Monday, April 1, 2019

The Case of the Mismatched Couple

See what you make of this. If we were in England we would happily label this letter writer a poor, pathetic sod. He seems to be American and is writing to Carolyn Hax so we will refrain from the hostile epithets.

As always, we know nothing about him and nothing about his paramour. We know their ages, but know nothing about their jobs, their family background, their ethniticies… nothing. We know that the letter writer is consumed by guilt. He has drunk the cultural Kool-Aid and has decided that he is an abusive boyfriend. He finds many reasons not to stay with his paramour, so he walks away from her. Then, he goes back to her. Or else, she leaves him and then returns to him.

Being a pathetic fool, he thinks that love should conquer everything. If he really loved her he should be able to ignore her bad English, her childishness and the way she keeps embarrassing him in public.

And that, my friends, is his problem. He does not grant any validity to his judgment of her character or of her unsuitability as a partner. He does not provide us with any examples of bad behavior, but he certainly has the right to break up with someone who will not fit within his social circle and whose bad manners will damage his social and career prospects. No matter how attractive she is.

Anyway, the letter writer, calling himself Abusive Mess, is heavily into self-flagellation. You can feel it throughout his letter:

I'm a mess. I've been with my partner for over four years, and I've been emotionally abusive in the way that I keep breaking up with her and then getting back together just to break up again. I think I've done it at least 10 times, starting around eight months in.

Usually she talks me into staying with her, but on at least two occasions I've changed my mind and asked to be taken back. It's terrible for her self-esteem. Also, I am resentful toward her. Small things really irk me, like her obsession with childish things and her at-times-poor English.

She is a beautiful, loving, caring, supportive person, and we share many interests. But I have to stop myself occasionally from treating her like a child. I am in my early 30s and she is mid/late 20s. I become cold at times and am embarrassed by her in public, which I feel awful about.

She loves me so much — why can't I just love her back unconditionally, and with the respect a person deserves? We often both make progress in our communication and understanding, but I feel trapped in this cycle of losing control and running away from the relationship, making up, suffering through healing together and then leaving again when things seem to be going well.

I can't think of any way to break the cycle other than to leave for good, but I know she would rather I stay and try to work on my issues, even though I will probably hurt her again. I love her and would miss her like crazy, but at the same time she drives me up the wall. Help.

— Abusive Mess

Carolyn Hax tells the man to get some therapy. It’s her go-to advice when she does not know what to say. In truth, this unfortunate guilt trip that AM has been suffering is what you get from therapy. I do not know whether he has gotten therapy or whether he has simply drunk deep of therapy culture swill, but he does not need therapy. He needs to grow a spine and to recognize that the two of them are a mismatch. End of story.

Hax does suggest that his sometime paramour does not really love him, which is barely astute, but is not really the issue. They are not dependent on each other. They are casualties of a culture that sets up unrealistic standards for choosing mates. This couple feels attracted to each other, but they are unsuitable as mates. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but it is best not to dramatize one’s mental conflicts... for four years. It feels like long term therapy.

One suspects that the issue is not whether he will become who she wants him to be but whether she can become someone else. One suspects that the social gap is simply too large. It feels like an unfortunate situation, but whoever said that love would conquer all, or that love should solve all social problems. If she embarrasses him in public, he should let her go. And he should let go of his own therapy-induced errors.

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