I was duped

 
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Cary’s classic column from TUESDAY, JUL 1, 2003

No one told me how disappointing and boring married life is!


Dear Cary,

I am a 34-year-old woman, married for about 14 months. If I had known how disappointing and boring marriage would be, I would never have done it. What is worse, is that all my married friends and siblings never really talked to me about the reality of married life — they all act as though I should have known. But really, I had no idea, and am bitter about not having a clue; I feel like I was tricked into something. (I had tried to postpone the marriage, and my husband took it so badly, I went ahead with it anyway. A big mistake, I now believe.)

My husband is the kind of guy I was supposed to marry — handsome, funny, ambitious. Loves my mom, and is very considerate to me. In some ways, I shouldn’t complain, except for the fact that I feel I am sleepwalking through my life. The depths of my quiet desperation are amazing to me, and are approximately 14 months old.

When we were dating, we always had fun; he made me feel sexy and attractive. He’s still very kind, but the sex has dropped off considerably. We don’t go out together much because he’s not interested in the things I am. I often go alone to plays or exhibits I want to see. I have tried to involve him, but really, I have married someone who is not my intellectual partner. He’s simply not interested in those things, and I feel as though he was duping me into believing he was. I have spoken to him about my unhappiness and he’s always attributed it to something else — living in a different city from family, not having enough friends, etc. But after developing new hobbies and friendships, I still feel the same dullness about my entire life, stemming from my primary relationship being so mundane. I’ve always been a happy-go-lucky, independent person, so I am bewildered as to the depths of my unhappiness now.

We are all taught that marriage is the natural culmination of all our efforts toward love, and yet, I know of no one who is happily married. I do know some miserable parents of toddlers, and some couples who bicker constantly. Perhaps they are happy. My parents have been married for 40 years, and don’t have sex anymore. I no longer suppose they are happy — just together out of habit by this point.

Perhaps I should mention that I began dating my husband after leaving an exciting but underpaid career for one that I enjoy, and pays better, but lacks the adventure quotient. My husband is very emotionally dependent on me, and would be crushed to learn that I am considering leaving him and starting over somewhere new. We don’t have any children and I feel that I could leave and begin again.

Please don’t tell me to try harder. I’m the one doing all the work to try to bring some stimulation into our relationship. He seems to think that all is well, despite my explanations to the contrary. How much boredom is one supposed to cope with as part of marriage? Am I just having a problem maturing? Is “lack of fun” grounds for a divorce? How do people do this? I had always wanted an extraordinary life. But from here, it is looking very long indeed.

Trapped in the Marriage Donut

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Dear Trapped,

Madam, what you need is a divorce. You made a dumb mistake. It was an honest mistake, but it was dumb. Luckily, this isn’t the Middle Ages — not yet anyway. Get a divorce, and the sooner the better — while it’s still legal.

The divorce should free up some time for you to write the book. And then, after the book becomes a bestseller, you will have all the time you need to visit the museums and eat the lunches. In the book, if you just tell in, say, a couple of hundred pages what you just said to me, in more detail but with the same combination of dizzying naiveté and withering honesty, every married woman in the country will want to read it — aloud to her friends.

Of course marriage is sometimes as you say. But then, so is single life. Those of us who are married and plan to remain so have done it because the alternative is so much more frightening and bizarre — to be out there among all those dangerous, untethered people, randomly ranging on the urban prairie, unleashed from family and institution, neighing and pawing the ground as the sun sets every night: It’s sheer madness to contemplate singlehood. Many of us who are now married tried to remain happily free and single but could not bear that kind of happiness and freedom any longer.

As you say, the world offers so much in the way of books and music and entertainment! There is so much to do! But some of us also need security, comfort, routine, an ally, someone we can trust, someone who when encountered in the morning does not bark like a stranger raised by hyenas, someone whose allegiance is unquestioned, someone who has read some of the same books, someone who can buy toothpaste at Target when we run out, someone who is not an aunt or uncle or visiting graduate student at the nearby polytechnic institute: there are a million reasons to stay married, aside from the sheer madness of love, that is. It is hard to explain sometimes, especially when one is moody and inconsolable and wants to crawl around inside an apartment with all the drapes drawn for three or four days but there is this other person in the house to whom some explanation is owed for the unaccountable blankness of affect … there are times, of course, when the sheer lunacy of the arrangement strikes home with particular force.

Nonetheless, as marriage is a delicious and mad torment, so is life itself.

So get the divorce, free up some time and write the book. Call it, “If I had known how disappointing and boring marriage would be, I would never have done it.” Who could resist a title like that?

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My dad left us because he is gay

 
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Cary’s classic column from FRIDAY, APR 22, 2005

Why did he spend 18 years with my mom? Did he know all along, or what?


Dear Cary,

Two months ago my dad moved out of the house. For about two years he has been depressed and then he started to have a drinking problem. My mom tried everything. They decided to go to a marriage counselor but my dad didn’t like therapy. All he did was yell at the counselor and tell her that he did not have a problem and that he was not depressed.

Once my dad moved out he was much happier and calmer. With him here it was like walking on pins and needles. The week he left he called every day and then he called three to four times a week. I was confused. If he left then shouldn’t he just leave and not call to see what was going on? He didn’t check in while he was here, so why was he doing it now? He has been gone for two months now and it is so much better here. Me, my mom and my sister are much happier. But when my dad moved out my mom had not worked for 16 years. So she had to find a job and now has a full-time job but she doesn’t earn much money.

It has been really hard for me to adjust to all of these changes but I have managed. But two days ago my mom sat me and my little sister down and told us that she had to be honest with us about something. She said that she and my dad were getting a divorce and that it was not just because of his depression or his drinking. It was because she could not stay married to a gay man. My mom figured this out four months ago but it took her this long to tell me and my sister. They have been married for 18 years. Did he not know that he was gay? If he did know, then why did he get married to my mom? Was he just trying to make it go away? What was he doing? Why now?

Confused Child

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Dear Confused Child,

Those are good questions. I will attempt to answer them. But first I have a question for you: When you ask an adult a question, do you sometimes find that they don’t really answer it, that they talk about something else that you hadn’t brought up, which you weren’t even thinking about or don’t care about?

I seem to remember that happening to me when I was a child. When I asked an adult a question I had generally thought it through. I knew what I was asking. I wanted an answer. But often I was not taken seriously. Sometimes my questions were complicated, and I was often misunderstood. But I was not looking for sympathy or hugs. I was looking for answers. So I will attempt to answer your questions.

Yes, it’s possible that when your father married your mother he did not know he was gay. He may have felt he was a heterosexual man who had occasional homosexual feelings. As you suggest, he may have thought that getting married would make the homosexual feelings go away.

Why now? Well, as you will find out as you get older, the longer one lives with a truth, the more difficult it is to resist it. It’s as though you were holding up a wall. It becomes more and more tiring. You finally give in and let the wall come down.

So why did he call so much after he left? I can think of some reasons. One, of course, is that he loves you. The sound of your voice makes him happy. Also, he wants to continue to contribute to your well-being. Moving out doesn’t change that. Some people might say he feels guilty and is seeking forgiveness. That may be part of it. But it’s not your job right now to forgive him. You may be too angry at him to forgive him or even to want to speak to him. But if he is trying to be helpful, if he is inquiring as to your well-being, it’s OK to talk to him and tell him how you are.

You also ask why, if he’s going to go, he doesn’t simply go and not bother you? It’s a good question. It would simplify things if he were simply gone. But you would probably start to miss him, too, if he never called. It’s better this way, even though it may be upsetting to hear from him right now, because you don’t want to get into the habit of never talking to him.

For you, having to talk to him is probably a lot of work right now. It requires you to come up with a new way of relating to him. But if I were you, I would try to force myself to talk to him, to keep up the habit. You will probably find, as time goes on, that you settle into a new relationship with him and bit by bit you become glad to hear from him. What makes it hard right now, I’m guessing, is the way all your emotions well up when he calls. You may feel angry and sad all at once. You may feel things of an intensity and complexity that you haven’t ever felt before, and that may be frightening to you. It may feel as though you are getting a little crazy. Intense emotions will do that even to the strongest person. But that’s all right; then they pass and you are the same as you were. Your emotions won’t hurt you. They are not your enemy. In fact, if you look at them as a source of strength, they will help you get through this.

I have tried to answer your questions as clearly as I can, without adding a bunch of nonsense. Even so, I have probably said more than I needed to. It’s hard to avoid doing that. The important thing to remember is that your father still loves you, and things will get better. You can depend on that.

 

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It’s not my fault

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Cary’s classic column from WEDNESDAY, MAR 19, 2003

I want my husband to write a letter to my future lovers, telling them that the demise of our marriage was his fault.


Dear Cary,

I don’t always agree with you, but I do think you are compassionate and nonjudgmental, two of the most important characteristics for an advice columnist.

Now that I’ve buttered you up, I’m wondering if you can help me. I caught my husband cheating on me (e-mail love letter) a few months after we were married. We had dated for almost four years and were trying to have a baby. I left immediately and he was virtually unrepentant, ready to stay with his new flame, and I swear he acted cheerful, as if I was a worker he had to let go and he wanted to make our unfortunate, yet inevitable, parting of ways as pleasant and professional as possible. I was devastated even more by his callousness than by the shock of seeing the words “I love you” written to another woman. Although that was horrible enough.

Well, here I am four months after this incident and still trying to get over the shock. Then last week, on the phone, he told me his therapist thinks that, because his first wife cheated on him years ago and because his boss/friend died soon before we began dating, he had never really dealt with his grief and therefore started dating me to make me happy, I guess in an effort to avoid dealing with his grief. He said he was just a nice guy who told me he loved me because he wanted to make me happy while subconsciously he was really confused and unhappy. And that our trips to Europe and living together and him proposing on his knees was done to make me happy, while “subconsciously” he was really miserable.

Cary, you’ll have to believe me when I say that he didn’t act like he was miserable. We never fought and rarely argued. I’m considered a good person by all who know me. I’m good-looking — people used to tease him that I was too good for him. Friends and family thought I was great and encouraged our marriage. Our sex life was fine, mostly comfortable but we had our moments up to the end. He liked to flirt, but it was more like joking like a seventh-grader — not very sexual. But he was otherwise stable and I never thought he’d cross the line since he was cheated on by his first wife and knew how that felt. Plus he was always telling me how much he loved me, how lucky he was to have me.

I’m in therapy now for the trauma and even my therapist thinks that it is unusual to come across someone so self-deluded and willing to lie. She doesn’t even see the need to explore my part in the breakup since it is so obviously one-sided. I’m not saying I was perfect but I was trying. I had just committed to make a life with this person while he was off starting something new.

So here’s the thing. I feel like this guy ruined my life, and I want compensation. What I want is for him to write me a sort of reference letter that I can show to future lovers. In it I want him to admit that he was mentally messed up, or whatever, that I am a great person, and that the demise of our marriage was entirely his fault. That he lied to me from start to finish, knowingly or not. I’m afraid that without such proof I’m doomed to look crazy, stupid, or otherwise deserving of such treatment when I tell a prospective boyfriend that my husband cheated on me immediately after marrying me. I feel like I’ve been preyed on by a sexual predator, that he isn’t being punished, and that I have to suffer for being his victim for the rest of my life.

Did you ever read “The French Lieutenant’s Woman”? There’s a part where a guy jilts his betrothed and her father makes him write a public letter admitting his guilt to save her reputation. The story portrays this act as useless and desperate. Is what I’m asking my “husband” to do a waste of time?

More Sinned Against Than — Anything

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Dear Sinned Against,

I am so sorry for what you have gone through. It must have been a terrible shock. I think your idea of getting your husband to write this letter shows that you have a good sense of humor, and I understand the lure of this idea. You have been wronged, and it is natural to want justice. But your quest for justice in this case has a tragicomic aspect to it that I think should warn you away from following through with it. That is, such a letter, if framed, could hang in your office. You could also make copies to hand out to your family and to people you date, and to maitre d’s, store clerks, cab drivers and hairdressers. Should you be arrested, convicted and sent to prison, you could request that it be among the few personal items you are allowed to keep with you in your cell. Should you be sentenced to death, you can, as a last request, read it aloud to those assembled in the execution chamber.

Do you see what I mean? You would only be inviting ridicule of yourself by pursuing such a solution. However understandable an impulse, it is a metaphor, a fantasy. I would suggest instead that you focus on concrete things that you can do, right now, to make life a little better while you live through the shock and grief of this event and try to get on with the rest of your life.

Another way to look at it is that by concentrating on having him do something, you are putting the power for your recovery in the hands of someone who does not have your best interests at heart. You need to concentrate on you, not him. Forget about him. Banish him from your life. He’s dead to you, OK? So stop talking to him on the telephone.
When I say you should concentrate on you, not on him, it may seem that I am implying that you are the guilty party. You’re not the guilty party. But you’re the only one who can recover from what happened to you; you’re the only one who can use what happened to become a better, wiser, stronger person. However blameless you are in his infidelity, your part in this event is the only part that matters now. If your therapist isn’t helping you explore that, I can’t imagine what you’re paying for. A therapist is not someone you hire to prove that you were right. Tell your therapist you want to explore your part in this matter, in order to find some deeper meaning in it. If your therapist doesn’t seem to understand what you mean, I would look for a professional who will help you do that. If you interrogate yourself deeply, with the aid of a therapist, you may learn something invaluable.

For instance, you might discover with some surprise just how very much the judgments of others matter to you. That might be why you fantasize about this exonerating affidavit. It might explain why you mention my being “nonjudgmental” as a qualifying characteristic (which, incidentally, if I may be so bold, kind of ticked me off! I guess you were kidding around, and perhaps I’m a little thin-skinned, but it put me on the defensive). And so you might then explore the role of judgment in your past and future life. It may be that your concern with judgment led you to overlook some things about this man’s character. It might also be leading you to overlook things in yourself. Judging may at times be a way of walling off something in yourself, some dark force, something in yourself you don’t approve of that you need to have power over.

As you explore the role of judging in your life, you may find that you have been using it to hold certain things at bay; you may want to explore new arts that affect you in unexpected ways. There is a rich world of emotion, of blood and sacrifice, of terror and darkness, of ecstasy and abandon, of rage, of passion, of laughter, roiling right below the surface of our daily lives; much of it is neither right nor wrong. If you can bring yourself to acknowledge these things, you may find both relief and a new kind of power that lies in the acceptance of the morally ambiguous.

If you can get some distance on your longing for retribution, your feeling that you’ve been sinned against, and your need for punishment and exoneration, you can be less driven by them and perhaps use them to your benefit. They can drive you crazy, but they can also be powerful attributes if you develop them consciously. They might even lead you to your life’s calling. Perhaps you belong in the realm of justice, as a prosecutor perhaps, or an investigator, or working on behalf of an idealistic organization such as Human Rights Watch.

You mentioned sin. I don’t know if that means you are a religious person, but if you are a Christian, for instance, you know the job of judging your ex-husband is already taken care of. You needn’t fear that the judging won’t get done. It will get done. Just not by you. Therein, too, you may find a kind of relief. Let it go, the whole need to judge him. Let God judge him.

So, reluctant and equivocating judge that I am, my final verdict is: Join an African dance class. Sit in a mud bath. Swim. Take peyote. Buy a dog. Get a therapist who won’t just take your money and tell you that you were right all along. And don’t talk to your ex on the telephone.

Good luck.

 

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“I hate everybody!” plus Cary rambles on about rambling on

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Dear Reader,

I thought that every time I do a column I would write something but today I don’t really want to write anything about myself. I really do not like writing about myself. Or do I? Actually, what happens is that initially writing about myself is frustrating because I do not set out with a topic. I find it hard to find my own subject. So I just dive in, and am unsatisfied with what I write because it is vapid. But then out of that awareness of vapidity will arise a subject.

Now, there’s some wisdom in that: Just beginning to write will bring one to one’s subject. It is intolerable to write gibberish; that is a built-in mechanism: We eventually find what is meaningful because to jabber on is painful. I don’t know if it is painful to everyone; some people jabber without showing that it pains them, and thus inflict pain on others. But they must be in some kind of pain! Perhaps they are not aware of the pain they are feeling. Me, I have a low threshold of pain, psychologically. I can easily slip into feelings of abject despair. So I cannot jabber senselessly for very long. I seek meaning like a life raft. The chaos that surrounds us is terrifying, and when my own consciousness mimics that chaos, I panic. I must find something that means something. What arises from that encounter is my subject, which starts out to be my own orneriness, or my own resistance, or my own reluctance to write about myself.

I write all the time. I write morning pages sometimes. They help me stay sane. Morning pages help me identify the hidden themes that are likely to crop up throughout the day.

Here’s something of possible interest about human nature. I noticed the other day that when I met people the first thing I was asking them was, What part of the city do you live in? What neighborhood? As I was falling asleep I was wondering why I was doing that. Then I realized, we had the real estate man out here looking at our house. We are thinking of moving. I’m not sure exactly why we would move but having lost my job and being in a very expensive city, and not wanting to work too hard, wanting a slower life, and less house to take care of (this house is big, actually; and it’s got what is for San Francisco a big backyard). There’s painting to do. There’s a lot of work that has to be done on the house and I just, after my cancer surgery, I’ve really changed my attitude toward the house. I like it and all but I’m not as interested as I once was in learning all the trades.

I thought sheetrock was really interesting at first. I wanted to learn plumbing and electrical. Just to know how to do that stuff. So I learned a lot about that but now it’s not interesting to me. I just want to live in a house.

What was interesting was how unconscious was this force that was driving me to ask people where they lived. I got great satisfaction out of hearing where people lived, but it wasn’t connected to any conscious, analytical plant. Maybe it should be. Dennis lives near 22nd on South Van Ness. Judith lives at 23red and Potrero. I’m just storing these little addresses away. I’m like a walking Google map.

Anyway, it’s Wednesday, so I’m answering a letter:

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Dear Cary,
 
Today, Happy Easter, I have reached the point of determining that I hate everybody. As churlish as that may sound, it makes sense when I really start to think of how my intimate partners and family have consistently betrayed me in spite of the fact of me doing the right thing, holding up my end of the bargain, being supportive of them, trying not to allow them to put their “crap” on me.

My dad was abusive emotionally, mentally and physically (yes, he is an alcoholic.)

When I think of my marriages (yes, multiple) the one that I had children with and tried to keep together with another alcoholic for 12 years was fouled up because of his attachment to his messed-up family instead of ours. There were times when we seemed to make inroads to intimacy and love, but then he would go back out to the insanity of alcohol and drugs. The end came to me when he went on a coke bender with his sister, while my mother was on her deathbed.

The most faithful earliest intimate partner whom I should have married, but remained close friends with, confided in me TWENTY years later that although he wanted to marry me and had asked me several times, his father threatened his inheritance and my life if he did.  Different culture. By the time his dad died, I had already been married and was done having kids.

So here I am.  Pissed as hell. The last marriage I had after seeking recovery for codependency turned out to be a big lie too. He said everything I wanted to hear, until we got married.

After I made choices to turn my life around and make a better life for me and my kids, I had to ask myself, Why do I have to do all the work in this marriage and what the hell am I getting out of it?

It gets worse. I dropped out of my church, because although not as dogmatic as most “religions,” what they were preaching was absolutely not helping me cope with the circumstances of my life. I was really tired of feeling like I was the only one responsible for the continuation of an institution that would only condemn me for trying to live my life as I felt was best for me.

The most recent love of my life (which was yes, unusual because of our age difference) was stifled because of the determination of his family and what they wanted for him as well.

Cary, it’s not like I am sleeping around, drinking or drugging. Just trying to maintain a home for my teenage kids and work independently. But there did come a point in time when I said I am totally sick of feeling like the “taskmaster” for everyone, especially my intimate relationships.

In walks the young love of my life who for once made me feel like a complete woman, just the way I am. Only to be shunned because he can’t follow his own heart and be with me instead of the traditional way the family thinks things should be.

I had even been to a marriage counselor, who really didn’t help me other than saying our age difference was typical for an affair.

So here I am. I hate everybody. I am so fed up with everybody’s horse****  and no one being authentic or intelligent enough to carry on a decent conversation.

My darker side is about to come out in the worst way, as I am ready to start having unscrupulous sex with any man ready to go.  I don’t even know how to go about that. How do you do that without getting AIDS? 
 
There is so much more vitriol but I am sure you probably have seen the heart of the issue I am having already with my very rude awakening. Please help me unravel the crap so I can get to a better place.
Thanks.
Rudely Awakened

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Dear Rudely Awakened,
This is the kind of letter that in the old days I would spend a few days on. I would read it and think about it for a few days. But I don’t have that luxury anymore. And maybe that’s a good thing. So I am going to say a few things that may help.
For one, I don’t know enough about you to venture a guess. I don’t know what culture you are from, or how old you are, or really much of anything except that you are fed up and angry. And I know you’ve had some marriages and are now on the verge of doing something reckless and possibly self-destructive.

OK, that’s a start. I do know what it’s like to feel fed up and like doing something reckless and self-destructive. Maybe there is a clue there, having to do with your codependency. Here’s a thought. Maybe your codependency is linked to a poorly developed love for your self. That would account for why you feel like a taskmaster and a victim.

Maybe you have reached a point in your recovery from codependency where you are ready to make a new leap. Maybe your anger is a signal that it’s time to truly leave behind your codependent husk and emerge as some new being. Maybe the anger is the kind of anger that burns off a residue.

But as I say, I don’t know enough.

Here is what I suggest, though. I suggest you do some more reading on codependency and try to find in yourself the connections between how you were raised, your father’s alcoholism, your known codependent traits, and get a sense of the typical spiritual trajectory of a codependent. That is, consider that personal psychological growth occurs in stages, and those stages are marked by a feeling of crisis. Recognize that you have reached some kind of crisis which it is your job to enter into and understand. This may be done by talking it through  with other people in Al-Anon, if you are connected with that program. It may be done by taking a thorough route through the steps of Al-Anon.

That would be my interpretation: That you have reached a point of personal crisis that has a meaning which is yet to be determined.

So identify the things that are happening. It may be that long-buried feelings are starting to erupt, and those may be connected to your father and your family. I do notice that family plays a big role in your dissatisfaction. It may be that while you are identifying the family conflicts present in other people’s lives, what is driving that is your own inner conflict with your own family and your family history. So I would look for mirrors and echoes. That’s what I would do. Look for mirrors and echoes and order and consistency. Look for the patterns and ask how they have brought you where you are. Ask how you can change those patterns.

To do this, you will want to refrain from acting out. Rather than act out your frustration, sit with it. Talk it through. Write about it in a journal. Be aware. Just seek awareness.

So, as I said, knowing so little about you as an individual, that is all I can offer. I hope it is helpful.

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I need support from my brothers in a messy divorce

 

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Hi Cary,

Your column spoke to a writer’s heart. It encouraged. It gave strength. It had passion and power.

It would be lovely if you would continue to offer advice.

That said, I need some support and advice. I’m in the midst of a contentious divorce. Friends started telling me several months ago that this was bad before I realized how the situation had deteriorated. How this divorce was not just another breakup, but a Shakespearean-level tragedy.

Collateral damage is beginning to pile up as my spouse (well, it is my view of this) gathers the orcs for her raids. To give some idea of her mindset, she had an order of protection placed on me when this started. It was vacated and recently when she attempted to have me arrested, a witness was present who was able to tell the police, “He didn’t do any of the things she claims.”

Okay, she lied to get the OP. But here is the kicker. Following that initial OP among the first calls she made was to my daughter, crowing how I’d been kicked out of the house (my daughter was also removed from the house as a result of the OP, not legally, but in fact).

Among the casualties are the relationships with my brothers.

There is a concept when relationships like these go sour to blame the victim. I’ve heard, several times now, “You ought to make up with your brother.” These souls treat me as the issue. I’m to blame for what has happened.

I won’t bore you with this. Let’s summarize this as I wake in the morning, look myself in the mirror and I feel damn good about myself. My brother? He is offering protection to a predator. And, no it isn’t my wife.

More collateral damage appeared this week. The divorce has been going on for eight months. In that time I’ve spoken to my second brother once, maybe twice.

This week I needed some emotional support. I made the mistake of calling on the second brother. Our discussion had nothing to do with the family. I was asking for professional advice on dealing with my attorney. My brother is nationally known for mediation and recently retired from the bench.

He quickly started in on me. I was to blame for not getting a prenup. I was to blame because I can’t articulate why there are bells and whistles in my head when I’m asked to work with a vendor suggested by my divorce attorney. I was to blame because I was asking for advice and he had only a few minutes to consider his answer. (Ummm… eight months and two phone calls in the midst of a contentious divorce?)

I stopped him finally and said, “Why am I to blame here? Why can’t you just accept the feeling in my gut? I’m calling for emotional support. I don’t see a lot of it.”

At that point he hung up. I was upset, but not yelling or angry. I was under assault and I had to stop him. My defense was reasonable and within the boundary of normal given the offense. And that statement above? That was the extent of my protest.

Nevertheless, I’ll be blamed as being angry and confrontational.

There are a few ways to deal with this as I see it. Maybe you can help me see additional ways? I’m thinking a handwritten note that lays out that I need emotional support, not blame, is in order. But writers, we can be so snarky can’t we? 😉

I could also walk away, as I’ve always done. I walk away and I seethe in anger. That seems a mistake.

Or, I could write that letter (or this letter). Put them aside and know that this brother is a detached jerk. That I asked for too much from him. Anything I say (or not say for that matter) confirms to him and others that I’m the problem.

Jump, if you want Cary, to the idea that I was the family vessel that received the blame. It would be true. Jump to to the understanding that this is a family of survivors of alcoholism.

There is a policy for dealing with family turds like this that I located on the web. It is called ‘state occasions only.‘ I like that idea.

And, I like summarizing the situation like this: my brother (1) is an ass who threw me under the bus to protect a predator and brother (2) we’re just distant.

Your thoughts?

Patrick

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Dear Patrick,

What you need is support. You’re not going to get it from your brother. But you can find it in lots of places. I suggest you set out to find the healthy support that you need.

It will help to have a clear picture of what this support is. It isn’t exactly the same as being told you are right, or were right in your decisions. But it’s being affirmed as a human being with rights and feelings. It is the kind of support found most often in 12-step groups, men’s groups, and in private sessions with therapists.

Your relationships with your individual family members is a separate issue. Do not go to them for support. There are many reasons for this. The most basic is that you’re not going to get the support you need from them. So it’s illogical to go to them. Beyond that, going to them exacerbates the problem because it brings up deep emotion rooted in family history.

In order to stop going to your brothers for support you may first need to understand first why you are doing it, when it’s not the best thing. You are probably doing it because of a lifelong wish to fix something, to have things the way they ought to be, the way they were supposed to be. So in order to stop going to your brothers for support you may have to accept the fact, in a deep way, not only that you come from an alcoholic household, but deeper than that: You’ve been hurt by this and suffered loss, and it is not recoverable. You have to accept the loss. You have to grieve. Now, it may be too painful to grieve. It may feel as though your entire world, your future, your self, was bound up in that dream of having the family work the way it was supposed to—i.e., having brothers you could turn to in times of distress.

That’s a very sad thing. It’s sadder than just knowing you had an alcoholic family. It’s really about having to let go of a wonderful dream. I know how sad that is. I had a wonderful dream, too, of how I thought my family should function, and for a long time this dream would precede me into a room; I would be thinking, if I just go back there, if we just have a family home, if this, if that . . . it will be just like my ideal childhood. But guess what? Even this ideal childhood is a wish, some kind of fantasy. My childhood wasn’t ideal. It’s just another place that I can pretend was trouble-free; it’s another fantasy.

To break free of the fantasy means accepting that it’s never going to be the way you wish it would be. It’s not. You don’t have to castigate your brothers. Just accept that they are the way they are, and that they’re not the appropriate people to turn to for the kind of support you need right now.

Find a group of men who are going through divorce. If you have anger issues, find a group of men dealing with anger. If you have substance abuse issues, or sex and relationship issues, or issues with food, or money, or your family, find appropriate groups where you can share your feelings and get support.

Remember: The support you need is not going to come from your family right now. So be smart. Find the support you need where it is most likely to be found: among fellow sufferers, fellow travelers, people who’ve been there and are offering a helping hand.

Now, a note about the column. (I’m putting this at the bottom because I don’t want to lead with stuff about me. That makes the column less of a service.)

I am writing the column one day a week right now and feeling my way through the transition from a full-time writer for Salon to a freelance writer, teacher and entrepreneur. My first love at the moment is novels, followed by short stories and then poetry, and if I can find a way to do everything I will. If the column slips away a little bit as I pursue these other things then that’s how it is. The last thing I want to do is keep writing it when I’m not in the spirit of it and drive it into the ground, like somebody who keeps dancing because he doesn’t notice the music has stopped.

I’d like to go out clean, on top.

So we’ll see. It’s partly a money thing and partly a creative economy thing, partly a creative ecology or infrastructure thing, and partly, to tell the truth, I feel like what I did for 12 years was write this thing every day and that was a particular kind of challenge. I gave it everything I had every day for 12 years and doing it just once a week is not the same. I can’t afford to do it five days a week because I have to make money.

So we’ll see. Again, thanks for the good words.

And remember: Your brothers are not going to give you the support you need right now. Go to the appropriate source for the support you need.

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She asked for a divorce, then found a lump in her breast

 

Cary’s classic column from MONDAY, DEC 22, 2008

 

I’ve been dating her husband, but now she wants him back!

 

 

Dear Cary,

For the past seven months, I have been dating and falling in love with a man who is in the final stages of his divorce. After six years of marriage, it’s been a year and a half since they were together. Throughout their marriage she’d repeatedly cheated on him, told him she’d never wanted a family with him, lived away from him for years when she decided to go to graduate school and not invite him along. She never wore her ring, changed her name, or set up a joint bank account. It’s not that I feel there is anything wrong with choosing these things in a vacuum, but it didn’t seem as if she ever wanted to be married to him. She finally told him she wanted a divorce, something he’d never wanted. He remained true to their marriage for seven months after they decided to divorce by paying her rent and bills (as she is unemployed and broke), not dating anyone else, and being her emotional support. He began dating me when he moved out of their apartment, eight months after their estrangement.

Two months ago, this woman decided that she wanted her husband back. She started with calling him constantly, saying she wanted to be friends. Then she began to write him love letters, insisting that he’s abandoning his moral obligation to keep his vows — knowing this would hurt him and cause tremendous guilt. She made vague remarks about suicide. Through all of this, my relationship with him has remained strong, mostly because we are very much in love and I have been confident that this divorce will soon be finalized.

The other day, this woman let him know that she found a lump in her breast, which requires a biopsy. And I don’t know what to do. She has no health insurance and my boyfriend says that he cannot, as a human being with a conscience and compassion, move forward with the divorce until he knows she is healthy. I want him to leave her for good. This woman is not a child; she had over a year to get a job and/or insurance when she decided on a divorce. I think she should go home to her family in Kansas if she cannot take care of herself. I also feel he should be committing to me — we live together, we had been talking about a future together. I’m 29 years old and want to start a family soon — with him. I don’t know if I’m being unethical and callous by wanting him to put my emotional health before her physical health.

At what point does he stop helping her and start taking care of his own needs — and of my heart?

They were 40 days away from a divorce. Please help me.

A Lost Girlfriend

Cary's Writing Retreat in Chester, CT

Dear Lost Girlfriend,

Today I am going to try to write with some passion, knowing that often it is hard to contain a reasonable argument within the stretched and tenuous boundaries of a passionate outburst. I must go slowly.

This is sad, first of all. This is so sad you want to put your fist through the wall. This is also drama. It illustrates the maxim that plot (or drama, or story) flows from character. Most interestingly, it flows from character flaws — not heroism but weakness. Your boyfriend has a weakness. She appears to be exploiting it. But did she create this lump in her breast, consciously? No, how could she? It is the hand of fate, played to one side’s advantage. She plays her hand the only way she knows how. You are on the sidelines watching. They will play this out.

It is a triangle. At the moment, you are on the outs. But things could change. They probably will. Triangles shift as allegiances shift. She will wound him and he will come back to you, and then she will woo him again.

Theoretically, he could walk away. What’s to stop him? His own need to take care of her stops him. He cannot bear to see himself except through her eyes. That is what it feels like. It is I guess what is commonly called codependence.

She asked for a divorce. A divorce severs one from responsibility for a former spouse, except for those responsibilities spelled out legally. Otherwise, the divorced partner is free. The divorced partner owes nothing to the other. Isn’t that so? Isn’t that what is sought in a divorce, to unburden oneself of responsibility for another, except as spelled out legally? That is what she asked for. But because of who she is, it was not to be depended upon. A person like that is not to be depended upon.

If she does not victimize him, she will victimize someone else. If he understood this, he might feel better about cutting her out of his life. She will take care of herself. She will find a way. If forced to go to her family, she will do that. She will take their money. She will find a way.

When we marry, we commit. We cannot know what’s ahead. That’s the point. We commit to sticking it out through the unknown. Likewise, when we divorce, we commit to going it alone, not knowing what will befall us. We make a decision not to turn back. She has turned back. But how can she do that? The hand was dealt, the cards were played, and now she wants to invalidate that, to pretend it never happened. That’s not the way the game is played. Thus the drama: Fateful decisions are made, and then we cannot accept what befalls us!

And here you are on the sidelines, helpless to influence the action. You, too, are playing a role based on who you are: You allowed yourself into the trap of dating a married man. It’s an oft-told tale. Until a man is completely free of his wife — not just legally but emotionally — a woman loves him at her peril. He is not completely free, so he cannot be completely yours. You will be competing for him.

It makes me furious with sadness. My fury is a response to sadness. Yet it’s also the way of the world, a story as old as time. And no one is really to blame. We are drawn together in these dramas. Our weaknesses recognize each other; we seek fulfillment and recognition in the faces of others; we greet each other, intuitively recognizing each other, like old cricket players meeting on an ancient field. We play another round, all knowing the rules.

I feel for you. I wish there was something you could do. I suppose there is. You could tell your boyfriend that he is acting codependently and should go see somebody who can help him sort out his responsibilities. She is, as you say, an adult. She is, or should be, responsible for her decisions. He is, or soon can be, a free man if he chooses to be.

You also can walk away. You are free to walk away, protect yourself, face the fact that there is a drama playing out between these two from which you are excluded and over which you are powerless. Can you do that? You may have to. Look at the situation clearly. How long can you wait? Will this be a lifelong pattern with him? How do you know? People can change, sometimes, but it’s hard work. More often we stick to the same old patterns, repeating the old, familiar motions.

It’s an old, old story. Sitting on my father’s desk here is his copy of “Oedipus, the King” by Sophocles. My father loved Sophocles. “Nothing can make me other than I am,” says King Oedipus.

Indeed.

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Can our marriage survive infertility and depression?

Write for Advice
Dear Cary,

I wrote to you once about seven years ago — I was a faithful column reader before and until now. Your advice was spot on, and now I find myself in a heartbreaking situation that I hope you will shed your light on.

My husband and I have been married for six years. We have a mostly happy marriage with ups and downs. I love him. We have been struggling with my infertility this entire time. Basically, my ovaries have not and will not work. Of course I did not know this before we got married, although I suppose I should have wondered. I had never used birth control; I figured that the rhythm method just worked! Now I realize that my body did not work. These years of infertility have been heartbreaking. We have gone through a myriad of treatments. During this time, my husband has become increasingly cold and even cruel; certainly not compassionate. He feels like we are throwing our money away at the infertility industry. Most heartbreaking is, is that he will not adopt and will not use donor eggs (and his sperm) to have a child. In my mind, we have plenty of money — and there are ways to build a family. He just refuses. He doesn’t want kids that aren’t  “his own”; he sincerely thinks he could not love them as his biological children (despite what every parent of adopted and donor-conceived children say; your commenters will surely say this, and saying this does not help). He doesn’t want to be forced to do something he doesn’t feel right about. I understand that.

I tell him that I need compassion from him, and he says he “doesn’t express love in this way,” and I need to just acknowledge the infertility and get over it. The infertility is ruining our marriage. I could imagine handling this mountain to climb, if I felt like someone was climbing it with me. I could imagine a euphemistically called “childfree” life, if I had not found out that my husband is so callous and unsupportive. The way that my husband acts,  it’s as if he has fallen out of love with me. He says he loves me, although he sometimes says he just wants to “get away from all of it (i.e., divorce).”

Complicating the mess is that I have recently changed careers, which involves significant additional training, because I figured if I were not to have children, at least I could have a career that I found more fulfilling. He said that the infertility and my being in school is really hurtful, and he finds it difficult to talk about. Trying to communicate about it is like pulling teeth.

My school is in a different state — and we had planned to move to this state together; we were happy for a change. At the last minute he decided not to move; so now we live apart — although the “plan” is for him to move in about eight months. All of this is incredibly difficult.

I understand that my options are to divorce and become a single mother by myself (donor sperm + donor egg or adoption) or stay with him and not have children. I don’t want to be a single mother; I don’t want a divorce. I don’t want a divorce because that is not why I got married. I believe people who love each other — in sickness and in health — should be able to work things out. Perhaps you and your comments will astutely observe that it takes two to make a marriage work, and for whatever reasons, my husband has checked out. Perhaps. But he has not sent me divorce papers. But knowing that I could build a family but not doing so because of my husband’s recalcitrance is so painful I feel it in my chest <a href=”http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Womens_Health_Watch/2010/November/takotsubo-cardiomyopathy-broken-heart-syndrome”>(takotsubo syndrome)</a>.

He has finally started to go to a counselor; I think that much of his meanness is a result of depression and his own grief and confusion.

I also think he doesn’t want to be labeled  “the bad one,” who divorces his wife because she is infertile. I understand that my infertility is also a loss for him, even if he is handling it in a different way. I am in counseling too. We tried couples counseling to discuss our disagreement about creating a family, but it centered around his depression instead of our marriage and was not helpful after three months. Now that we live in different states, couples counseling is not happening. We see each other every month or so. We talk every day. He says he loves me. But once we start to talk about  “next steps,” he shuts down. He is a bit passive-aggressive (he would rather not make a decision and then all of a sudden we are too old to adopt).

 I feel like I am just waiting for him to divorce me. I don’t want to file for divorce because I can see through his pain and depression (and cruelness) to the person I loved and married. I don’t want to divorce him, when it is he who questions his commitment. I don’t want to divorce myself. Yet not having a family with children to grow old with is extremely sad. Your commenters will say to fill my life with other things (i.e., to change “childless” to “childfree”). But I already have great friends, hobbies, travel and a fulfilling career! How could it be any better? I had a great husband, and I hope he starts being one again. Childless won’t become happily childfree with a cruel husband. If I divorce, do I go on a dating site and say, “I’m forty and infertile! Who wants to adopt children with me!”? I would not have time to wait for someone else to have a family with — I would have to do it alone. How can I divorce the family I have, to adopt another family? The choices I have are all bad.

Thanks for your advice,

Infertile and Sort-of Alone

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Dear Infertile and Sort-of Alone,

The key to your situation is for your husband to recover from depression. Depression can distort one’s thoughts and cause one to act cruelly. You can’t make any good decisions together, as a couple, as long as he is in depression. So the best decision you can make, right now, is to put off any permanent changes until he can be treated and show some improvement.

Does he resist treatment? He may. Until his condition becomes unbearable for him he may resist treatment. And it is a complicated situation. But the one clear message I want to send to you is that your husband is suffering from depression and that is the main problem in your marriage. So whatever can be done now to help him recover from depression should be your top priority as a couple.

His depression may resist treatment. It may last a long time. It may have several causes. He may have ups and downs. But it is the central issue and it can be treated.

Having children or not having children is not the central issue. The marriage is. A marriage can be a boundless source of energy and support for both partners if both partners are healthy; such a marriage can weather loss and disappointment. It can be a safe haven in which crucial decisions can be made. The question of children or no children may be a painful thing for him to face in his depression but it is not the central issue and it is not causing his depression. Nor is your moving to go to school causing his depression.

We don’t know what is causing it. But, again, it is my strong feeling that his depression is the factor that is pushing your marriage to the brink.

If nothing can be immediately done about his depression, or if he takes steps and there is no immediate improvement, then wait. Let life go on and let your marriage be in a holding pattern for a while. Meanwhile pay attention to your own needs; live on your own and wait. There is no need to divorce him yet. Just wait. Wait until he finds treatment and shows steady improvement or until one day you realize nothing is going to change and that his love is gone and the marriage is over. You may reach the point where you see that he is a lost cause and will never get better and there is nothing you can do. No one can say how long that might be but I feel certain that you will know if it reaches this point and that it will come to you as a kind of death. If it happens, it will come to you with fhe force of certainty and you will feel grief because it will be over. You won’t need anyone to tell you it’s over and you won’t need to guess or wonder. It will come to you that the marriage is over and then dissolving the marriage legally will be a formality. Then grieving will happen because the marriage is over, not because you are getting a divorce. It will be a kind of grieving because a kind of death has occurred, metaphorically speaking; he has gone so far into his depression that he cannot come out.

My guess is that this will not happen, that you will wait and he will improve and you will learn how to live together with your different feelings about children. You will have some shared loss and you will go on. That is what I see. The fact that he has started seeing a mental health professional is a good sign. There are many effective treatments. If he can find one, and stick with it, and improve, then the chances are good that you can have a marriage that works for you, even if it does not give you everything.

I pray that you will find the strength and wisdom to see this through.

Cary Tennis' Finishing School

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