Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Case of the Unlikable Girlfriend

Like Lori Gottlieb—see prior blog post—New York Magazine’s Ask Polly responds this week to a woman suffering from feminist indoctrination. I would be happy to report that Polly gets this one right, but, alas, she has returned to her usual mindless cluelessness. Worse yet, she drones on for paragraph after paragraph… offering pseudo-psychological pseudo-wisdom. And then, she allows herself to show  utter contempt for her husband. If she were to ask me for advice—I understand that she is not quite that rational—I would tell her never, ever to publicly ridicule your husband.

Anyway, the letter writer, who calls herself Not a Millionaire is living out one of those: be careful what you wish for. She is thirty-five, she is living with her boyfriend. She gave up her well-paying job in order to work at home. She bought a house she can no longer afford. And yet, her boyfriend seems to believe the feminist cant about her being independent and autonomous. He does not offer to help and has told her that if he was really rich, he would not be likely to help her. 

After all, a man who supports a woman financially makes her a chattel slave… and we can’t have that. And yet, the man willingly and happily helps out members of his own immediate family when they are in need.

From the tone of her letter I discern that she is not very likable. Reasonably, her boyfriend does not seem to like her very much.

She does not want to marry or to have children. Her house has one bedroom… generally a clue that she is not planning on procreating. Naturally, being a clear thinker she is deeply resentful of the fact that her boyfriend does not treat her as family. The astonishing part is that Polly, obsessed as she is with her husband’s golf swing, does not see that a woman who does not want to be part of a family, who does not want to marry, who definitely does not want to have children… should not be treated as family. 

Here is the better part of the letter:

I am not particularly interested in marriage. For me (and just for me, I realize people vary widely on this), marriage makes the most sense for couples who want to have kids, and that’s something I am certain I don’t want. So, while my dude and I have been dating for nearly five years, conversations about commitment haven’t come up a lot. I suppose I thought that he, like me, was interested in the long-term relationship part without some of the formal arrangements (wedding, kids) most people do.

He moved in with me about two years ago, which was sort of the beginning of our trouble. I had purchased a home only to be laid off a year later. That transition ended up being great for my emotional well-being — I’m a freelance graphic designer and I love it, but I don’t make anything like the kind of money I was making before. I’ve come to depend on his half of the mortgage to make the payments on time. I’m still self-sufficient — I’ve never asked him for money, though he’s certainly heard me complain/worry about my finances. He has a job that pays well, and over the past year and a half, I’ve gone through periods of resenting him for not offering to help when, for example, my health insurance went up by several hundred dollars a month. It’s nothing I would ever want him to feel obligated to do, but it feels like something where, if the shoe were on the other foot, I would want to help him.

But I didn’t say anything about it because I was afraid it would sound like I was asking him for money, or I expected him to support me. I figured he was just a very independent person with that stuff. A few months ago, his sister was going through a rough time and he co-signed a lease so she could move out of her situation (she has terrible credit) and threw himself into helping her pack and move and get set up in the new place. To be clear, I think this is a fantastic trait in a person. I WANT to be with someone who shows up selflessly for his family like that. But it also made clear one painful reality: He doesn’t see me as his family….

So the other day I asked him what he would do if he were a millionaire and I wanted to do something that didn’t make much money. Would he be willing to support me if it wouldn’t hurt him in any significant financial way? Or is the principle of financial independence more important to him than, say, me working on a creative project I really care about?

You can probably guess just by virtue of the fact that I’m writing you. He would not. “Because of the principle of it.” He said if I got really sick or something and needed him to cover my expenses for a while, he would, but seemed to admit it grudgingly.

I have no idea what to think about this. My gut tells me that it’s just fucked up — that I’ve been with someone for five years who doesn’t think of me as family, and doesn’t want to. My brain doesn’t understand what the problem is: I’m not the type to ask to borrow money — possibly to a fault — and I’ve never, EVER, pictured myself being financially dependent on a significant other. I don’t want to be in that position and would do almost anything to avoid it….

As someone who has read many letters along these lines, perhaps you will not be surprised that this isn’t just about money. I feel like he goes out of his way to keep me at arm’s length. He seems apathetic about our relationship unless I’m angry at him about something and then he either tries to say whatever he needs to in order to make me less mad, or he storms off by himself and we don’t talk about it for the rest of the night. We’re currently in couple’s therapy and trying to work through this, but that’s only because I bugged the shit out of him. He hates going. In short, I think he would be perfectly happy pretending all of this is fine and avoiding conflict or serious discussion for the rest of our lives.

One thing we also understand… this man’s family is probably not thrilled with her. She does not want to marry, does not want to be part of the family and does not want to provide his parents with any grandchildren. Clearly, he is detached from her and perhaps does not want to leave her in the lurch with a mortgage she cannot pay. It might be helpful for her to think about ending the relationship and selling the house, or going out to get a job that can provide sufficient income for her to pay her mortgage.

Instead, she dragged him to couples counseling, against his will. And she is going to therapy herself. What good is it all if she and her team of therapists cannot figure out that when she refuses to be part of a family she is not going to be treated like a member of the family.

Polly does not see this, because clueless Polly would prefer to spew out a torrent of psychobabble. She thinks it’s all about wants and needs. She thinks that this woman merely needs to say what she wants and needs.

She explains:

I’m mentioning this not because I think your boyfriend is perfect and you’re to blame for things, but because I think you have to look closely at the relationship you used to want versus the relationship you want right now. My sense is that your needs and desires are changing as you get older. But if you want more from your boyfriend, you’re going to have to stick your neck out, make yourself vulnerable, and dare to state, directly, that you want more. Considering what I know about you, that’s not going to be that easy for you to do — which is why you have to recognize your reticence and your distaste for confrontation going into it.

Actually, the truth of the matter is that the letter writer should ask what she is contributing to the relationship. She is not contributing very much. Perhaps the boyfriend has not yet figured it out, but surely those near and dear to him have. They must think that he is being rolled.

Polly wants the letter writer to ask her boyfriend to help her with health insurance. It sounds reasonable, but it defies feminist ideology, so she cannot do it. Worse yet, he is a feminist himself and is not interested in paying her bills:

Likewise, you would rather go into debt trying to pay your own expensive health-insurance bills than have a brief conversation with your boyfriend in which you could run the risk of implying that you want him to support you in some small way. You say that you would hate to be financially dependent on a significant other and you “would do almost anything to avoid it.” You don’t feel comfortable ASKING FOR EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT.

Again, she does not need to ask for what she wants. She should not lean in. She should ask what she is giving to the relationship. As it happens she is not giving much of anything.

Anyway, to ruin your day, I am happy to quote Polly’s attitude toward her husband’s golf game. Apparently, her husband is very, very good at golf. Naturally, Polly, being both woke and clueless, feels contempt for him and his golf buddies:

He likes the ugly shirts, even after I inform him solemnly that they are hideous and bad. He has a very good golf swing, and when I go golfing with him (I do like to drive the cart!), other golfers often admire his amazing swing and admire the way he puts that stupid-ass ball down exactly where he intends it to go. Typically I don’t care where the fucking ball goes, I’m just driving the cart and eating Salsa Verde Doritos and bad hot dogs and icy cold cans of Coke and also a Snickers bar, a four-course golfing meal, all the while driving erratically. I like to eat the worst things as a reward for being there, listening to him prattle on about nine-irons and five-irons and wind and sand and slanting grass and who gives a shit?

You really do not want to take Polly’s advice about how to deal with men. As it happens, the relationship reported in the letter is dying a slow death. I suspect that he does not want to hurt her badly by walking out of it so he is making it impossible for her to stay in it. At least, that is what his family must be hoping.


Sam L. said...

Why is HE staying? Why is Polly staying, being contemptuous of her husband?

Why is "Walk Away, Rene" coming to mind?

Jane Kinkel said...

I'm 60 years old, and when I married my current husband 10 years ago (the previous one died, as did my current's previous wife), he told my father "I will always take care of your daughter." Now THAT'S a man. However, I also take care of him, providing a serene home and daily simple delights. We both feel we are the luckiest people in the world. Why is that so hard?