Saturday, December 31, 2016

Forever Miss Iceland

Today, I regale you with a second Ask Polly column. You might want to read the earlier post before you read this one. In this one, in a reply to a woman who calls herself “Iceland Iceland Iceland” Polly sees the problem. She does not know what to do about it. Or better, she offers what any therapist would offer, consolation, a pep talk and some male bashing. For the sake of this column I will call the letter writer, Miss Iceland—and not because she is competing in the Miss Universe pageant.

Anyway, Miss Iceland found herself a boyfriend who seems to have been something of a reclamation project. The condition seems endemic to young men in our world, so perhaps she could not find anyone who was better. And she helps him to grow up, to act like more of an adult and to get his life in order.

It’s a noble enterprise, except that any woman who has been around for a while could have told her that making yourself into a man’s schoolmarm will eventually cause him to leave you. He might like how much his life has gotten better, but he will resent being pushed around by a woman. And he will resent the fact that it took a woman to make him into more of a man. And he will feel the woman's condescension.

This much for background. As it happened, Miss Ireland was bossy. She leaned in. She pushed her man around. And, at some point, he simply broke. And he left her, even though, being slightly pathetic, he still loves her and misses her.

In any event, let’s see how well leaning in worked for Miss Ireland:

I was hard on him about all this stuff and in retrospect should have been nicer, but I felt like it was an emergency. In the meantime, I did a lot of the heavy lifting financially and domestically and felt a little taken advantage of and used. But within a year or so, he had found his footing, learned to clean and cook, started paying his bills on time, and even built up a little buffer in his savings account. We moved into a modest apartment and got a puppy. Finally, we were on equal footing, we had built a little family, and I was thrilled. He seemed happy with the changes in himself, too, and commented frequently that this was the best thing that ever happened to him.

One appreciates that she felt a need to take charge. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. One appreciates that she is decidedly unhappy that she is being punished for it, but such is gender.

Anyway, one day the now-happy couple was invited to take a trip to Iceland. He did not want to go. She “strong-armed” him into it. Apparently, that tactic described the nature of their relationship, so she didn’t think very much of it. Apparently, he did. For him it was a tipping point, a point where he saw that he was being bossed around and bullied into doing things—for his own good, naturally. He had had enough.

Miss Iceland describes what happened:

We got invited on a spontaneous trip to Iceland with friends over New Year’s, and I sort of strong-armed him into booking it. That wasn’t unusual for us; he always needed some convincing that he should spend money on luxuries and hadn’t really traveled much. In the past he always had a great time on trips I pushed for, and told me later it was totally worth it.

Then, something changed:

But then it became a BIG deal to him. He started bringing it up constantly, how we were spending too much money and burning too much vacation time and it was affecting our Christmas plans and we never should have booked it, like he’d said from the beginning. At first I was defensive, but then I apologized sincerely, and offered as many options as I could think of, short of not going at all (remember, flights were nonrefundable). I offered to cover some of the costs out of my savings account, I offered for him not to go if he really didn’t want to, I promised that this would be the last trip we took for a while. None of this was good enough. He brought it up at EVERY opportunity, for three months straight. 

Of course, Iceland is not the issue. It was about her being in charge. It was about him feeling diminished and demeaned by her bossiness. After they broke up, he made his feelings clear:

But he IS sticking to his guns with the metaphor shit, like “This is an example of how you bulldoze me into doing things even when I say I can’t” or “This is an example of you always getting your way” or “This is an example of how all our plans are things YOU came up with and not things I want to do.” But I don’t always get my way. I definitely push him into trying new things, but it isn’t out of selfishness.

Apparently, Miss Iceland never learned about gender roles in college, so she is now getting a good lesson in how not to deal with men. How not to deal even with modern men who have had most of their manliness wrung out of them. Considering that no one has apparently ever taught him how to function like a man, her erstwhile beau can only adopt a shrill, slightly histrionic tone.

As I said, Polly does understand that the male/female dynamics are the problem. But naturally, she thinks that the problem is his, not hers and she advises that he should go into therapy. You might have noted that Polly seems like something of a shill for therapy. One does not understand why, since it seems merely to have filled her mind with psychobabble.

Anyway, Polly wants Miss Iceland’s sometime lover to stand up for himself and to express his desires. Thus, that it’s all his fault for allowing himself to be pushed around by her. One has a glimmering of sympathy for the fact, though the solution might be to find a woman who is less of a bulldozer and who is in closer touch with her feminine mystique.

Polly writes:

So, who has shot down your chances? Your ex has. He resents you because he doesn’t know how to express his true needs and desires the way you do. He doesn’t ask for what he wants. He watches things go badly, shakes his head from the sidelines, and blames you for it. He’s not an adult yet.

This guy needs a therapist. If Iceland is a metaphor, it’s a metaphor for something much deeper than just you and him. This isn’t about planning a trip; this is about the way he was treated as a kid. Maybe he was coddled but disrespected. Maybe people pretended to listen to his needs but did whatever they wanted instead. Whatever it is, he still feels angry and powerless and he’s projecting that onto you.

I have empathy for that. 

Polly doesn’t recognize that it’s not quite that simple. If he is dealing with a bossy woman who insists on leaning in and who always wants to get his way, he is not going to be able to assert himself without provoking constant conflict. It’s nice to think that both parties can be equally assertive, but such is apparently not the case. The relationship in question shows us that it’s not the case. If he were to start asserting himself and trying to get his way, Miss Iceland would not thrill to the new experience. She would push back and get right back in his face. Having learned to unman men she is not going to change because he has gotten some therapy. 

In truth, if her man goes to most therapists he is going to hear that he is being petulant and childish and ought to be thankful that Miss Iceland has taken charge of his pathetic excuse for a life. I mention that in order to save you from having to waste your time with certain kinds of therapists.

In any case, Polly has no real sympathy for manly men. She wants them to become more vulnerable. But, she knows from the case of someone named Bjork that, as mentioned yesterday, being a strong, powerful, independent autonomous woman is really a formula for being alone.

Polly writes:

Instead of learning how to become open-chested, instead of embracing vulnerability as the cure to their inflexible, defensive, anxious, blaming postures (Björk’s album title: Vulnicura), some people retreat, get defensive and anxious, and blame others for everything that’s wrong in their lives.

And if you want to understand why people avoid certain kinds of therapists, consider this from Polly. She thinks that the man is afraid of intimacy. How ridiculous can you get? This is girl talk. A man who feels unmanned needs, according to Polly and to most therapists, more girl talk:

It’s going to take a lot of work and belief in vulnerability and growth for him to express his desires directly and stop making other people responsible for what happens to him. He needs to understand: This is about intimacy. Intimacy scares the fuck out of him, and makes him angry. My guess is that he didn’t feel safe in his most intimate, affectionate relationships as a kid, so you make him feel tremendously unsafe and angry. 

Polly does understand that men do not find strong and bossy women attractive. Unfortunately, she blames it on men:

It’s pretty common, actually, for a strong, decisive woman like Björk to wake up one day and discover that her partner secretly resents her power. Even a famous artist like Matthew Barney can resent a strong woman. But seriously, what are you going to do? I guess you could’ve let your ex get a place of his own instead of saving him when he moved to your city. Some guys don’t want to look back on a story like that, even if they say it forced them to grow up. They can’t stand it when you bring it up, either. They need an Iceland to counteract it.

Men don’t always like a woman who upstages them, who is more capable and maybe braver than they are. You can’t understand why they’re so tepid, and then it comes out: They want someone to be a pretty background while they’re the main attraction. Other guys just don’t want to be asked to bring everything they have to the table. They don’t want to share, because sharing and intimacy feel like being manipulated to them. They’re stuck, but they don’t want your help, either.

It would be nice to think that people can have it exactly as they want to have it. In truth, life is about trade-offs. If a woman wants to be strong and decisive, as mentioned yesterday, and as most women seem to understand, she is not going to find very many men who will take up the challenge. She can stick to her guns or get back in touch with her feminine mystique.

Of course, Polly tells Miss Iceland that even if she chooses to become more feminine, it will never work. In truth, it does work, and it is a bad idea to suggest that Miss Iceland should not change her own errant ways:

If you choose a man who resents your power and feels small whenever you feel big, you’re very likely to give up your own power and independence and happiness just to soothe him. You won’t just have a bad relationship, in other words, you’ll also feel insecure in your career, angry with your friends, and unhappy in general. And even when you compromise yourself to prop a man up, he might still feel like you’re robbing him of his independence.

It’s not a question of soothing anyone. It’s not about propping anyone up. Note that Polly chooses the most derogatory terms to describe what used to have something to do with the way women act towards their men. It’s about taking a step back and allowing him to exercise his own authority. Some would call it deference and denounce it. Whatever you want to call it, most women understand that being bossy and leaning in toward a man does not produce very many happy endings.


Trigger Warning said...

Different actors, same scenario as in previous post. MI had some success making this guy do what she wanted, but not making him feel differently about it. He finally got fed up with what was going to be a lifetime of her constant adjustments and tweaks to his behavior, dragging along his response to it like a loose muffler, and told her to go f*** herself.

Ask Trigger's Advice: Get over it, lady, and stop being such a self-righteous, domineering bitch. In the words of an ancient Greek shrink, "tweak yourself".

Sam L. said...

All I recollect about Bjo(umlaut)rk is a picture of her in some kind of swan costume. "Some kind" being odd, weird, strange...

The guy, here, finally realized she was going to run his life as she wanted, not as he would like, and bailed out.

Ares Olympus said...

I got a little confused, looks like we have two cases of "Miss Ireland" in the middle and otherwise "Miss Iceland."

Stuart: It’s a noble enterprise, except that any woman who has been around for a while could have told her that making yourself into a man’s schoolmarm will eventually cause him to leave you. He might like how much his life has gotten better, but he will resent being pushed around by a woman.

Myself, I suppose I had a few women "teachers" in my early 20s, but I never dated any of them. I'd characterize their persona as direct which means they'd offer their opinions on anything and I'd consider them.

I did change my hairstyle from the feedback, although I refused to use any hair gel or such things, and no resentment from me on that sort of advice. I never did anything I never didn't want to do. And despite encouragement, I never drank enough to be foolish. In fact probably having some attractive female friends helped immunize me from falling for their charms, or maybe it just allowed me to keep my pride?

I might call couple of them were the "bossy type", and both perhaps "married down" in some measures, and one still married, and I'm still worried about that one. She did have a rough period when her husband wanted to change careers and she was earning more than him for a few years while.

I suppose the most likely problem in a marriage is when a man isn't ambitious at work, and the wife encourages him to try to get promotions while he'd otherwise be happy in a lower job. I suppose the trick there is to have children as soon as possible and hopefully the wife will be so busy with the children she doesn't have time to care about his promotions? Or maybe that's not true? Better not have too many kids!

I still wonder about the opposite side of "bossy husbands", and many christians take it seriously that the man is the "head" of the family.

I suppose things like ballroom dancing show that tradition where the man exclusively leads and the woman is supposed to receptively follow, but many women are better dancers than men, so may feel an impatient with a less experienced partner's simple moves. I avoided that predicament myself by distracting the woman with conversation, so she wouldn't notice we were not doing anything fancy, and she could talk as much as she liked.

I think books like "The Rules" for women said women should let men think they're in charge, while being manipultive to make him do what she wants. I'd not approve, but I'd have to assume there's some honest version of that. Men want to think they make their own decisions, but give him a few days after a discussion, and her idea might suddently seem like his, after he's mulled it over, right?

Olympus Ares said...

"many christians take it seriously that the man is the "head" of the family."

Yes, many Christians do take Christian theology seriously.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Indeed, a most curious comment.

Ares, pray tell, who ought to operate at the head of the family, given that you don't think Christians should take traditional Paulist teaching (Ephesians 5:21-33) on the subject seriously?

One sentence will do... no need for your "I suppose..." or what Jonathan Haidt thinks, or a bunch of cut-and-pasted babble.

Ultimately, a sane concept of authority (such as "head" of a family) is that authority for an organizational structure (such as a family) rests with one person. That's how we get accountability. If there is no final authority, such as the "head" of a household, how do we get accountability for anything? The mystical, mythical concept of perfect equality? Or another phony idea such as "it depends" or "it's situational" or "that's not how the real world works"? Pray tell.

Christian marriage and family are not constructs that give a free pass of status to men without commensurate responsibilities. A Christian man may not just do as he pleases with his wife and children. Faith, hope and charity govern Christian relationships, and no one gets a free lunch.

David Foster said...

"many christians take it seriously that the man is the "head" of the family"

As opposed to Muslims? Animists? Followers of the Plains Indians native religions?

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Hmmmmm... I cannot decide which I look forward to more in this New Year's celebration...

Dick Clark's Rockin' New Years Eve (sans Dick Clark), hosted by some pretty "man" and endless entertainment company cross-promotions, cross-dressers, cross-sexualities, monolithic political opinions and other vacuous, amoral filth...

*** OR ***

Ares Olympus' exegesis on Christian texts, his interpretations of Christian theology, or his pronouncements on the definitions and meanings of the "so-called" Christian family. So much wonder, so much potentially in store.

Yes, this is great conundrum, a titillating dilemma, but the possibility of hearing Ares' wisdom excites curiosity and could be far more hilariously entertaining. After all, it's amateur night!

The popcorn popper is busily at work, the beef tenderloin sliced, and the champagne waits on ice -- NOT in anticipation of the 2017 (which is astronomically inevitable), but instead I wait with bated breath for the magic that thou fingertips will breathe into being, o sage...

Dennis said...

It would seem that there is no true happiness in "leaning in" and discounting relationships that have worked for thousands of years. Must be that "white privilege" that many feminists enjoy. S/Off

Ares Olympus said...

IAC said: Ares, pray tell, who ought to operate at the head of the family, given that you don't think Christians should take traditional Paulist teaching (Ephesians 5:21-33) on the subject seriously?

A good question. I suppose the problem I have with "heads" is they are sometimes wrong-headed, so maybe its better to have more than one?

I consider my own family where my mom faithfully joined my dad's Lutheran church when they got married, and later when we were still kids he found a new church, a a "new age" church, which ultimately my mom called a cult.

Eventually they move to California and started a campus they called Camelot, and my mom said no way. But my older brother claimed he had a vision that he was supposed to go to it in California, so my dad send my then 9 year old brother alone on an airplane to visit the church in California, without my mom's permssion, since she wouldn't have given it. so that started a divorce very quickly. Even after she got my brother home, she was terrified he'd kidnap my brother.

Ah, here's the women who lead the church... In the 1980's they thought the world was going to end and they bought land in Montana and stocked up with weapons and scared the locals.

Anyway, perhaps my mom should have let my dad be the "head" of the family, and "Follow the fellow who follows his dreams", but I'm glad she stood up to him.

Myself I didn't want to move, and I'm sure I'd been a HUGE trouble maker in that cult, although perhaps even as a kid I could have helped a few people resist the brain washing, or died trying. I have no idea where I got my resistance-training as a kid, but it always seemed sensible to me to not go along with like-minded crowds, while fortunately I never faced up to any really dangerous people.

If I was married, in big decisions I'm sure I'd go with consensus, so like I'd never "make" my wife move away from family and friends, unless she agreed.

Consensus doesn't always mean agreement, but it can mean one person bends more in certain decisions and trusts the other, AND ideally promises not to blame if things don't go as planned.

If the man was head of a marriage, you'd think a couple should also agree on how to vote, and the woman should, after offering her opinion, allow her husband to decide and follow his lead.

I think my parents perhaps always split their vote, my dad a rural farmboy Republican and my mom a citygirl Democrat. I don't know if I'd feel resentful if my wife was canceling my vote, but at least on some issues, you don't need consensus.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. IAC, on wives submitting to their husbands, here's at least one opinion that a women should either vote with her husband or refrain.

It seems a fair appeal. And some Christian husbands may feel disrespected by his wife canceling his vote, while others might not.
Married ladies, since we DO have the right to vote and we need more Christians and conservatives voting, I suggest the Biblical way is to vote the same as your husband, or, if you disagree with him, refrain from voting.

But talk to your husband and see what he wants you to do. Talk to your husband about voting and appeal to him if you feel like he’s wrong. Ask him what he feels comfortable with.

Ask him if nullifying his vote by opposing his has hurt him as the leader of your home.

I think that we have been given extra power to vote and support our husband’s leadership for our family and influence on this country. We can change the nation together with our combined votes.

The trickier issue is that women who prefer to submit to their husband in voting might also prefer not to vote at all and push the majority in that direction and eventually reverse women's sufferage first gained in 1920. Fortunately we live in a constitutional republic rather than under the tyranny of a Christian Democratic Theocracy.

Seeing the election of Donald Trump makes me think that the 19th amendment would never pass in modern America.

LordSomber said...

"Be vulnerable" = Be a Doormat/Beta Provider.

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