Because wanting to leave is enough
July 5, 2021 6:48 AM   Subscribe

Leaving a man isn't easy. This is a collection of letters written to Sugar, who writes back with unrivalled compassion and affirms that our cultural understanding of women’s autonomy isn’t totally in sync with the logistics of 21st century partnership.
posted by antihistameme (26 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is so many things things like money and the dogs and a lack of social support and his chronic medical issues and a pandemic and the shared car and a long list of practicalities and shared convenience. And money. So for me, later.
posted by Glinn at 7:05 AM on July 5, 2021 [12 favorites]


This column played a major role in my divorce. When I wanted to google it to send to someone else and found I couldn't even type the phrase "the truth that lives there" without bursting into hysterical tears, I realized that maybe I had some thinking to do.
posted by babelfish at 7:19 AM on July 5, 2021 [16 favorites]


It can definitely make you feel bad and wrong to be in a relationship that looks good on paper, that others admire, and be desperate to get out. You start wanting the other person to do something terrible so you have an "excuse."

People will also want there to be a bad guy, you or the other person. But you'll have to revert to "we grew apart," even though that's probably not it, exactly.

At some point you just realize you can't do it anymore.
posted by emjaybee at 7:48 AM on July 5, 2021 [12 favorites]


I love this post for a reason.

There's this story people have been telling each other over and over for too long that when a relationship ends it means the relationship was a failure. That the person who ended it should be sorry/guilty/ashamed. That the person who didn't end the relationship was "trying harder/better/more" to "make the relationship work".

I have never felt that way. Relationships end. It's how they work. Nothing lasts forever (sing it with me like Andre 3000 did). Like I'm pretty sure no relationship ever in human history escaped this basic fact. Even the most "successful" relationships end when someone dies.

So yeah I really apppreciate this PSA that if you want to go, go. And never let anyone make you feel shitty about it.
posted by RobinofFrocksley at 9:27 AM on July 5, 2021 [16 favorites]


You start wanting the other person to do something terrible so you have an "excuse."

When I was in my 20s, I dated a lot. I had a couple of short, intense relationships where the other person turned out to be really damaged in some way, and acted out of that to mis-treat me, either before I left, or, in one painful instance, after.

So there comes a time when I am dating a perfectly lovely woman. She loves to plan romantic dates—I remember a weekday picnic lunch eaten on china, with real wineglasses and real flatware. And a hot-tub date that included champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

With the caveat that I really do love chocolate-covered strawberries, none of this worked for me. It didn't make me feel cherished or cared for or swept off my feet. On the contrary, it felt like I was being manipulated, like she'd read an article about the Ten Best Ways to Sweep a Woman Off Her Feet.

One day, I realized that I was waiting for her to do something shitty so I could break up with her. This led, quickly, to the realization that it was OK to break up with her even if she hadn't done, and wasn't going to, do anything shitty.

So I did.

Before long, she was involved with a woman who positively swooned (I imagine) over picnics and champagne and bouquets of flowers. They were together for many, many years.

We still see each other around, and are always happy to see each other. I am reminded by her smile, and her warmth, and her soft-butch allure, of all the reasons I liked her. Sometimes we flirt a little, even though it has literally been over 30 years.

It is important to learn to leave when a person is showing that they're not on your side, when the red flags start piling up. But it's also important to know that you can leave even if there aren't any red flags, that you can leave just because you want to, because you want something else, even if you don't have any idea what the something else is.
posted by Orlop at 9:28 AM on July 5, 2021 [89 favorites]


This article stung a little bit because I can recall very clearly being the man in this scenario many years ago. The woman had some similarities with the woman from the first letter: She had dated her first boyfriend for several years, left him for me, then we dated for several years afterwards. Close to the end, she could not have given more hints that she was looking for a way out. Making some suggestions that indicated she might have interest in dating other people since she had never really had an opportunity to do that before, instead jumping from one multi-year LTR into another.

When she finally ripped the bandaid off I was so mad because I kept thinking “But I didn’t do anything wrong?”. After a few months, when my attempts to reconnect with her as“friends” (I’m assuming she rightly guessed my intentions were otherwise) I sat down to write her an “Airing of Grievances” letter that I was sure would make her wracked with guilt at what a terrible person she had been to me. Upon reading the finished product it dawned on me that her primary offense had been, at the end, not being as in love with me as I was with her. I’m not an overly spiritual person but I do give great thanks that my lightbulb moment came before I found the stamps.
posted by The Gooch at 10:26 AM on July 5, 2021 [80 favorites]


Sugar's writing helped me to leave a very abusive relationship. She now has a monthly Dear Sugar newsletter on Substack. It's not free, but it's worth every penny. Sugar is a pen name for Cheryl Strayed (previously). She is probably best known for her novel Wild, which was also made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.
posted by twelve cent archie at 10:34 AM on July 5, 2021 [2 favorites]


this is good to find, not easy to read

I think there are failed marriages, and marriages that end. I thought of my own marriage as 'failed' and if I'd had the maturity I would have tried to end it, but pushed my partner to end it instead. I don't know if it matters in hindsight, we both seem to have moved on in good ways, but it's hard to disentangle all the emotional stuff and learned stuff from the fact we "got married" and whatever that means.

My mom helped a woman pack her things and drive away from a bad marriage. The courts were not kind to her. She spent her life with a man who turned away from the Catholic priesthood to be her partner instead, and they raised a house-full of foster kids from there.

Life can go so many ways, it's certainly not worth "staying married" if it's just a compromise.
posted by elkevelvet at 10:48 AM on July 5, 2021 [2 favorites]


I agree that relationships end, and perhaps that is what they usually do, but I'm never convinced that (this thing) always does (this), end of story. Life is very short, and I see examples where people want to spend their lives together and it's never enough time. That is okay also.
posted by elkevelvet at 11:19 AM on July 5, 2021 [7 favorites]


Close to the end, she could not have given more hints that she was looking for a way out. Making some suggestions that indicated she might have interest in dating other people since she had never really had an opportunity to do that before, instead jumping from one multi-year LTR into another.

With 20-20 hindsight, I wish that when I was in that same position I had just listened what I was being told, and accepted that it was time for things to end on good terms, rather than dragging things out for the next year with all of the accompanying bad feelings. Things don't have to be terrible-bad to be worth separating -- it's enough to just realize that things could be better.

Also, it's not accidental that all of the people writing these letters had all started their relationships young. Even just a few years can bring a real change of perspective and personal growth.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:35 AM on July 5, 2021 [7 favorites]


I ... might text my ex-husband an apology now.
posted by Occula at 3:13 PM on July 5, 2021 [8 favorites]


I had to read this column in little pieces today, because I remember it from 2011 and the whole of it is enough to bring me to tears. I ended my marriage to a good and kind man years ago because on paper it was perfect but in person he wasn't as invested in me as I was in him. But people were shocked because he didn't cheat on me or hit me or was mean to me or to my family. And I could have stayed forever and mustered through ("I desperately wanted to not want to leave.") but the voice said Go and (after a year-plus of trying to work on it together) we ended it. I still don't know if the marriage failed or ended. We failed it so it ended? We ended it so it failed? I still don't know. I'll never know.
posted by kimberussell at 3:39 PM on July 5, 2021 [8 favorites]


"All the same, my erstwhile dear,
My no-longer-cherished,
We need not say it was not love
Just because it perished."
posted by clew at 4:52 PM on July 5, 2021 [15 favorites]


it's not accidental that all of the people writing these letters had all started their relationships young

I am writing now, from a position of having had literally dozens of relationships and being an older woman, to say it has nothing to do with age. It has to do with being a heterosexual woman in a world of heterosexual men. We are absolutely not okay.

I have many close and intimate women friends who are partnered with heterosexual men and talking to them, not one of them (including myself) is happy more days than they are sad. We carve out moments of happiness. We are not happy.

We all feel - at least those I speak to - like we are getting the best deals that we possibly can, because the world is full of men who are like this, who all bear the exact same faults and flaws. We can trade them if we want to, I guess, and when we were younger we used to, but what is the point of leaving when there's not anywhere to leave to?

I don't know a single heterosexual man over the age of thirty who is a clear and sincere communicator, with emotional vulnerability, who owns his own shit and doesn't treat women badly at least a little bit of the time. I don't know a single heterosexual man over the age of thirty who doesn't rely on his female partner to do more of the social interaction, cooking, childcare, and housekeeping. Who takes himself to therapy without being reminded and doesn't use his romantic partner as an unpaid therapist/parent. Sometimes it seems like there's not a single man in his 40s-60s who doesn't possess this deeply scary entitlement and rage against women.

My life is shitty and I stay because the truth that's in my core is that I don't think there's anything better out there. Not that I can't get it - that it doesn't exist.
posted by sockmeamadeus at 1:54 AM on July 6, 2021 [38 favorites]


the truth that's in my core is that I don't think there's anything better out there. Not that I can't get it - that it doesn't exist.

Obviously there are many women who can't leave as a practical matter for financial, child-rearing, etc. reasons, and women who can't leave because they fear for their safety if they try, but...being on your own is so much better than being saddled with a partner who makes you sad more often than he makes you happy. Life with "just" close and intimate women friends can be pretty darned good. (And while solo and partnered sex aren't exact equivalents, most of these men aren't exactly rockstars in the sack, either, and vibrator options have come a long way.) What's out there is you. You is good. And while this isn't true for everyone (probably not for most of the women in the FPP), for people not happy in their relationships with men, you is better.
posted by praemunire at 8:11 AM on July 6, 2021 [18 favorites]


I can see definitely why cishet partnerships started when one or both parties (but at least the woman) is young are MORE likely to lead to this sort of "it's not actively bad but I don't want it" situation but there are LOTS of ways for a relationship to be not-quite-enough, and it definitely doesn't require youth. It just requires enough goodness at the start and enough enmeshment at the end.

I do know good heterosexual men over 30, men who are truly outstanding partners and humans who do not feel entitlement and rage against women. I am even partnered with one of them, albeit newly. They're far better partners than I am, at any rate. I don't know how they got built--it seems to involve a deep natural empathy and intelligence, combined with enough hardship and time spent alone to overcome the default programming, but not enough of either to make them bitter and isolated? Seems like a delicate cocktail and I don't know how you find it on a swiping app.

What I don't know is how ever to forgive myself for the years-long wrong-but-not-wrong-enough relationships and the messy, shitty breakups that eventually, inevitably resulted. Once you listen to the Go, you have to live with yourself (and only yourself) and I wonder whether Dear Sugar has advice for that.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:12 AM on July 6, 2021 [9 favorites]


My life is shitty and I stay because the truth that's in my core is that I don't think there's anything better out there. Not that I can't get it - that it doesn't exist.

I can't speak to leaving a guy because god knows I've never done it, but I relate to this statement anyway. I do know of SOME people who have good guys that they are in relationships with, but they seem pretty rare to me and I don't know how you find one of those people, short of getting lucky. The good ones probably aren't on dating apps for very long and the bad ones are always jumping back into the pool, as it were.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2021 [4 favorites]


There is something deep inside me telling me to forward this article to Mr. Objects. Not because I am like these women, so much, but that I suspect he is like the man in the last letter. And that terrifies me.
posted by sharp pointy objects at 9:39 AM on July 6, 2021 [1 favorite]


You start wanting the other person to do something terrible so you have an "excuse."

Ahahah, yes, this precisely. And in my case, I had something extremely concrete to point to (a two-year-old dead bedroom) that made anyone close enough to know why simply nod wordlessly and absolutely zero further explanation was required, but if I hadn't had that, I would have been stymied by this same logic. It was so hard. I was so tired. I was just so done. I don't know any other way to say it.

As I was agonizing over whether to end it, I read every divorce thread there was on AskMetaFilter over the course of many months. Every one. Multiple times. These letters were linked in just about all of them. In the end it was a combination of things but one particular moment that helped me fully grab onto that permission to leave was this comment. My ex-husband IS a nice man. And also not the right one for me. It was crystal clear in that moment that that's enough of a reason. I didn't and still don't see our divorce as a failure; it was an act of extreme bravery and courage, and looking back now, it seems completely inevitable.

Of all the married people I know, the number of truly happily married women can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that to me is the saddest thing, far sadder than any relationship ending. (I also know several high-quality men and partners, I'm happily dating one right now, these aren't mutually exclusive. Yet I also strongly believe that getting married and/or sharing a household would eventually weaken our strong partnership because reasons.)
posted by anderjen at 11:04 AM on July 6, 2021 [7 favorites]


Yet I also strongly believe that getting married and/or sharing a household would eventually weaken our strong partnership because reasons

Hard agree. It is so difficult in this economic environment (especially as neither of us has a particularly high income or stable career), but I remain dedicated to separate abodes for as long as we can manage it. Perhaps a stronger and more emotionally aware woman than I can maintain independence and avoid the sunk-cost fallacy while sharing a roof, but I am not that woman yet.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 11:34 AM on July 6, 2021 [9 favorites]


I don't know. As someone who was abruptly and cruelly dumped - without explanation or recourse - sometimes someone wanting to leave isn't enough.

After six years, I would have thought I was entitled to some basic humanity, communication, and respect, but he was far too busy fucking my replacement to be bothered.
posted by Space Kitty at 1:34 PM on July 6, 2021 [2 favorites]


After six years, I would have thought I was entitled to some basic humanity, communication, and respect, but he was far too busy fucking my replacement to be bothered.

To be fair, this is directly from the FPP:
Leaving a relationship because you want to doesn’t exempt you from your obligation to be a decent human being. You can leave and still be a compassionate friend to your partner. Leaving because you want to doesn’t mean you pack your bags the moment there’s strife or struggle or uncertainty.

Nobody's giving anyone carte blanche to cheat or lie or disappear, here. But relationships are 100% voluntary and consented-to; once someone withdraws their consent to be in that relationship, not only IS it enough, but it has to be. The other person in that relationship is fully entitled to think it's a mistake, or a stupid reason, or not enough. But they're not entitled to demand that the relationship continue until a good enough reason is identified. It...sucks. It sucks that nearly all relationships end in grief and heartbreak. But it just does, and there is not a solution to it, save for the tiny fraction of people who find a perfect partner, live happily, and then die simultaneously.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 1:59 PM on July 6, 2021 [7 favorites]


What I don't know is how ever to forgive myself for the years-long wrong-but-not-wrong-enough relationships and the messy, shitty breakups that eventually, inevitably resulted.

How are you supposed to figure this all out except by living through it? Even if you take advice, only you can decide whether it applies, and you can't know that right away. Sometimes, not for a long time. Like the man said, "it's one of those things you've got to feel to be true."
posted by praemunire at 3:47 PM on July 6, 2021 [6 favorites]


Also to what praemunire said, only you get to decide in the end if it was wrong or right as a decision. I find in that a sort of beautiful freedom but also a very scary, is this dark pit 2 feet deep or 200 hundred? uncertain freedom.

I don't know how they got built--it seems to involve a deep natural empathy and intelligence, combined with enough hardship and time spent alone to overcome the default programming, but not enough of either to make them bitter and isolated? Seems like a delicate cocktail and I don't know how you find it on a swiping app.

Sounds about right. Every day is an opportunity to turn toward the light or away from it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 1:43 PM on July 7, 2021


Thank you so much for this post! I will forever be grateful to the friend who listened to me complaining, as usual, about my partner and gently asked, "If being with him is so awful, why haven't you left?" Reader, that question had simply never occurred to me. I had made my bed and I had to lie in it forever, basically. Her simple, basic question was the wake-up call I needed. I didn't leave immediately but at least I finally realized I could leave. A couple of years later, I did. I have had some shorter relationships and one longish one since then but have never lived with anyone else again and don't plan to. My life is just so much better when I get to be fully in charge of it.
posted by Bella Donna at 6:32 AM on July 12, 2021 [3 favorites]


I feel like I really need to clarify - my objection wasn't that my partner decided it was over, he gets to do that! And I deserve someone who is fuck yes about being a relationship with me, not someone who sneaks around my back while refusing to communicate directly like an adult.

But like it said in the article, it's a two part process. He got part one right, the part where he takes care of himself - but he utterly failed to be a decent human being about it, and I reserve the right to say that sucks.
posted by Space Kitty at 3:40 PM on July 14, 2021 [2 favorites]


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