Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Case of the Perfidious Boyfriend

Don’t get your hopes up too high. Such was my experience reading yesterday’s Ask Polly column in New York Magazine. For a brief instant I saw Polly giving a woman some good advice. And then she reverted to form and added some embarrassingly mindless psychobabble. Alas, don’t get too hopeful about Polly.

Anyway, the letter writer explains her dilemma, the result of entering into a relationship with a perfidious man.

Last summer, I met a lovely man through friends. He is four years younger than me, very kind and funny, and seems committed to a relationship with me. We are very happy and moved in together after five months, which has been lovely. From the beginning, we have both talked about this being a different and special relationship, built on radical honesty and empathy for each other as sensitive souls who have had previous bad experiences. He told me early on that he had chosen his future children’s names, and we often talked about the child we would have together “one day.”

Before continuing I point out that a man who is all honesty and empathy should surely be avoided. A man who follows his feelings often fails to honor his commitments. If you allow yourself to be led by the vagaries of emotion you are likely to be a dishonorable clod. And yet, only people who read Polly and her partners in idiocy would ever imagine that they could have a good relationship based on sensitive empathy and honesty. 

Note well, we know nothing about the financial circumstances of either of these people. Don’t you think that their solvency, their career prospects would have a role in these decisions.

Since the letter writer tells us nothing about it and since Polly is too into herself to care about anything outside of herself, we are left in the dark.

Anyway, the letter continues:

In the last couple of months, I turned 38 and one of my close friends had a baby. I have felt suddenly, frantically, and viscerally desperate for a child. The idea of never having one fills me with sadness.

I have spoken to my boyfriend about this and, to be honest, fully expected us to come up with a plan together for having children in the next couple of years. I hoped my ideal life was coming together. Instead, he has seemed panicked and defensive. He says he definitely doesn’t want children right now and doesn’t want to think about the future. He says he’s sorry if he’s misled me, but if I want to have children in the immediate future, I should break up with him and find someone else. It’s this last bit that I’ve actually found the worst to deal with — this has made me feel very disposable (a familiar feeling).

All that talk about having children was so much blather. He might have felt it when he said it, but he is not into making commitments. Surely, he knew that dating a 37 year old woman was going to force a decision. He did not care. He is sensitive and empathetic … and a scoundrel.

She continues:

I don’t want to be with anyone else, so I’m simultaneously trying my best to enjoy what I do have but also hoping that somehow things will magically fall into place.

Ethically, I don’t think I want to bring a child into the world who is solely dependent on me as an already older mother, so if I considered solo parenting, it would be through adoption. So I guess giving birth to my own baby, which I have always craved, is looking unlikely for me now and I should come to terms with it.

However, I’m concerned about being in a relationship where I’m the one doing all the compromising, which I promised myself I would never do again. I am in therapy and have been working on my inability to address my own needs.

Do you have any advice, please?

Can’t Believe I’m Nearly Forty and This Is My Life

Of course, the final insult is that she is in therapy. And she is trying to learn how to address her own needs. Again, we do not know how long she has been in therapy, so we do not know where she learned her relationship skills. Or, lack of same.

Anyway, Polly has the correct response. Which is, dump the jerk, right away. Don’t waste any more time on a loser. As Gresham’s law says, don’t throw good money after bad.

Polly writes:

Yes, I have some advice. Break up with him.

Interestingly, Polly explains that this is not at all uncommon. That is, men telling women what they want to hear and then bailing out when shove comes to push… or something:

Staying with someone when that person doesn’t want kids and you do is very difficult. It’s particularly difficult when your partner says things like, “Wait a little bit longer and maybe I’ll get to a place where I can start to imagine having kids with you,” or “I just need to get established in my career and then we can talk about it.” I know a lot of women who waited for their partners to be ready for kids and ended up regretting it. One woman I know waited for years only to discover that her husband didn’t want kids after all. Another friend waited for eight years and then her husband dumped her for a younger woman and had a kid with her instead. A different friend waited for years and then she needed fertility treatments, but she and her husband couldn’t afford them, so they gave up.

I try not to traffic in emotional horror stories, but the truth is that you don’t know how common this experience is until you’re in your 40s. It’s common. And it is very, very hard for the women involved to feel like they missed their chance to have kids because someone convinced them to wait.

As for why it is so common for women in their late thirties and early forties to be having problems find a husband and having children, no one has a clue. Duh?

When you live in a world where rules have been replaced by sentiment, where honor is outmoded and where commitments last as long as the spirit moves either party, such are the consequences:

You say that your boyfriend “seems committed” to you. You two probably should have had a very concrete conversation about your plans for the future before you moved in together. You don’t like to push things, I can see that. But you need to learn how to speak up and ask questions. You need to understand that you deserve to gather information. You don’t have to just go with the flow. You have a right to ask for more.

So you don’t just need to break up with this guy. You also need to figure out how to fight for your dreams. You need to believe in your dreams. You need to believe in them even after you break up with your boyfriend, and after he moves out. (Somehow I have a feeling he moved in with you, and not vice versa.) You need to believe in your dreams even when you’re dating again and you hate it.

Believing in your dreams is typical Pollyesque psychobabble. She does however make another salient point: the deadbeat boyfriend is probably mooching off of his girlfriend… and thus is in no position to support a wife and family. Surely, the letter writer could have noticed this sooner or she should have seen that it mattered, but, alas, she didn’t.

So far, so good. Kudos to Polly for giving some good advice. It may be the exception, but it is surely welcome.

But, Polly cannot leave well enough alone. As is her wont she indulges her worst self-indulgent, self-centered impulses and offers a riff on how she learned how to be perfectly irresponsible. God only knows why it found its way into this piece. Scratch that, God probably doesn’t care.

These days, I do whatever the fuck I like at all times. I do not mind looking like an idiot. I am not ashamed. I want to strongly recommend this lifestyle to you. This includes bailing on people when I’m not in the mood (not if they’re depressed or old or sick, obviously). This includes never pursuing work that sounds lackluster. This includes throwing exactly the sort of party I feel like throwing and inviting the exact people I feel like seeing. This includes writing whatever I feel like writing. This includes quitting work early for the day to read a book. This includes saying things like, “I know we were going to cook, but let’s go out tonight instead, what do you think?” Small things and big things. I ask for what I want. I proceed according to my own compass.

So, Polly understands the boyfriend’s inability to commit. She is a mother of two and she brags about how she is completely irresponsible. Does that include her children? We do not know. She does not honor her own commitments, as she says explicitly, so what right does she have to criticize a man who does not honor his. It’s pathetic, sorry to have to say so.

But, she feels good about being irresponsible, being self-absorbed, turning off all obligations. It’s like a drug. And that is the problem. This therapeutically correct lifestyle is a drug. It’s an addictive drug.

The honest truth is that I can’t describe to you just how dramatically the minute-to-minute experience of being alive changes after you learn how to do exactly what the fuck you want to do without imbuing every tiny choice with a heavy moral weight. I don’t know how to paint a vivid enough picture for you of the cell-level shifts in your sensations, once you learn how to stand up for yourself, once you learn how not to do ALL OF THE COMPROMISING anymore, once you can say to yourself, “I am not going to settle for less than I deserve” — and you know that you won’t. There’s nothing quite like trusting yourself to honor what’s best for you. It’s much more relaxing than that uncertain state you’re always in when you don’t trust your own words and you don’t stick to your own commitments.

Naturally, it is absurd for Polly to talk about honoring commitments when she has just told us that she has liberated herself from her own commitments. It’s arrant nonsense, a poor excuse for thinking.


whitney said...

They've only been together for a year so she was 37 when she met him. Her uterus was already circling the drain

Dan Patterson said...

Caught that one between the screws Stuart.
Good summary as well.