at 6:30 AM on July 22, 2019 [14 favorites]

The temptation with these stories is also to just shrug and say "Dudes are oblivious, lol," when really, there's no excuse for refusing to tell someone they are pretty; it's a choice. It's an act of power and domination to withhold what your partner has specifically told you they need (or just to not pay attention when they tell you).

Which is why it's so crushing. Because they keep telling you "sorry, I'm just oblivous" when that's not what's happening, so now you're being gaslit on top of being neglected.

The stereotypes around men's "inability" to understand emotional needs are a very convenient dodge for men who want to be cruel, withholding or manipulative.

What's distressing to me is how many of these assholes are out there. I keep hearing stories! What the fuck.
posted by emjaybee at 6:53 AM on July 22, 2019 [78 favorites]

Christ what an asshole
posted by thelonius at 6:54 AM on July 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

This was so well written it could have been a short story. I've squeezed myself small for people but never in so tight a box as she describes - just heartbreaking and I'm glad she's out (and hopeful her words can help get others out).
posted by Mchelly at 7:02 AM on July 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

I would give the last knuckle of my pinky fingers if my wife could read "There is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires." and for her to _know_ that by ignoring those desires whole parts of me are withered and dying.

I appreciate the courage the author had for leaving. How do you find this courage? I appreciate her vulnerability. How do you find the way to be that vulnerable when you know everyone you know will see it. Amazing.
posted by sp_w at 7:30 AM on July 22, 2019 [11 favorites]


while reading this, i kept seeing the AskMefi post with the long list of DTMFA replies
posted by kokaku at 7:31 AM on July 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

My ex was this guy. And this article reminds me how lucky I am to have found someone who actually does appreciate my needs and doesn't love me because I'm "low-maintenance." Whatever the hell that means.

We are all humans and we all have needs. It is not embarrassing or shameful to articulate those needs. It does not take an omniscient deity to notice that those around you have needs. It should not be amazing for someone to notice your sadness or joy and react accordingly. We have got to stop accepting this mistreatment and calling it love. Love notices, love reacts, love says "Babe, are you okay? Can I help?", above all, love never says "I only love you because you need so little."
posted by teleri025 at 7:39 AM on July 22, 2019 [16 favorites]

The woman who was supposed to become my mother-in-law said, “I was going to do the squirrel but then I thought, that just isn’t CJ. This is CJ.”

What the fuck.

Another time he gave me a birthday card with a sticky note inside that said BIRTHDAY.

What the fuck?

It had happened a year ago. Why was I getting worked up over ancient history?

What the fuck!

I feel so much of this. I used to be this. I still struggle with the impulse to be this even though there is no one in my life currently that requires it of me. It's a reflex. I've been having some physical and mental health problems lately, coinciding (probably not coincidentally) with much more stress at work, and at least 50% of my distress is that suddenly I have needs. I need to lay down, I need quiet, I need my husband to pick up my slack. He continually and sincerely insists that he's happy to do so, but every fiber of my being is struggling against letting him because suddenly I'm not self-sufficient and strong. I'm delicate and fragile and needy. It's the paradox of womanhood that we are simultaneously required to prop up the notion that men have that we need them desperately lest we never be able to open a jar again or whatever, and also that we have no needs at all. I guess it's that we're allowed to have needs that aggrandize men, but we're not allowed to have needs that inconvenience them in any way.

Also also the Being the Cool Girl/Just One of The Guys Except I Get To Sexually Harass You is... ugh. This is like my feminist superhero origin story.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:45 AM on July 22, 2019 [41 favorites]

This is a little off topic.

That story about the stockings says something about where the guy learned to be emotionally withholding.

Why do some people find it so expensive or wearing or whatever it is to show enthusiasm for someone else?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 7:48 AM on July 22, 2019 [16 favorites]

Why do some people find it so expensive or wearing or whatever it is to show enthusiasm for someone else?

In my experience it’s always driven by some combination of a fear of being vulnerable / low self-esteem (not wanting anyone to really know YOU), and the desire to take your pain out on those closest to you (whatever impulse drives abuse). “I hurt, so I want to hurt you, and if I hurt you first, you can’t hurt me.”
posted by sallybrown at 8:02 AM on July 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

This was a great read, thanks for posting it. Looks like the author has a novel that just came out, so I'll be searching for that when I get a chance.

At some point early on in my relationship with my now-husband, we got dressed up to go out to a nice dinner. Before we went out he told me, unprompted, that I looked beautiful (or something to that extent). I almost cried - maybe I did cry? - because I realized that my ex, whom I had dated for five years and had only broken up with a few months prior, never once complimented me like that. Unlike this author, it was never something I consciously asked for from him (I shouldn't have to ask!), but... yea. Turns out it was something I needed, too.
posted by hopeless romantique at 8:18 AM on July 22, 2019 [11 favorites]

This is the part I'm struggling with after the end of my relationship. I'm getting over the anger and the heartbreak-love for him and seeing that it's good for both of us to not date anymore, but I get stuck on the fact that I let my needs go unmet for so long. I didn't even know I had them at first which is why I didn't think anything was weird about us. Then I felt selfish for having romantic needs with Everything Else Going On. Then I got really good at asking for what I needed, which is when I finally realized that he'd been saying no for a long time, I just hadn't heard it. So the weird paradox that he taught he it's ok to have needs but also that they can make a couple incompatible. I'm grateful to realize that, though, instead of sticking through in a subpar relationship until we got sick of each other (hopefully we caught it before that, at least).

It just feels so sad that I made myself so small and so lacking and so unloved, though. It makes me feel like I need to hug my past self like you do for child-selves, even though I'm just a few months out of it.
posted by gaybobbie at 8:19 AM on July 22, 2019 [14 favorites]

Framing "maintenance" as some kind of burden is bullshit anyway. Yeah, I want to do minimum maintenance in all my relationships (even with myself) because minimizing the amount of love expressed and received is CLEARLY the goal in life. I want to slide into death with the minimum of love slowing me down. That's the dream!

Stupidest version of "efficiency" and "rationality" possible.

Like with the post-it in the blank card: this woman's ex didn't even write a love letter on the post-it! I mean, not wanting to "waste" the card by actually giving it to anyone (what else is the card even FOR?) is already tightfisted to the point of pathology, but then he didn't even attempt to justify not writing something less anodyne and more meaningful than "Happy Birthday" on the post-it, either. Such an asshole. Same thing with the mother-in-law and the ridiculous stocking. So insulting, it's like they were trying to bait the writer into a fight again and again.

Good on the writer for having the emotional control to try and respond kindly (for years!), but that passive-aggressive nonsense is insufferable and thank god she finally threw up her hands and said enough, go be petty by your own damn selves!

It's times like that when you have to wonder if having strong emotional coping skills is actually to a person's detriment. Because if the writer hadn't been able to perform all those mental gymnastics to keep the peace for so long, then maybe she would have had no choice but to blow up the relationship and get away from that soul-sucker sooner. Maybe it can be better to be a little less mature and a little worse at coping in a hostile (emotional) environment?
posted by rue72 at 8:30 AM on July 22, 2019 [17 favorites]

it's ok to have needs but also that they can make a couple incompatible

I just got out of a relationship that ended essentially "the things you're asking for are reasonable but realistically I'm probably never going to do them and you deserve better". Points for that much self-awareness, I guess, but big points off for "hmm, these things that upset her have upset other people and cost me relationships and jobs in the past, oh well guess that's just an innate part of my personality and not something I could work on changing".
posted by Flannery Culp at 8:35 AM on July 22, 2019 [12 favorites]

I keep thinking of this article a friend posted yesterday: The Quiet Cruelty of When Harry Met Sally

This was really good, too. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Mchelly at 8:46 AM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

For people/relationships which aren't in drastically bad shape: Having a norm of asking for affection can work very well and prevents people from drifting into not paying attention to each other.

twitter thread
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:58 AM on July 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

Feels almost as if there is a small series going right now, a theme of MeFi posts about women's needs, desires, hungers, having them met or not, the feelings associated with noticing them, just all sorts of perspective around that.

I think this is a conversation that has been happening, here and elsewhere, for... a long time. Years. Hunger, desire, grief, labor: swelling curves of bruised ribs and cracked knuckles alike. There are songs in my head, reading this: Vienna Teng (whatever you want / is fine by me) and Dessa (she learns to live on less / she learns to live on less). It's so familiar and tiring.

And it does knock on. This expect less, need less, be less has been a pattern in some of the relationships in my past, especially with my mother, but also as an adult. It's certainly not only something that only men do in their relationships; one of the most painful moments of my life was finally saying "I'm not okay with this, I can't keep smiling and being less and being less..." and abruptly, almost out of nowhere, losing an entire community. The dynamic often comes up across other patterns of marginalization; the incident I'm thinking of centered around neurodiversity, but I see similar patterns in he discussions we have here about race and class, and a few other topics besides.

But I said there were knock on effects. The thing is, I work really hard in my current partnership at being present, at paying attention to the things that make my partner feel cared about, and not being That Guy. The thing about being asked to live on less is that you start figuring that other people can get by on less, too. You wander about in a haze, hungry and numb, and you lose track of the ability to be present and pay attention and properly connect with the people in front of you. And so hunger spreads. I'm doing better than I was, and part of that has been learning to take affection and let it sink in, to learn again how to experience affection, and to practice quiet and sustainable ways of expressing it.

It's hard to find the balance between "be the you of your truest self" and "demand more" and "give to requests for more" and "respond to criticism" and "but no, truly, be your own self. Your best self. Those are synonyms, right?" Perhaps there is no balance, only an endless struggle to find one, arms windmilling against the slightest breeze.
posted by sciatrix at 9:05 AM on July 22, 2019 [24 favorites]

sciatrix I am totally sure you are right but being new as a contributing member it has really struck me how much conversation there has been in the 5 days since I created an account, and how generally a positive and supporting tone that conversation has had. That's just not something I am accustomed to in the world.
posted by ramble-on-prose at 9:21 AM on July 22, 2019 [13 favorites]

I'm glad you're here, having it! I didn't mean to make you feel put on the spot or new or unwelcome or anything like that; I'm newly back after a short hiatus, myself.

I was just reading quietly, thinking about the song lyrics in my head and other conversations that have been here, thinking about the way those things build on each other. It's one of the places where this place can shine, and I'm really glad you're enjoying it.
posted by sciatrix at 9:24 AM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

No, no not at all! I was nice to hear that those conversations have been ongoing and I look forward to digging around older posts to read. Thanks for the welcome :)
posted by ramble-on-prose at 9:29 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

sio42 , your detailed story comment was moving and, sadly, too recognizable. I'm in tears. Thank you for writing it. I'm glad you didn't edit it out.
posted by MiraK at 9:43 AM on July 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

A wonderful essay, and the title story-within-a-story is an achingly good metaphor. But I'm here to vouch for the lovely concrete practicality of volunteer bird research as a coping mechanism for all kinds of personal drama. Heartbroken? Directionless? Worried about the (no) future? March right to your local Audubon chapter and sign up to help with something. Change your life.
posted by Freyja at 10:14 AM on July 22, 2019 [21 favorites]

Thank you for posting this Catseye. I'll just note that this is an Amazon link to CJ's newest novel so that you may buy it there or elsewhere.
posted by kyleg at 10:18 AM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

What got me was "But what I want to tell you is that I left my fiancé when it was almost too late". No, I want to tell Ms. Hauser, no, if you had married him it would still not have been too late.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 10:23 AM on July 22, 2019 [24 favorites]

Oy. Even after reading the comments here first (which, btw, the interaction between sciatrix and ramble encapsulates what I love about this place) I was thoroughly underprepared for that gutpunch and had to stop reading lest I start crying at a Jimmy John's on my lunch break. So much resonated with the relationship I recently left. My current beau is amazing at seeing me, noticing things, listening to me, etc that it's overwhelming sometimes. In fact, one of our biggest issues so far is that he wants to help, but I don't let him. I insist on doing everything myself, and refusing to be vulnerable until it's meltdown time and I have no other choice. I can't even bring myself to say out loud what it is I want/need without getting choked up. It's a process.

A few quotes that were particularly impactful:
What I learned to do, in my relationship with my fiancé, was to survive on less. (...)I would not be a woman who needed these things, I decided.

I would need less. And less.

I got very good at this.

Yes. Dealing with a partner with a substance abuse problem (among other issues), it's amazing how little you can survive on, and for how long. Their problems are always SO much bigger than yours that there's no space or time to deal with what you might be lacking. Ever. It's moving from their crisis to their crisis, and shrinking your needs down, because can't you see how much pain they're in, and how your actions (or lack thereof) contribute?

I think I was afraid that if I called off my wedding I was going to ruin myself. That doing it would disfigure the story of my life in some irredeemable way.

I never saw myself as a divorceé in my mid-30s. None of this was in my life plan. Nobody in my family, immediate or extended up to the second cousin level has been divorced. None of my friends have gone through a divorce, although a few of their siblings have. It's a shitty trail to blaze.

This is really a fantastic piece, thank you so much for posting.
posted by Fig at 10:38 AM on July 22, 2019 [26 favorites]

brb, busy crying
posted by medusa at 10:44 AM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

it's amazing how little you can survive on, and for how long.

QFMFT. I once had a near-death incident with a tow rope and a boat that took off fast, and I stayed cool over it, because the man I was seeing was on the boat and because one of his friends had been driving. Later, all he said was "Thanks for not making a big deal of that." And I was so proud of myself--not for having the dumb luck to come out of it unscathed, but for having gained his approval. I have been misplacing my sense of self-worth for longer than I care to admit.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:34 AM on July 22, 2019 [36 favorites]

this felt like getting punched in the heart approximately 75,000 times. (would read again, even with all the punching.)
posted by kerning at 11:48 AM on July 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

As a person who places high (probably exaggerated) value on a certain degree of self-sufficiency, this piece lays out well why I have largely given up on actively searching for a heterosexual partner--I can look after myself, yes, and I try not to impose my needs on others nonconsensually, but I'll be damned if I have to do all of that when I'm supposed to be in a mutually caretaking relationship. My reasonably close friends and I all look after each other far better than the fiance here. Heck, I'll tell a stranger at the Duane Reade that her nails look nice! But I don't think most U.S. cis het men think they have to do this, and I won't beg for it. I just won't.

But, twenty years earlier, would I have had this understanding? Who can say?
posted by praemunire at 12:20 PM on July 22, 2019 [22 favorites]

You think it’s all behind you. You almost convince yourself you’ve forgotten. Then a well-written piece, filled with all the longing, frustration, self-recriminations you’ve barely allowed to voice puts this all out for examination, once again. I’m relieved, hell Im grateful my ex-husband was such a mediocre human that I had to leave. I’m grateful I had a good therapist who helped me craft a new and better foundation which has led me to a loving, equitable and kind man. How many years spent struggling to be cool, to live on that affection starvation diet?

The revelation to give no more fucks, to be content and happy and fey, was unexpected. Whatever was stewing in my subconscious, it quietly clicked. And then a nice man came along and thought I was just fine, old dented, scarred.

Thanks for the post. The next sentence was going to be something it being good . . . blah blah . . . but then I couldn’t write the next sentence because it turns out that there’s always more pain that can surface.
posted by lemon_icing at 12:50 PM on July 22, 2019 [20 favorites]

I feel like I have a sensitivity in my brain all the time that tries to figure out how to make others feel safe and wanted and needed, but I continually downplay what I need because I know I'll be ok. I think this is a common problem.

so well put, thanks
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:51 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

It will never not amaze me that we can have an entire body of nonfiction where women explore and explain the pain of diminishing themselves and depleting themselves and finally setting themselves free ...

... And yet I see no corresponding rise in works by men even addressing the existence of these women's narratives. Do they just not care?
posted by sobell at 2:16 PM on July 22, 2019 [21 favorites]

And yet I see no corresponding rise in works by men even addressing the existence of these women's narratives.

In my case it was because I was trying to make everyone in my life happy by attempting to convince myself that I was a man and then tried to actually live like one. Eventually I realized "this is fucking bullshit, I'm not a man, I don't wanna be a man, I'm not even gonna try to mimic this toxic shit anymore" and I transitioned, so I guess that's a sample size of one as to why?
posted by nikaspark at 2:22 PM on July 22, 2019 [8 favorites]

The midwestern deepfreeze of last winter brought to mind a record-breaking cold snap 25 years earlier, when I was in grad school at the University of Illinois and on my third year of living with my then-boyfriend. BF had a car that he never once offered to let me use in the 3.5 years we were together, and on that day, with a low of -25 F, I had to get myself to my part-time computer operator job 3 miles away for an 8 am Sunday shift. He watched me put on umpteen layers of pants and sweaters and wool hat and scarf and head out at 7 am to walk to work. I was...I mean, you all understand that conflicting feeling of being proud of yourself for being that Strong, Self-Reliant Woman, while at the same time, deeper down under all those layers, wondering what the fuck kind of human being lets a person they profess to love walk 3 miles to work when its -25F and they have a car?

That entire relationship, and the (also all-failed) ones I've had since were all riddled with that kind of don't ask/don't offer dynamic. Like in my 2nd marriage, where several years ago I lost 60 lbs over the course of a year and my husband DID NOT MENTION IT ONCE, until I brought it up in therapy that it was really hurtful to have lost a bunch of weight and never have my husband congratulate me and he had some wishy-washy women-are-so-confusing excuse about how he was worried if he complimented me on my weight loss it would imply that he thought I was too fat and/or unattractive before.
posted by drlith at 2:58 PM on July 22, 2019 [18 favorites]

Their problems are always SO much bigger than yours that there's no space or time to deal with what you might be lacking. Ever. It's moving from their crisis to their crisis, and shrinking your needs down

something something skillset dovetails too perfectly with capitalism something
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 4:09 PM on July 22, 2019

wondering what the fuck kind of human being lets a person they profess to love walk 3 miles to work when its -25F and they have a car?

I'm so angry on your behalf! This is really fucked. That guy was a total sadistic asshole. Your story also reminded me of two somewhat similar anecdotes:

-I overhead my mom and stepdad arguing one day when I was a teenager, and she brought up a time she got a flat tire 3-4 miles away and he would not come to pick her up. He was teaching her some kind of lesson or something. Asshole. I get so angry thinking about it, my mother was such a hardworking, selfless woman (with horrible taste in men). She was probably trying to rush home after work to cook dinner, clean, take care me and my three siblings.

-the other anecdote also involves my stepfather. Starting from when I was a sophomore, I had a job a the local pizza parlor (3.5 miles from our house, along a rural highway into town). One day my mom was going to be late getting home and couldn't give me a ride for my shift, and it was pouring rain. My stepfather drove me to town. He literally brought it up every single day after, about how much I owed him for that ride. I finally snapped one day and said something ungrateful like I could have just walked or something. He said he'd never give me a ride again. I started riding my ten speed on the shoulder of the highway to work since my mom's schedule was unreliable. One weekend when I went out to get my on my bike, I discovered it was missing (later found out my little bro rode it to a friend's). I was stranded and tried calling my mom, but she wasn't answering (pre-cellphone). Anyway I did humble myself and ask my stepfather but he gleefully refused. I walked as fast as I could in the sweltering heat and got to work about 45 minutes late. I was scared of getting fired but my manager took pity.

Luckily my spouse doesn't share that selfish, sadistic trait and would definitely go out of his way to drive me or pick me up if I asked. But it really kind of traumatized me in that way that I vividly recall the incidents almost 30 years later.
posted by JenMarie at 5:34 PM on July 22, 2019 [15 favorites]

This is worth reading. I'm older than the writer, and none of the underlying issues she writes about are news to me (I could share some anecdotes from my past romantic relationships that are parallel to hers, but I'm too tired right now). Her description of how she first tried to make a sub-standard and one-sided relationship work, only to gradually realize just how emotionally stifling and abusive the situation was for her, rings true with every word and should be widely shared for the benefit of those who haven't recognized the pernicious myth of "being low-maintenance" for what it is yet.
posted by orange swan at 5:40 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

Astounding piece. Truly, "there is nothing more humiliating to me than my own desires." And even when I speak of these things, I have to undercut myself with jokes and eyerolling, because "I need you to know: I hated that I needed more than this."

... And yet I see no corresponding rise in works by men even addressing the existence of these women's narratives. Do they just not care?

The equivalent for male writers is the Sad Boner Confessional. Most grown men in our culture were not taught to understand the shape of what they want and how it impacts the lives of others -- which is a healthy lesson. They weren't taught to make their desires small and light and disposable -- which is an unhealthy lesson, but one that can give insight if overcome. If they do learn healthy emotional lessons, those come under heavy fire from patriarchal expectations. It's a hell of a thing, and I don't have simple answers.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:54 PM on July 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

This was beautiful. Thank you so much for posting this!

I've occasionally had to prompt my girlfriend to compliment me when I've put in time into my appearance, but one of my favorite things about her is that she doesn't make me feel bad for bringing it up later and asking her to do it more often, and then I can actually tell that she's making an effort to do it. I am often agog that I can be crying and have a hard time articulating what I need and her response isn't to gaslight me, it's to apologize genuinely and then stop doing the thing that's hurting me.

Did you all know that's an option in a relationship?! I did not! Sometimes I still forget! Because I have never had that consistently before. Not in friendships, not with family, and especially not with my most recent ex. It's certainly something I see more often in heterosexual relationships but it's also a dynamic I've had with many women and NB folks.

For years and years I thought of myself as high maintenance because of a single incidence during my college years, I hanging around with two dude friends, one of them very close, and one of their friends I didn't know very well, the latter dude said to me "you're high maintenance, aren't you?" after I asked my close friend to help me out with something I was stressed out about (changing my car's battery). I'm so pissed about it now, it took me so long to realize that asking for help — from the friend who was actually happy to give it — didn't make me high maintenance. Why did I let this guy I didn't even know get to define how I thought of myself in every relationship after that pretty much all the way up to this current one?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 6:41 PM on July 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

If this was the only thing I'd ever read on MetaFilter in all these years, it was worth the $5 and then some. Thanks for posting this.
posted by davejay at 6:51 PM on July 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

Thank you for posting this, catseye.

ramble-on-prose: welcome, and let me point you to a July 2015 thread that sciatrix started on emotional labor that led to a bunch of follow-on discussion here and elsewhere.
posted by brainwane at 7:01 PM on July 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

I joined when the emotional labor thread happened - it still feels recent and relevant and I am moderately horrified to realize it was 4 years ago.
posted by old gray mare at 7:11 PM on July 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

Oh God, when I was twelve I had to wait, all alone, for an extremely unreliable bus in the midst of the seediest possible downtown area at 6:30 am in all kinds of terrible weather for an hour-plus ride to my high school because my dad usually refused to leave fifteen minutes early for work so he could drop me off at school, which was nearby. Maybe that's how I got hardened to the bullshit here early on.
posted by praemunire at 9:42 PM on July 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

When I was twelve, on extra cold MN mornings I used to shiver at the bus stop next to the idling minivan of one of the other junior high girls' moms. They didn't like me and maybe there wasn't room for one more anyway, but I still sometimes wonder why the mom never once invited me in to stay warm and why my own mother allowed this to go on - we lived on the bus stop corner and she had to have noticed. It's a small slight but has stuck with me.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

Reading this was like uncovering a wound. Vulnerable, painful and also somehow healing. I am so terrified of letting anyone see how much I need and want. When I date I pretend I need practically nothing - not monogamy, not being heard or seen. Certainly not whole paragraphs of actual communication between weekly dates that slowly turn to monthly dates before they disappear completely.

After my last real relationship attempt I had a few dates with a younger man who wasn't a good match for me, but he was appreciative of every single thing I did for him and made a point of thanking me. It was such a strange feeling, and I had never realized before how much I was doing for my dates.

Reminds me of something I read a few years ago - "We are only as needy as our unmet needs" - where was that?

And yet at times I've been the withholding one, too.

I just read this story this morning before breakfast, made a post, and it was immediately taken down. In my pre-caffeinated state I'd forgotten to do my due diligence. Sorry mods!
posted by bunderful at 6:01 AM on July 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

I also joined when I came across that emotional labor thread. I'm more of a lurker than poster but I love the way things work here, even the messy stuff.

This was an incredible essay and all I can think of is my younger daughter's 11 year relationship with her SO. Ugh. It's all about him all of the time. He isn't cruel, just completely self-centered, a big baby, and has zero emotional intelligence. She's so focused on making sure he isn't unhappy there's no room for her to have a need. It's so hard to have her tell me he's her best friend and he accepts her just as she is and then watch as she totally stuffs her needs by convincing herself she doesn't have any. It's so painful for me to witness and she's not open to hearing anything remotely critical of him. I've tried to turn her onto The Blue and have sent her links to some of the threads, including the emotional labor one, but to know avail. Happily, my older daughter read that thread with great interests and we had lots of lively discussion about it. Funny how two kids raised by the same parents can be so very different in so many ways!
posted by Plafield at 6:53 AM on July 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

A few other threads I was thinking of or tracked down:

on self-shaping/reduction
I felt devastated (probably the single thread most clear in my mind at the time, actually)
Does Your Daughter Know It's Okay to Be Angry?
It's just not worth it

on division of labor
How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids
Why time is a feminist issue
posted by sciatrix at 9:08 AM on July 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

This reminds me so much of the term "bonsai human", which I learned from comments in the Emotional Labor thread.
posted by cadge at 1:36 PM on July 23, 2019 [7 favorites]

"and I won't beg for it. I just won't. "

This is exactly where I am in life. Because of the humiliation of having the desire in the first place, and then the very idea of further humiliation of having to beg to have it met. Just - no.

In recent years, in the arguments between my partner and I regarding intimacy, I am repeatedly accused of creating a power struggle. Which makes me simultaneously laugh with incredulity but also furious because it's not that I created the power struggle game, it's that I appear to be, as a stereotype, winning in the power struggle. If I point out that a) there are no winners in this fight and b) the truth is I am standing up for myself, I am accused of being stubborn.

(Am I the only person who finds being called stubborn akin to being called childish? Which is just further insulting).

We end up fighting about the fight we are having, and never ever return to the original topic, my needs. I don't have enough energy to keep having those fights, so I just stopped asking for my needs to be met, and now I go drink wine and gripe with my girlfriends while I bide my time.

People keep saying there are good men out there, and I have no basis to discount their life experience, but with nearly 50 years of my own life experience, and in the #metoo era, I struggle to believe that I could ever find someone who wouldn't betray my trust. I want to, but my heart won't even allow me to beg for that small amount of dignity.

It hurts, a lot, the idea that this is what life is, that this is what my mother and my aunties and my grandmothers all talked about, when I was both still the coquette, but also a misogynist by virtue of societal exposure, and thought that they were bitter and old for no reason. To now understand what they were saying, and how they got to that place in life, how unsupported they must have felt, and how many times and in how many ways they must have had their hearts broken.
posted by vignettist at 7:07 PM on July 23, 2019 [15 favorites]

"It's times like that when you have to wonder if having strong emotional coping skills is actually to a person's detriment. Because if the writer hadn't been able to perform all those mental gymnastics to keep the peace for so long, then maybe she would have had no choice but to blow up the relationship and get away from that soul-sucker sooner."

I disagree that it's strong emotional coping skills to be so terrified of confrontation and asserting your own needs.

When I was an older teen, I was talking to a trusted adult when a friend came in and had an interaction with me about dividing up leftovers. I agreed to whatever she asked (I no longer remember). She left. The adult looked at me. "You just let her walk all over you," she said. "You need to be more assertive."

I experienced a moment of tremendous cognitive dissonance, and some irritation with her. Me, not assertive? But I was confident, and I always thought confident=assertive?

But they weren't the same, I realized. And the adult was right. I was terrible at being assertive. I gave in and then nursed resentment. I was scared of confrontation and ashamed of my own needs.

I have been working on my assertiveness ever since. It's slow going but I've made some progress. When I'm uncomfortable I remind myself that like sore muscles from exercise, emotional growth also requires pushing past comfort.

Every time I have stretched myself to be assertive where in the past I would have rolled over has been worth it. Even if I don't get what I want, I grow stronger in my relationship with myself every time I stand up for her.
posted by Cozybee at 2:37 PM on July 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

This essay is trending over at which usually has a lot of links to technical articles on programming. Not sure what that means.
posted by mecran01 at 2:40 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Pinboard is also still quite popular among the media fandom set, who I'd expect to take to this story like a duck to water. I wouldn't be too surprised if that sort of thing was happening over there, although I know fewer people using Pinboard as a fandom social networking site than I did a few years back after Delicious got bought up from Yahoo.
posted by sciatrix at 5:48 PM on July 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

There’s still a pretty sizable chunk of fandom using it, and my (admittedly very limited) Pinboard network is basically all queer fandom women and non-binary folks, among whom it’s been a VERY popular article. I’m not even slightly surprised to find it’s hit larger Pinboard circles.
posted by Stacey at 6:07 PM on July 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ah, interesting. Other than being a really good essay, how is this appealing to fandom circles?
posted by mecran01 at 8:52 PM on July 24, 2019

The fandom I am used to participating in - a subset of fandom that uses Pinboard a lot to share/bookmark fan fiction and similar transformative work - is feminist.
posted by brainwane at 5:01 AM on July 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

Yup. Feminist, and composed largely of women in their twenties and thirties (though I'm a fortysomething outlier), a lot of whom are some flavor of queer. We think a lot about feminism and gender and relationship dynamics. This article was catnip for a lot of My Kind of people, who happen to be a sizeable chunk of people using Pinboard. It's not the fannishness per se, it's the demographics and common meta-interests.
posted by Stacey at 6:38 AM on July 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Jesus Christ, the essay and then the stories here are just heartbreaking and infuriating.

It would be easy to read something like this as a man who does notice dresses, and does supportive things, and does go out of his way to do things for his partner, and think “yikes, what an asshole.”

Holy shit is that ever a trap. I do these things, but I do not for a minute think I couldn’t do better. Probably everyone could. I know I could.

The right takeaway is to resolve to do better, no matter how well you think you’re doing already.

(On another note, I definitely wonder if CJ’s ex has seen this essay yet.)
posted by uberchet at 11:13 AM on July 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

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