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Thursday, August 19, 2004

The emotional toll of living

This article in Salon today left me with some sadness. It's supposed to be about missing an opportunity to have children, abortion and all sorts of other things that draw people's attention (and will probably create controversy as people write in criticizing this poor woman for having an abortion for the "wrong" reason). But the abortion is just a catalyst; the article is about her failed marriage. Her and her husband's dysfunctional relationship is one that I've seen (and been in) repeatedly--intelligent woman who puts up with a man who is compelled to ride her ass about absolutely everything.

Years ago I'd fallen in love with William -- charming, good-looking, an outstanding teacher -- but even then I knew that he was obsessed with his work. It took me longer to see his other obsession: pointing out my shortcomings. He criticized the way I talked, walked and dressed. He was unkind to me most of the time -- not abusive, but impatient, or, alternately, neglectful. I'd grown up around men I was afraid of -- my father was a frustrated academic whose unpredictable rages sent me scurrying to hide in my room -- so it didn't seem that extraordinary.

First of all, I don't understand why men like this don't see what they're doing, especially the "intelligent" guys out there. If you don't like her, why the fuck are you with her? If you like her, then why the fuck do you think she's not up to your standards? (The irony is outsiders usually look at these couples and deem her too good for him.)

In case you can't tell, this is a personally galling thing for me. For no good reason, it's just awfully common for intelligent women to fall over and over again for men who immediately set to work on tearing down their self-esteem. (Yes, it can go both ways. Forgive my tunnel vision, please.) And it's a long, hard slog to get out of these relationships. From my experience, the woman finds herself prioritizing the survival of the relationship just because she's worked so long at it, she can't see why stop now. (Cognitive dissonance theory might help explain this.) To make it worse, the guy will often dole out occassional reasons for hope that things are about to turn a corner, that he will finally stop treating her like a waste of space and actually start treating her like the girlfriend/wife she is. But as soon as it's put out there, it's taken away, or modified so that she is put back in her place. I see that lurking in this article--the baby promised and then taken away.

But once your self-esteem is stripped down, it's difficult to see that what others do to you is not your own fault. In my times like these, I remember meeting women over and over again who were mean, disrespectful, unfaithful, and shallow but yet had boyfriends/husbands who treated them like gold, and they expected no less. I wondered what was so wrong with me that despite a good heart, fidelity, and you know, a little depth, I still didn't "deserve" to be treated as anything but a waste of space. Now I realize that it's just a matter of expectations.

It's a shame to see someone's good nature get used against her like this. It's clear that she was willing to commit and hold him up. Even though it was his ass-dragging and abusiveness that caused her to choose an abortion, and even though she's left him, she still shares the responsibility for what happened. She uses the word "we". I'll bet he probably still uses the word "she". And that's how it happens--you're doing the right thing by someone you love because you love that person and that's what decent people do. Because you love them, you believe that they too are committed to basic decency. Then the emotional abuse, the break-up and, like a decent person, you explain the situation as one of dual responsibility. "We" just couldn't work it out.

The funny thing about emotionally damaged people is that they are so often good, good people. Open, honest, giving, and stepped all over. It's sad to watch a good person harden after taking crap from yet another moocher, abuser, or whatever. You can see that trustfulness as it slips away, and you know that it has to happen, but it's a shame all the same. Why can't trustful people find the trustworthy before they get jacked with?

But something occurred to me today--people consider emotional damage to be a flaw in a person, but in the hands of a determined person, it's a strength. Losing trustfulness is not the same as losing trustworthiness unless you want it to be. If you're smart and diligent, being gun-shy can be reduced to simply being cautious, which can translate to finally creating relationships with people you know for a fact that you can trust.

I feel for this woman, and I hope that she can take this experience and make the leap.

Alright, enough of the vague, emotional crap. Back on the horse with the meandering interpretations, weird jokes, election handicapping, music digressions, feminist spouting and god only knows what else that I usually blog about.

16 Comments:

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It's very hard to understand relationships that seem so obviously mismatched, and it's equally hard to explain or even admit to yourself that you're in one of these mismatches. You would be very lucky to get it right first time, though, and I think what you say is right: emotional damage can make you stronger and more able to choose the right partner next time around. Sadly, that isn't always the case.

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Multilingual : English - Chinese Simplified - Chinese Traditional - Dutch - French - German - Greek - Italian - Japanese - Korean - Portuguese - Russian - Spanish

Start Over : When couples first get together, everything is new and exciting.

Lighten Up : Often when couples have gone through or are going through some bumpy spots in their relationship, things tend to get serious.

Night of Passion : Intimacy and passion in relationships is not only important but also healthy.

Cuddle Time : When couples first start dating, cuddling is usually a part of their everyday existence.

Make the Women Feel Good : Just like men, woman love feeling good about themselves.

Showing Love : Although hearing the words, I love you is special and important.

Realistic Expectations : No matter how wonderful and flawless your mate seems, no one is perfect.

Go on a Date : Especially for married couples, but even for some dating couples, start dating.

Control Your Anger : Every relationship has difficulties, and sometimes, there can be some intense arguments.

I Forgive You : If something has happened in your relationship causing the trust to waiver, you will have many things to work through.

Day at the Movies : Have a movie marathon some rainy or cold Saturday.

Dinner by the Fire : Order in some of your favorite food, open a bottle of fine wine, light some candles.

A Day at the Spa : Show your appreciation for the hard work that takes.

Keep in Touch : It is important that you keep in touch with each other often.

Motivate Each Other : Find a mutual incentive that will motivate both of you.

Adore your Mate : Appreciate and love them for the person they are.

Make Eye Contact : Think back to the first time you saw your now mate.

Respect Privacy : When two people come together in a relationship, each person has their own set of history.

Be Flexible : There will be times when your mate is right and times when you are right.

Encourage Friendships : Men, unlike women, have a more difficult time in developing close friendships with other men.

relationship tip

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