Wednesday, July 7, 2021

A Postmodern Relationship

On the more personal front, regarding why it is that American men and women cannot sustain relationships, we have a letter written to Washington Post advice columnist Carolyn Hax by a woman who calls herself Waterworks. That is, she cries a lot when she is trying to explain to her boyfriend that he does not seem to want to talk with her very much.


I will spare you Hax’s comments, because I am trying to be nice to everyone today. But, I will note the reason I have chosen this specific letter. The woman in question has undergone years of therapy, but somehow therapy has not cured her of her dysfunctional relationship behavior.

What a surprise!

In truth, if I may draw a conclusion from very limited information, it seems that therapy is the problem, not the solution. She has come to believe that only heartfelt expressions of emotion, coupled by a reciprocal sharing of emotion, counts as a real conversation. She believes that therapy is the role model for relationships, that it should involve emoting all over the sofa, wetting the velours and expecting your interlocutor to sit back and to feel your pain, empathetically.

You might imagine that what happens in therapy stays in therapy. You might imagine that being an emotional basket case in therapy will remain in therapy. You might even imagine that your skill at saying whatever passes through your mind--aka not having a filter-- will stay in therapy. If so, you are probably wrong.

So, let’s take a look at the letter. You will note that we do not know anything more about this unhappy couple than that they are a couple. We do not know what she does for a living. We do not know what he does for a living. We do not know how old either of them is. We do not know anything about their friends and family.

Keep in mind. This is the way she describes her very own relationship bubble. You might conclude that, in her mind, the relationship has no real connection to the outside world. You might even believe that that is the problem, and that her seemingly insatiable need to have her boyfriend all to herself is causing some part of her problem. Does the term, insecurity pop into mind?

If she has no friends outside of the relationship. If she acts as though she has nothing outside of the relationship and that he has no job, no friends, no family outside of the relationship-- the relationship is doomed. Better yet, it is not even a relationship. It is like therapy.

So, the question is: why does he put up with this?

Waterworks writes:

I’m having trouble navigating through an issue with my boyfriend. I feel as though he sees spending time with me as an obligation and not something he WANTS to do. He’s generally pretty deadpan and hard to read, so I tend to hurt my own feelings quite a bit before talking to him about how things are affecting me, but I struggle with bringing up these issues sometimes because my stress response is always to just burst into tears.

I wish I could learn to control it but years of therapy have done nothing for that specific issue.

But this tends to derail all meaningful discussions because his only goal is to get me to stop crying in the moment and long-term things don't always improve.

Some people have told me to write him a letter, which I’ve tried, but the result usually ends up the same during the follow-up discussion. I don’t really know how to move forward in a constructive way at this point.

— Waterworks

Why would anyone want to be present while she embarrasses herself by acting like a child? And what difference does it make whether he really, really wants to be talking to her under these circumstances? Doesn’t she know that men do not as a rule like such conversational waterworks, and feel beholden to fulfill one task-- to get her to stop crying. 

So, she should stop pretending that her boyfriend is her therapist. And she should stop pretending that her boyfriend is a girl. That would set her on a better course.

And then there is this rather too obvious question. Does she really care to discuss the things that really matter to him? Nothing in her letter suggests that she does. I would call this another bad habit she picked up in therapy. 

If you want someone to listen to you, and if your most earnest entreaties have not moved you a step toward this goal, why not try listening to him, showing an interest in what he cares about, asking him what he has been doing, how he sees his business, how he sees his career, how he sees the world.

If she cannot look beyond her two-person interaction, one that she wants to resemble mirroring, she is not going to have a relationship for very long.

Or better, she should stop whining. Stop complaining. Stop holding up completely unrealistic relationship expectations.

Better yet, if she really, really wants to have deeply meaningful conversations about feelings, she would do much better to trade her boyfriend in for a girlfriend.


markedup2 said...

If I ever need/want a therapist, I'm going to track you down!

Sam L. said...

I am "mostly-silent" Sam, a man of few words. No grunts, though. No explosions, either.

Anonymous said...

Therapists seem pretty useless.
Can you imagine a car mechanic who said, when you say that the engine has dropped out of your car YET AGAIN: "We just need to work on this thoroughly at our weekly sessions, and see if we can understand the problem. It's probably related to that puncture in your bicycle when you were 11...."

lynney62 said...

Great column today! But I must add that in my lifetime, as a 77 yr. old widow of 40 years, even the girlfriends never quite "get it"....I'm a product of the 50's so we folks tend to keep our "feelings" to ourselves (folks back then were too busy to even think about listening to the "feelings subject").....So I have found that when I REALLY need to express my innermost feelings, as a woman, I do so in my own quiet kitchen....I can scream, yell, cuss, rant as needed........Wow! I feel so much better! And I didn't have to listen to my girlfriends whines about their "horrible husbands", their next knee surgery, their Grandson's new girlfriend! Never been in therapy .........maybe I should look into that????

David Foster said...

Strikes me that people who are more narcissistic are more likely to see therapists (they get to talk about themselves!) and the therapy experience encourages them to become *even more* narcissistic. A positive feedback loop, aka vicious circle.