My husband, at the ripe age of 35, is losing his hair. He has had luxuriant long locks since he was a young teenager, long before I knew him. He fought multiple administrative battles with his conservative Catholic high school’s dress code in order to keep it. He considers it an inextricable part of the identity he constructed that turned him from a sad, isolated kid into an adult with a social community. In his own words, he can no longer picture himself without long hair. Nevertheless, it’s visibly thinning on top–and he knows it.
His anxiety over this is really ramping up: he bought a second mirror so he can examine the top/back of his head, he’s exploring combover-like hair arrangements to hide the thin area, and the angst performance over every stray hair in the shower drain trap is… heartbreaking. Also more than a little annoying.
I’m a fat woman, Captain. I have never in my life looked the way I wanted to, much less the way society told me I ought to. After thirty years, I’m largely over it in most circumstances… but when my husband starts up this new routine about his hair, part of me wants nothing more than to roll my eyes and notify the whaaaambulance. As a bonus, my husband is quite thin, and has done the dance of fat-shaming in the guise of “concern for your health” at me in the past, so that resentment lingers a bit. (Even though I did break him of that habit and it hasn’t come up in years, I can’t avoid the basic truth that he’s thin and I’m fat and I have feelings about that.)
I want to be supportive, but at the same time I dread the day he actually asks my opinion of the effectiveness of his combover techniques (spoilers: they are super not effective). Right now all my buried bitterness about my own body wells up in my throat when he gets started about how many hairs fell out during his latest post-shower brushing, so I just kind of shrug and nod sympathetically to avoid choking on it. Do you have any scripts for soothing sounds I can make in response to his escalating sads-spirals?
Some of Us Have Never Been Beautiful, Howl
Dear Some Of Us:
When you’ve expressed uncomfortable feelings about your body in the past, is there any soothing thing a thin person could have said to you to make you feel better?
True story, a thin friend recently offered to sort through plus size dresses online to help me find something to wear to an event, and while she found the least hideous-shoulder-cutout-boob-sequined-
“I gotta say.Shopping for plus-sized lady stuffThe prints, Jen. The prints.It was awful.”
I love her so much for it, because, while she’s always quick to say “You’re beautiful!” it was amazing to have her, for one brief second, know and affirm how much things can suck out there. #YOUSEEME #YOUREALLYSEEME #letmypeoplehavesleeves
Applying this to your husband’s hair loss, I think the best soothing noise you could make is some version of affirming his feelings of anxiety and loss. Nodding sympathetically works. “Aw man, that sucks!” works. If he asks for more of a response, try “Your hair is so pretty, I know it sucks to lose it so much earlier than you planned.” “No advice, just sympathy.” Resist the urge to flood him with supportive “Bald Is Beautiful”* memes and let him come to his own peace with it in his own time.
Edited to Add: I had this as a P.S. but I want to emphasize this: There is a reason that this is bringing up old feels about body image. You (understandably) had and have a lot of feelings about having a body that is seen as non-standard, not sexy, not lovable, not celebrated, and downright discriminated against by our culture. You’ve made an uneasy peace with those feelings and didn’t ask your husband to manage them for you. In fact, you had to do a lot of emotional labor to shut down his harmful attempts to manage them. But now, it feels like he is asking you to be the audience and cheerleader while he manages his feelings about getting older. You don’t have to manage his feelings about aging and baldness. Nodding sympathetically and saying, “Aw, that sucks” is enough “work” around this issue. Giving him a lot of space to work through it himself is actually a kind thing to do. If he’s looking for something else, he needs to come out and ask you or tell you what that is.[/Edit]
At some point, when he asks your opinion, or if his unhappiness escalates or shows no sign of stopping, here’s your script: “Husband, I can tell this is stressing you out a lot, and I hate seeing you so unhappy about it. I don’t know the first thing about styling men’s hair, and I think it’s time to call in a great barber or hair stylist who can help you work with it and make you feel maximally handsome.”
Once you’ve invoked this stylist/barber, you can defer everything to them. “I look at you every day, I’m not a good judge. Let a professional at it!”
He’s 100% gonna say; “But they’ll just cut it off or tell me to cut it off!” to which you can truthfully say “Maybe so, but they won’t actually cut it off unless that’s your decision, too. Why not work with someone who knows what they are doing?”
To use the example from your letter, you are at peace with your body (mostly). But if you talked about being unhappy with it every day, it would be okay if someone close to you said “Hey, this is clearly making you unhappy, and I don’t feel right commenting on it, but I also want you to have every bit of support and help you deserve, so, who can we call?” Finding a fat-friendly doctor is much more of a crapshoot than finding a barber who can gently steer your husband into his post-ponytail life.
*About those “Bald Is Beautiful” images: One thing that got me to be more comfortable with my fat body was looking at beautiful images of fat people – from the Fatshionista LJ Community in Ye Olden Tymes to various fashion blogs. Our media culture is so saturated with fatphobia that this process was an important part of normalizing eye so I could see myself. If your husband were writing to me, I’d tell him to build a Jason Statham/Luke Cage Pinterest board post-haste. Since he isn’t the one writing, it would probably be overstepping if you did it for him. I’m putting this here in case it helps another baldy or future baldy. Retrain your eye!
I am currently working on '61. The rose and the aptar' (Rose and Aptar? The Aptar and the Rose? idk quite). It's grandiose.
I look at the table and am both excited by how close I am to a finished draft, and dismayed by how far it still is. But I'm also clearly closer to being finished with the 'coming down to the end and ending' missing part of the book than the 'big chunk in the middle about Lial's emancipation' missing part of the book. Those are the two big missing chunks! They aren't small chunks, but still, just the two.
Oh, and Pattern has a soccer game before the intimate misunderstanding sequence, but by the time I get around to it, that should be fun to write. Maybe that will be the last scene I finish.
And then it will be finished. (The rough draft, anyway).
The Lives of St. Valerai:
( Table of Scenes )
"the single-quote/ double-quote to denote signing vs. speech continues to annoy me, because I read both British and American novels and don't see a difference (U.S. uses double quotes for dialogue, U.K. uses single) until I get confused and backtrack."
Definitely a problem to fix; I want it immediately obvious to the reader when a character changes from verbal to gestural speech. The best repair seems to be replacing ' ' with another form of punctuation. Fix this on second draft.
'Signing' The problem is obvious;
< Strobing >
/ ! / Plosion in the higher register
/ + / Plosion in the lower register
Edit; Jaim is Kaleb's kid, Danol is the deceased embezzler who Lial replaces. Poor dude needs a name.
I go back and forth about whether Danol turns out to be important at the end of book 3 as a wronged senator's beloved human, whose fate she learns at a plot-relevant moment, or if having him be the same guy is a little too cleverly coincidental.
Given that they are a small ethnic minority in Urkatriabek, how do they get around this?
What issues does Zela face finding food? Early in immigration, this is a huge issue with the Yllaii. Zela will have eaten inappropriate food as the only option, and felt sick/terrible about it.
When Valerai brings her meat, does she do something at the time of kill to make certain it will be ok for Zela (this would be a great small detail to add in 'Hunger and the white stag.')
Add this somewhere in the 'young Valerai and Zela getting to know each other' sequences. The two do not start out well together, but when Valerai finds out Zela has this kind of need, she will unquestioningly do the thing...Getting The Food, Doing That Correctly is Valerai's whole life, after all, and she is much more comfortable adjusting her methods/ saying the right prayer /etc. than Zela expects.
This will contrast with a point where Zela is otherwise put out/surprised by the absolute authority Valerai unconsciously assumes in hunting, especially when she is, early on, so frightened and submissive elsewhere. This is part of Zela's process of getting to know Valerai and obtaining a sense of who she is and what her life was like before immigration.
Confused Zela: "But you don't even like me. Why are you taking this so seriously?"
Confused Valerai: "What does liking you have to do with it? Food for you must be done in X way, you are one of the people I am now hunting for, ergo I must do X thing. Liking you has nothing do do with it.
...but actually, you are incorrect; I do like you."
Perhaps the Yllaii originally had harsher restrictions around booze, and that is one of the things that changed culturally during their generations of rebellion. Alcohol is a human invention, or at least if the vayans invented distillery they did it independently, or with the help of captive humans. Zela embraces her religion and culture more as her arc progresses, not less, so add something about this somewhere.
Usage of the word 'muzzle.' At various points in frequent use as a part of the face of a vayan or a dog; also often used to describe a device worn on the jaws of either species. Are there points where this is confusing?
From scene 67:
Pattern exhaled with a little moan and let the sound carry her shoulder carefully into Precision, who returned pressure with a quiet huff of gratitude. Gold vayan and silver pressed their cheeks together tenderly and closed their eyes, so that each muzzle nested into the deep, plush coat of the other’s backskull. Their cheek patches touched.
Is it as clear as I think it is that I'm talking about the part of their faces and that neither character is wearing a muzzle?
Rosegarden: an alternate history; a story of manners and predation; toothy monsters; a woman and her dogs. Warning for explicit content in places.
For the time being, this is mostly going to be a writing journal for my novel-in-progress, 'Rosegarden.' I plan to shortly make it available as a google document, in as much of its extremely unfinished, messy, rough drafted glory as exists.
But I'll begin with the scene I've been working on for the last couple of days. I realized that it contains the book in a nutshell, and is probably a decent indicator for whether a reader will find the thing interesting. If you like this, there's 548 pages and counting (sob) more of it.
( 66. Honest dogs )
New episode! This time I review the classic play-turned-movie Same Time, Next Year with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. Can a movie about cheating find a place on the Poly-ish Movie List?
If you subscribe to Poly-ish Movie Reviews on some kind of podcatcher or RSS feed, you probably already got this month's episode in your podcast feed. But the Show Notes & Transcripts page was posted late, so here's the new episode for this month!
If you tried to schedule a second import while the first one was still running, at any time in the past 10 days or so, you may have confused the poor thing. If you think your import should be finished by now and it isn't, and you're seeing "Aborted" on the Importer Status part of the Importer page, feel free to open a support request in the Importer category and we'll look into it for you. (It may take a little bit before you get a response; those of us who have the access to look into importer problems have been really busy for the past two weeks or so, and I at least need a few days to catch my breath a bit before diving back into the fray! But we'll do what we can.)
I hope all y'all are continuing to settle in well to your new home!
Hi, Cappy! I recently discovered your column and am so grateful for it. You’re amazing and helpful!
I really could use some situational advice, but it’s a long and complex story, sorry!
I’m a single parent of a 1st grader. Child support basically doesn’t happen.
3 years ago I was (thankfully) laid off from my research position. I’d worked hard after grad school to achieve success in an almost exclusively male-dominated and competitive field, but it was hard to raise my daughter working the crazy hours and with the amount of travel required for my job.
As a result I returned to school for graphic/web design; a field I thought would provide me with a more flexible schedule, increased job opportunities and potentially more money. I started a two year program at a technical school, with tuition and childcare 100% paid for by government benefits.
Enter “Donny”. Donny was a friend who was a neuroscientist at the University I’d attended and worked at. Despite having very different values, he had become a trusted friend. Romantic interest in Donny = 0. Divorced and childless, he is middle aged. He seemed kind and supportive when I really needed that. He was also the only positive male role model that my daughter had. He was not very involved in our lives at this point.
Donny started a tech company outside of his university position and became wealthy enough to retire from the University this year. He has a low emotional IQ, lots of anxiety and few friends. However, Donny loves my daughter and dotes on her. I don’t think he has ever said “no” to her. I’ve never had weird “vibes” about his relationship with my daughter. She was like the daughter he’d always wanted.
Back to me. Two years ago, after finishing year 1 of my program, Donny convinces me to drop out of school and work with him at his tech company instead. He says I am wasting my time at school and that he, the wealthy and successful entrepreneur, would teach me “real-world skills” and his special coding “secret techniques” from start to finish. He told me people would pay lots of money to learn his secret and that I was lucky he was willing to share this very profitable knowledge with me. He started paying me to do small projects, such as writing copy and some print work for his company. I was thrilled, thinking I was embarking on a new, lucrative and fulfilling career.
Fast forward to a year ago. Donny has stopped sending me any work but continues to pay me a barely livable wage each month to essentially do nothing. Projects are always just over the horizon but wind up “falling through” at the last minute or he doesn’t have the time to teach me anything because it’s a rush job, etc…. I make barely enough to cover my bills most months, but through decreased spending, I can still live check to check. I am ridiculously busy parenting (with no breaks), trying to stay organized, maintaining/improving my small house so my daughter has an un chaotic place to live, and being involved with my daughters activities while occasionally making stuff, but I have no social life (unfortunately that often goes along with single parenthood). I would like to make more money, but confess I am also enjoying the opportunity to be there for my daughter since I am her only family and her whole world. We are very close.
Donny continues to point out how rich he is, but keeps my pay at poverty level. He is also increasingly manipulative and controlling with his money, even believing he is entitled to having input in decisions I make about my and my daughters life, parenting, my house, friends, etc. He is by nature condescending and a master mansplainer. I ignore him and avoid confrontation because after 3 years of rarely seeing my daughter I still feel lucky to have this opportunity.
A month ago I ask Donny for more money for the first time because bills are mounting. I know I need to start a job search, but have been putting it off because —what the hell do I do now?
Donny tosses out a figure 33% higher than I’ve been getting monthly. He says he could even pay off my student loans “if he wanted to”. (They are not getting paid because I don’t make enough to pay them.) He tells me to send him the amount I owe and he will pay them off because he “doesn’t want the government to play any role in my life” which sounds generous, but is actually paranoid and a little conspiracy- theory ish. I send him the figure and he ignores me. All three times. I don’t rock the boat, but never even get a response. When that month’s check arrives its less than the amount he’d promised. I don’t say anything, feeling grateful to get anything at all, but irritated that he has changed the amount without mentioning it.
This months check was even less, back to the original too-low amount. I finally tell him (at 11:30 at night, probably sounding crabby) that it is hard for me to budget when I don’t know how much money I will be getting. At the first sign of what he perceives as questioning him or “conflict”, Donny flips out and says he could easily pay me more money but that he wants me to “work for it” by doing sales for him, which I’ve been clear from day 1 that I was 1) not good at and 2) not interested in doing or I would have pursued a sales career.
Then starts the classic rhetoric all single Moms hear: that I CHOSE to be a single parent and that I CHOSE to have a baby with that person, that my current situation is all my own doing. Followed by hinting that I am lazy and that I need to take “personal responsibility” for my predicament. He then drops a bomb by asking “how long am I going to do this?” I get mad and remind him that I was halfway through my degree which was PAID for and that I had wanted to finish, but that he was right, it was my fault that I had believed his promise to train me and give me work, which he not followed through on in 2 years. So now I have no money and no skills– nothing but some extra time to be a good parent to my daughter.
Then Donny says “I wanted you as a partner, but now Im not so sure,” which had failed to ever be mentioned to me. Apparently I had no say in that either. I got mad and told him not only do I not have time for any relationships, but that we have nothing in common, which we don’t- he voted for the One Who Is Not to be Named -not to mention a hearty “no thanks!” to all the boundary-crossing behaviors I put up with like never knocking but just walking into our house unannounced and at varying degrees of earliness to keep me guessing I guess. Locking the door makes him crabby. I have tolerated these behaviors because 25 years ago he emigrated from a culture where personal boundaries are not a priority, so I thought I was being understanding.
I have not heard from him in 6 days now when normally I get multiple texts per day. I assume he is pouting and will contact me with reasons why I am an ungrateful and overall crappy person. I actually feel enormous relief at not being scrutinized or controlled but am frightened for my financial situation.
What I want to know is: was it wrong of me to go along with this arrangement for so long? What if he contacts me and wants to continue this arrangement for more money? I intend to secure my own employment temping or something, but I am really regretful that I didn’t complete my education. Donny has been really generous, but at this point I feel so manipulated and disrespected that I don’t know if a can have any sort of friendship with him, whether he continues to pay me or not. He will see me as ungrateful and leaving because the money dried up.
I have been very appreciative and grateful and thank him constantly for his generosity, but it never seems to never be enough. He tells me I should just “be a good parent to my daughter,” which I am. I and my daughter make things for him and involve him with my daughters activities, but it’s still not enough. He is feeling under appreciated but doesn’t actually know what he wants. Donny has done a lot for us and I don’t think his behavior is conscious. I believe he is emotionally stunted for some reason. However, i cannot handle any more controlling and condescending bullshit. I am also aware that I am equally to blame for my situation. My motive was wanting to be able to be a good Mom for my daughter, no matter how short-lived. Finally, Donny was the only male figure in our lives my daughter could depend on, but I also don’t want to set a poor example by being manipulated and controlled by Donny.
Scripts for what to say to conflict- averse Donny if and when I hear from him would be greatly appreciated!
-Master Builder of Gilded Cages
she/her pronouns please, he/him for Donny
Dear Master Builder,
I apologize for the delayed response. I’ve been thinking about your story for a while. I’m not sure where you and Donny have left things in the last month or so – I’m hoping like hell that he is already out of your life – but in case he isn’t, here we are.
Before we talk about how much Donny sucks (he sucks), let’s talk about what a good employer would do:
- He would pay you what you are worth to do the work that helped his business become successful.
- As his business made more money (thanks in part to your work), he would increase your compensation.
- He would pay you the agreed-upon amount without fail and without backtracking.
- He would put agreements about compensation in writing.
- He would be transparent about assigning work.
- He would follow through on promises to train you and develop your skills.
- He would not bring your personal life into any of these negotiations.
- He would not expect 24-7 unannounced access to your home.
- He wouldn’t treat you like he owns you.
Never mind being a good friend (he isn’t), or a good partner (NOPE), or a good male role model for your daughter (100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE AND NOPE), he’s not a good boss! Like, if this were JUST a job and not a campaign of financial abuse designed to annex you like a neighboring duchy, it would still be a toxic situation and you’d still need to quit it hard as soon as humanly possible.
Here is some other stuff I want to tell you:
Temping is a great idea – do it! It will put you in the way of permanent positions and also give you a chance to try out different working environments to find one that suits you.
Also, it’s okay to keep your head down, fake compliance, and collect your retainer paycheck from Donny for a little while if that’s what you need to do in the short term to keep a roof over your head while you gather your resources. You don’t have to tell him you are temping or looking for other work or give him any information about your plans that he might use to sabotage your efforts.
Donny will try to convince you that he took you into his company out of generosity and a desire to help you, and that you would not have a job if it weren’t for his amazing charity/fake training. I think he took you on because you are competent and valuable and he needed your work to build his company.
If you can, make a copy of everything you’ve ever created for Donny. That’s your portfolio. Back it up somewhere he doesn’t have access to (Google Drive, Dropbox). You may not ever show it to anybody (if there are confidentiality issues, for instance), but it will be good fodder for rebuilding your resume and documenting for yourself what you did.
Use privacy settings to lock your social media and other electronic communications away from where he can see them. Don’t “unfriend” until you’re free of his employ. Let him think things are normal so that he will be less likely to sabotage your efforts.
Speaking of locking things down, lock your doors. I don’t care what culture he comes from or how old he is, his comfort level with “just dropping by” does not automatically determine your boundaries.This is just more controlling scary bullshit.
Once you’ve locked things down, this is a very good time to reach out privately to every friend you have. Put the word out: You’re looking for a new job, you might need some help with childcare (or recommendations for low-cost summer camps?), you might need someone to help you rewrite your resume and provide moral support for your job search, you might want a friend who will come over and eat ice cream with you and your daughter or play in the park on a sunny day. Donny wants you to think that all of your resources and social connections are through him. They aren’t. Ask. You’ll pay it back (or forward) when you’re free.
It’s also a good time to reach out to every friendly and helpful person you’ve ever come across in any professional or educational context. People in your former field where you were successful might need a consultant or contractor. Your old advisor or program director and fellow students from school might be a Not-Donny professional reference for you.You might think that you’ve burned those bridges and that it’s too late (and Donny would try to tell you that it is), but I do not think it is too late. “I know we haven’t talked in a while, and I’m sorry we lost touch, but I am changing jobs and could really use your advice/help/a reference/some guidance.” I would not be angry at all if a former student asked me for this, even if they did leave the program, but I would be really sad if they felt like they couldn’t ask me because of shame.
Think of a short professionally positive version of the Donny story that you can tell to professional contacts and to acquaintances: “I left the program a few years ago to work for a friend’s startup, where I gained experience in x, y, and z professional areas. Now that the business is on solid footing, it’s time for me to find something [with more structure][where I can grow a, b, and c skills][where I can specialize more in (an area that interests me)][with more opportunity to work in creative teams vs. supporting a single CEO].” People leave school and change jobs all the time, you don’t have to bare your soul and your regrets to be one of those people.
You asked for scripts for Donny. The above generic/neutral/professional response can serve you there, as well. When it’s time for him to know that you’re severing the employment relationship for sure, try: “Thanks for all you’ve done, it’s time for me to seek new challenges, I trust that I can count on you to be a good reference, thanks!” (Note: DON’T use him as a reference, ever, but also don’t tell him that you won’t be. Let him think he has power until it’s 100% true that he doesn’t). Don’t tell him where you plan to go or what you plan to do. It’s okay to lie when an abusive person is pressuring you for information that isn’t their business. “I don’t know yet.” “I’ve applied at a few places, I’ll let you know when I know something.” “I’m confident I will find something I enjoy.” Keep everything about your discussions focused on professional topics. If he tries to throw more fake carrots of a big payday or paying your loans, ask him to put it in writing and to define it as compensation. “Wow, Donny, that’s very generous. Let’s add it to my employment agreement.” If he gets personal, try “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.” If he gets weird about the locking doors thing, try: “I’m just not comfortable leaving my doors unlocked.” The “Because YOU keep dropping by unannounced” can be silent for now.
If you want to finish your graphic design program at some point, you will find a way. You’ll get a job at a university or at a company that offers tuition reimbursement. You’ll reapply to the program that funded you in the first place. You will find a way.
Finally, your daughter does not need Donny in her life – not as a “male role model”, not as anything. She’s little and she might not understand at first where “Uncle Donny” went once you cut ties, but I think it is a good idea to break off any and all contact between them as soon as you feel safe to do so.
You are brave and you are a great mom and you are gonna be free of this controlling dipshit very soon if you haven’t gotten there already. Please be good to yourself. You were the target of a very deliberate campaign of manipulation. That’s scary stuff and it will take some time to undo the financial and emotional damage.
P.S. I get a ton of spam along the lines of “Let me tell you the story about how I lost my man and how this spiritual healer gave me a spell to get my man back.” We don’t need those spells, Beloved. GIVE US THE ONES THAT MAKE THE MAN GO AWAY AND STAY THE FUCK AWAY.
i want to thank you so much for your website and lovely community and i hope this message finds you well. i’m having a hard time sorting through some relationship stuff and i’m hoping for some clarity.
i’m dating a very sweet and loving man who is still dealing every day with mental health issues due to early childhood trauma. these include ptsd, anxiety, depression (he is now in therapy for this) and nightmares. in his youth, he worked through his feelings of shame about what transpired in violent ways but that seems to be a thing of the past.
our courtship was fairly quick and we fell deeply in love, spending lots of our time together. in retrospect i should have been firmer about my need for a life and friendships outside of our relationship (especially at my age mid 20’s) but it all happened so fast. to be clear he does have friends/interests of his own but he is of the belief that our relationship is THE MOST important one in his life. he would be happy to rarely if ever spend time with anyone without/or other than me. in his words “i am the only thing that makes him happy” and “he welcomed dying before me but now wants to live as long as possible”. he constantly tells me i’m too good for him and is very insecure in our relationship. my friendships are deep and important to me and my feeling is that a romantic relationship should be something that adds to but is not the source of one’s happiness.
i was single for a long time before we met and had a very full life & was close with my family. they are thankfully still present but i spend much less time with them than i’d like because he doesn’t like last minute changes to our plans (even if those plans were netflix and pizza). i told him recently this needs to change and he agreed to work on it. because i’m the only thing that prevents him from having nightmares the idea of my being away causes him immense anxiety. sometimes i worry that he uses his trauma to manipulate me (his episodes early on often coincided with times i’d made plans with friends). we are also an interracial couple so that adds to a dynamic where anytime i express upset about his behavior or try to set a gentle boundary i am talked over, mansplained and/or the conversation is derailed due to the level of distress he’s displayed.
some of this is my fault as i’m not always good about expressing my feelings honestly and i want to hold space and be there for him. i tried to change parts of myself to make him more comfortable as he is an admittedly jealous person. i’m now doing my own work to come back to the vibrant, carefree woman i was when we met but it’s really difficult sometimes. i don’t know what to do or if the above is enough reason to leave or if i should keep showing up for myself, set clearer boundaries and love him through this.
any advice would be so appreciated,
trying not to be a pacifier
Thanks for the kind words!
I read your letter and I keep thinking of the person who “isn’t allowed” to be away from their job for a single day from a few months ago. They can’t even think about what they want to do next because they are always “on call.” In the short term, can you get yourself a week or even a long weekend or a few nights away from him, just to be with friends and family or hang out by yourself with your own thoughts, without being tethered to your phone to constantly soothe and “check in”?
Whatever good things this guy brings to your life (and I’m sure there must be good things here), when you’re with him:
- You don’t see your friends and family as much as you’d like to.
- You don’t feel like the vibrant, social person with many interests and connections that you were when you met him.
- When you bring him your concerns, he talks over you and centers his needs above your own. Your requests for more space and autonomy are always canceled out by how much he has suffered or is suffering.
- You feel manipulated and controlled by him.
Maybe someday this guy could be a great boyfriend, for you, or for someone. And that’s the temptation and the tragedy of the situation: You can see how very, very, very good it could be. You waited and looked for so long to find someone who would be right for you. You can have compassion for him and hold space for his feelings and believe in him and do what you can to try to get him there.
But, it’s a trap. He’s not doing the same for you. It’s good that he’s going to therapy, but he’s got to get to the realization that the things that he has suffered do not obligate you to abdicate your own needs, and then he’s got to act on that realization. He’s got to listen to you and not talk over you when you express those needs. He’s got to give you the space and breathing room that you need to live the life you want to live. He’s got to figure out how to self-soothe and get through a night without your company (the way he somehow managed to do for all the years before he met you) and without making any nightmares or anxious feelings your fault, or yours to fix somehow.
Because you need to see your friends and family and keep those relationships close and fulfilling.This is a reasonable thing to want and expect from your life.
You need social connections and relationships that are not about him. This is also a completely reasonable thing to want and expect.
You need to sometimes be able to change plans you have together. Totes reasonable!
You need to spend as many nights as you want to by yourself, without worrying about him or being a captive to his jealousy or anxieties. 100% reasonable.
You need your needs to be equal within your romantic relationship. More specifically, you need a partner who puts as much thought and emotional labor and effort into making sure you get what you need as you do into his needs. Completely reasonable.
You need a partner who doesn’t talk over you or mansplain your needs away when they are in conflict with his needs. Absolutely reasonable.
I don’t think you have that guy here, or that he’s going to become that guy for you anytime soon, and I’m so very sorry. He keeps making your reasonable needs into unreasonable things that he wants you to change about yourself to keep him happy. He puts a lot of friction up when you try to spend time away from him or talk to him about it. Even if that friction is borne out of genuine distress on his part, it’s not okay for him to put these constraints on your comings and goings and to make you do all the work of being his reason to live.
You could try some baby steps, like, planning more time with your friends and family, spending more nights separately, and shutting down the mansplaining as soon as it starts – “I’m sorry you are feeling upset, but I need this time with my friends/family/alone. I’m not doing this to hurt you, but it’s also not a negotiation, so, I’m going to hang up/leave now.” And then, importantly, physically remove yourself from the conversation to enforce the boundary, or, even better, tell him the information when you’re already separate from him, in a text: “Forgot to tell you yesterday, I can’t hang tonight – gonna go see a movie with my folks. I’ll call you tomorrow, love you!”
Can you do that safely? Is your first instinct to say, “Oh wait, I can’t do that, he’ll just text me 100 times and I won’t be able to focus on anything.” Or, “Oh wait, I can’t do that, he’ll be so hurt/sad, I’ll have to cut the evening short and go take care of him.” Does the whole prospect of a night alone seem “not worth it” because his reaction will be too much to deal with it’s “easier” to just give in and do what he wants? Those “Oh, I can’t, it’s not worth the trouble” reactions in yourself are giant red flags to watch for, because it means he’s trained you to anticipate his displeasure and “correct” your behavior in advance to avoid outbursts.
If (when?) you do decide to leave him permanently, I think it is worth talking to a trained domestic violence counselor about a safety plan beforehand. You said he is sweet and kind and that is great, just, humor me here and talk to someone who will believe you immediately, who will hold the conversation in confidence, and who will help you figure out the safest and clearest way to break the news and take care of yourself.
I’m so sorry. I know you love him. I wish I had a better forecast for this being a relationship that would make you feel free, happy, trusted, and supported someday.
Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, SE1 8XX near Waterloo station, 22nd April, 11am onwards. Please note slight change of location, same as last month – Green Bar rather than Blue, e.g. same thing as the previous location but the opposite side.
Colouring in! Please bring pens/pencils and copyright free images. Or just come and chat with us.
The venue sell food in a cafe (standard sandwiches etc.), but they also don’t mind people bringing food in from outside. There are several other local places where you can buy stuff as well. The excellent food market outside has loads of different food options, which can fit most food requirements, or you can also bring a packed lunch.
Meet on the fourth floor, outside the Green Bar (go up in lift 1, sadly not as musical as lift 7).
Here is the accessibility map of the Royal Festival Hall: PDF map
I may not be able to be there this month myself, but regular member Octavia has kindly agreed to coordinate in my place. She has short, dark brown hair and brown eyes, and will bring a teddy bear with rabbit like ears, and a sign saying Awkward Group.
The venue is accessible via a lift, and has accessible toilets. Waterloo tube station has step free access on the Jubilee line but not on the Northern line.
The London Awkward group has a Facebook page, which is here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/
My email is Kate DOT Towner AT Gmail DOT com
(May meetup will be the 13th.)
Before we get into all the things I have to cover, though: Given the reasons most people are citing for not wanting to agree to LiveJournal's new ToS, I'd like to take a moment and ask: if you're able to (and only if you're able!), please consider donating to the Russian LGBT Network/Российская ЛГБТ-сеть. They not only do excellent work across the Russian Federation, but are currently mobilizing to help evacuate LGBT people in Chechnya who are in danger of detention or death. (EDIT: If you're outside Russia, you can donate through All Out; the Russian LGBT Network website won't accept donations from outside Russia.)
To our friends in Russia who are LGBT and those who are against the mistreatment of anyone because of their sexual orientation: We stand with you. Please stay safe above all else, but if it would be safe for you to post that link, the LGBT Network is asking that as many people as possible publicly share the information that the LGBT Network is ready to help. (They also ask that you do not contact people in Chechnya directly to let them know, as there are reports the authorities are searching people's phones and computers for evidence of sexual orientation.)
The rest of this post is primarily to give y'all new folks a brief orientation (or as brief as I am ever capable of; no one has ever called me concise) to help you settle in, although I hope at least some of it will be useful (or at least interesting!) to those of you who have been with us for a while. Come with me as we discuss Dreamwidth's history, a bit of what (we think) makes us special, the answers to a few common questions about how we roll, and a few useful tips that may help you with the transition.
( Dreamwidth 101! )
Whew! That was a lot to throw at y'all at once, I know. (Yes, I always am this longwinded. And I always use this many parentheses.) Everybody who's been here for a while: thank you for your patience as I got our new arrivals up to speed! We'll be back in a few weeks with a code push and a bunch of new features and fixes, so the next news post should be more broadly applicable.
In the meantime, let's have a welcome party in the comments:
* If you're looking for new people to subscribe to you, leave a comment with some basic info about your journal and what you tend to write about! Then everybody can browse around and meet each other. (There's also 2017revival and addme, both of which are unofficial but bustling lately; holler if you know of any more.)
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Finally, a quick note on the importer queue: it's still going, I swear. The jobs finishing now are the ones that were scheduled around 48 hours ago, though, so we really appreciate how patient y'all are being!
As always, if you're having problems with Dreamwidth, Support can help you; for notices of site problems and downtime, check dw_maintenance and the Twitter status account. (We can't do support through Twitter, though! Open a support request instead. Me trying to fit into 140 characters is not a pretty sight.)
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And he *listened*. I find that to be admirable and impressive and I think there is a lot of good potential for his future in unlearning all the shit that society has instilled in him.
I think the advice is good, so I'm gonna re-post a modified version of it here as a general post not aimed at a specific person but at a situation that I see play over and over again in the poly community. I've left the gendered pronouns that applied to the OP, because I so often see this playing out with these pronouns and I often speak from my own experience, but the stories and the advice could be found with any mix of pronouns.
So, you're trying this poly thing out for the first time with your partner. You love each other, so naturally you don't want to lose what you already have together, but you also want to explore something new. So you discuss it a lot, and you make some agreements as to how to go about it that you think shows your commitment to and compassion for each other.
Then she comes to you and says that this agreement y'all had? She wants to change the agreement. Right now, because the thing you agreed not to do is about to happen. Or maybe already happened. Or maybe isn't about to happen right this instance, but it's now inevitable and it's *going* to happen and you can't stop it.
And you're afraid. And hurt. You agreed! Now she wants to change the rules! She can't just do that, can she? Well, I'm going to tell you something that you're going to like even less than hearing that. She's allowed to do change things. What she does with herself and with other people who are not you is none of your business. She can change the "rules" (whether you use that term or not) regarding what she does with herself whenever she wants to, and she's not "the bad guy" for doing so, even if you feel bad feels about it.
First of all, don't confuse "it's not your business, she's her own person and can do what she wants" with "don't have any emotional investment in your partner". A lot of mono people and recently-mono people make that mistake.
When your partner goes to work, or hangs out with her friends, is it your "business" to negotiate ahead of time what she does or doesn't do at work? I mean, you're sharing her with her job, right? You're sharing her with her boss. Shouldn't you get a say in what she does? Of course not, that would be ridiculous. You're not "sharing" her with her boss! Even though, technically, she does spend more time with him, the majority of her waking hours, actually. You don't get a say in it, you don't get to "negotiate" about it, and it's none of your business. What she does on her boss's time is between her and her boss. What she does with her best friend when they're out together is between her and her best friend. How she spends her time with her mother is between her and her mother.
But as a loving partner, you might be *interested* in how her day at work goes. You might want to hear all about it, or maybe what she does isn't of interest to you so you don't really want to hear all the details but you care how her job affects her. Her happiness or lack of happiness at work matters to you, so you're "invested" in her well-being at work. But it's not your "business" to know anything about her work, especially ahead of time when shit happens and things come up.
She doesn't have to report to you or notify you or tell you anything to soothe your own feelings. But she might want to share with you because sharing who we are and what we do when we're apart with our partners is part of intimacy and connecting with each other. And she ought to tell you things that could affect your own ability to consent to a relationship (or certain activities in that relationship) with her. But that's about your relationship with her and how *she* affects *you*, not her relationship with other people.
No one is saying that you shouldn't be "invested" in her and even in her other relationships, but this "need" to know that you're expressing *is* a form of control, whether you see it or not. It's scary to not know what's happening, and wanting to be kept in the loop isn't, by itself, a bad thing, but expecting to know, with the (probably subconscious) belief that by knowing you can then affect the outcome, is a drive to control.
If you think that she can't just announce it, and that a conversation or a dialog has to happen before rules or agreements can change, then you're likely believing that you can influence things. Conversation *should* happen so that you can both explore your feelings together, but usually when the person in your position feels *affronted* at the idea that he isn't granted the "right" to this conversation and feels that an announcement is insufficient, if you dig down deep enough, it's based on the assumption that he can control or influence the outcome.
And often, I see people being affronted even when their partner *does* ask for a conversation first. The very fact of "asking permission" is seen as offensive, because you "already agreed!" You had an agreement! Well, now she wants to renegotiate that agreement, and if that bothers you, then you have some issues with control right now.
Maybe you don't realize that's what you're doing, but right now you're not just expressing a desire to know because change is hard to deal with and you want time to adjust. You're also expressing a desire to influence the potential situation, to influence *her* decision-making process. That's control. You might not understand that your underlying, sometimes hidden, assumptions are being expressed, but they are and that's why people in forums jump down your throat when you ask for advice on certain kinds of situations.
The problem is that only people who have made it through to the other side can see what the difference is between control vs. interest, or between "not your business" and "don't get invested". Much like privilege, most of us can't see it when we're in it, but we can damn well see it when we're on the outside of it.
Because most of us, when we're on your side of the fence, can't tell what the difference is between "not your business" and "don't be invested", it probably sounds like I'm suggesting that you shouldn't *care*, because your side of the fence has all these different definitions of "caring" mixed up with each other. I've written before about the story of a friend who voluntarily gave up polyamory on the basis that he couldn't deal with his partner "not caring" about what he did away from her. He couldn't tell the difference between "not your business" and "don't be invested" either.
There are very subtle, but significant, things going on that make "none of your business" and "don't be invested" two very different things, but much like trying to point out to someone their own privilege, it can be very difficult to see what that difference is, until one day you just *do* see the difference.
Second of all, another common rookie mistake is that we often make it unsafe for our partners to be honest with us. Without doing anything intentionally, and without even going so far as "abuse" or "control", when our partners are afraid of how we will react to something, our partners often skirt things because it doesn't feel safe to be totally up front and honest, and they do that *without intending* to be dishonest.
There is a reluctance to admit to themselves what they're really feeling, which becomes a hesitation to admit to us. They try to "ease us in" to situations, they downplay this thing or gloss over that thing. Because they don't feel completely safe in really examining themselves out of fear of how the revelations will affect us. This happens to newbies all. the. time. It's basically the transitional step - if you come from a mono world, you have certain habits and assumptions and expectations built in and getting past them into trusting oneself and one's partner is extremely difficult.
The example of someone who is upset that his partner originally agreed not to have sex with her new partner on a date but then calls to ask permission to change that rule while on that date is a *classic* example and the forums are filled with posts asking for advice on what to do now. He obviously had a problem with her having sex with her partner. She obviously picked up on that, whether he said anything explicitly or not. If he really didn't have any problem with it, even being surprised by a change in plans wouldn't have elicited the all-to-common plea for validation that the poly forums would see the next day, as he plaintively asks "that was wrong of her to change our agreement, right?"
She didn't feel completely safe advocating for her own interest in sex with her partner or in advocating on behalf of her partner's interests, so she hedged and cushioned and tried to ease him into it, until sex was right there, in her face, and she couldn't hide from the possibility anymore without being blatantly dishonest. She had to wait until the cognitive dissonance from the reality of potential sex was greater than her fear of hurting you before she could admit to herself, and then to you, that sex was an option.
This means that *you* have your own share of the responsibility here in setting up the situation you now find yourself in where agreements are changed or broken and you feel "betrayed" because her emotions and desires didn't conveniently followed the path that y'all somehow thought it was possible to map out ahead of time.
She needs to feel that her actions with another aren't going to hurt you, because she cares about you and doesn't *want* to hurt you, and she needs to see that enough times to really trust that it's true, before she'll learn how to let go of this habit of hiding her wants from herself, of downplaying herself, of diminishing herself, of making herself smaller for your comfort. She likely has a *lot* of programming from a multitude of sources over her life instructing her to make herself smaller for the comfort of others, particularly if your partner is female, femme, or socialized as a woman and has male or masculine or socialized-as-men romantic partners.
I've been there. Yes, me, the Internet Flame Warrior, Le Online Bitch, who demands my agency and takes no prisoners in these battles for autonomy and respect. I know the complicated, swirling morass of unnamed and unrecognized feelings, the justifications, the compassion tinged with darker fears, that murky soup inside the head that makes me believe, if only on the surface, that no, I really am not as interested in this guy, no, I really don't want sex this soon, no, I'm totally happy not dating anyone else for a while, so please, honey, take your time and get used to things first.
I know how to shrink myself so slowly that even I won't notice it until the box I'm trying to fit in bursts from the pressure. I know how to put myself on the back burner, how to dismiss myself so that someone else feels better.
I also know that it's a false sense of security. I know that this usually just makes things worse in the long run because my partner starts to get used to this unobtrusive, inconspicuous little package, so when the box suddenly explodes and sends shards and debris everywhere, he feels like a bomb has gone off. Either way he's going to feel uncomfortable with me taking up my full size. I know this.
And yet, I know what it's like to do this anyway, even knowing it. Because I'm trained to do this. Everything in my culture and upbringing says that this is the proper way to behave. To be a "compassionate" person, a "nice" person, a "caring" person, you have to "compromise". You have to "move at the pace of the slowest person". You have to "give and take" and right now you have to "give" first.
She feels that she has to be smaller than she is. She has made herself so small that even she can't see who she really is and what she wants, and she did that because she's afraid of how you will feel if she doesn't. It doesn't even have to be a fear of punishment or retribution or abuse. She could feel afraid because she genuinely doesn't want to hurt you because she loves you.
But she feels that way because she believes that being herself and wanting what she wants *will hurt you*.
You have to set the tone, and you have to do the work before she will feel safe. That may take some time and she will probably stumble over her own bad habits for a while before she learns to trust you and to trust herself.
But it starts with you.
I was once part of a poly group whose focus was on community leadership. They couldn't get *anything* done. They literally debated *for years* about what the group's official definition of polyamory ought to be. Everyone had to have an equal say in everything else, even if they had no experience in the subject.
In another group around the same time frame, I was hired to be the organization's webmaster. The previous webmaster, who hosted the site on their own server, was leaving so they needed to find a new host. I made some recommendations, but if you don't have the ability to host your own, hosting costs money (if you need your site to do things like e-commerce, which they did). I was argued at for *days* over why can't we just make a free Yahoo or Geocities site? Yahoo hosts their email and they've never had a problem with them, so why not use them to host the website too?
Like, just stop. I was brought on for a reason. I have skills that you don't. You should not have input on organizational topics that you have no experience with. That's not how businesses or organizations are run. Not if they want to be successful, anyway.
Both of these groups were poly, and every time I objected to literally every single member having an equal voice on every single topic, I was yelled at because that didn't match their personal philosophy of egalitarian relationships.
THESE ARE NOT ROMANTIC POLY RELATIONSHIPS, these are *organizations* that have goals and shit that needs to be accomplished. You can't run your business the way you run your love life.
Back to the intolerance thing, liberals are often dismissed for not being "tolerant" of intolerant people or ideas. The very idea of tolerance, ironically, is dismissed out of hand if the person holding the idea doesn't provide a platform for literally every single fucked up idea that crosses their path. And "free speech" is often used as a defense when people simply don't like what they have to say.
So, 1) what I advocate for in romantic relationships is not necessarily applicable to other kinds of relationships, particularly business relationships or relationships between groups or entire nations or whatever. Sometimes it is, but sometimes, often, it's not. How groups, organizations, and businesses ought to be run is not how relationships ought to be run and vice versa. Sometimes hierarchy really is the better way to do things. Just not in romantic relationships.
2) What I advocate for in romantic relationships often doesn't hold true for people who aren't operating in good faith, like abusers, rapists, Missing Stairs, misogynists, racists, etc. Yeah, you should be kind and compassionate to your romantic partners, unless he's abusive and then your compassion will be used against you. Yes, you should listen and empathize with your romantic partners, but you don't need to empathize with internet trolls. Shit like that.
And that's not at all internally inconsistent. I never once advocated for unconditional anything. My advice is contextual. Failing to see that is intellectually dishonest.
[deep breath] OK, so when you start going out for job interviews, I want to make sure that you don't choose an employer who is going to come between us or mess up our routine. So I think I should be present on your job interviews. You haven't always made the best decisions in the past. I mean, look at some of your former jobs before we got married! I think you could use an objective opinion. And, after all, I'm also a manager, so I know what these people will be thinking. I think that I ought to meet your potential employers so that you don't get caught up in the excitement of having a new job and miss some of the fine print in the job description.
We should also discuss what kinds of things you can and can't do at work. I know you haven't even started looking for a new job yet, but that makes this the perfect time to decide these things! That way your future employer doesn't get his hopes up. I don't want your new boss to have more time with you than I do, so you should tell him right up front that you have to be off work in time to get home before I do. After all, before your new job, you always made dinner. That shouldn't have to change just because you have a new job in your life. That would disrupt *our* relationship. So, you have to be home in time to have dinner ready for me when I get home like always.
And you can't be in to work until after I've left for the day. I mean, who is going to get the kids ready for school and have my stuff all organized for me if you're gone early? That's not fair of him to cut into your time with the children! They should come first!
Also, the job needs to be far enough away that our friends and neighbors won't notice that you're working for someone, but not so far that it costs too much in gas money. In fact, I think your future employer ought to pay for your gas to get there. If he wants you to be there badly enough, he'll see the benefit in paying for your gas. I would suggest that he pick you up, but then our neighbors might start asking questions.
It's OK to put in a few hours in the evening while I'm out bowling with the gang every week. You should do something for *you*, y'know, when I'm not around to be affected by it. Hey, I care that you're getting your needs met, I'm just that considerate of you. But absolutely no weekends. That's *our family* time together. Remember, the kids come first. And definitely no over-night stuff either. I would feel lonely without you in our bed, and I don't think I can handle that. Our marriage was here first, before your job, so it should take priority.
Speaking of priority, if you're with your new boss and I need you for something, I think you should be able to leave him to help me. Remember, our marriage came first and if your new boss can't respect that, then I don't think you should be working for him. Your new boss can't be calling you after-hours for anything. If he needs someone that badly for more than what we agreed to right now, between us without him present, then he should get more people to do the job.
Also, he needs to offer you a decent salary because you're worth a lot, but it can't be more money than I bring home. I would feel inadequate as a partner if he gives you more money than I make. But he still has to value you!
Now, while you're with him, I think it's OK to answer phones and greet people at the door, but I'm not sure I'm comfortable with you filing things or handling the accounting just yet. You'll have to just work for him for a while until I adjust before you can work up to that. I don't know for how long, I'll decide that when I'm ready.
What do you mean, what if the job isn't for a receptionist position? What if the new employer is looking for a server or a construction worker? Oh hell no! There's no way I'm going to let MY SPOUSE do something as dangerous as construction work! What if you get injured on the job?! You'll bring that injury back home and everything will have to change! No, that's a hard limit for me. I can't handle my spouse working in a dangerous field. That's a boundary for us.
What? Of course this isn't unreasonable. Any employer who wouldn't agree to all this isn't right for us anyway. He wouldn't be a good match, so it's OK to reject him. We need to find someone who is right *for us*. We're supposed to be doing this together, right? That's what you said. So we need to find you a job that will make our relationship better. If the job strains our relationship, it's got to go. I shouldn't have to accommodate something that's coming into our lives after we've been together this long. The job is the new guy here, so anyone wanting to be your employer is just going to have to take us or leave us.
And while I'm thinking of "new guy", maybe you ought to just work for female employers. They tend to be more understanding of relationship obligations, whereas dudes are more territorial. I don't want to get into pissing matches with your new boss all the time, so maybe just stick to women.
But somewhere, out there, is our perfect new employer. She'll be kind and understanding and considerate and respectful of our relationship and our family and your obligations. She'll pay decent wages and have excellent benefits even for part-timers, because of course you can't be with her 40 hours a week if you expect to be home when I need you. She'll never make any demands of us, and if things change, she'll let you go gracefully with a comfortable compensation package because she knew the conditions of hiring you when she interviewed you. Don't worry, I'll write it all down for her and give it to her when we go to your interview.
Oh, honey, it'll be so great having two incomes and more health insurance! We'll have so much more money, and you'll have that sense of purpose you've been looking for since the youngest was born! It'll revitalize our marriage! We'll go on more vacations together, and I can't wait to come home from work and see you there, waiting for me as usual with a candlelight dinner, and you'll tell me all about your day - every detail!
No, really, I mean every detail - a full play-by-play. I need to hear *everything* so that I don't feel insecure by not knowing what you did while you were away. Well, no, I never needed to know every detail while we were apart when you were home and I was at work, but this is different. In fact, just to make sure, why don't you just text me throughout the day every time you do a new task, that way we'll be sure, and then you can recap it all at night when you get home. Your boss is just going to have to deal with you making personal phone calls and text while you're on the clock. That's another boundary for us.
And I promise that hearing all the details of how much fun you're having at your new job won't make me feel left out. And I promise that I won't make you responsible for my feelings. I'm totally responsible for my feelings and you're totally responsible for your actions that cause those feelings. So if I start to feel jealous when I hear *too many* details, you'll just have to quit your job and focus on us for a while. But since you're *agreeing* to it, it's totally egalitarian. Because I love you and I respect that you can agree to these boundaries.
I know it's taken me a while to get on board with your idea here, but I've been doing a lot of thinking, and I think our marriage will be stronger than ever for the adventure we're about to take together. Just as long as we can quit this little experiment if it gets too hard. But it'll be great!