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Malice In Wonderland

I am 36, with one son, and I had been dating a wonderful man for a year. We were planning on moving in together and discussing marriage...until one day I said to him, out of anger, “No wonder your wife divorced you and your daughter doesn’t speak to you!” That was two months ago. I have sent a steady stream of cards and flowers expressing how sorry I am for what I said, but he says we’re done. I started counseling because he told me I have an anger management problem and he can’t live with someone like me. I just can’t live with myself knowing I lost the man of my dreams. I’m queasy and I’ve dropped 17 pounds in two months. Is a man really worth this?

--Heat Of The Moment

There are times in a man’s life when he comes to understand what “I love you” really means; in this case, “I’d like to tear out your liver with my bare hands, cut it up into hors d’oeuvre-sized pieces, and feed it back to you on Ritz crackers.”

Okay, sure, you apologized -- which is the equivalent of saying, “I mean, ‘I’d like to tear out your liver, etcetera, etcetera…Snookums.’” The guy trusted you enough to show you all the little broken pieces in him, and you rewarded him by gathering them up, wrapping them around a bat, and playing piñata with his ego. Surprise, surprise, that didn’t go over too well. And it seems the cards and flowers aren’t doing the job to clear up how you really feel. Or…maybe they actually are: “So sorry I showed you my true self. Won’t happen again!”

People who care about each other do have disagreements -- just not to the point where somebody has to come by and clean up what’s left of one or both of them with a dustpan, a damp rag, and a squeegee. When you love somebody, you don’t forget it. Even in the heat of the moment. Even when you know, down to your DNA, that you’re right and they’re wrong. That’s because love, in the words of sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein, is “the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” And no, the epilogue to that isn’t “except when I’m not getting my way, in which case I can revert to all the handy lessons I learned at the Joseph Stalin school of seduction.”

“Is a man really worth this?” you ask -- suddenly mindful of how inconvenient it can be when your party manners plummet like the shoulder strap of Tara Reid’s dress, and your boyfriend decides eliminating toxic anger from his life is more prudent than trying to manage it. Let’s just say your ability for self-non-examination is profound. This isn’t about him or getting him back -- although that might be a fringe benefit of exploring how feeling powerless leads to power plays, and how being too insecure to calmly assert yourself can turn you into the kind of person who eventually goes after a mosquito with a shoulder-fired missile. Try to see this as an opportunity. Cut the card and flower shower, forget trying to maintain the appearance of love, and focus on getting yourself to the place where you consistently show the real deal. At that point, getting caught up in the “heat of the moment” should have you ransacking the nightstand for a tube of Astroglide instead of running out to the garage for a 55-gallon drum of napalm.

Posted by aalkon at July 17, 2007 9:35 PM

Comments

"although that might be a fringe benefit of exploring how feeling powerless leads to power plays, and how being too insecure to calmly assert yourself can turn you into the kind of person who eventually goes after a mosquito with a shoulder-fired missile."

Word!

Posted by: annie at July 17, 2007 10:05 PM

The disconnect between the "here's what happened, here's what I said, here's how I felt about it" and the final question is staggering. She hurt someone she cares about and she wants to know if a man is worth it. Your advice to LW is sound (as always!) but another reply goes out to the fellow she describes: Run! Run like the wind!
There are too many people walking around, disguised as adults who really think the things they say and do when they are upset shouldn't count. We all have our moments where emotion overcomes good judgement but others are entitled to take those moments as glimpses into our truest nature. The kind of hatred she herself describes in her outburst is deep-seated and will destroy any relationship she has with man, woman, child or household pet. Kudos to the man who dodged this bullet.

Posted by: martin at July 18, 2007 4:42 AM

"Your advice to LW is sound (as always!) but another reply goes out to the fellow she describes: Run! Run like the wind!"

I agree, but he's already done that, which is why she's writing.

I always say that people shouldn't foist their undertherapized asses on others. (Not that you need therapy to be partnerable, but something needs to be done, and for a lot of people.)

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 18, 2007 4:47 AM

P.S. Naturally, I got a lot of letters about this column, complaining, "But, it just happened once..." and asking what he said to inspire her remark.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 18, 2007 4:49 AM

P.S. Naturally, I got a lot of letters about this column, complaining, "But, it just happened once..." and asking what he said to inspire her remark.

Looking back at this one in perspective, I think it's becoming one of my favorite columns.

Regarding the protest that your readers are writing, "But, it just happened once..." Would it be okay if he had hit her and she left him? Would they still be saying, "But, it just happened once..."?

Sounds to me like he took the smart route. The problem with incidents like this is that it's the Rubicon of breakups. If he forgives this, he is giving his tacite permission for her to do it again. Oh, she'll have to grovel the next time, like she's doing now (remind me to invest in Hallmark and FTD), but she knows what to do if she does it again. This farce will be repeating itself ad infinitum.

I was reminded of a column of Amy's some years ago, about a woman who met this really fantastic guy, but she got really, really sloshed, called him at some ungodly hour and said some stupid, drunken things, so he stopped returning her calls and emails.

Amy put it to her bluntly, which is the kindest thing to do. "You blew it. What the guy's trying to tell you -- if the phone don't ring, it's me style -- is that he saw the future staggering toward him, and chose to duck out of the way."

The rest of the column addressed her "problem drinking," which is what it should have done.

Which is what I would say to her. "You blew it. Leave him alone, deal with your anger issues and move on."

Posted by: Patrick at July 18, 2007 6:25 AM

Doesn't matter what he said, what matters is her reaction to it. Doesn't matter that it "only happened once", sometimes that's all it takes for someone with half a brain to realize "this is NOT what I want in a relationship" and to bail. Maybe she'll learn something from this. Maybe not. At least she started counseling. Hopefully she'll stick with it long enough to learn something.

Posted by: Flynne at July 18, 2007 6:26 AM

Ouch. Just ouch. As for those saying "What did he say to start this?" - look at it this way. If he truly said something that would justify such an ugly comment, she's better off without him. I doubt that that's the case, though. She was pissed and wanted to hurt him, and boy she did. Guess she won THAT argument. Hope it feels good.

Many years ago, in a children's/young adult novel, I read this: "Sorry doesn't change anything." That's paraphrasing - I don't remember the exact quote. But it's oh, so true. You can't take words back once you've said them. And sure, sorry helps, but the monster has still been let out of the cage.

Kudos, Amy. Wonderful advice, again. Loving someone, and being loved in return, is a sacred trust. She violated that trust in the worst possible way. Personally, I doubt she'll get the guy back, and I hope she doesn't - Patrick's right in that regard.

Anyway - sorry for the novella :-) Thanks for a great column :-)

Posted by: Anne at July 18, 2007 6:58 AM

"Would it be okay if he had hit her and she left him? Would they still be saying, "But, it just happened once..."?"

The gender inversion angle is always worthy but you have to stay with equivalent terms. What this woman said was abusive. It was calculated to inflict maximum pain. She is an abuser and needs to get help and admit what she has done before she deserves to be in any relationship. Its a good sign if that help involves some uncomfortable soul-searching and maybe even some loss of appetite(wouldn't some women consider losing weight a bonus?)
This particular man might not be "worth it" but it should be worth it to her to become a person capable of loving without abusing.

Posted by: martin at July 18, 2007 7:06 AM

Naturally, I got a lot of letters about this column, complaining, "But, it just happened once..."

No way. With someone who can say things like that, it doesn't just happen once. I'd lay money this is not the first time it's happened.

Posted by: kishke at July 18, 2007 7:30 AM

"I'd lay money this is not the first time it's happened."

Or even if it were the first, it almost certainly wouldn't have been the last.

Posted by: Lyn at July 18, 2007 8:02 AM

About six months ago I ended a relationship of two years with a guy who exhibited this same type of behavior. If he was angry or drunk, nothing was off-limits to taunt or berate me about...sure, when he calmed down or sobered up he would apologize, but he seemed to sincerely believe that what he said "didn't count" because he was angry or drunk, therefore I should know he "didn't mean it" and therefore should forgive him. Over and over again. It terrified me when I realized I was starting to fight back by doing the same thing. My life has been so, so much better since leaving him. By the way, a "steady stream of cards and flowers" sounds to me like borderline stalking...it's been two months, he's been clear that he doesn't want her back, and she's still pursuing him? She has issues in more than one area, and she needs to back off before she gets slapped with a restraining order. Just because you're angry doesn't mean you get a free pass to be as vile as you want to be, and no, an apology doesn't mean shit in most situations.

Posted by: amh18057 at July 18, 2007 8:47 AM

" ... but he seemed to sincerely believe that what he said "didn't count" because he was angry or drunk, therefore I should know he "didn't mean it" and therefore should forgive him"

These people just don't get it, do they. It doesn't matter to YOU that he was angry or drunk when he said it, or that he didn't really mean it, or that it "doesn't count." You just plain old don't want to LISTEN to this same old shit week after week, month after month, for the rest of your life! If he peed on your rug when he got drunk, would that be an excuse? It doesn't matter WHY he does it, it just matters that you don't want to tolerate it and don't have to!

This sounds like a guy I know. He's on his third marriage now, and it's always the same crap. Most of the time he's totally sweet in a very goofy, endearing way, but there's this lack of maturity or something that keeps him from being in control of himself when he gets drunk and angry. His sweetness melts away, and he's yelling at his wife, calling her a whore and all kinds of things. The last wife would simply shut down when he started up, which would only make him angrier. The new wife gets angry and fights back. She is a better fighter than the last wife and seems to win most of the time, but that's certainly not how I'd want to spend the rest of my life.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at July 18, 2007 9:11 AM

"Would it be okay if he had hit her " - Patrick

No - but if she slugged him first a slap back wouldn't be uncalled for. Men are stronger, yadda yadda yadda, but in the heat of a raging fight even a sane person can loose his/her cool. I don't condone physical violence to solve problems I'm just going off the example you gave... there's a difference b/w hitting b/c you've been hit and hitting b/c you're a psycho...

...If he called her a fat ugly slut then it might be hard for a person to stand there and take it. The proper thing to do in a situation like that is to walk away, cool off, then reapproach the initial disagreement with logical talking points later. Name calling and spewing insults doesn't help solve a problem.

Those are lessons a person should learn before getting into a relationship. My boyfriend and I have NEVER yelled insults at one another. It isn't necessary. Unless you're willing to allow your relationship to slip down that dirty, name calling slope, the key is to learn how to fight better.

...so, I find it hard to rush to label her as having an anger management problem. My father has one and it goes WAY beyond throwing out stinging insults. It surpasses lack of rationality and, in my experience, found the person w/ the anger problems feels little remorse. It's about being right. Apologizing would "bruise" such a persons' ego and would be admitting he/she was acting idiotically. And, it's usually not preceded by an event that would warrant such an outburst. We don't know what preempted her insult.

Now, it was a cruel thing to say and played off hurtful memories and painful emotions this guy must possess. She got him where it hurt the most.

*He doesn't want to forgive her* - this is the important point. Even if she's sincerely sorry and seeks therapy, the whole nine, she needs to come to terms w/ the fact that she fucked up and he ain't comin' back. The end.

Posted by: Gretchen at July 18, 2007 10:19 AM

The whole 'forgiveness' thing is interesting. Conventional wisdom tells us that it is the noble, moral thing to do and that it makes us better people. But don't rotten people always want everyone else to "forgive and forget" the rotten things they do? Don't they of course want to get away with it?

I appreciate the point Gretchen makes that you have to WANT to forgive someone. I also wonder how much of it we can really help - how much of it comes from a strictly gut, emotional level. Maybe forgiveness is something that just happens, like, either we're susceptible to poison ivy or we're not. Either this person makes me want to throw up every time I see them or not.

Once in a great rare while, I run across someone who I think is a complete jerk, and I write those people out of my life completely and permanently. How do you "forgive" someone for being an out-and-out jerk? All that really means is that you are going to ignore your common sense and let some creep keep invading your personal space and make your life a little bit less enjoyable every time they do it. Once I have that opinion of someone, I don't WANT to forgive them. What I want is to AVOID them.

This doesn't mean I have to dwell on who I hate, or sit around being bitter about it. I read the saying once that bitterness is like swallowing poison and then waiting for the OTHER person to die. It does no one any good. But yeah, if someone has shown himself to be a selfish ass or dishonest, or whatever, then I'm probably better off not having that person around. People like that tend to lose their friends, which is what they deserve.

Posted by: Pirate Jo at July 18, 2007 10:57 AM

Amy wrote this once, and it is just about my favorite quote.

Diagnosis: Asshole

Posted by: kg at July 18, 2007 12:07 PM

Pirate Jo wrote:
"Once in a great rare while, I run across someone who I think is a complete jerk, and I write those people out of my life completely and permanently. How do you "forgive" someone for being an out-and-out jerk? All that really means is that you are going to ignore your common sense and let some creep keep invading your personal space and make your life a little bit less enjoyable every time they do it. Once I have that opinion of someone, I don't WANT to forgive them. What I want is to AVOID them."

So true! I want to put that on my refrigerator! :-)

You can refuse to forgive someone and still take the high road. If the offending party is in my social circle, I am civil. I simply pretend he/she (usually he...gotta love dating) is a coworker I barely know, which helps me to be excrutiatingly polite, civil, and formal when we encounter each other. If we do not share mutual friends/genes, I prune them from my social tree by ignoring phone calls, deleting e-mails, and blocking them on myspace/facebook. This seems to be the route the LW's boyfriend has taken and it seems rather healthy to me.

That's not to say that she's a terrible person unworthy of love/human contact (hell, I've done/said some stupid things in my life that I'd love to be forgiven for but acknowledge that I never will be). It just means she's burned a bridge...and if she can't rebuild it, at least she can rebuild herself.

Posted by: sofar at July 18, 2007 1:23 PM

I don't have a problem forgiving anyone, but if that person is a real moron, I'll go out of my way to avoid having anything to do with them ever again. Just because I've forgiven someone doesn't mean I have to keep on interacting with them.

Posted by: Flynne at July 18, 2007 1:27 PM

martin writes:

The gender inversion angle is always worthy but you have to stay with equivalent terms. What this woman said was abusive.

I've been getting some feedback on this particular response of mine. I realize that beating someone is probably a step above making snide, sneering, vicious comments, but that's not the point I'm trying to make.

I'm addressing the argument that "just once" somehow makes it okay, or excusable. It doesn't. If she were beating their children but only did it "just once," it wouldn't make it excusable. "No wonder your mother disowned you, won't even take your calls, and tells all your other relatives what a horrible person you are."

In any case, the problem is not in the magnitude of the offense, or even in the number of offenses. The problem is what it revealed about her, not the least of which is that she's cruel and has a very unhealthy approach to conflict resolution. The fact that she did this "just once" does not somehow make it possible that she's not a mean, spiteful, vicious shrew.

Another example: If a guy comes home drunk, terrorizes his girlfriend by smashing everything in the house, waking and terrifying the children, what do you think she should do? Call the cops, or wait and see if he does it again before she decides that he's dangerous and needs to be out of her house and life?

Posted by: Patrick at July 18, 2007 2:30 PM

martin writes:

Its a good sign if that help involves some uncomfortable soul-searching and maybe even some loss of appetite(wouldn't some women consider losing weight a bonus?)

Just an aside here, but as a personal trainer, I can tell you that weight loss by way of stress does not produce flattering results. This probably isn't a good thing. When we're under stress, our bodies are getting all the available, fast, ready-to-use energy it can, that doesn't come from your body's fat reserves. Under stress, our bodies produce a hormone called cortisol, which has the wicked little purpose of breaking down every protein it encounters in order to utilize as carbohydrates (sugar, our bodies' energy, the difference between a molecule of sugar and a molecule of protein is nitrogen atoms). This protein can include those proteins in our blood, muscle and even organ tissue. Ever notice that people who stress alot tend to age faster?

Posted by: Patrick at July 18, 2007 2:37 PM

I think when people decide to write to advice columnist about something boneheaded they've done, there is in there the wish not to be entirely trashed, so she included the kind of surprising turn question at the end--"is a man worth this?" Because of course the universal response to a question like that is "hell no, girl!

Usually people who say stuff like this are very fragile inside--you'd have to be to fight this hard with someone you supposedly trust. Sometimes these people come off as monsters, sometimes they come off as quietly pathetic--I think of that great line in Heartburn when Nora Eprhron describes the cuckolded husband and the "smiling six year old who gently presses a snake into your hand."

By asking that kind of a question at the end, which seeks to problematize her (oh so ex) boyfriend's reaction, I think she had hoped that Amy would say, you've punished yourself enough, no man is worth it.

Posted by: susan at July 19, 2007 10:28 AM

Once in a great rare while, I run across someone who I think is a complete jerk, and I write those people out of my life completely and permanently.

I do this, too. My time is precious, and it's not to be wasted on assholes.

Furthermore, I generally write back and forth to people who write me to probe for details, so I generally dig up what they've been hiding. The truth is, there are two kinds of letters -- the kind from somebody who needs help (they're likely to tell the truth) and somebody who wants to have something printed in the paper to get revenge or prove a point.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 19, 2007 11:26 AM

What I think some people don't realize - or don't fully consider the implications of - is that EVERY destructive/hurtful/unacceptable pattern of behavior starts with someone doing something "just once." You know those true crime stories of sociopaths who terrorize their spouses and attempt to/succeed in killing them? All of those started with "just one" instance of unacceptable behavior, too. Rare is the person who is SO screwed up that he or she is willing to become platonically or romantically emotionally intimate with a person who is just an unrelieved jerk to begin with.

Is saying something nasty on the same moral level as, say, attempted murder? Of course not. But co-existing with an emotionally abusive partner causes serious emotional damage and often long-term trauma. Some patterns of behavior are just not acceptable in an ongoing relationship, and one in which one partner hits way below the emotional belt out of typical relationship-related frustration is one of those patterns.

I actually think a lot of things that aren't tolerable in relationships could be if there were some ironclad force prohibiting them from being done more than once. The problem with, say, cocaine use isn't that someone decides to try it out once in order to see what it's like. That comes when that someone sells your car and takes out a second mortgage on the house to fund his/her habit of hanging around crack houses. Etc.

Now, all that having been said...could I ever see myself saying that remark? Sure...if I were breaking up with someone because of his unacceptable behavior and he said something nasty about me. When people try to drag me down into the gutter, I tend to hit below the belt and walk away as they sputter. But I wouldn't be writing in to Amy whining, "Are men worth it?"...because I would never expect that person to talk to me again. That remark would be intended to ENSURE that the person in question never bothered me again. Does that make me a bitch? Sure, but I promise that, if I ever write in to Amy, my dilemma will be less eyeball-rolling-worthy than this one. (I'll try to involve feathers. And purple hair. And maybe a cat or two...)

Posted by: marion at July 19, 2007 9:08 PM

Just to play devil's advocate here - why doesn't his daughter speak to him? Why did he and his wife get divorced?

I just want to throw out the idea that, as nasty a comment as it was, maybe there are underlying issues on both sides. Maybe she was responding a similar below-the-belt comment, as someone else suggested. Does that excuse her behavior? No. But maybe she doesn't deserve to be completely written off. We don't know the backstory. And forgive me, but “No wonder your wife divorced you and your daughter doesn’t speak to you!” is not on the same level as physical abuse.

Posted by: grace at July 20, 2007 8:55 AM

as someone who wasted 5 yrs in a relationship that was physically & emotionally abusive; I can say that the emotional hurt way more than the physical. Once you're away from the person, the physical stops; and aside from being a bit claustraphobic for a few yrs, and easily startled, that was the only side effect. The emotional part took years to get over and some therapy. When I think about the worst parts of that relationship, what I remember is the yelling.

anywho... maybe she'll learn something from this - when you argue, you can try to win, or you can try to make your opinion known & compromise. A lot of good it does to win an arguement if it means you're the only one 'savoring' your victory.

Posted by: T at July 20, 2007 3:28 PM

"Just to play devil's advocate here - why doesn't his daughter speak to him? Why did he and his wife get divorced?"

Immaterial. You don't say cutting things to a person if you love them. Clearly, she doesn't.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 20, 2007 7:43 PM

Oh yeah, and Marion is right above. As usual.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at July 20, 2007 7:44 PM

I would NEVER say that to a guy, especially if I was supposedly in love with him. I agree with the assessment, that this woman wanted to win at any cost. She needs therapy.

I've been in a psychologically abusive relationship too. My ex was into the little knife in the back digs, and when I would call him on it, he would say I was imagining things. (Passive-aggressive much?) He was funny because he broke up with his last girlfriend because he said he wanted an intelligent woman, but he treated me like an idiot, and every chance he got he tried to undermine my self-confidence. I would ask him why he thought he wanted a smart woman every time he did this. The relationship didn't last long because I was happier without him.

Posted by: Chrissy at July 21, 2007 6:22 AM

"Just to play devil's advocate here - why doesn't his daughter speak to him? Why did he and his wife get divorced?"

I wonder the same thing. I do realize that she admits to saying this "out of anger," but to read many of the responses here, it seems some believe telling the man why he is divorced and his daughter doesn't speak to him is always wrong.

The divorce part implies nothing to me, but the fact that the daughter doesn't speak to him COULD be very telling (of course, wacko ex could have poisoned her).

My advice to the man: "Dump this abuser, but if your next three GFs also attempt to tell you why your daughter doesn't speak to you, listen."

Posted by: ron lewis at July 21, 2007 11:09 AM

Healthy partner: "Honey, it's difficult for me to say this, but I think it's something that needs to be discussed. I know the reason you don't want to go to X party/go on an outing with X family/cringe when you see the children on the 'Harry Potter' posters is that your daughter doesn't speak to you. I know it's horribly painful for you, but have you thought about *why* that might have happened? Are there any lessons you could learn from the situation? I really think a good counselor could provide some insight here."

See? That's how it's done. Telling someone out of anger that it's HIS FAULT (and implying that it's ALL HIS FAULT) that people are behaving toward him in ways that are causing him incredible pain? Not helpful. Not fair - for those of you saying, "well, what did he do?", unless he's an absolute monster, there's no way that he is SOLELY responsible for the dissolution of his marriage and rift with his child. And not something one says to someone with whom one wishes to stay in a relationship.

Healthy/happy romantic relationships can take many different forms - gay, straight, God-centered, atheism-centered, Western, Eastern, Northern, Southern, child-having, not-child-having, you name it. Right now, some happy couple is at the supermarket amiably bickering over which flavor of chocolate ice cream to get. Another is at home reading _Harry Potter_ and exclaiming over its twists and turns. Another is, separately, pouring over baseball statistics on the Web (her) and preparing dinner for the six guests who will be coming over this evening (him). Etc.

But there are SOME threads of commonality in every healthy emotional relationship. One of those is trust. Taking someone's deep emotional pain and using it as a cudgel to win an argument violates that trust in a very profound way, and the person who does it is highly unlikely to do it just once and then never do it again.

Put it another way: Say she weighed 200 pounds, and hated being overweight. Say that, during the middle of an intense fight having NOTHING TO DO WITH FOOD, her boyfriend had blurted out, "No wonder you can't slim down - you have no control over yourself!" Say that this were true - that her weight issues were caused by her problems with overeating. Would people be making excuses for him? Telling her that she should forgive him? I don't think so. If you can't trust the person that you're with, then what's the point of being with that person? Good sex can be had elsewhere, trust me.

This woman used one of this man's deepest sources of pain in order to best him in an argument, and appears to be shocked that that was a deal-breaker for him. Would you want to date her? Really? Have fun!

Posted by: marion at July 21, 2007 11:46 AM

"in which case I can revert to all the handy lessons I learned at the Joseph Stalin school of seduction."

i object. stalin was actually quite a romantic in his younger years.

Posted by: red at July 22, 2007 10:50 PM

Maybe the guy really did do something awful, for her to say she sees why his wife left and his daughter won't talk to him.... But then why would she want him back?

Posted by: Breez at July 25, 2007 3:40 PM

Hi Breez,
What you suggest seems possible to me but LW certainly doesn't mention it and you'd think she would. I think her final question is the real nub of the issue: "Is a man really worth this?"

I think she is asking "Amy, aren't we gals supposed to get a pass for this kind of thing?" Maybe she is not comfortable with this level of introspection. Maybe she is used to relationships with high intensity but little real nurturing of each other.

At any rate, they are probably better off apart.

Posted by: martin at August 3, 2007 6:58 AM

Excellent insights and discussion.

I have another perspective, which Grace and Ron touched upon. It's speculative, and my idea in no way discounts the truth in Amy's response, and the subsequent discussion. We should never wound someone so deeply in the heat of an argument.

But this man's wife *did* leave him. His daughter doesn’t *speak* to him, an extremely telling fact.

This incident reminds me of a dreadful relationship I had with a narcissist, who was able to bring out the worst in me during our dreadful, dreadful arguments. It is possible that he is a narcissist who brings out the ugliest side of his partner.

Only perhaps 1 in 100 is a narcissist, and narcissists inflict the most damage on those closest to them. Therefore, most people haven't been drawn into the ugly kinds of arguments that happen with narcissistic partners. Being drawn into a wrenching narcissistic argument and behaving abominably, is different from behaving abominably during "normal relationship arguments.”

The letter echoed with me. I behaved well in relationships before and after Mr. Narcissist, and it's possible this woman narrowly escaped. OTOH it's also possible that she is the ugly narcissist. Truly, she shows insufficient clue that what she said was unacceptable. I am curious if her relationships prior to this man were more peaceable.

Respectfully,
Renee

Posted by: Renee at October 14, 2007 12:00 PM

Use of a person's self-revalations and personal history as a weapon against them is a form of emotional blackmail. It is a hallmark of emotional manipulators and even sociopaths. I think this guy was right to run like the wind. Even if this woman (I should say 'girl,' judging by her actions) wasn't trying to emotionally blackmail, her words indicate that she lacks shame and a sense of how her actions affect others. And if she's acting like this at age 36, she probably will not change. I think her ex-boyfriend was wise to get steppin.

Many men I know have come up against this tactic. In this age of 'feelings,' we've been encouraged to open our souls to women, only to have our words used against us later. The result? We clam up and go about our business. I've come to the conclusion that in all actuality, most women really are not all that interested in our feelings. They are interested in talking to us about THEIR feelings while we nod our heads in agreement. (Picture man nodding head in simulated agreement while he thinks about something else. That's about how it works.)

Posted by: metalman at November 2, 2007 5:39 PM

Amy,

Just in-case you still see comments from columns this far back: I don't disagree with your advice here, really. The guy's clearly already made his decision and your advice takes that (and her attitude towards the incident) into account.

However, my wife and I have been together nearly 25 years. My parents were for 40, until Dad's death. My in-laws are celebrating their 50th this year. None of these marriages would have lasted without the ability to forgive a few incidents at least as bad as this one.

You maintain your own household and are childless. So, you can always be alone when the world closes in and you lose it. Many of us share our homes with partners and don't have that luxury.

Shit happens, and sometimes it boils over and hurts those you love the most. All of us try, very hard, to keep that from happening, but none of us are perfect.

Let's see, in the past decade or so these three couples have weathered: Death of a husband and father, followed by 5 more deaths of extended family over the next 12 months; near death of two children in unrelated accidents; terminal cancer plus 2 more cancer scares; forced early retirement and another loss of a career from outsourcing; 1 menopause; 1 male midlife crisis; death of 2 beloved family pets; 2 disabling injuries, 1 fixable, the other not and worsening year-by-year; and I'm going to stop now before I ruin today's good mood.

That kind of stress has resulted in a couple of truly legendary arguments between my wife and me, with some truly awful things said on both sides. Then we make up, tearfully forgive one another for our flaws, fix what's fixable and accept what isn't, and move on. Why? Because we're crazy in-love with each other and we've seen over and over in our friends where the other path leads.

Zero tolerance and mandatory sentencing are bad ideas, whether in court or in a relationship.

Posted by: Name Withheld at February 11, 2008 9:17 AM

Actually, I'll direct you to another column for an answer:

http://www.advicegoddess.com/ag-column-archives/2007/06/for_bitter_or_f.html

Even if I didn't have a boyfriend, I wouldn't be alone because I have strong friendships. My friend Cathy Seipp died of cancer, and a group of her friends took care of her, and were with her minute by minute, hour by hour in the year before she died, and not because we were married to her or sleeping with her.

Posted by: Amy Alkon [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 11, 2008 9:29 AM

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