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Y’all read “Ask Polly”, right?

She’s so good.

“But you know what? Some guys are funny and supportive and caring but they still don’t love you the way you want to be loved. They might be perfectly wonderful to spend time with, but there’s a point where too much wishy-washy nothingness, too much going with the flow, too much “Let’s wait and see,” adds up to an empty feeling in the pit of your stomach. You don’t know what to do about it, so instead of throwing a fit or walking out the door, you become someone who exists in the margins, someone who can tuck herself into the background and make do with whatever leftovers come her way.”

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91 comments
  1. *suspicious look*

    You’re not reading my gmail draft folder, are you?

  2. mamacitaconpistoles said:

    In the margins, accepting Dainty Little Bites of love. (As discussed at Shapely Prose.)

    • Element_Girl said:

      That last paragraph made me tear up

  3. I thought Polly inferred a lot of information that really wasn’t in the letter. I thus found her advice pretty off-kilter.

    • I thought so too. Her advice would be good if she’s inferring correctly, but there really isn’t enough information in the letter to tell either way.

    • Parse The Potatoes said:

      That was my first reaction (and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought that).
      My second reaction was to go through the list of things I thought Polly inferred, and try to see what in the letter supported those inferences. Just because I can’t hear the bees buzzing, doesn’t mean they aren’t there – and it may be that I just don’t know the signs to look for.
      The big inference that I’m still having trouble resolving is “you’re in a relationship with someone who’s not interested in compromising or meeting you where you are and never has been.” The main support for that in the letter (that I can see) is “He is right this is a risk, as I do sometimes feel resentful about compromises or decisions we’ve made, like choosing where to live, which has caused problems between us.” I’m seeing that the LW has compromised some – and I acknowledge that she’s not happy with those compromises now – but I don’t see how Polly is inferring that LW is the only one who has compromised. Notably, I’m not seeing any red flags that suggest that her boyfriend wouldn’t compromise – and the fact that the boyfriend is worried about the LW becoming resentful (in my eyes) is a sign that he takes into account the LW’s feelings.
      The other thing that might support this inference is the troubles the LW comments about in the second-to-last paragraph – about feeling unsettled, unsure, and generally unhappy. Those troubles resonate (too) close to home with me, though I know that mine aren’t because of a relationship (as I’m not in one). I don’t know where my lived experience falls on the bell curve. It’s entirely possible that LW is feeling this way because of an uncompromising boyfriend; I just know that’s not the only reason to feel that way.

      • Just because I can’t hear the bees buzzing, doesn’t mean they aren’t there – and it may be that I just don’t know the signs to look for.

        I am writing that down and cherishing it forever.

      • Beth B said:

        Yes, I thought so too. It wasn’t bad advice, but it was good advice aimed squarely at one possible interpretation of the situation, with barely even lip service given to any other interpretation when the letter really didn’t make it clear which was accurate. I kept waiting as I read for Polly to turn to “Okay, if you’ve thought all this over and searched your heart and decided that he does make compromises and meet you halfway, here’s some advice for that situation,” and… nope.

        • sanna said:

          I got the sense that Polly had gone through a similar experience and maybe was projecting a bit.

  4. Oh, HIM. I dated him. Repeatedly. (The same one, I mean; in my close and entangled social circle we used to refer to him as the Once and Future Boyfriend, due to his tendency to recur in people after long periods of remission.)

    Part way through my second-last breakup with him a friend of mine said, fairly mildly, “you know, I actually sort of admire his commitment to living life on his own terms. But he seriously needs a warning label.”

    There is something particularly tricky about the sweet, reasonable, loving partner who is more than happy to have as many good, honest talks about things as you could ever want — but they are just not going to change their mind. Ever. At least, not as a result of discussion.

    Which basically leaves you with “consensus by exhaustion”, which is not quite the same as “the biggest jerk drives the bus”, but the results are extremely similar. You’re willing to compromise. They are, ultimately, not.

    IOW I am inclined to think that Polly inferred correctly, based on the fact that I kind of recognise the flinch pattern of the LW, and suspect Polly did too.

    • but they are just not going to change their mind. Ever

      How should they change their mind about having children? Should LW just talk him into exhaustion so he agrees just to keep her? I am honestly confused about how the boyfriend is the bad guy in this. He used his words. He said from day one he didn’t want kids. She has changed her mind and that’s sad, but that doesn’t mean he is obliged to do so as well. After all, if he agrees and then regrets it you can’t just drop the kids off at the animal shelter for rehoming.

      • miss_chevious said:

        I didn’t see him as being a bad guy, I saw him as being a bad boyfriend to the LW. If she is changing and he is not, they aren’t good together and that relationship needs to be over. I think it’s more about LW recognizing that her boyfriend isn’t going to change than an admonition that he should.

      • About kids, they shouldn’t. Neither of them should, and, again, “I’ve been okay with it” is not a ringing endorsement of the childfree lifestyle, especially when it’s “I’ve been okay with it but my choice is about to become irrevocable and I’m not so okay.”

        This is why — as you doubtless noticed — I didn’t mention the kids thing in this comment. At all.

        I get why people are getting stuck on that bit, because it’s a popular hot button. But I really wasn’t reacting to that bit because I don’t think anyone – including LW – is arguing that he should change his mind. LW is very clear that a life with this guy is not a life with kids. What she’s trying to decide is whether or not that is an acceptable tradeoff.

        The actual debate there is between “leave him if you want kids” and “reopen the subject in case he’s also been reconsidering and if not then leave him if you want kids.”

        And, realistically, probably LW leaves, but there’s a lot of value in having absolute clarity on the dealbreakers when you’re considering breaking up after 12 years.

        What I’m getting from the letter is not “we normally compromise on things, but on kids there’s no compromise.”

        What I’m getting is the hum of bees, and those bees are called “This is how decision-making works: he’s sweet, he’s supportive, he listens, we talk things out until we’ve beaten the subject into the ground… and then we do the thing that works out for him.”

        And that’s a problem and it would be a problem if kids were not an issue. It’s related to the kids question only in that I’m getting a very strong impression that LW’s feelings about kids are becoming a dealbreaker now instead of a decade ago because he’s been reasoning her into “appropriate” feelings a lot.

        Which I may be wrong about. Maybe I’m hearing bees and it’s actually somebody’s phone on vibrate. But we’re all clear that we’re speculating on the available data with this one, with no way to get further info, yes?

    • Jane said:

      sorry if double-posting, but I also recognized this flinch pattern.

      I simultaneously am SPOKEN TO by this advice and am having troubles synthesizing it with other advice that I believe to be good and true. Like: according to the Good Book of Awkward, we don’t do FEELINGSdumps, we don’t argue with people who say that we are broken up with, we approach dating from a position of abundance, and YET we are supposed to expect this sort of dramatic declaration of intense feelings in response to us not being sure if we want to leave a relationship??? What gives???

      For me, the advice speaks more to the great difficulty of balancing vulnerability and emotional authenticity with yourself AND respect for the emotional needs and autonomy of another person AND reasonable expectations AND honoring your own desire and right to feel joy and satisfaction in a relationship. Because, yeah, based on the letter I read, I got the same vibe that Polly did — this is a relationship where the writer is living in the margins and gradually cutting off all the pieces of herself which are inconvenient to her partner. Maybe that’s because virtually all of the heterosexual relationships I have witnessed in real life have that EXACT same dynamic — I think that’s kind of the default expectation for a male-partnered woman in certain (very common) cultural milieus. Most of my female relatives are in the process of gradually diminishing themselves in service of their partners’ preferences and needs. Most of my female friends who are interested in being partnered with men have had at least brief relationships where the guy unconsciously assumed that she was going to compromise but he sure wasn’t. They weren’t actively bad people! They weren’t malicious or unkind! They just had no capacity to provide support to the women in their lives on an equal level to the support they received from them. And yeah: a big portion of my female acquaintance ends up saying, “okay, I want more support than this, I feel like I deserve more support than this, but I also don’t want to be alone anymore, so I am going to give up on that part of myself who demands to be treated like an equal person with equally important desires and hopes and needs.”

      And yeah, depending on where you live, holding on to those desires and hopes and needs means you’re going to be single.

      In the actual letter, I don’t think the LW has a future with this guy. As many other commenters have pithily noted, there is no halfway point between kids and no kids (well, I can imagine some, but I doubt they would be satisfactory to someone who feels a deep desire for biological children.)

      The LW probably should have talked earlier about how she is unhappy, yes. But. . . I am a bit skeptical of the comments here that act like her partner’s only duty was to state his needs and preferences and then wait for her to state hers. I don’t think they are taking into account what it’s like to live with someone who acts consistently like your desires are . . . incidental.

      Like, I have a friend who is involved with a guy with a pretty demanding career — he’s always traveling, always doing trade shows. Their relationship always operates around *his* schedule, *his* free time, *his* need, or not, for contact. And okay, he gets to have all those needs, but it’s like it never even *occurs* to him that she also has a schedule, she also has times when she’s not free, she also has a career and things she wants out of a relationship. He started out pursuing her, and she got hooked into this relationship, and now it’s like she’s being slowly gaslit into the reality where *of course* he is thoughtless about her emotional needs and *of course* he doesn’t compromise on his. Like, yes, she should stand up for what she needs, but also, dude should not assume that it’s okay to take advantage of her and enter into a non-reciprocal relationship that only benefits him because she hasn’t actually threatened to cut him off.

      And he’s a *decent guy.* There’s nothing about his normal everyday self to suggest this subtle pattern of shitty, sexist behavior.

      I understand the line of thinking that leads you to be in a place with someone who is fundamentally incompatible with you, and while it’s not necessarily anyone’s fault it sure doesn’t reflect well on anyone either. Like: to demand better treatment, you have to be willing to be single. Like: to be a full partner, you have to recognize that your partner’s needs and wishes are fully as present and important as your own.

      • I simultaneously am SPOKEN TO by this advice and am having troubles synthesizing it with other advice that I believe to be good and true. Like: according to the Good Book of Awkward, we don’t do FEELINGSdumps, we don’t argue with people who say that we are broken up with, we approach dating from a position of abundance, and YET we are supposed to expect this sort of dramatic declaration of intense feelings in response to us not being sure if we want to leave a relationship??? What gives???

        For me, the advice speaks more to the great difficulty of balancing vulnerability and emotional authenticity with yourself AND respect for the emotional needs and autonomy of another person AND reasonable expectations AND honoring your own desire and right to feel joy and satisfaction in a relationship.

        This a MILLION.

      • Note: I am no longer talking about LW. They didn’t write into the Captain, and are unlikely to read this, so I don’t feel that veering off-topic is a problem.

        Well, here’s my bias: I am on board with the Book Of Awkward — to a point. Dating? On board. Friendship? Mostly on board. Long-term serious relationship? On board.

        If you’re the kind of person whose preferred relationship model is “lifetime commitment”, though, it gets complicated fast.

        There’s a whole school of thought behind the Book of Awkward, roughly traceable to the Self-Actualisation movement, which has many fine features, but it’s not the One True Way, and treating it as such (not commonly done by the Captain, I note) tends to lead to bad advice, and it has failure modes, like everything, and those failure modes include “knowingly or recklessly accepting levels of commitment which you do not feel obligated to respect or return”, “your feelings, your problem” and “there is no such thing as a true obligation.”

        Or, as a friend of mine once said “A lot of people think marriage is like having your life plus a steady date. As it turns out, marriage is like being married.”

        He, like me, is of the “barring the crossing of certain well-defined boundaries, I made a promise” school of marriage.

        Everyone has to decide for themselves where the line is, and whether they ever want to cross it, but if you do willingly cross it that “eternal position of abundance” thing gets, at best, complicated, because in most such marriages the concerned parties do things which significantly compromise their long-term options. Like moving, or buying large pieces of real estate, or taking on other people’s medical or educational expenses, or having kids, or merging your assets in ways which penalise re-separating them.

        And, sure, as a practical matter anyone can still opt out at any time for any reason, and it’s not okay to try to trap them, but morally speaking if someone, for example, moves across the country, takes a job to cover your grad school, and has a kid with you, all on the basis that the future being planned is joint, suddenly announcing that you are just not feeling it and beginning to pack is actually pretty damned sketchy. There’s a certain implied obligation to make a good-faith effort to repair the relationship, when you make and accept that kind of commitment, and in many cases an explicit legal obligation to compensate the other adult for their losses and raise and support minor children of the union until independent adulthood if you’re not going to do that.

        My family co-owns a house, into which we have all put money and sweat equity. We have a car loan. We have blended finances. One of us immigrated, and another of us bound themselves to support them for ten years. One of us has a parent with dementia and has to engage in a fair amount of inconvenient and expensive travel. Three of us have some degree of physical disability. One of us has a ridiculously demanding job. We have a certain negotiated degree of specialisation wrt who is doing the wage labour and who is doing the domestic labour and who is doing the emotional labour. We’d like a kid.

        We discussed the implications of these things before doing this marriage thing. In detail. Eventually there were vows, in front of our respective and joint friends, families, and deities. We are formally and practically interdependent and barring the situation becoming intolerable *and staying that way after serious good faith effort to resolve it* have agreed to remain so until we join the choir invisible.

        If one of us decides tomorrow that they’re just not feeling it, don’t want to talk about it, nope, not going to try to fix it, nobody’s going to force them to stick around, because that’s unacceptable, but there will in fact be arguing and attempts to get them to reconsider and if they do not do so they will have done a bad thing and there will be a general, forcefully expressed consensus that they should feel bad, because this is an option we have explicitly agreed not to exercise, because that was the tradeoff we needed to make to get the life we wanted to live.

        And here’s the thing: none of us regards any of this as unhealthy attitudes in need of changing. This is exactly what we wanted to do, so we did it.

        I get that there are a lot of examples of people using these ideas to be toxic. I’m sure that I am about to hear about them, and that some of them will be genuinely awful.

        This is because toxic people gonna tox, sadly. It is perfectly possible to use the Book of Awkward to be toxic, and I know this largely because, as mentioned above, I dated that guy. And he’s a great guy in many ways, but when the shit hit the fan he was always, somehow, somewhere else, pursuing his personal agenda, and eventually I decided that if he was going to pursue it without reference to my needs, he was going to have to do it without access to my resources.

        Even then, mind you, I did not just drop him in it with no warning or support.

        • JenniferP said:

          “And, sure, as a practical matter anyone can still opt out at any time for any reason, and it’s not okay to try to trap them, but morally speaking if someone, for example, moves across the country, takes a job to cover your grad school, and has a kid with you, all on the basis that the future being planned is joint, suddenly announcing that you are just not feeling it and beginning to pack is actually pretty damned sketchy. There’s a certain implied obligation to make a good-faith effort to repair the relationship, when you make and accept that kind of commitment, and in many cases an explicit legal obligation to compensate the other adult for their losses and raise and support minor children of the union until independent adulthood if you’re not going to do that.”

          No argument from me at all! I don’t think people should stay married to someone if they are deeply, deeply unhappy together, but I also don’t think that’s a decision that is made lightly or without care for the other person’s well-being. Relationships that are intended to be lifetime commitments, like marriage, ARE different than dating. Absent abuse, I don’t think it’s manipulative to ask a spouse for reasons they are leaving, or ask them to go to counseling or mediation, or ask them to reconsider a big decision, or to provide financial support and negotiate parenting arrangements.

          • *nodnod* I do get that.

            I took the “Book Of Awkward” to refer to the collective wisdom of the site and community over time, FWIW. I think in that sense there’s a bias towards the Self-Actualisation POV. Which is not bad! It was and is a legitimate reaction to a genuinely toxic set of failure modes in some more traditional assumptions.

            Only, as I say, it does have its own failure modes, and this thread has been one of the times I’ve found myself thinking about that a lot, largely because the question seems to me to have a certain amount of “which mode are we working in?” embedded in it, as does the difference between Polly’s perspective and the Book of Awkward perspective as I understand it.

        • Jane said:

          Marna — thanks for your comment. If it was not obvious from my comment, I very much struggle to translate different theoretical structures of relationships into my life, and likewise struggle to modify advice for my particular preferences and values.

          Merrrrr. . . the Book of Awkward, much like other philosophies of life, aims (seems to aim?) to create a world in which we treat each other in such a way as to promote happiness and respect and diminish the amount of preventable suffering, challenging, if necessary, received wisdom about how best to do that. So there are the goals of this line of thinking (e.g. autonomy and life satisfaction for all!), there are general ethical principles which guide the process toward the goals (e.g. everyone has a right to have basic needs fulfilled and be treated respectfully; other people are not a priori obligated to help us pursue our goals), and there are general proposed strategies about how one might most efficiently, effectively, and ethically pursue the goals (e.g. use your words.)

          But then when you break stuff down into specific cases, every single layer is confusing. Goals: Are these the goals that would best reduce suffering in the world? What does autonomy consist of in a friend relationship? A parent-child relationship? A romantic relationship? What are the core components of life satisfaction? How emotionally fulfilled do you have to be? How financially secure? Principles: What are basic needs? What does respect consist of? What is the line between expecting respect and unfair obligation? Strategies: How does a given general strategy break down into specific steps in your particular cultural milieu and linguistic group? Is the general strategy *actually* effective for your particular situation?

          And then! The big wrench. *How does the framework you’ve developed for how to manage your relationships interact with the frameworks of the people around you?*

          I very frequently feel like a lemur with a very large box of tools, only some of which I have been partially trained to use, and a very long series of unidentifiable machines to be maintenanced, and the best I can do is take out of the tools that look likely and poke each machine until one of them fits or breaks. And all tools can cause damage, as you said.

          I mean, this is a general and bizarre response to your comment, but I feel like I am not really qualified to comment on where the line might lie between, for example, the rules of obligation/promise-centered modes of relationshipping and individualist/autonomy-centered modes of relationshipping, or even necessarily what those models look like.

      • gravau said:

        > He started out pursuing her, and she got hooked into this relationship

        That’s a weird way of putting it. She had no choice?

        > Like, yes, she should stand up for what she needs, but also, dude should not assume that it’s okay to take advantage of her and enter into a non-reciprocal relationship that only benefits him because she hasn’t actually threatened to cut him off.

        You are assuming he is even aware of this happening. It’s an easy trap, especially for somebody career-oriented, to just let the demands of work rule everything in your life, even your relationship. It’s what determines most of your days, so unless you keep making a conscious effort to give room to your partner, work wins.

        Have they talked about it? If no, they should. If yes, she needs to find out how she feels being second-in-line to his career.

        • Jane said:

          See the comment below about men who start out offering emotional support as an “entrance fee” to a relationship and stop offering it once the relationship seems confirmed. I think his treatment of her rapidly degraded once they

          As far as the assumption that he can take advantage of her — that’s exactly it. I DON’T think he realizes it’s happening, because he’s literally never had to take another person’s feelings into account before. Doesn’t make his behavior okay, even if it’s an easy thing for him to do.

          In this particular situation, he expects her to have an infinitely flexible schedule to accommodate him, while his schedule is rigid and does not compromise. I think that he is a sexist jackass for *assuming* that is a reasonable setup, even without her specifically communicating “hey, has it ever occurred to you that calling someone at midnight and expecting to talk for a couple hours about your endlessly repeated problems on a work night is maybe kind of inconsiderate?”

          I think my point is that just because you haven’t been told in explicit detail about someone’s boundaries DOES NOT MEAN you get to assume that they have none and that any behavior is totes okay until they tell you otherwise.

          I know she’s brought it up but I don’t know to what extent, to be honest, because I think this guy is a POS and I think she should cut him out of her life, and in order to keep my mouth shut about choices that are none of my business I avoid asking too many questions.

        • Jane said:

          As far as choice goes, there’s a comment below about guys who see emotional support as an entrance fee and stop giving it as soon as the relationship seems confirmed. I think the quality of his input to the relationship rapidly deteriorated once he realized she felt obligated to him.

          As far as the assumption that he can take advantage of her — that’s exactly it. I DON’T think he realizes it’s happening, because he’s literally never had to take another person’s feelings into account before. Doesn’t make his behavior okay, even if it’s an easy thing for him to do. In this particular situation, he expects her to have an infinitely flexible schedule to accommodate him, while his schedule is rigid and does not compromise. I think that he is a sexist jackass for *assuming* that is a reasonable setup, even without her specifically communicating “hey, has it ever occurred to you that calling someone at midnight and expecting to talk for a couple hours about your problems on a work night is maybe kind of inconsiderate?”

          I think my point is that just because you haven’t been told in explicit detail about someone’s boundaries DOES NOT MEAN you get to assume that they have none and that any behavior is totes okay until they tell you otherwise.

          I know she’s brought it up but I don’t know to what extent, to be honest, because I think this guy is a POS and I think she should cut him out of her life, and in order to keep my mouth shut about choices that are none of my business I avoid asking too many questions.

      • Something clever said:

        @ Jane – preach!
        I also find that when a woman in a Hetero relationship stands up for herself, others (friends, family, coworkers, not just the male partner) react like she’s a castrating bitch. Funny how there is no equivalent for “castrating” for a man’s behavior. Cuz, a man standing up for himself and sticking to his opinion is considered totally normal.

    • Jenna said:

      I was married to someone like that. I would get tired of the whole discussion/decision making process and he would get his way. Because I was tired. It wasn’t just the kids or no kids thing; I was on the no kids side, except I actually did (unsuccessful) fertility treatments to make him happy. It was everything that he felt strongly about. The kitchen chairs, the floors, the driveway repairs, were all discussed until he won. The discussion wasn’t over until I agreed with him, and I was so very tired of it all.

      • *high five of learning the really really hard way*

      • roramich said:

        This is what my father did to my mother, endlessly. Thank you for putting it into words I can understand now; as an adolescent I had creepy creepy feelings and no words. thank you.

  5. ashbet said:

    I felt like this was a really good answer, one I’d totally support the message behind — but I’m not sure that Polly is directly addressing the LW’s question, versus sharing her insights about her own relationship with someone else.

    I think it’s GREAT advice. I just don’t know if it’s built more on inference than on evidence.

  6. Mir said:

    As someone who doesn’t want to have kids and is very certain about that, I think some of Polly’s advice is actually quite out of line. I’m certain about my choice, and I’ve always made it clear in every relationship I’ve ever been in. If that’s a dealbreaker for someone I was dating, I would understand. But I would absolutely not be willing to “hang out with a few kids and then have a long conversation, maybe with [a] therapist, about [my] feelings on the matter” in order to prove to my partner that I was sure. To me that reads as a very creepy pressure tactic, and it would send up huge red flags for me. Think about it – what would the Captain say if someone wrote in here saying their partner was doing that to them?

    I think the boyfriend’s response, of “If you want kids, you should move on and find someone who does, because my mind will not change” is not callous and cold the way Polly considers it to be. I think it’s very straightforward and clear and shows a respectful lack of manipulation. Polly casts the boyfriend’s openness to the idea of his partner leaving, if that’s what her choices require, as unfeeling. But I disagree. I think it shows respect of her independence and need to make her own choices. I don’t see any need to add hand-wringing and “BUT IF YOU LEFT I WOULD BE SOOOO SAD” to it as some kind of proof of love. If anything, I think doing that would be manipulative, and come across as trying to make the person stay when they might not want to given the lack of child possibilities.

    Polly also seems to have some serious assumptions about the “right” way to feel love. She says “Is that worth being with someone who isn’t passionate enough about you to say I WOULD BE CRUSHED IF YOU LEFT ME. I WOULD SURVIVE, SURE, BUT I NEED FOR YOU TO KNOW THIS: I LOVE YOU MORE THAN I CAN IMAGINE LOVING ANYONE ELSE. YOU LEAVING ME WILL BE A GIANT LOSS IN MY LIFE.” But you know what? That’s not how love works for me, and I don’t think I’m alone here. I *can* imagine loving other people, and that doesn’t diminish my love for my partners in the slightest. If they left, I would be sad, of course, but I also would feel it was for the best – because ultimately, if they choose not to be with me, we shouldn’t be together. The things Polly seems to consider as proof of real love seem to me to reek of dependency and desperation with a hint of emotional manipulation. If a partner ever asked me to “prove” how much I loved them by explaining how much pain I would be in if they left, I would find it creepy and weird.

    Finally, I agree that she seemed to make a lot of assumptions that weren’t evident from the letter. Unless there was a longer letter, edited for length, I think she was overreaching. Honestly, it seems to me like the letter was a bit of a trigger for some of her own emotional issues, and she let those bleed over into her answer.

    • I am inclined to feel that if kids – or anything – becomes a make-or-break issue after 12 years together, a bit of “is this breakup really necessary” work/counselling isn’t an unreasonable suggestion.

      If one partner is certain they’re not willing to go, well, yep. That breakup is necessary. There’s your result.

      Sometimes therapy prevents breakups. Sometimes it merely leads to better breakups.

      It is not, actually, a gadget for changing what people want from their lives, it really isn’t.

      • Mir said:

        Relationship counselling might indeed be a wonderful idea for this couple, but Polly frames it as something that the boyfriend should do in order to further explore/explain his desire not to have children, or to prove that he’s really thought about it deeply enough, or whatever. That is not, in my opinion, a reasonable thing to ask someone to go to counselling for, any more than it’d be reasonable to ask someone to go to counselling to explore whether or not they’re into an open relationship when they say they’re not.

        If there is dysfunction around their communication regarding the child issue, or if the LW feels there these is something else going on beyond just the child issue, sure, counselling might be very helpful. But suggesting counselling simply because he doesn’t want kids is, to me, misguided.

        • Legit. I think I took much more “because it was her that asked” from this than you did, which doesn’t make me right and you wrong. Possibly I just *points upthread* didn’t hear the buzzing.

        • mamacitaconpistoles said:

          Well, I’ve said the same. But if I was with someone who really wanted them, and I rilly rilly loved my partner… I’d give it some thought. I wouldn’t promise to change my mind. But I’d give it thought because we’d been together for a long time and I love them. And there are other big major life things I’ve thought I would always/never do. And it turns out I never/actually did them.

          If LW just realized recently they want kids and they haven’t had 12 years of regular discussion about it, then yeah. I think it’s okay to bring it up, and ask Partner to really think about it.

          More than asking for a reconsider, I think how LW themselves takes the considered answer is the red flag zone. All they can do is ask, and it is on LW to know they have to honor the outcome whatever it is, and be fair about how they frame it.

          I expect, like other things we have to infer, the LW will will have to think hard if partner is more like you, or more like me.

          Also I might be… pretty hurt if a partner just said “well, I am calling time of death on this because you don’t want kids” and I didn’t get to well, think and talk about how I felt about that in the present, not the 11 years ago past.

    • Polly also seems to have some serious assumptions about the “right” way to feel love.

      This. This is what was most confusing to me about her answer. I understand the feeling behind wanting someone who would stand up for you, who could be vulnerable enough to admit that the loss of your relationship would be devastating, but I’m also on the fence as to whether or not actually saying that would be emotionally manipulative. Love looks and feels different between different people and at different stages throughout a relationship, and I felt uncomfortable when Polly’s response appeared to be totally dismissive of relationships that are comfortable and easy – even though I agree with her that, if that style of relationship is not what the someone wants, they have every right to seek a relationship that is better suited to her.

      I don’t know. Parts of that advice seemed really good, but parts of it – this part especially – just felt so strange.

    • Right on about the kids. I have known that I do not like kids since I was one myself. I have known that I did not want kids since I was one myself. I had a job once where I was assigned to “hang out with a few kids” for a few hours, and honestly? I’d rather relive the day where I almost died and had no idea if I was actually going to make it to safety or the day I found out my mom died than do that again. Maybe that sounds a little melodramatic, but it’s the truth – I am simply not a kid person, and no amount of inundation or therapy is going to change my mind. That part of the letter struck me as a bit condescending to the LW’s boyfriend.

      And yeah, I’ve dated the guy who stated almost verbatim that line about how he’d be sad if I left him for someone else, but eh, what can you do? Relationships have to end sometime. No way in hell would I want to go back to that specific relationship, but for me, the “I WOULD BE CRUSHED” dude would freak me right the fuck out. I personally like a little breathing room in all my relationships, and someone who was that dedicated and, well, passionate would make my (admittedly very finely calibrated) internal sensors go, “WARNING! CLINGER ALERT! BACK AWAY SLOWLY WITH ARMS RAISED LIKE THIS IS A HUNGRY BLACK BEAR, THEN RUN WHEN THE COAST IS CLEAR!” Individual preferences and all, but while I’d prefer my purely hypothetical romantic relationships to be with dudes who have a little more ability to take initiative than my ex did, I like guys who are more passive in expressing their love.

    • Yes! Yes! I agree with this. Compromise is great and in almost all areas of relationships I think compromise should be sought. But if someone doesn’t want kids THEY SHOULD NOT BE TALKED INTO HAVING KIDS as a compromise. There is no compromise here–you can’t have half a kid. You can’t have a kid sometimes and not other times. Once you are a parent you are a parent forever (whether or not you choose to fulfill your obligations in that area). Agreeing to have kids that you don’t want just because you love someone and want to keep them is a terrible idea. You can’t bring whole new people into this world just because you want to avoid a breakup. I don’t think the boyfriend is the problem here; he seems to be being mature and clear about what he does and doesn’t want.

      • If someone doesn’t have kids, they should absolutely not have kids. But, yanno, I had the relationship where my partner didn’t want kids (legit!) but did want me to stick around. Follows therefore much complex mess, and that’s where I’m hearing the bees here.

        Not wanting kids is completely legit. Explaining to someone else why they shouldn’t either is seriously hinky, and “I was okay with not having kids” is pinging my bees radar.

        Unless the LW or their probably-soon-to-be-ex writes in to Captain Awkward, probably we’ll never know who’s right.

        • I do see how it can be difficult if someone is telling you they love you and want to stay with you, but that they are not going to be able to give you what you want in a relationship. I suppose my question would be: once they have said that, whose responsibility is it to do something about it? I mean, these are the options:
          A) Break up with them
          B) Treat them appallingly until they break up with you
          C) Stay in the hopes that they will change their mind, then consider your life wasted when they inevitably don’t

          Is it the responsibility of the partner who doesn’t want the kids/marriage/moving to Angola to be the one to end it? Why, when they are actually getting the relationship they want?

          As you can probably tell, this is a very personal question to me so I am sorry if I seem more combative than I should. In my last relationship, I ended it because my partner chose option B and it was brutal.

          • Marna Nightingale said:

            You don’t seem unduly combative to me, just … flinchy in a different place from me.

            My flinches come from having experienced D) periodically express JUST enough ambivalence to keep the question live, because you don’t like the consequences of your choices.

            I mean, you can argue for the advantages of the childfree life or you can willingly have unprotected PIV with a fertile person but if you do both in the same week with the same person you are not going to enjoy the next two weeks.

            He nearly wound up with a kid he didn’t want. I ended up with no kid, right in time to develop a limiting physical condition, and some messy trust issues.

          • Aaaaah, your paragraph 3 made me cringe, Marna, because I now understand exactly what you’re getting at. In my relationships with people who wanted kids but wouldn’t actually say they did because I would leave, I shied away from exactly that kind of ambivalence precisely because I didn’t want to be the person who strung someone along and wasted years of their life. Some people seem to think that just because it is easy to manipulate someone in that way, that means it is also OK. Those people are VERY WRONG.

            And as for the unprotected sex… that is plain selfishness and irresponsibility and I’m sorry that he did that to you.

    • Lizzy said:

      You said all that a lot better than I could, so I’ll just say: Seconded.

  7. Parse The Potatoes said:

    This bit struck a nerve, and I apologize in advance for the rant that follows.

    “If I walked out and married someone else, what would you do?” I’d ask. “I’d be sad to lose you, but I’d be happy that you got what you really wanted,” they’d say, in a tone that conjured dealing with a mundane kind of a disappointment, a bad day at work or a rainstorm at the beach.
    That unnerved me, not mattering that much. It made me act petulant and dramatic. I wanted to get a reaction. I wanted to prove to them that I DID matter. I was willing to make a mess if necessary, because I assumed these guys cared a hell of a lot more than they were willing to let on. Because who could care so little? Who wouldn’t feel worried about losing me after all that time together?

    As One of Those Guys, who has in fact answered that question with a mundane kind of disappointment, here’s my response to that: If you’ve already walked out and married someone else, it’s too late to fix the relationship. The ideal time to fight for the relationship is before it gets bad enough that you walk out. And if I’ve missed the warning signs that there are problems, and the first thing that cracks my Sphere of Obliviousness is your walking out, is that really a relationship you want to salvage?

    I’m treating your question with mundane disappointment because, looking at current state of the relationship and where it’s going, I don’t see that happening. I’ve got enough real and potential troubles to worry about, to get worked up about; I don’t want to get worked up about something that, in my mind, is never going to happen. If you think it will, then we should be talking about what would cause that – not about my reaction after the fact.

    Yes, I may be Spocking it up – dismissing an emotionally-laden question with cold logic – and you can thank therapy for that. It’s helped keep me from shutting down from worry about things that I have no control over.

    Rant over. Like I said, it touched a(n unexpectedly still-raw) nerve.

    • Lynn said:

      Yeah…I think you’ve totally missed the point in that segment of her response. It’s not about seeing it “logically.” It seems you simply aren’t comprehending what she wrote.

      • B said:

        I think it’s really an awful question to ask a partner.

      • Anonymous said:

        I have to say, I’m not understanding what a good answer to that question would be. If I really care about someone and they choose to break up with me, then the answer he gave is an accurate projection of what I would feel, too.

      • It’s not about seeing it “logically,” but the perspective he describes is as valid as any.

      • gravau said:

        If my partner walked out on me with another man, she has already made her decision. There’s nothing left for me to do except to try and accept it. “I’ld be sad to lose you, but I’d be happy that you got what you really wanted,” is really the most positive possible reaction.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Is there something- anything- you think of that you do or would do to let a partner know they are cherished and there is no mistaking it? If you have a partner for whom that kind of expression is important? If you feel that way?

      Then sub in that exchange for the one Polly uses. The actual phrasing isn’t the point. The point is, Polly is asking if LW feels and knows her partner cherishes her. Can they envision their partner being vulnerable and confident in that way?

      It might be obvious to you that you rilly rilly love your partner. But if partner is asking “do you cherish me?” maybe what they’re really asking is “please will you externalize what is obvious to you so we can share it, together, intentionally, sometimes?” It’s not that they don’t know, exactly. It’s that they want that experience of witnessing that particular kind of expression of what they know.

      If LW can’t imagine any of the above from their partner, maybe it’s time to ask for it, and if it’s never going to happen, it’s time to bounce.

      • YES.

        I experience love roughly equally in terms of touch, quality time, and affirmation. The Partner was right on board with touch and quality time, but giving me the affirmation I wanted seemed really strange to him. Condescending, even. I finally had to say, “I have never gotten the kind of encouragement I craved from a familial or romantic relationship. I’m glad you can give yourself reassurance and pats on the back, but I’m really hungry for that from you, and it’s painful for me to say so and have you not respond.”

      • There absolutely are things I’ve done to unambiguously show affection. (To be clear, I’m using the past tense merely because I’m currently single, not because such things are once-and-done.) Things I’ve done for my partners that I’d never do for anybody else, that they know I’d never do for anybody else.
        And I understand the point that she’s trying to make, that Polly needs certain kinds of attention in order to feel loved, and that feeling cherished is one of the most important things in long term relationships. And I agree with what you’re saying – if you ignore the phrasing, it’s a really good point.
        I’m just reacting negatively – due to prior bad experiences – to what Mir said better, about Polly’s view on the only way to correctly express love.

        Like I said, it’s a raw nerve, and getting into why that’s raw is far more personal than I feel comfortable sharing.

    • B said:

      I really disliked that line too; seemed like as good as a response as one can get to a terrible question. I feel like that kind of question is extremely manipulative. If a partner ever asked me that, IDK I’d think the relationship was already over? I’d probably get a lot more pissed off and wouldn’t handle it nearly so well. “Why on earth are you asking me that?!” etc.

    • gravau said:

      I also feel that what Polly describes as the wrong reaction is actually the best possible reaction. What kind of a question is that? “Imagine I hurt you really badly, wounding you to the core, how would you react?” I mean, WTF?

    • SarahTheEntwife said:

      Yeah, I had the same reaction. If you’re really seriously considering leaving, then I might suggest counseling or something, but I might also just decide that it was over and I wanted to just end things with as little heartache as could be arranged. And if you’re not actually breaking up with me…why are you asking? I totally get wanting a bit more active romance if thins have been cruising in neutral for a while, or being in a funk and needing to be reminded that you’re loved, but then just ask for that; don’t threaten divorce.

  8. Teresa Le Roux said:

    I so get what Polly is talking about – it describes my 20 yr plus marriage and a very bitter realization that my husband totally does not get or understand what I need emotionally. Polly’s relationship is parallel to mine.

    http://www.metafilter.com/151267/Wheres-My-Cut-On-Unpaid-Emotional-Labor

    Please read the comments section on this discussion on ’emotional labor’. Especially this comment which sums up this situation I believe:

    “I was thinking more about this last night, and it struck me that part of the reason a great number of women have so much buried resentment about these issues is because men actually do perform emotional labor so willingly at the beginning of a relationship, which shows that they can do it and they are aware that it exists, right up until the relationship is secure enough that they can designate it “not my job anymore” and tap out.

    Setting up special dates based on her preferences, wanting to talk about feelings (because the feelings are all rosy and nice at the beginning, but still), calling just to hear her voice, finding out the little things she likes so he can surprise her with them, being kind to her friends and family, we can watch whatever you want to watch (and meaning it), and on and on. But for a lot of men, these are the means to an end, where the end is a relationship where they never have to do any of these things again.

    But for women who end up in relationships that start this way, it is hardly surprising that they feel cheated and duped when the mutual emotional labor disappears and she’s left handling it all by herself. She thought that this man was promising to live this way. She thought being noticed and validated would be long-term. Women consider emotional labor to be the backbone of relationships, not the entry fee.”

    He is allowing her to do all the emotional work it seems, while investing very little emotionally. Just like my husband. How I have to choose, continue in a relationship that is financially comfortable but emotionally not satisfying, or divorce a man who will be devastated because he has “done everything right” and who truly believes I am being totally ungrateful.

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Your final paragraph is… sad to read.

      Do I stay and be unhappy? Or do I go, and my husband is unhappy? Is one thing.

      Do I stay and my husband doesn’t think much *about* me at all? Or do I go and my husband doesn’t think much *of* me at all? Is fully another.

      In option the option where you leave, you’re articulating the negatives of leaving in the language of doing emotional labor for your husband.

      I want much, much better than that for you, however you decide to move forward.

    • Those comments are making me tear up.

      I believe them, for the record. If I buy a friend a birthday gift–a process my husband explicitly says he doesn’t want to be part of–they thank me and my husband. If my husband agrees to help me pick up a meal for the neighbours who recently lost their pet and then changes his mind because he thinks it’s weird and pointless, I spend two hours on the bus so I can pick up a casserole and frozen soup and then the thank-you card comes in addressed to both of us.

      I hate it. It makes me feel tired and irrelevant and overlooked.

      (I grant that “your dog died, have a food” is kind of weird. But offering prepared meals to a family that’s mourning is fairly traditional, and they are kind enough neighbours that I wanted to do more than a card, and close enough that I could. I tried.)

  9. gnu said:

    That extract hit me in the gut because I feel like I’m accidentally becoming the other side of the situation Polly presents. I make all the big decisions and zie goes along. If I don’t make decisions, decisions don’t get made and I don’t like it. I love zir, zie loves me. But I need zir to take initiative, voice zir own opinions, maybe care about big important life things before I bring them up. That sounds like something that, if zie isn’t doing already, zie isn’t going to. I would be very upset if this reached the point of being a dealbreaker, but ultimately I want to get what I want out of life more than I want to drift along aimlessly with zir. This is a bit irrelevant but it was on my chest. Sigh.

    • It hit me in the same way for the same reasons. *Jedi hugs*

    • mamacitaconpistoles said:

      Polly is inferring that Partner likes just fine the way they are. Having LW do some of this work, in her interpretation, would NOT be welcome. If that’s not your situation, then Polly’s advice is not for your partnership. At all.

      (See: problems of inference discussed above)

      However you feel about kids, I’d assume you would be willing to work with your partner taking some of the initiative. (It would be kinda nice if the initiative was about positive things like maximizing retirement accounts or whatever. But since the scenario is “to baby or not to baby”, here we are.)

      • gnu said:

        No, I know it isn’t about my situation at all. It was just that, out of context the extract *reminded* me of my situation, which is bothering me greatly so I posted about it.

  10. Hmmm, not sure I agree with Polly this time. Firstly, you cannot compromise on having kids. You either do or you don’t. If boyfriend has said from day one that there are no kids, it’s unfortunate that LW seems to be changing her mind but it’s hardly his fault. He used his words like a grownup and she was happy enough with his decision when she didn’t want them either. I have stated ON FIRST DATES that I didn’t want kids and still been strung along for over a year, fallen in love, started fantasising about a future together, only for it all to fall apart when they realised that I actually meant it.

    Plus, Polly seems to be painting him as an abusive jerk because he seems to make all the big decisions. As someone who has been that person in a relationship, I found it a huge burden to be always the one planning and deciding. It made me want to scream JUST EXPRESS AN OPINION FOR ONCE IN YOUR MISERABLE APATHETIC LITTLE LIFE. Perhaps LW has been bullied by a stronger personality, or maybe she went along with everything boyfriend wanted because she liked not having to take responsibility. We don’t have enough information from the letter to tell.

    I am sad for LW that her change of heart seems to signal the end of a relationship that is otherwise very important to her. I would sound a note of caution though; reaching the end of your (easy) child-bearing years and being sad about it is not the same as wanting a kid. I know, I’m 36 and have mourned the fact that I’m aging and my body is changing in ways that seem to limit my possibilities. I didn’t want to have kids, but I’m sad that I no may longer have the choice and that my advancing years will change how I’m seen and treated in society.

    • -gigantic ditto marks-

      Seriously, from soup to nuts, I’d repeat everything embertineembertine just said here. The only difference is that I do have a kid — though I never wanted a second one, wouldn’t you know that, as I approach menopause, there’s a real bittersweetness to the realization that no, not ever, no way, no how will I have another kid. It does feel similar to wanting to have a kid, but it’s not exactly the same thing.

  11. B said:

    “If I walked out and married someone else, what would you do?” I’d ask. “I’d be sad to lose you, but I’d be happy that you got what you really wanted,”
    … maybe there’s something lost in translation here, but that sounds like the most mature response someone could say? If someone MARRIED someone else, the best thing you could do was leave them be!!! What kind of response were they hoping for?

    • Tinter said:

      Exactly! If someone wrote into Captain Awkward stating “my ex has left me and married someone else, please advise me on how to fight for them and win them back!” I’m fairly certain I’m right in saying the advice would be “don’t be a creepy stalker/Darth/ect.” Strange hypotheticals have little use in a relationship, especially not as a test, and especially when the desired overwrought and emotional answer is something that clearly, in real life, would be terrible. There is a difference between clearly and openly expressing love and affection and her seemingly desired response of deep melodrama.

      Indeed, on the question Polly posed, it seems to be wrapped in a fantasy of finding one magical person without whom your life becomes less complete. Generally, this isn’t an especially realistic or healthy view. I prefer the view of, to mangle Tolkein, that who you are actually with is probably not the best theoretical match but the match made by the circumstances of life, and this fact doesn’t diminish the love and bond you can form between you but does rather quash her line of desired responses.

      Well, I guess a lot of people like Polly and find her writing speaks to them, but personally her advice normally brings too much of Polly to the table and leaves a lot to be desired.

      • The Aphid said:

        …Can you tell me where you’re pulling the Tolkien from in order to mangle it? Maybe I’m being thick as a brick here, since I am a pretty devoted reader of Tolkien and it sounds like you’re mangling a common quote, but I am not recognizing it immediately and I am fascinated. Was it about relationships originally, by any wild chance? Or was it a more general “this might not be the best imaginable ringbearer/army/time/thingummy but it’s the one we’ve got” kind of thing?

        • Tinter said:

          No, its from his letters, in this case just on sex and marriage generally. Its not unknown but not really a common quote. Much of his writing in this regard is rather heavy on the Catholicism for me, but I’ve always liked the below passage:

          And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…

          • The Aphid said:

            Thank you! Especially for indulging my derail enough to share the original passage and all! I like it, too, and also find it interesting context for his fiction. Parts of the letters were pretty heavy on the Catholicism for me, too, back when I was trying to read them as a teenager (and at the height of my conflicts with Catholic family members). But I think I’ll add having another crack at them to my to-be-read pile.

            (Sorry if this is a double-post – my internet’s been being wonky lately.)

          • Tinter said:

            I’m happy to, but I wouldn’t recommend reading his letters in general unless you have a deep interest in learning about Tolkein personally. He is of course a talented writer, and much of it is readable in that sense, and I would expect there are more enjoyable passages. On the other hand, the above is one section in an extended letter which includes comments that men are not monogamous, while women naturally want babies, divorce is a terrible sin, and marriage requires a deep self denial on the part of men. His strong stance against Lewis marrying a divorcee (who divorced after her husband left her for her cousin and when she returned to try and save the marriage (!) was violent) caused a rift between them. “Problematic” is is rather clearly the least of it; the contents of his letters nowadays would be reserved for extreme evangelical types, by and large.

    • Jane said:

      Argle bargle that section simultaneously really spoke to me and really confused me.

      Because I recognize WANTING THAT ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, that you are and were an important part of someone’s life, an irreplaceable part. Just because someone can go on without you, just because they will continue to have a rich and fulfilling life without your presence, just because someone can find new people who fill a similar relationship function for them as you did, just because someone can new people who are similar in looks and personality and interests to you — that doesn’t mean they can’t replace *you.* That doesn’t mean your relationship with that person wasn’t special and unique to the particular places you and they occupy in the world.

      The people I have lost from my life often leave permanent shadows or scars or whatever metaphor you want to use on my psyche. That person being free to sever the relationship at will doesn’t mean I haven’t lost something important and unique that I *won’t have again.*

      And at the same time . . . I don’t know that kind of place this sentiment has in the spoken world. It’s not when decisions about whether the relationship is to continue are being made. I can’t really imagine a way to express that particular sentiment — “if or when you leave my life, it will be a terrible loss” without being extremely morbid at best, and pressure-y and manipulative at worst.

      • B said:

        Meh, I know folks have different styles, and I know that’s not the part the captain was highlighting, but it seems really wrong to me to present that in an /advice/ column as a relationship litmus test.

        And in the scenario where you are someone’s one and only, and you leave, well that’s actually really frigging sad. I left an SO mostly due to geographic reasons and have moved on and married someone else – I was their first SO and, so far, their only. And it actually took me a long time to stop feeling guilty as hell about that. *I still really hope they do find someone else although glad overall they seem pretty happy single*

      • Fiver said:

        That’s how I felt about it, too. I definitely find “I would be miserable if you left!” comments to be very squicky, because… well, I’ve had people in my life you would get veeery upset with you if you didn’t do what they wanted. And if they didn’t want you to leave, well. Comments like that still prickle the hairs on the back of my neck.

        But at the same time, it nice to know someone really does cherish your presence. I just think there are much, much better ways to tell someone you appreciate them than the “It would hurt so much if you left” thing. Eep. I would so much rather hear “My life is better with you in it.” or “I’m so happy to know you.”

        I’m very much a “I want you to happy” person. I mean… that’s why I spend time with people? Because I like them and want them to be happy? Obviously it affects me when people leave, and maybe I’m a little too stoic for my own personal reasons. Still, I think it’s more important people know they aren’t trapped with me; that it’s not their job to stay if they aren’t happy. I’m a little unnerved by the assertion that true love and dedication mean someone who doesn’t want you to leave.

  12. Commander Banana said:

    I agree with the posters that Polly seems to be inferring a lot from this letter, but I think the paragraph that Cap posted is really valuable. I, too, don’t want children, and I would definitely be upset if someone tried to talk or therapy me into changing my mind, but I don’t think that’s what Polly is really addressing here. I understand what she means about that feeling that you don’t matter all that much, having spent nearly a decade in a relationship with a perfectly nice and supportive but ultimately tepid dude. The kind of dude that after over eight years together can’t have a conversation about what we’d do, relationship-wise, if I were to accept a job overseas because “we’ll talk about it whenever it happens.”

    Ya-huh. I think that is the tepidness that Polly is talking about. I don’t necessarily agree with a lot of her advice because I think she leans too heavily on everyone having to find a relationship that is constantly butterflies and whirlwinds, but she DOES have a good point about people (usually women, I do think it’s heavily gendered) trying to be the Cool Girl and subsist on little scraps of attention and affection, because asking for more – asking to be valued – is just Not Cool or chill.

    • Courtney said:

      Yes, this! The blurb that Cap posted really spoke to me. Other parts of the response kinda squicked me, but that paragraph is a gem and speaks to a common problem that (mostly) women face in relationships–a problem we are, in fact, groomed from childhood to have.

      • Commander Banana said:

        Yup. I think a LOT of what Polly writes is keyed to her particular life experiences, which sometimes is not helpful, but at the same time, she does talk a lot about how women are told to need less and less and ask for less and less and get smaller and smaller, because the minute you express an emotional need (or I guess, any need at all) you are not being the Cool Girl and you must just be irrational and crazy and clingy and whiny.

        Trust, I spent years cramming myself into an ever-smaller box because of my partner (who was not a bad person, and was actually a pretty decent guy, but still not right for me, AND also expected me to carry all the emotional weight in the relationship while he refused to deal with his crippling anxiety) and the reward was that the goddamn box just got smaller, so I know of what she speaks. I don’t necessarily think her advice is good, but I do like how she fiercely advocates for people to be their messy, needy, complicated selves, and to walk away from anyone who tells you that your emotions are inconvenient for them.

        • Courtney said:

          Oh yeah. I dated that guy. Lotsa times. In fact, I married him twice.

          • Stayce said:

            ‘A decent guy… But still not right for me… And also expected me to carry all the emotional weight in the relationship while he refused to deal with his crippling anxiety…’ That guy seems to really get around :-/

            Also, Polly’s letter rang some bells for me, and I also interpreted that quote about asking her ex ‘wouldn’t you be SAD if I left and married someone else!?’ as part of her larger point that that was her kind of unhealthy and not-useful way of looking for confirmation and reassurance that she was loved, because she was in a relationship that, in some intangible ways, wasn’t a good fit. I don’t think Polly was pushing LW to get her boyfriend to change his mind on kids; I think she was pushing the LW to look at how the two of them were making choices, and whether the LW was unconsciously assuming that she was going to be taking the back seat all the time. I’ve been there and done that, and it’s really confusing when it happens in a relationship where there’s a lot of goodwill and love and it’s so hard to put your finger on the reason why feel like you’re not getting what you need, or if you even know what that is.

    • Jane said:

      YES. When Polly speaks to me, this is what she is saying.

  13. 30ish said:

    To me the important thing is that Polly suggested that LW should think about what she really wants out of life, and how the relationship she is in fits with that. The line that said something like “It sounds like this relationship is the most important thing in your life, and you just don’t seem happy” sounded really on point to me. Sure, it’s possible that the relationship is not the reason she’s unhappy and that it’s really about the job or not having many friends. But it seems likely that something is amiss in the relationship.

  14. Charlene said:

    Polly is a very good writer, good enough that she can carry a reader along through some fairly sketchy things. I don’t think she’s all that great an advice columnist for reasons far better put by previous posters.

    • jess said:

      THANK YOU. Like I enjoy reading her columns occasionally but ultimately because I think they sound really nice and parts of them are insightful, certainly not because I consider them to be great advice.

      • Random Yeoman said:

        Yeah, I agree with this. I feel like Polly often takes a letter and uses it as inspiration to write about a life truth that has deep significance for her, rather than actually giving advice that is directed at the particular circumstance of the person who has written in. Her writing is beautiful and she drops a lot of truth bombs, but I’m not sure it holds up as advice. For that reason, I actually find her easier to read when I don’t read the original letter she’s responding to.

  15. Jane said:

    I have also spent a lot of time reading advice by Ask Polly, and she has a PARTICULAR BRAND OF EMOTIONALLY CHARGED ADVICE which can be super awesome if it hits the right chord with you and can be. . . super not awesome, if your experiences are pretty far away from hers.

    One not-for-me response I recall in particular was about compromising your life choices to make room for your biological family and how it’s always totally worth it, and the entire answer just made my guts clench up. There was an extended story about how she subjects herself to this beach trip every year with her extended family and make sure she does all the activities she hates because that’s what memories are made of! Or something. I kind of lost the thread in there somewhere.

    Like, dudes, I have a pretty solid and supportive biological family, and I’m still not going to make compromises that make me unhappy because I may regret it if I don’t. I’m going to have regrets no matter what I do, and assuming that investing a lot of time and emotional energy into people I happen to share genetic material with but have nothing else in common with is going to render me greater rewards than investing that time in either my chosen family or the preferred members of my bio family seems. . . a bit obtuse, to say the least.

    I think there’s something to be said for the courage of your convictions and speaking fiercely and honestly from your own experience and not hedging what you think. But I also think there’s something to be said for framing that advice clearly as what it is — coming from your own particular well of experience. I actually feel like the Captain does a much better job of speaking honestly and relevantly about where her biases are coming from and the experiences that have led her to make the judgement calls she does.

    • Gemma said:

      Thank you for this comment! I had the same reaction, but in my case, I have no contact with my biological family and that’s largely by choice. The idea that my life is now diminished because I didn’t suck it up and throw love at them harder… yeah, after reading that letter I spend a little bit of time feeling really broken and sad until I did a mental catalog of the reasons why we no longer talk and they are absolutely not worth it.

    • Vicki said:

      Yes. especially about the preferred members of my bio family.

      I go out of my way to see my mother (we live eight time zones apart right now, so it does require effort), but a number of other relatives I can take or leave.

    • Ahhhhh. I have a friend who has so few resources to try and care for herself due to mental health issues and a family that would be totally not OK with her having mental health issues (in a “we believe in magical positivity” + “we’re going to fix you by never ever ever giving you space and crying at you kind of a way) and what tiny amount of energy she has is being spent on hiding that she has any problems, trying to deflect her probing and controlling sister she lives with, and trying to support her mothers anxieties over the phone.

      She is currently going on *another* holiday with her whole family when she has tons of schoolwork to do, just being around people exhausts her, she has to put on her happy face for a week and look after kids and deal with passive-aggression and it fucking kills me because she tried really hard to say no but her sister will not take no for an answer.

      Anyway. That shit makes me stabby, it’s so hard for me to convince her she’s not a terrible person to want to have personal space and any boundaries at all. 😦

      P.S. More relevant to the topic I agree with Charlene that it seems Polly is a fantastic writer – the quote the Captain included is great – but not terribly good at listening to where people are coming from and realising her own biases.

    • sharpe0 said:

      Was it this post? The one where she advocates sucking it up to a physically abusive mother-in-law? http://nymag.com/thecut/2015/05/ask-polly-can-i-cut-off-my-mother-in-law.html

      That drove me away from “Ask Polly” and her “infer/assume/emotionally project while ignoring facts” brand of advice. I used to love her columns. There are certain parts that connected with me almost viscerally, because that’s the way she writes and feels and that’s the voice I needed at times – and then I read that article, right on the heels of cutting off my abusive grandparents. And I recognized that her advice was more of a journal entry and her writing – although beautiful – was not suited for situations outside her own experience.

      • Jane said:

        Ah, no, it was actually one about a woman who had sold her car and got around on a bike and thus saw her nieces and nephews much less. And on one hand Polly was right that she had made a choice that had separated her from her family, but I guess I thought it was kind of crummy to say “Well, they’re never going to compromise for you, and family’s important, so you have to compromise for them, even if it makes you unhappy.” I mean, ???, !!, ?!

    • jess said:

      ITA- my break with Polly columns actually came when I read a couple in which she was really dismissive of asexuality/the consideration that someone writing in to her might be asexual. As someone IDing as ace/aro that really got to me, obviously, but in general I think it’s just another symptom of Polly relying solely on her own experiences and emotions and not questioning her biases. And for an advice columnist that is… not good.

      • Jane said:

        YIKES. I missed those. I will try not to go looking for them, as I think it would just upset me a lot.

        • Commander Banana said:

          Yeah, her advice is often problematic and definitely has the My Way is the One True Way, What I Want Should Be What You Want that is blessedly absent from CA.

          I personally find her specific advice not all that helpful but her sort of general theorizing about relationships to be more helpful, but even that is fairly one-dimensional (it seems to always be, to quote a comment from today’s article, about relatively privileged young women with mild anxiety disorders dealing with ‘tepid men,’ as Polly terms them, and FOMO).

          That might just be because of either who chooses to write to Polly or who she chooses to answer. And most of her answers sort of devolve into that general “go find your passion!” advice that, while helpful in a sort of nebulous way, is not super helpful when one needs a concrete step to take right now.

  16. I love Ask Polly — for her style.
    Her advice, in general, and in this case, doesn’t resonate with me.

    In this woman’s case, well – he didn’t seem tepid he seemed self-absorbed. The LW here seemed like someone who’d grown into an adult with adult desires, one of which is to be heard. Another of which is to have a child (and she’s far from the end of her child-bearing years)

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