First published July 27 2009, TWiR on Ravelry.com.
This week I’m doing things a little differently. I received what could possibly be considered the LONGEST MESSAGE EVER and attempts to edit it for length have failed me. This week’s column will feature a single letter broken down into pieces and responded to as such. Normally I would focus on the letter as a whole but there are so many situations here that deserve to be addressed individually before they are tied together.
So let’s do this like Brutus, people…
Dear Auntie Bubbopants,
I think I might be on the verge of being a wiener, and possibly a jerkwalter and lately I have definitely been acting like what Chester would call “a little”.
I only got turned onto your column last week but I’ve gone back now and read all the archives and I know I can count on you to tell it like it is and to tell me I’m being a weenus if that IS what I’m being.
So here goes…
I’m in my mid-twenties and my husband is in his mid-thirties. We’ll call my husband Dieter. We’ve been married for 5 years and together for 7. We met on the internet and our relationship just took off like a rocket. Everything was ‘right’ and I knew really early on that he was ‘the one’ that we would get married and live happily ever after. Except I was quite young and I don’t think anyone had ever told me that even when you’re with the right person it is not always happily ever after. Sometimes it’s lovely and sometimes it’s grumbling over why he never shuts the napkin drawer when he sets the table and why I sometimes scream in my sleep for no reason. And sometimes it’s terrible sometimes it’s fighting and I hate you and I should never have married you and you make me sick (from him) and a lot of crying and if you loved me you wouldn’t say those things and I gave up my entire life to be with you how could you do this to me (from me).
As a bit of background I had an abusive and very controlling childhood (my mother being the perpetrator of this abuse) and as you’ve touched on in past columns this has created a lot of problems for me in my adult life. BUT since I’ve been seeing someone for counselling I’m slowly becoming better able to handle myself to avoid my ‘patterns’ and Dieter and I have been fighting less. I believe he might need some talking therapy of his own because he has anger issues and we definitely need marriage counselling to make real progress but things aren’t horrible. We are best friends and when we’re not arguing things are peachy. Except we don’t have sex. Ever. Starting about 6 months after we got married and moved in together (I had to move some distance to accomplish this so we never lived together before the wedding) our sex life started dying and it’s gotten to the point where, according to my diary, we’ve only had sex twice in the last 10 months. I’m always up for it (I have a high sex drive and this could be down to a hormonal condition I have or it might just be how I am…) and I try to initiate it, jump him, wear sexy outfits, etc. with no joy. I’ve read a lot of your advice on this problem and I’m glad I’m not the only woman out there to feel this way. From your advice to other readers I think Dieter might be depressed and I think he needs to work through that on his own with a therapist as well as us working through our issues together in couples counselling before things will get better in this area but it’s not enough to make me give up and, surprisingly, this is not why I’m writing.
As a society we like to talk about and view the concept of ‘love’ in very altruistic terms. Love is about giving and forgiving and doing so much for the other person. Love is about sacrifice.
In many ways, yes, love can be very altruistic and lead us to great self sacrifice. The other truth is that love, the act of falling in love, the very animal act of finding a mate and pair bonding, is a very selfish and self serving act. The very necessity of keeping a species populated and healthy requires a certain amount of selfish reasoning behind picking a mate. If this were not true, then female deer would hump whatever male instead of allowing themselves to become one of a harem to the strongest male. They are making the selfish choice to follow that buck which can provide to them the best food and the strongest genes. Sure, they don’t ‘choose’ this in the human sense, but again, for the strength of their species it is a necessity.
As humans we also do this but we call it other things, “compatibility”, “mutual interests”, “desires”, “strong firm buttocks”. We love people for selfish reasons, “I love him because he make me feel good…because he’s so sexy and hot…because we have the same interests…because he treats me better than anyone else…”
There is also a lot of projection that happens when you first meet someone. You see them as you want to see them, you project your values and experiences on to them. That’s why we are sometimes so shocked…SHOCKED when suddenly they are just not “who they were when we met them!”.
The reason I bring all this up is to address the phenomenon of internet relationships. I like the internet and it has done so much to bring people together. People who under normal circumstances may never have met are now meeting and forming relationships that never could have happened and that’s wonderful. It’s wonderful but it comes with consequences we’d not previously considered. The person on the other side of the monitor is only a series of pixels and bits. The words and photos are there but it’s your mind, your experiences, your values and your emotions that fill in all the blanks. You never had a chance to take the time to learn about who he really was as a person and vice versa. You talked a lot, but it isn’t often that his inability to close a napkin drawer or any of the other seemingly uninteresting minutia come up in conversation.
I never close the silverware drawer. I don’t. I don’t know why. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not even something I ever noticed until David pointed it out. It drives him nuts. Had we met through the internet over a long distance, it not a thing that would have ever come up in conversation and he never would have imagined it to exist.
The reality of the internet relationship is that it does not matter how well you ‘know’ a person, you will not ‘know’ what they are like in reality until you spend some time there with them…in reality.
As such, it’s no wonder that things seems so surprisingly different! You didn’t fall in love with a man who leaves the drawers open! What the hell!
And then there’s the sex! There are no less that 9 pantillion factors that go into sexual attraction and compatibility! No lie! But the better part of sexual attraction HAS to be determined in person. Again, as much as we like to pretend that we are reasonable beings that can choose physical attractions based on intellectual pursuits we are not. We are still animals and sex and sexual attraction is still (and always will be) a very animal pursuit. A very large part of sexual attraction is still mired in finding a mate that will provide the best outcome for offspring. Even if you are never ever planning on having kids you still don’t get to turn that part off. You want good strong offspring, you want to know that they will be safe and cared for. This is true of both partners. One very huge factor is immune systems. Studies have found that we are generally attracted to people who have very different immune systems from our own. What the hell does this have to do with anything? Mixing disparate immune systems is going to give the offspring a much better chance of survival.
How do we know who has the best immune system match for us? We can smell it!! Sniff sniff! In addition to signals involving your immune system you are also picking up all kinds of other information about this person’s biology. It is this information that can never travel across the internet and it is this information that makes the rules of attraction so damned perplexing. Why does this person SEEM so perfect and yet there just is no spark? no attraction?
I’m writing a lot of paragraphs to say that no matter how well you clicked over the internet, it does sound like there were far too many factors not accounted for before you got married but are now becoming too big to ignore. and I’m only talking about the physical ones. It sounds like both of you are in emotional situations that are hindering your progress. You are taking steps on those and it sounds like more steps need to be taken.
But again, you say this isn’t why you are writing to me. You are writing to me about your recent weenus behavior and the issues that are coming from that. Oh you weenus! Let’s talk about you and your weenus behavior.
I am writing because I have suddenly become 13 years old again and I’ve met a man and I’ve gone completely insane-head-over-heels-OMG-I-want-you-take-me-now for him. What I feel for this guy (we’ll call him Franklin) is not like any other crush I’ve ever had before. I’m very much the kind of person who is attracted to people’s personalities and not their physicalities. I’ve never been this physically attracted to any man or woman I’ve ever known/been with/dated/admired from afar/seen in films/etc. This isn’t to say I don’t fancy Dieter (I do!) but Dieter is not what my close friend Gaga would call my X-Factor. And Franklin so very definitely is. Gaga has this theory that somewhere out there there is that one person for everyone who embodies all of the things that they find ideally physically attractive. The person who embodies the exact apex of someone’s “type” and that when/if you meet this person fireworks and electricity and insane sexual desire overtake you because this is the person all your fantasies are about. The idealised fantasy person that you think about when you pull out your Rabbit for a little ‘me time’.
Franklin is this to me. He is SO my X-Factor. The first time I saw him I was blown away. He’s my age and we work in the same building (over 1000 people work here and we’re in completely different departments). He’s a lunch mate of a guy in my department we’ll call Eerie and the first time I saw him was in the canteen. He is tall, dark, and handsome but more than that he ticks all the boxes of things I find attractive. He has kind brown eyes, strong hands, a big mouth not just big lips but a wide, completely melt-your-pants-off smile, and he is skinny and wears glasses. But he is gorgeous…he could have come out of a magazine. Anyway Eerie often invited me to eat lunch with his crew but I was too shy and until Gaga started working in my team I didn’t have the courage. We started eating with them in November and the first time I talked to Franklin we just clicked. It was so easy. We got into a debate about feminism and things just went on from there. We e-mail eachother every day and just chat and joke around and he is kind, and sweet, and funny, and dorky, and we have a LOT in common.
You know what, I bet you and Franklin DO have a lot in common and I bet you do have lots of fun together! I have no doubt that he is super awesome!
But I do question WHY he seems so awesome.
I don’t think Franklin is special. I don’t think he’s special in that I don’t think he is much different from most people. What I do think is that he represents to you all that you do not have. He represents your projection of a better alternative. Once again, you are projecting your needs and wants onto a person in order to fill in the blanks. The only thing different here is that you have the benefit of proximity. Your body can smell his pheromones and add that to the overall assessment.
I haven’t had a close guy friend since my best friend who we’ll call Trogdor went into the army just before I got married and moved away. We used to hang out all the time and chat and drink or go out to eat and we were just…close. And I missed that so much. With Franklin when we go out together it’s so easy just like it was with Trogdor. And though Trogdor wasn’t my X-Factor our friendship was born of a mutual attraction that we never acted on. I’d forgotten how good it felt to have a close friend as since I’ve moved to be with Dieter I’ve been pretty isolated and haven’t found anyone that I could say I was that close to. But now I have Gaga and Franklin and I feel so lucky.
The only problem is my insane attraction to Franklin is getting to be a problem. I really feel like it could not only ruin our friendship but also my marriage. Because I have NEVER felt this way before and while I know I am essentially a good person, who wouldn’t cheat, and who has strong resolve and self-control I do NOT feel in control of my feelings for him and while I don’t think I’d act on this I’m really not sure anymore. I get sexually aroused just being in the same room as him.
Flirting like this is very similar to the beginnings of an online relationship. It’s new and fresh and you blush. Here’s this person that you like expressing interest in YOU! and you are expressing interest in them. There you are, bright plumage waving wildly all over the forest floor and all you want is to put his plumage all over yours and isn’t that exciting?
Sure, it’s exciting!
Now, answer me this: does he close the napkin drawer? does he leave errant toothpaste blobs in the sink? does he rinse out the tuna cans before he puts them in the recycling bag? does he sort the laundry by color and fabric? does he check the pockets before throwing your pants in the machine?
What have you sacrificed so far? Nothing really. But what happens if you ‘sacrifice’ your marriage for this and it turns out that he is not ‘x-factor’ but just ‘regular factor’? Not much? Really? Are you sure?
a lot of crying and if you loved me you wouldn’t say those things and I gave up my entire life to be with you how could you do this to me (from me).
Think about it some more. Really, think about it.
Gaga and I have talked about this (almost endlessly) for weeks and it just seems like he’s into me as well. Though I doubt that he could be as into me as I am to him. This is amazing for me. I’ve always felt ugly and unattractive (the Dieter flinching when I touch him sexually and pushing me away if I try to cuddle is really not good for already rock bottom self-esteem) and when I first saw Franklin it made me depressed because I fancied him so much and I knew, just KNEW he’d never even speak to me let alone fancy me because who would EVER do that? Especially someone as X-Factor as him. But we do talk and we hang out and we have SO much fun and I really do think he has feelings for me. Things have got quite flirty lately. He’s touching me in completely innocent but purposeful ways when he has no reason/need to. (Which makes my whole body feel electric and burn like my chest is on fire) And the way he looks at me and the way he smiles at me is not how he looks or smiles at Gaga or Pigeon or any of the other girls we hang out with. Pigeon has noticed it recently (I haven’t told her any of this) and commented that she thinks we’d make a cute couple.
So this is my dilemma. I’m afraid that if I continue this friendship and one night he leans in to kiss me I won’t pull away. And I don’t want to be emblazoned with the Scarlet Letter but I know myself and Gaga knows me. And she thinks that we’ve started something that if we let it continue will end in something like that happening. I don’t want to stop seeing him because the friendship is so important and I’ve missed being close with people since I moved to this strange country. BUT my marriage is important to me too. With Franklin I know that even if we could be happy in a relationship together it wouldn’t be ‘right’ he’s not ‘the one’. He might be my X-Factor but I’m really only interested in him for sex…not necessarily his body (which is awesome) but the electric feeling that we generate. And I don’t want to leave Dieter. I’ve come to feel that our marriage is more like one of friends who live together and cuddle sometimes than it is a proper relationship. I’ve started to think that maybe I married too young and that although he’s ‘right’ it’s still not going to work. It might yet end, but at this stage I’m not ready to give up.
When Franklin and I were out last night and we were chatting about my marriage. I told him about the problems Dieter and I were having before I thought he was into me…I try not to talk about it too much now because it feels weird. But I told him about it before when we were ‘just friends’ and I don’t see any reason to stop acting like anything other than ‘just friends’ since nothing has actually happened so we talked. He asked me if I’d ever cheat and I had to say that I didn’t think so, but that if the right person and I were in that situation I honestly don’t know what I’d do. It’s the truth…
I know I should stop hanging out with Franklin just the two of us but I don’t want to for so many reasons.
But I don’t want to be ‘that woman’ and I don’t want to wreck my marriage and I do love Dieter.
At this stage I’ve not done anything wrong. Dieter knows where I go when I’m with Franklin and he knows we’re friends and he’s ok with that. But he’s also insecure because of our problems and though he’d never say anything and is not the jealous type I’m afraid that if I spend more and more time with Franklin (both alone and with ‘the crew’) that Dieter will feel isolated and alone. He doesn’t have or want friends of his own and until I started going out it was just us in the house alone together all the time on evenings and weekends. I just stayed in and read or knit…and now I am so happy to go out and have friends. And I just love the electricity when Franklin and I are together. If we could keep going on as friends and I could let this desire fizzle out that would be perfect because we really do have so much in common and get on so well and I’m not just saying that because I want to jump his bone. I wouldn’t make a move myself and I think he’s too principled to make a move on a married woman, even one he has chemistry with…but who knows?
Oh, Bubbopants, what do YOU think I should do? Because I can’t trust my own judgement anymore. Gaga and my father both say I should just continue being friends. That I’ll know when I’ve crossed ‘that line’ and that I need to re-evaluate if that ever does happen. My dad has also said that some of his best friends have grown out of some fierce flirting/attracting and that I’ll get over these feelings sooner than it feels like I will.
Very confusedly but still so crazy-in-lust,
What do I think? I think you are being a damned weenus. That’s what I think. I think it’s time for you to stop being 13, to stop being a little and start assessing all the factors here in a real and mature way.
You are married to Dieter. Dieter is the man to whom you are married. You and Dieter entered into a committed relationship and in the contract you made some serious promises. This contract does obligate you to certain behaviors and actions.
What are your obligations? Your obligations are to make every good faith effort towards a successful relationship. You’ve started down this road, you are in therapy and this is helping you and it is helping the relationship. Marriage counseling is a definite second step.
What else? I want you to spend some real and solid time ALONE with your thoughts. I want you to evaluate as objectively as possible your motivations for entering into the relationship and subsequent marriage to Dieter. You say you gave up so much to be with him, but there is a secret part of you that you don’t want to recognize exists. There is a part of you that wants to reconstruct that sentiment a bit to have it read
I gave up my entire life to be with the person I imagined you to be how could you do this to me.
You filled in so many blanks and then jumped in and now you find that your assumptions were incorrect. Well, that happens and it means you have a lot of thinking to do. Are the differences between what you imagined and what is reality so different that you are unable to reconcile them? Are they close enough that you can work on them?
If you truly are unhappy in your marriage I would never advocate that you stay, but I strongly recommend that you make the effort to accept your responsibility in the matter.
You and Dieter aren’t having sex very often and a lack of sexual intimacy in a relationship can be the result of any number of issues on the relationship issue spectrum. Maybe there truly is a lack of physical attraction beyond the visual. Maybe the degradation of your relationship has cooled the sexual feelings. Maybe Dieter has physical or emotional issues that do not involve you specifically but as a result you are not getting the regular humping. Whatever the reason, it needs to be addressed and explored. He might need to address it in private talk therapy or it needs to be dealt with in marriage counseling, either way, it needs to be dealt with.
As for Franklin? Walk away. Period. I don’t care how the chemistry feels, I don’t care how ‘cute’ you look when you are together, I don’t care how much fun you have with him. Franklin is NOT your x-factor. He is not. Franklin is a symptom of your unhappiness. Franklin is the cough that indicates pneumonia. If you don’t focus on the pneumonia you aren’t going to get better.
You are obligated by your marriage to focus your energy on your marriage. If, after making an effort in good faith you find that you still cannot reconcile your differences, then you work to end the marriage. THEN and only THEN can you start focusing on other people. I don’t mean this to sound like a prudey traditional marriage kind of thing. What I want you to understand is that for you Franklin or his replacements will always be a sort of life preserver in the boat of your marriage. It can be comforting to know that they exist, but in the end what they do is give you permission to ignore the hole in the bottom of the boat. Why should you worry about the boat sinking? It’s not like you are going to drown so long as you have your Franklin nearby, right? It’s easier to just let the boat fill up and sink away from you while you hold onto Franklin.
The thing about sinking boats is that they will suck you down with them.
It’s not enough to hold on to your life preserver. You need to turn around and work on the boat and keep it afloat. The world is FULL of Franklins. Just packed full of them. And maybe with Franklin you can find a sturdier and more seaworthy boat, but until you learn how to maintain a boat on your own, it won’t matter what anyone offers you.
1. Stop being a weenus
2. Marriage counseling
3. Assess the much larger situation of your marriage
4. Recognize Franklin for what he is, a representation of your own yearnings
5. Stop being a weenus
6. Whether or not your marriage with Dieter has a future, Franklin cannot be a factor in that.