Navigating the “That’s Just How I Am” Dynamic This Holiday Season

It’s that time of year again. The holiday blitz. Too much sweet, too much savory, too much wine, too much cheer, and, for some, too much family.

Perhaps it’s age, perhaps it’s the current political climate, perhaps it’s my job, perhaps it’s nothing to do with me whatsoever. But I find as I get older I struggle with the holidays more and more. I dread meals with my family, sitting around the table listening to their religious and political beliefs, their passive aggressive comments about my life, the micro-aggressions being passed along with the potatoes. Knowing all too well that engaging in conversation will only result in conflict, and setting boundaries will only ignite tempers. And so each year I feel a little more trapped.

How many times have you heard, uttered, or thought the words “That’s just how I am”? When you’ve been confronted because of behavior another finds off-putting, have you defended yourself with, “that’s just how I am”? Behavior is a fascinating science and there are dozens of major theories on personality development. Things from genetics, to caregivers, to potty training, to behaviors reinforced or not, and a combination of everything and nothing. According to many philosophers, to understand oneself is the goal of life.

Understanding why we behave certain ways can be very helpful. But is understanding sufficient? Explanations can be comforting, certainly. Knowing you are the way you are for these particular reasons or background can lead to self-acceptance. But, is the way you are behaving how you actually want to be?

There is a lot to be said for self-acceptance. Often the goal of therapy is self-acceptance. Self-acceptance is a worthy goal.

But when someone says, “this is just how I am”, what are they really saying? The preface is, “I can’t help it…”, viewing it as a cop-out. Or perhaps, more plainly, they are saying, “I don’t have the motivation to change this aspect of myself”. It communications a sincere desire to avoid change.

How many times have you wished you hadn’t said something? Or started to say something, and realized it was a bad idea? So much of what we say is triggered by our current interactions tapping into our historical interactions. Otherwise known as conditioning. We have all been conditioned in our life. Our sense of humor is conditioned, how we handle our insecurities is conditioned, how we view men and women is conditioned, our family structure and dynamic is conditioned. We may have no control of our conditioning, but we do have control of our actions. And we have responsibility in how we treat other people, regardless of conditioning, regardless of “that’s just how I am”.

Breaking this conditioning takes a great deal of effort. Understanding yourself is a big part of it, but understanding why you behave the way you do requires more digging. It requires one to be come more conscious, to act more intentionally. And that is easier said than done.

So this holiday season, I encourage you to do some self reflecting. Not just on what you believe and why you believe it. But also on how you react in your interactions and why. Find something about your own behavior and conditioning you would like to change. For example, maybe you want to be more patient. Consider how you would want that to present, and find ways to remind yourself daily of your new goals. Seek out others to help you be accountable for your changes, to encourage you in your growth.

And most importantly, the goal is progress, not perfection. Progress is a slow journey, and requires grace. It is a worthy cause.

-Darci

Ways Men Show Sexism in the Bedroom

Guys, it’s time we have a very real talk. We’ve talked a lot this year about ways that women are being treated poorly in big and small ways. We’ve even had a lot of talks about consent. But there is still one big arena that you are showing major sexism that we need to discuss: The Bedroom.

Now it’s not surprising. It is said that what happens in the bedroom reflects what happens in the real world. So if you are struggling to treat women well in your day to day life, it stands to reason you will struggle to treat women well in the bedroom as well. But you Guys have some very problematic behavior that us Ladies are getting pretty sick and tired of. Women are not sexual objects for you to masturbate with and you need to stop treating us like that’s all we are.

So let’s talk about ways you can improve your behavior – and performance – in the bedroom.

Not Bringing Your Own Condoms
It’s always best to be prepared. And Ladies, I definitely advise keeping your own stash on hand when you are single and mingling, because men are the most unreliable of people. Birth control is now available in many forms and allows us women to feel more in control of our body than ever before. Which has resulted in men assuming we will take on the responsibility of providing the goalie, and that they are off the hook. Despite the fact that condoms are still the only form of birth control that protect against STI’s, and are the only form of BC made for men, men are disturbingly unprepared when it comes to hook ups. And that is very concerning behavior! Guys, you need to be taking responsibility for your hook ups. You want to know what is crazy sexy? A guy who comes prepared. Do you know what makes a new sexual partner feel safe with you? Bringing your own condom. And take it the extra mile and wear it without being asked. Safe sex is super sexy sex.

And Guys, I get it. Sex with a condom just doesn’t feel as good as going raw. But do you know what else doesn’t feel so good? Chlamydia. You know what else sucks? Paying child support. So why aren’t you bringing your own condoms to your dates?

Step one in treating women better in the bedroom: providing your own birth control.

Receiving But Not Giving
Oral sex is wonderful. But Guys, you have gotten incredibly greedy when it comes to oral sex. Expectations for oral sex are high, pressure to get oral sex is high. But the worst of your offenses: not returning the favor.

Oral sex is a lot of fun, but if you want to get you better be giving. Everyone knows you give to get. So Guys, stop being selfish in bed and start going down.

And hey, don’t just take my advice. Lesbians know what’s up here too.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1wveGujCrI&feature=youtu.be

 

Prioritizing Their Orgasm
I could write something witty and quippy here, but this Babe.net video does a much better job than I ever could. And should be required viewing for all men before engaging in sexual activity with another person.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFwG4yXLBAs

Sorry You’re on Your Period, Can you Get Me Off Though? 
Periods suck. But Guys, I promise they suck more for women than they do for you. There are few things more selfish in bed than asking for your partner to get you off when they are feeling the opposite of sexual. So suck it up for a few days and take care of yourself.

 

So Guys, try to think of your sexual partner as just that, your partner. Stop being so focused on your orgasm and your pleasure, and start focusing on your partners. Stop making sex all about you. You’re going to get your orgasm, don’t worry. Start paying more attention to whether or not your sexual partner is actually enjoying themselves too. Otherwise it’s not sex, it’s just masturbating with a body.

The rumors are true, we women do talk to each other about everything. And you have a pretty bad reputation right now.

 

 

-Darci

The Dreaded Man Flu

It’s cold season again. It happens every year. Your coworkers start sneezing a lot more. Everyone is drinking tea. Most of your emails are immediately responded with Out of Office replies. No one is safe. Cold season does not discriminate.

But for some, cold season is harder to weather than others. Perhaps you’ve heard the term “Man Flu” before. Probably from aggravated women in your life dealing with a sick partner at home.

But what is Man Flu?

Man Flu refers to the idea that men, when they have a cold, exaggerate their symptoms and believe they have something much more severe than a cold, perhaps the flu. The intention, whether conscious or not, is to solicit extra attention and care while he is under the weather.

There is a lot of argument on this subject. Several scientists hypothesize that men really do experience symptoms differently than women. Several women argue that their men need to toughen up. And honestly, both are probably true.

Now, I’m not here to tell you how real or unreal the Man Flu may be. What I have found fascinating over the years, however, is how men and women handle being sick differently.  How often have you watched a woman clean her house, care for her children, and cook family meals while sick with a cold? And how many men lay on the couch all day? How many women still go to work when they are clearly too ill? How often do men take a sick day at the first sniffle? How often do women downplay their symptoms and suffering? And how often has a man over exaggerated their symptoms and suffering?

Again, I’m not saying one is better than the other. I think both behaviors are problematic. I downplayed a cold for weeks and pushed through my responsibilities until I had pneumonia. So I know that “toughing up” can be a very dangerous way to handle things. But I have also observed a pattern in behaviors. And clearly I am not the only one.

So why is it that women have a natural ability to “toughen up” better than men? I have one major theory: menstruation.

From early adolescence, which for some women starts as early as 11, women have a monthly menstruation. On average, women spend five days a month in actual misery. Cramps, headaches, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, hot flashes, mood swings. Oh ya, and we have to deal with openly bleeding throughout it all.

And do you know what the craziest part of this whole monthly occurrence is: we are expected to suffer silently.

So many men are uncomfortable with menstruation. They don’t want to know about it, they don’t want to hear about it. It grosses them out, it makes them uneasy, it embarrasses them. And somewhere along the way, women decided to react to this selfish insensitive response to our suffering with accommodation?

We decided we will show up to school, to work, to social events, despite our extreme physical discomfort. We don’t take sick days, we don’t demand additional sick days to accommodate. We don’t suffer openly. We hide our feminine hygiene products. We pay taxes on our feminine hygiene products. We take over the counter drugs to ease our suffering. We settle for minimal and laughable medical research.

Women have to “toughen up” on a monthly basis. We’ve trained our whole lives to push through feeling awful and function normally anyway. So a cold just feels like more of the same.

So while you are nursing your cold this season, remember that all of the women in your life suffer silently all the time.

 

-Darci

GUEST WRITER: I Hate Men!

“I HATE MEN!!” <- That’s me, yelling at the television almost every night. Sometimes it’s Toby from “This Is Us” not listening to anything Kate says, as if he didn’t hear a thing she just said and totally speaks over/for her (the current season is much better).  Anytime violence against women is used as entertainment value – one main reason I can’t watch Game of Thrones (sue me). Or how about THE FREAKING NEWS. Women being murdered by ex-boyfriends for no reason. This fucking Boys Club that runs our country and elect’s rapists to the highest seats. HOW IS ANY OF THIS OKAY?!

My husband, sitting on the couch across the room from me either lets me have my angry moment or agrees with a nod.  I always finish the sentence with ‘of course I hate all men except for you’. But sometimes I wonder, do I mean it?

Since I choose to not live in ignorance to the world around me, it becomes more apparent everyday how men use, abuse, and hurt women. I see it in everything. How a white man walks into a room acting as if he owns it. How a man can go running at 11:30pm and make it home without even a thought to his safety. I once read about a woman who started walking in a straight line instead of moving out of the way for men walking the other way. I tried this at my gym. A small space, but I just walked in a straight line to the stretching room and noticed some men seemed totally annoyed that they actually had to move a little out of the way. It was eye opening to see this male privilege in action.

I met my husband 5 years ago and the thing that drew me to him was the way he listened to me. He believed the things I said, never dismissed any emotions. In 27 years, I had never had a man treat me like a person. He is so very aware of his white male privilege and always takes the side of the oppressed. But while he is an amazing man, he is still a MAN.

He is still representative of what feels like ‘his’ people. People born into a male heteronormative lifestyle. White male men who never ask for anything, they just take what they want and see no consequences. It feels like the more women speak out about these micro aggressions, the more it feels like ‘them’ against ‘us’. It feels so divisive.

On one hand, I am grateful to have open eyes and awareness of this, but maybe if I didn’t…
-I could love my husband better.
-I could not get so angry when he doesn’t clean the bathroom.
-I could not be so annoyed when I pick a tv show and ask him if he’s okay with it, but when he picks a show he just presses play.
-I could not look at him and only see the privilege he walks in.
-I could rant and not have to realize that while he tries his best to understand- there is no way he can feel what I feel.

I’m working this out. Every day I am trying to see him for the beautiful human being he is. The person who is my safe place to fall. Who loves every part of me.  I am l trying to navigate how to love him well, while constantly being bombarded with how his gender generally views mine. I basically think it’s my lifelong job to help him understand the difficulties women face and how we are represented (I cannot even imagine it’s 100x harder for women of color).

I don’t really know how to end this article since there isn’t any big revelation or anything I’ve had. Maybe it will resonate with someone else. It feels like until the world fully changes (I don’t have very high hopes it’ll be anytime soon) I will struggle with this. I think I should bring him into this struggle and not deal with it on my own. It feels very raw and vulnerable. While he may not be able to do anything to fix the world around him, he and I can continue to love each other the best we know how.

 

-Allison

Ways That Well Intending Men Creep Women Out

Hello Men. Today I am addressing you. It’s been an eye opening year, and I’m sure a lot of you feel unfairly called out. Perhaps you are feeling defensive in ways you never did before. Maybe you are learning about some behaviors and actions that you were never aware of in the past. Or maybe you fear that we women have gone crazy and it’s only a matter of time before you are being lumped in with the rest of these men.

And it’s not fair, you say! You have no intentions of causing harm or danger to women. You love women! So why are you considered a creep?

First of all, thank you. I know you are well intended, I know you want to learn but you just don’t know how. And I know you don’t mean to be part of the problem. Second of all, I hate to break it to you, but you were always a creep. None of our experiences, none of our criteria, none of our behaviors have changed in the last year. We just finally started talking about them.

But you are not alone! There are many Well Intended Men out there who have no idea how their actions and behavior is really coming across. They don’t realize women cross the street when they are coming near. They don’t realize their female coworkers avoid being alone with them. They don’t realize how they make their female friends feel. Plenty of Well Intended Men are just as lost and confused as you are, and are just as hurt to be seen as a creep.

So let’s go over some examples of common behaviors of Well Intended Men that are actually creeping us women out.

Not Giving Us Space
This is not metaphorical space. This is actual literal personal space. And let me tell you, men violate my personal space on a daily basis. When I am walking down the street, men will walk just a little to close to me. When I am at the store or bar, men will stand just a little too near. When men are walking toward me they never step aside or adjust their path to give me space, I am always expected to move around them. Men who are brushing past me and literally touching me. Men who force me to alter my course. Men who just seem oblivious that I am occupying this space already and they need to give me room.

And it’s not quite threatening behavior, but it’s certainly not behavior that makes me feel safe. There’s something that happens when a stranger enters your personal space that sends off singles to protect yourself, to be on the defense. And when a man I don’t know is invading my personal space, it creeps me out.

So Well Intending Men, step one: back off. Literally. Pay more attention to the personal space you are invading, regardless of your intentions, and just stop. Because regardless as to your intentions or unawareness, you are violating our personal space and it is creepy and unsettling.

Complimenting
“Wow, you are beautiful. Has someone told you that today?”
“Thank you so much, you have been so helpful. If my wife wasn’t here I would kiss you!”
“I wish more beautiful women like you talked to me”
“That dress is really flattering on you. You should dress like that more often”

All of these are things actual men have actually said to me. At work. These were not crazy men shouting at me on the street. These were clients and coworkers. And do you know what I didn’t feel when they made comments like this to me: flattered. Do you know what I did feel: creeped out.

And here is why. All of these compliments have a very uncomfortable and sexual undertone. They all imply a conversation that I have no interest in having. They all imply actions I have no interest in participating in. They have taken a normal and professional interaction and turned it sexual. These comments devalue me down to just a sexual being here for their pleasure.

So, Well Intending Men, how can you avoid this common mistake? Stop making your compliments towards women sexual! Just because you notice a woman is attractive does not mean you have to voice that. Acknowledge, affirm, and appriciate the actual work being done, but don’t make it sexual.

Understanding Work/Personal Life Boundaries
Sorry, but yes, there are more ways to creep out your coworkers than just inappropriate compliments. Every office has one: the guy you dread being left alone with in the break room. That guy who you always have awkward one-minute conversation with that seem to last an hour; that guy who hovers at the edge of the group during happy hour; that guy who doggedly asks his female coworkers out to lunch. It’s that guy who doesn’t understand that there are social boundaries at work that need to be respected. And he only seems to struggle with this understanding when it comes to his female coworkers. He very well may be loved by his male coworkers, they may all be baffled to learn that the women of the office avoid him.

So what is socially acceptable work place talk? For example, asking someone how their weekend was or what they have planned is totally acceptable. But pressing for details that are not volunteered, or inviting yourself along to plans is unacceptable. Discussing sporting events that you share a mutual interest in, or a movie or concert, totally fine. Perhaps even organizing or attending a work social event around those shared interests, totally fine. But trying to facilitate a one-on-one outside of work outs inspired by these shared interests crosses a line. Complimenting and acknowledging someones work performance is great, but commenting on their figure is not.

Look, yes, sometimes work place friendships and romances happen. It’s purely mathematical. But you should not expect this to happen. You should not treat your work environment like your social well. If things happen naturally that is one thing. But if you are forcing things, endlessly facilitating things, friend requesting your female coworkers or clients on social media, you are making these women uncomfortable.

And you need to stop. Start viewing the women you work with as coworkers and leave it at that. The world is full of dating apps for you to find people to make weekend plans with and watch sporting events with, leave the women you work with alone.

Making Everything About Sex
So we’ve talked about ways you may be creeping out strangers, we’ve talked about multiple ways you may be creeping out your coworkers and clients. Let’s talk about how you may be creeping out your female friends.

Well Intended Man, let me ask you. Do you often find yourself discussing sex in casual conversation? Responding to casual comments with sexual innuendos? Referencing your favorite porn around the campfire? Bringing attention to the fact that you know your friends are in a sexual relationship? If you said yes to any of this, let me ask you further: how did the women in these situations respond? Did they laugh and seem engaged? Banter back? Or did they get quiet, and maybe seem unamused and perhaps uncomfortable?

Or, Well Intended Man, how about this. What are your expectations of your single female friends? When you go to social gatherings do you expect these single female friends to flirt with you? Be open and available to sexual acts with you? Do you get upset if the night doesn’t result in sexual activity with this single female friend? Do you view the night as a waste because your single female friend didn’t engaged sexually with you? When you decide to reach out to your female friends, what is the motivator? How quickly does your casual-chit-chat-catch-up turn sexual on your part? If you said yes to any of this, let me ask you further: how did the women in these situations respond? Do they continue to invite you to things? Do they continue to engage in the conversation once it turns sexual? Or do these women fade out of your life?

For me, the hardest part of maintaining my friendships with my guy friends was that they all expected more than just friendship. Suddenly every conversation turned into something sexual, and I was uncomfortable. Every hang out there was a clear expectation of physical intimacy. And when I didn’t reciprocate they would get mad at me. Accuse me of wasting their time. When I invited them to social things I would get responses like, “well but is this all we are going to do, because if nothing else is going to happen this isn’t really worth my while tonight” making me feel like our friendship was only ever seen as a means to a sexual end.

And you know what, I stopped being friends with these people. I stopped reaching out for chit-chat-catch-up, and I stopped engaging when they reached out to me. I stopped inviting them to social gatherings because I didn’t like the pressure they put on me.

So, Well Intended Man, I ask you this: do you actually have female friendships? Or do you just seem women as a source to eventual sex? What are your expectations and motivations of having female friends?

 

Basically, Well Intended Man, how do you view the women in your life? Do you seem them as active members of this community, contributing and passionate? Or do you see the women around you as opportunities?

Again, I know you are well intended. I know you want to have good interactions with women, that you want the women around you to feel safe and comfortable. You just don’t realize that your everyday behavior is creepy. You don’t realize that your view and outlook on the purpose of a woman is not to please you sexually and revolve around you.

And I know you want to be better! So here is what I advice. Start giving more space to the women of the world. If you could easily or accidentally touch a woman who is not an intimate partner, you are standing too close. Give her more space. If you are brushing against strangers as you walk past, you are too close. Pay attention and respect the personal space of women. Stop making your compliments weirdly sexual. When a woman in a professional environment helps you, just say thank you and leave it at that. Stop treating the women you work with different than you treat the men. Stop viewing the women you work with as a social opportunity beyond professional. And stop making your friends uncomfortable with all your sexual talk. Just like sex acts, sex talk requires consent. If you don’t have the consent to talk sexually with someone, then don’t talk sexually. If you think it’s weird to establish that boundary officially, then you definitely shouldn’t be talking about sex.

Basically, stop seeing women as a means purely for sex and ego boosts, and start viewing them as people.

 

-Darci

GUEST WRITER: Trust and Care for Yourself – Final

It’s been a year since #MeToo swept the nation. So this month I decided to open up my platform to allow some other amazing women in my life to share their anger as well. Want to be a guest writer for Angry Feminist as well? Let’s talk! – Darci 

This is the final piece of a 3 piece series. Check out Part 1 and Part 2

FINAL

The decision to get a divorce was not made lightly. I have been unhappy in my marriage for the past 5 years, but not every day. There were always days that felt good, moments we shared that I thought “this is why I married him.” We didn’t talk about anything real anymore, but he still made me laugh when he was in a good mood.  We started traveling, and he let me make some decisions and followed my lead.  I could see ways that he was trying to be better and make it work.

After years of asking and hoping that my feelings would change, that he would be able to give me breathing room and not feel the need to be in control, we went to marriage counseling this year. This was a huge step that gave me hope, since bringing up counseling in the past had always caused a huge fight. Here he was finally saying that he knew we needed help and he was ready to do the work.

Except he wasn’t. At our first session, which we had planned months in advance, we were given an article about communication to read, and he forgot. And by forgot, I mean he put it in a drawer after looking at it on the table for a week. It seems small, but this was one of the ways he told me he wasn’t ready to put in the effort our relationship needed. He had already established a pattern of changing just enough to mollify me and make me feel guilty for wanting to leave; and putting the article in a drawer and not reading it was just another example of how little he thought he needed to work. He was willing to go to counseling, but he didn’t want to talk in the sessions.  He wanted to show me he was trying but couldn’t be bothered to put anything the counselor suggested into action.  Because our relationship had been full of criticism from him towards me, the counselor suggested that he should ask me before giving me critical feedback.  He was not open to this idea.

We talked in counseling about the darkest days of our marriage, and the counselor asked if I had been traumatized. My husband’s response was to say that it had been a really hard time for him. He apologized for me feeling like it was abuse but asked for understanding that it had been a really difficult point in his life and I should try not to hold it against him. He focused again on how he didn’t finish his degree, he didn’t get the job he thought he would, he wasn’t making as much money as he planned.  This response, along with everything else, showed once again that he did not believe he had really done anything that bad. He defended and excused his behavior.  He had a tendency to gaslight me, tell me that my perception of reality was wrong, that I was making things worse in my head than they really were. And he did this in our final counseling session, when I told him I would not be coming home and we would be getting a divorce.

He told me things weren’t actually that bad, and I was making it worse than it had to be. I should just forgive his behavior and move on, because he loved me. But I could not forgive abuse that was still ongoing. And he couldn’t see how he was still abusing me. He couldn’t see that when he “talked me up” to friends, it felt like an act. I know he genuinely cared for me, and was doing his best to show it, but it never seemed to come from somewhere deep. It all seemed to be driven by showing everyone else what a good husband he was or showing me why I should forgive him and do what he wanted.  He couldn’t see that telling me to talk less and not answer questions about my job, but instead talk about how great he was, isn’t a healthy relationship.  There are a million versions of quotes about “don’t let anyone dull your sparkle,” and that is exactly what he wanted me to do.  Take up less room so he could take up more.  After 6 and a half years of marriage, 5 of which were unhealthy and unhappy, I finally told him I would not be trying to fix us anymore.

I am no longer in that relationship. I am living by myself for the first time in my life. The weight of constant fear and worry that I was going to disappoint him, upset him, make him feel less than, not pay enough attention to him, talk about myself too much, see friends too often, not have enough sex, is gone. I can put the eggs in the fridge any way I like.

But more importantly, I can breathe.

My head space is not constantly filled with worry. My thoughts were always preoccupied with the weight of my failing marriage, and I’m no longer aboard a sinking ship. This is an opportunity for me to learn about myself, and to be sure I don’t fall into the same pattern again. And honestly, I could not feel more confident in my decision. I get to be my own person, to take time to reflect on my relationship and how I contributed to it. I get to read books whenever I want, listen to whatever music I want, and no one tries to tell me my choices are wrong.

This entire process, from marriage to divorce, has been a journey that didn’t turn out the way I planned, but I don’t think I would change it. My marriage and its failure has taught me many lessons I needed to learn. I have so much empathy for people who choose divorce and am much less quick to judge. I am no longer the conservative person I was when I got married. I firmly believe in equality in relationships, and in the division of emotional labor. I can now recognize narcissistic personalities easily and avoid them. I learned to speak up for myself, and that only good things will happen when I do. I learned that I am strong, independent, thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful, and worthy of a life that is happy. I learned that I should be able to ask for what I need in a relationship and expect my partner to respond. I learned to recognize emotional manipulation, and what it feels like when someone makes me responsible for their emotions. I learned that I am valuable, and I do not need to be in a relationship to be loved.

I worried that I would wake up full of regret for leaving my marriage. I was sure I would feel guilty for ending a promise that I made for life. But guilt is not a reason to stay married. I realized my feeling of guilt over wanting to end my marriage was the only thing still keeping me in it, and now that I’m out I do not have that feeling. I was not struck by lightning. My family did not disown me. My friends did not judge me, either for staying too long or not long enough. I gave my marriage my best honest try, and ultimately made a decision that is healthier for both of us. I listened to my own voice and made the choice to end it when it was clear that the relationship was unhealthy and beyond repair. My family and friends have been unendingly supportive, and I. Feel. Free.

 

-Adira

 

GUEST WRITER: Trust and Care for Yourself – Part 2

It’s been a year since #MeToo swept the nation. So this month I decided to open up my platform to allow some other amazing women in my life to share their anger as well. Want to be a guest writer for Angry Feminist as well? Let’s talk! – Darci 

This is part 2 of a 3 piece story. Check out Part 1 here

PART 2

I was 24 and 3 years into my marriage, but I was realizing things had gone very differently than I planned.  That being said, I still thought I could fix our relationship. My husband was difficult, but he had reasons to be based on his childhood.  I started going to counseling for myself, and every time I walked out the door he would fight with me.  He would say how uncomfortable he was with me talking about our issues to a stranger.  I heard him, but I kept going because I knew I needed help processing this relationship.  I invited him many times to come to couples’ counseling, and each time was met with absolute and blatant refusal, coupled with disgust that I had asked. Through a year of counseling, I started realizing his issues with me were not about me at all, but about himself.  He had an intense need to put on a good show for everyone around him, a need to be impressive in all things; be it intelligence, living situation, looks, status, whatever.  I would notice him exaggerate things to friends to sound more impressive.  If I corrected him, even kindly, he would snap at me and ask why I was saying he was wrong in front of people.  I stopped doing that.  Things were better for a while as I learned to communicate with him. He started helping around the house, he stopped saying unsupportive things about my work. This all felt like progress. I convinced myself there was still hope. I stopped going to counseling.  I was 25.

But the truth is that he was manipulating me. Any time he had something that he wanted to change about the way things were, he had to get his way. He used logic and counted on my tendency for emotional decisions to convince me I was irrational if I disagreed with him. There were countless rules I had to follow in daily life in order to make sure I wasn’t disrupting him. No reading if he was home, because that felt like him being blocked out (I am an absolute bookworm.  He used to brag about how quickly I read). Put the eggs back in the fridge this direction, not that. That’s the wrong way to microwave a taco. I fought back on each of these rules but was convinced I was probably in the wrong. He wasn’t in the wrong, I just hadn’t forgiven him for the abuse of the past. I wasn’t really being abused now. He wasn’t calling me stupid anymore. Things were better, surely.

Except they weren’t better, they were just different. He no longer tried to control how I dressed, but instead he started making me feel guilty about going out with friends. I always asked how his day was, but he rarely returned the gesture. He didn’t think we talked about his job or interests any more than mine, which was easily visible and untrue. If I wasn’t feeling amorous or physical, he would give me the silent treatment and make sure I knew I had hurt his feelings until I changed my tune. He was constantly trying to be physical in public. His need for physical affection outweighed my discomfort and need for space. I started unconsciously flinching every time he touched me because I was afraid it would turn into something more. I knew these things weren’t right, but I couldn’t justify walking away for such small things. Those aren’t abuse. That’s not a horrible person. We just had more work to do.

When my husband and I would go to social events, people were constantly asking if my husband was ok, people we barely knew, people who had no idea what was or wasn’t going on. His attitude was desperately seeking approval while at the same time trying to convince everyone in the room that he was on their level or better. And I would defend or explain his behavior, because I wanted to be a loving, supportive wife. I knew he struggled with talking with people. He said he often felt like he didn’t know what to say or how to come up with the right words. So when he was awkward or rude to people, I would say he’s just unsure of himself. He’s not actually that way, he just gets in his own way and is nervous.

My friends checked in on me constantly, asking how things were going, if things were getting better. Sometimes I was positive and optimistic, listing all the ways he had changed. He now washed the dishes every night! What progress! But when they dug deeper, they would start questioning his behavior, and my optimistic illusions couldn’t hold up. Yes, he washed the dishes, but he made sure I knew that he didn’t want to and felt it was ridiculous that I made him do it. And there were certain things he wouldn’t wash because it was “just too much trouble,” so if I cooked a meal with those things, I better wash it myself. Yes, he was better behaved in public, but he still couldn’t give someone else a compliment without making it about himself.

And somehow, this still wasn’t enough for me to leave him. I spent a year in this kind of limbo, where I knew we weren’t happy but couldn’t bring myself to end it.

Not until I started thinking about what raising a family with him would be like. Really thinking about it. Because maybe he would be great. But everything I had seen with him around kids, around our friends’ kids, was general annoyance with the noise and mess they make. But more than that, any kids we had would have to abide by his rules. They would not be allowed to make messes and mistakes. And what would happen if they didn’t follow his rules, or when they made messes or mistakes? This was my tipping point.  I was 27, we had been married for 6 years, and I went back to counseling.  This time he didn’t fight me every time I walked out the door but listened when I said that I needed to talk about things with someone other than him.  I saw this as a huge sign of progress and was hopeful that counseling would help me forgive him and move on together.

With a very conservative religious background, I have always looked at divorce as being a quitter. Everyone knows marriage is hard! Taking two people and pushing them together for life is no easy task for a saint, let alone a flesh and blood human being. I never thought I would be that person. I believed everything I heard about marriage being two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. He even started saying that to me constantly.

And I still believe that definition to be true, but it only works if both people are willing to do the work it takes. As soon as the burden falls on one person or the other, the system is bound to fail. Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to do the work. He would constantly make excuses for his behavior, but always in a way that tugged on my tendency for empathy. When I brought up concerns about how he treated me, things would somehow get turned around until I was apologizing and making him feel better.  When I brought up ways I would like help, I was met with reasons that I was asking for too much. This was a relationship where his needs had to be met or I would be punished with silence and shame, but many of my needs could be explained away and mostly left alone. Every time I had a concern about our relationship, it was explained and reasoned away. At the same time, he felt competitive with me and told me so.  He told me that people ask too many questions about my job and not enough about his, so I should start turning the conversation to him instead.  He told me I “outshone” him in social situations, and I should start bringing him forward and putting myself in the background.

As I talked with my counselor about the relationship, she pointed out these narcissistic tendencies and helped me see that I really was doing all the right things to try to communicate my needs.  Unfortunately, with narcissism, there’s no room to be told you’re wrong.  I started to recognize that most of his behavior was rooted in needing to be verbally celebrated, needing approval from everyone around him.  My counselor also helped me understand co-dependency.  I always thought that term referred to relying on another person, but it means so much more.  Co-dependency can also mean relying on creating an image and maintaining it, through physical appearance, possessions, cars, clothes, etc.  This describes my ex perfectly.  Many of our arguments stemmed from me not following his mental picture of what his life should look like, either in how I dressed or acted.  I wasn’t fitting the mold of “cool trendy girl.”  I didn’t worship him and encourage others to tell him how great or interesting he was.  I stopped seeing my counselor for a while because she told me that narcissistic personalities rarely change, and she didn’t think he would.  I didn’t want to hear it and wanted to keep trying to fix my relationship. This was all earlier this year.

That might sound crazy, based on everything else he had done, but again, he was a master of emotional manipulation, and I have been raised to be a peace keeper.  I knew he had issues, but I also knew that his life had been difficult.  There are reasons for how he acts, and many of them aren’t his fault.  A difficult childhood is enough to give anyone baggage, and his was rougher than most.  Between his need for understanding and my identity as a peace keeper, I felt like I needed to stay with him and work things out.

 

-Adira