it’s not the ribbons in your hair

9/15/11

Many of the commenters already mentioned Dan Savage, and indeed, the NYTimes Magazine profile of him is what got me thinking about the relative benefits of monogamy vs… well, whatever monogamy isn’t.

I had a whole fireworks display of things to say about the subject (and will probably do that Monday), but what struck me most over the last few days was reading emails from old friends stuck in tough relationships, then poring over some of the old comments on sexual death within marriage. It has been divorce season again – these things come in waves, it seems – and it’s amazing to see the kind of recurring problems, even in a hyper-therapized culture.

It comes to this simple pronouncement: SO MANY PEOPLE ARE VAGUELY MISERABLE IN VAGUELY UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIPS. And though it’s easy to blame marriage and/or kids, the truth is it can happen at any stage. Here are some of the scenarios I’ve seen lately:

• you’ve realized you’re with someone who actually makes you feel more lonely than being alone, but you’ve got too much shared history, and you’re too tired to rock the boat

• you have fallen in love with someone else from afar, someone who exudes the qualities you always cherished

• you’ve realized your current partner is not “going through a phase” – that’s actually who they are.

• the sex is over.

• or, if the sex isn’t over, it is so far from “dangerous” or “titillating” or “subversive” or “my awesome fetish” that you constantly fantasize about others regardless

• you are in a state of waking sleep, a drone, a clock-puncher, once vibrant but now content to mark time until you can’t stand it anymore

• your partner is a handsome asshole (or a gorgeous cooz)

• you’ve had an epiphany: you’ve been imagining your partner as much smarter than they actually are, and they’re finished surprising you ever again

Now before I start getting clandestine texts… Tessa and I are doing crazypants awesome, thank you very much. But it doesn’t quell my fascination with the dysfunction around me. Our generation was supposed to get this right. We waited until forever to get married, and still, many of us didn’t know ourselves well enough to pull it off.

This weekend, tell your significant other one thing that has been REALLY BOTHERING YOU for A LONG TIME NOW and IT HAS TO CHANGE. Do not listen to their defenses. Calmly tell them again. Then smile.

0 thoughts on “it’s not the ribbons in your hair

  1. The Red Dragon

    My significant other and I recently started couples counseling, and I spent yesterday’s session talking about things that have been really bothering me for a long time now and that have to change. I couldn’t muster a smile, though. It’s too painful right now. We’re mostly a combination of scenarios 3 and 4, leading to a bit of number 1, with some of our own unique pathology thrown in for good measure. I’m sad. I thought I was going to get it right. I waited, and picked someone I thought was a good bet. But I’ve ended up feeling like I’m trapped in my parents’ marriage, and that’s the last thing I ever wanted for myself.

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  2. Anonymous

    “It has been divorce season again”
    Odd that you wrote that a mere four days after I hired a divorce lawyer – first time ever, and I never thought I would do it. We still may not go thru with it, but my husband has always been very restrictive and controlling and unless he makes major changes, I can’t see spending the next 40 years unable to breathe. So why didn’t I realize this before? I did, but I was too much in love with him for his good qualities. And here I was thinking I’d do better than my parents in this regard. That said, we may do ok yet. Anyway, the only reason I’m writing this is that apparently this blog knows all; it has supernatural properties.

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  3. Tigger

    All I can say, with no joy for being right, is when the sex is over, it is BIG TROUBLE. And I always knew it. No matter WHAT they say about comfort, companionship, history, etc, NO SEX=BIG TROUBLE. Maybe not insurmountable, but . . . I saw my parents move to different ends of the house and thought, “not me.” It is crazypants demoralizing to say have to say “fuck me or I am outta here” (let alone smile while doing it), but this may be the weekend. Supernatural properties, indeed. sigh.

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  4. Alan

    Having done my five year share of family law, I have to note one thing that I have observed. There is no big difference between:
    “SO MANY PEOPLE ARE VAGUELY MISERABLE IN VAGUELY UNHAPPY RELATIONSHIPS”
    and just
    “SO MANY PEOPLE ARE VAGUELY MISERABLE”
    People associate their misery with the things around them – job, spouse, siblings, neighbours – but rarely examine whether they are the significant source of their own unhappiness and, worst of all, simple things they may do to make themselves and those around them happier.
    Do talk to the lawyer, go to counsellors and if you need to get out of the marriage but, then, fully expect to run into the misery again if you don’t change what you need to change. Not saying that the victim is the cause as bastard spouses are bastard spouses. What I am saying is that you should make sure that you yourself are not a big part of the problem before you walk.

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  5. Anon

    Very well put, Alan. Everyone should heed that advice and not fantasize that their spouse is the cause of all the problems, or that some fantasy person or situation is out there who will make our lives perfect. I know what my faults are too. I am pushing for counseling rather than just giving up. But right now a little separation and space is doing wonders.

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  6. with all due respect

    It’s interesting and helpful to many, I’m sure, to present these issues and provide a forum for discussion. I love this blog, but sometimes the angle of “my marriage (or whatever, fill in the blank) is great, but here’s what you should do about yours” is tiresome. (Sorry!)

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  7. Ian

    “with all due respect” – point taken. I say these things with a tacit “we could be super fucked up too, and while this particular tidbit of advice (masquerading as pronouncement from on high) has helped us, your mileage may vary”.
    When I write, I tend toward a call to arms, not gentle persuasion, which not-so-occasionally makes me sound like a dick.

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  8. secret seagull

    Friends’ divorces really bother me. Way more than they should, perhaps. An acquaintance recently celebrated her divorce on Facebook. I know for her it was a good thing, but I also know her marriage ended not because her husband was terrible or abusive or a bad father… but because she wanted a change. He was the same guy she had married, and he adored her. (And he’s doing much better right now than she is.)
    I’m all for self-actualization, but can’t you at least wait til your kids are out of the house? Of course, this is because of my own issues–my mom initiated my parents’ split, and I look at her now, alone and mostly broke, and my dad, who is more financially secure and pretty happily remarried, and think that she would have been better off trying a bit harder to make it work with my dad. I don’t think she got what she wanted, in the end. And that divorce was beyond a minor disruption in my life. I’m okay with where my life has ended up, so it’s not exactly that I wish things had turned out differently (I probably wouldn’t have gone to UNC if my parents had stayed together). But I wish people weren’t so damn selfish sometimes.
    And my Facebook acquaintaince, whom I saw recently, has the typical bitter divorcee thing going on. Everything was awful–men to date, her job, being a single mom, etc. Is she really better off alone? I’ve heard a few recently divorced friends say that if they had known how hard it would be, they would have worked a little bit harder on the marriage.
    When my marriage has bumps, I think of my kids. I do love my husband, a whole lot, but remembering that it’s not just about me anymore helps. Because I pretty much think the suckiest thing I could do to my kids is to split up from their dad.
    Our sex life isn’t great. I’d love more sex, but not so much with my husband. Would it kill him to lose a few pounds? But he’s a committed monogamist, and I am working on being sexually interested him along the lines of how I was earlier in our relationship (and I’m no spring chicken, but I’m the same weight as when we married, after gaining and then losing a few pounds, and I am working on losing a few more, for my own health, but also because I want to look good for him and me).
    But, after more than a dozen years into our relationship, I think we’re doing okay. I’m mostly happy in my life, and my marriage is the foundation of that. I do fantasize about other men, and I’d love some more excitement. But, it wouldn’t be worth what I would lose.

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  9. Scott

    Secret seagull – You nailed it. Except that I’m the one in our marriage that needs to lose a few pounds!
    But everything else – especially “remembering that it’s not just about me anymore help” – captures how I view this whole question (though I did not suffer through the trauma of my parents divorcing).
    Overall this whole subject seems to be about the grass being greener. Sometimes it is, but for the most part it’s the same grass, just behind a different fence.
    One thing that really bothers me, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is a married person announcing that they “have fallen in love” with someone else, like it was just fate and out of their control. Seriously, WTF? You are married! You don’t go around “falling in love” with other people. You can be attracted to someone else, that is probably chemical or animalistic or has some other basis that may not be conscious or controllable, but “falling in love” better damn sure require a bit more than phermones. And if it does – then you had MULITPLE chances to turn it off, but chose not to. So don’t hide behind this flimsy excuse, just (wo)man up and tell the truth.
    Ok, back to work.

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  10. kitty cat

    alan, i couldn’t agree more.
    however, i’ve never been married, and it’s not really a priority to me, so what the heck do i know?
    i do know i never want to be at the dinner table and wish i wasn’t sitting across from the person in that chair on a regular basis. you can bandaid it all you want, but that ain’t livin’.

    Reply

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