Ex, family, healthcare, love, marriage, mental health

Adam and Darla’s bizarre love story…

You know that old song by Billy Joel? I know it well. It was a hit when I was a young child. The lyrics are timeless. The melody endures. Many of us would love to have a friend or a loved one who takes us just the way we are.

Billy wrote a masterpiece that has stood the test of time.

But is it always best to love someone just the way they are? Are there times when it’s unwise or unhealthy to take someone just the way they are? Obviously, yes, there are. My husband tried to love his ex wife just the way she was until he realized he couldn’t anymore. His own life was at risk by accepting her “as/is”. So they got divorced and he’s much better off for it. I don’t know if she’s better off. It’s not my business, anyway.

This topic comes up this morning after I read an admittedly bizarre “love story” in The New York Times. Adam Barrows wrote an article entitled “I Wanted to Love Her, Not Save Her”. The tag line read, “The first time we spoke, she was so weak she had collapsed. Why did that not alarm me?” When someone uses the word “alarm” in a tag line, you can be sure high drama is about to ensue. I was hooked.

So I read Adam Barrows’ story about meeting his wife, Darla. They were both working at a chain bookstore in Minneapolis, Minnesota when Barrows came upon his future wife passed out on the floor. Although they had been co-workers, he had never really spoken to her. He just noticed that she was painfully thin.

As Darla’s vision came back, she explained to Adam that she suffered from anorexia nervosa and hadn’t eaten in several days. He asked her if he could get her something to eat. She said no, and asked him to just sit with her for a minute until her strength returned. Adam sat with her and they developed a friendship. As they got closer and eventually “fell in love”, Darla continued to starve herself. Adam did nothing to get her to change her behavior. He writes:

I didn’t try to help her with that. I’m not sure why. It’s as if I accepted her struggle as a given, as a fact of her. I was struggling myself after a recent heartbreak and was trying to teach myself how to do basic things again: to think for myself, to walk properly, to hold myself upright, to sleep and to breathe.

To see her struggle to force down solid food, to watch as she spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine that she would chew to a paste before it would go down (this was her only meal some days) seemed not natural, of course, but also somehow unremarkable to me. I watched her starve and held her while she did it.

Some people might call that enabling. I called it love.

After months of traveling around the United States together, they ended up getting married. They had a son who turned 18 last year and, at this writing, have been together for 23 years. Adam writes that Darla eventually got somewhat better. She ate more and, over the years, put on some weight. He writes that before the pandemic struck, she was actually considering going on a diet, but didn’t end up doing it. While many people have gained weight during the pandemic, Adam writes that he and Darla don’t go to the grocery store much and that has had a “slimming effect”. I’m not sure what that means, but I’ll take him at his word that he and his wife are doing okay.

At the end of his essay, Barrows concludes:

Our married life has not been without conflicts. I have taken her for granted, put my needs ahead of hers, indulged my weaknesses. But I never have regretted the fact that I did the possibly irresponsible thing back then by not acting alarmed about her anorexia, by not pressuring her to do anything about it, and instead just loving her for who she was. She never wanted heroic intervention from me or from anyone else. She triumphed over her issues with food on her own terms and is happy for me to be sharing our story now.

I found this story kind of fascinating. I went to see what others thought of it. Most people seemed to conclude that Adam Barrows is some kind of an asshole. Here’s a screenshot of the first few comments. They are overwhelmingly negative.

Someone else wrote this rather scathing response:

Wow, less the confession of an enabler and more the confession of a narcissistic a-hole with a fetish for damaged, frail women. It’s so quaint to wax poetic about how deathly cold her hand was the time you found her after she fainted. It’s so sexy to talk about riding in the sleeper car with a starving person in desperate need of mental health intervention. You sound like a right tw*t.

I didn’t get that Adam Barrows is a “narcissistic a-hole” just based on this essay. It’s possible that he is one, but frankly, I kind of doubt it. Most narcissists I’ve known don’t have the ability to be introspective about their own faults. Adam openly admits that his wife had a problem. He also admits that he might have enabled her in her self-destructive habits by not insisting that she seek treatment. Some people would say he’s a bad person for not rushing her to a hospital or a rehab center.

On the other hand, there is some beauty in a person who simply accepts a person as they are. I didn’t read that Adam was encouraging Darla to be an anorexic. I read that he didn’t disapprove of her for who she was. He simply loved her. According to his story, she eventually got better. I don’t know how her improvement came to be. Was it entirely through the “kissing” treatment he writes of, or did she ever seek any kind of help? I don’t know… and I’m not sure if that’s the point of this story. It’s an article in the Modern Love section, which focuses on different kinds of love stories.

There are also people out there who consider eating disorders to be a “lifestyle”. I personally don’t agree with that viewpoint at all. But I’m just one person. As I’ve recently mentioned in other posts, there are a fuckload of eating disorders out there that never get any press. Who am I to say that one person’s eating disorder isn’t another person’s lifestyle. In fact, we don’t even know if Darla was ever diagnosed by a physician as having anorexia nervosa. We can only go by Adam’s description of her and her own declaration that she’s anorexic. When I was much younger, I used to go days without eating. I passed out a few times, too. No one would ever think of me as anorexic, even if I sometimes engaged in those behaviors.

I’m inclined to take this essay at face value. It wasn’t intended to be an in depth look at Darla’s eating disorder. It was a story about how Adam and Darla came to be in a relationship. I don’t think there’s enough information in this story to determine what kind of person Adam is. But that’s not stopping some people from judging him. One person wrote:

This is problematic in a variety of ways. The sentence about how Darla was actually considering a diet before the pandemic is particularly disturbing. This diet is apparently supposed to be proof that she triumphed over her anorexia, but it is not. Recovery is not about achieving a certain predetermined weight, it is about rediscovering comfort and joy in your body and the food that nourishes it. The author does not address this at all. He also minutely describes his wife’s eating patterns and ED rituals. The romanticization of theses behaviors is very triggering and could push ED survivors who read this article towards relapse. His wife’s battle with anorexia is ultimately just used as the backdrop for his coming of age story.

The only description Adam includes of his wife’s eating rituals is in a paragraph about how she would spread a thin layer of butter on a saltine cracker and chew it up until it became paste. He writes that some days, that was her only meal, adding “I watched her starve and held her while she did it.” I agree, that last sentence sounds awful on its surface. But looking a little bit deeper, I think it’s possible to see his perspective. It’s practically impossible to save people from themselves. It all comes down to deciding what you– yourself– can tolerate. It sounds to me like Adam accepts Darla as she is. And just based on his essay, I don’t get the sense that he necessarily encourages her to be anorexic. I think many people are making that assumption because he admits that he never tried to force her into treatment.

An argument could be made that a person who is extremely underweight and malnourished lacks perspective. But, unfortunately, when it comes to mental health care, a lot of Americans are shit out of luck. Mental health care is neither easy to afford nor easy to access, especially right now. Moreover, thanks to our civil rights laws, it’s pretty tough to force someone into treatment for an eating disorder. Even if someone is about to starve to death, our laws emphasize self-determination and the right to refuse care. It appears that Adam and Darla may be living in Canada now, as Adam is reportedly teaching in the English department at Carleton University in Ontario. I can’t comment on Canadian laws regarding the treatment of eating disorders or other mental health issues. He makes it sound like perhaps she no longer needs treatment, anyway. Does she need it, having apparently never received it? I honestly don’t know. All I know is what he’s written, and even that is pretty subjective.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that, in the vast majority of mental health situations that don’t involve some kind of biological issue, treatment works best when a person decides for themselves that they will cooperate. When it comes down to it, a person with an eating disorder needs to decide for themselves that they need help. They have to be motivated to get it. Perhaps if Adam had told Darla that he would be leaving her if she didn’t seek treatment, she might have found the motivation to get help. However, it’s my guess that she might have just as easily become resentful and angry about it. She may have seen him as trying to control and manipulate her. A lot of the angry women commenting on this piece would probably fault Adam for that, too. I think a lot of women blame men for most everything.

I told Bill about this piece and asked him what he thought. I know that if he were in this situation, he would have a really hard time watching. He would want to try to rescue. But he also tried to do that with his ex wife and he failed miserably. Eventually, it became too much for him to tolerate and, when she finally dramatically presented him with a divorce ultimatum, he took her up on it. Divorce was not what she had wanted. She was simply trying to be manipulative in a humiliating way. But he got tired of the bullshit and, ultimately, saved himself from her craziness by getting out of the marriage. He’s reaped the rewards and managed to stay alive, too.

Having recently watched a bunch of episodes of Snapped, and having witnessed my husband’s own dealings with a woman who is, frankly, very disturbed, I understand that this is a really tough situation to be in. Not knowing either of these people personally, I can’t judge if what Adam did was right, or if he’s a good person. A lot of people negatively judged Bill and me when I shared how Bill’s story eerily reminded me of an episode of Snapped I watched years ago. It was about a woman named Jessica McCord who, along with her second husband, murdered her first husband and his second wife over custody of their kids. I remember my blood running cold as I watched that episode. I dared to blog about how Jessica McCord reminded me of Ex. I ended up getting a shitstorm of negative armchair quarterback comments from people who wrongly characterized us as bad people. No… we aren’t bad people. We simply didn’t want to end up dead. And I believe Ex was capable of going that far. She threatened to kill Bill on more than one occasion.

Should Bill have tried to get his daughters away from his ex wife? Personally, I think so. In fact, I often encouraged him to try to do something about that situation, even though it wasn’t my decision to make. But, the fact of the matter is, we didn’t have the money or the time to wage a legal battle. It would have been very difficult to convince a judge to grant custody to Bill, especially since the girls didn’t indicate to us that they were unhappy with their living situation. It would have been great if he could have tried to get more equitable custody, but we live in reality. The reality is, it probably wouldn’t have worked. At this point, I’m simply glad he survived, and I don’t apologize for his decision to save himself. His daughters are grown now, and one of them has apparently forgiven him after confirming that her mother is mentally ill. The other remains estranged, but she’s almost 30 years old. She can reach out if she wants to. She chooses not to. As an adult, she has the right to make that choice for herself. Bill loves her anyway.

That’s kind of what I got from Adam’s piece. He loves his wife the way she is. Is it a good thing that he doesn’t press her to get treatment for her eating disorder? I know what most people would think. For me, it’s not so cut and dried. There’s something to be said for a person who loves someone regardless. And despite some people’s potentially erroneous assumptions that Adam prefers his wife “sick”, I get the impression that he had simply determined that he couldn’t be her savior. Moreover, it wasn’t Adam’s role to try to be Darla’s savior, simply because that’s what society deems is correct. What I got from Adam’s story is that he and Darla love each other and, against the odds, their love has survived… and so has his wife. I wish them well.

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marriage, nostalgia, religion

My religious “experience”…

It’s very early in the morning in the United States and I just traded comments with the man who hired me to work at a Presbyterian church camp back in 1993. At the time, I was definitely not a fan of church. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly laid back denomination as churches go. I still hated attending every week. I found it a colossal bore and a waste of time.

Going to church was something I was forced to do, and it wasn’t even something we did as a family, mainly because my mom was always the organist and my dad was always in the choir. My sisters were grown and gone for most of my childhood. I found church dreadfully dull, and I wasn’t interested in it at all. I didn’t listen to the sermons, sing the hymns, or want to be part of any of the activities, although I was frequently compelled to do things like go to vacation Bible school and take the church’s confirmation class. When I was a teenager, I was also required by my parents to go to a career counseling class at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, North Carolina. That school has since been renamed St. Andrew’s University. I remember not wanting to go on that trip and finding the experience “creepy”, although now I think I would have enjoyed going to that university myself. Fat lot of good the trip did for me anyway, although I ended up having some fun on it.

Despite going to church for many years, I didn’t know anything about church or religion or the Bible. I was basically a warm shell sitting in a pew, forced to be there every week and hating it. So why in the world would I have wanted to work at a Presbyterian church camp? It was mainly because I wanted to escape my parents’ house. I would rather be in a religious environment, sleeping in a platform tent, than living with my parents. In those days, my dad and I barely got along and my mom was stressed out keeping the business going. It was a hostile environment. Being at camp all summer spared me from having to be in that environment.

It turned out that church job was one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had. But I do remember being very nervous about working at a religious summer camp. Back in the 70s and 80s, a lot of churches had summer camps. In the area where I grew up, there was Makemie Woods. I remember being forced to go there a time or two when I was a child, though I never had to attend camp there. It looks like Makemie Woods is closed now. A lot of summer camps have ceased to operate, mainly because kids don’t want to go to camp anymore. They’d rather be online. I remember Paddy Run was at risk of closing, until my friend Amy got involved in saving it. Amy worked with me at Camp Paddy Run, as did a lot of other really cool people.

I remember the day I met my former boss, Simon. I walked up to him at a summer camp recruitment event held at my college. I had just spoken to a representative from Camp Fincastle, which was another Presbyterian camp located near where my dad’s family lives. I wasn’t all that impressed by the Camp Fincastle people, and it looks like now, Camp Fincastle no longer exists. But then I saw Simon standing by himself at a table. He wore jeans and a white sweatshirt that had the Very Fine juice company logo on it. He had short brown hair, wore glasses, and a cross around his neck. Before I knew what was happening, I was talking to Simon about being a camp counselor. He said they had enough counselors, but they needed a cook. And I said I’d be a better cook than counselor anyway. A few days later, after checking my references, that same man hired me. I remember thinking he was very uptight. Boy, was I ever wrong! But that didn’t change how I felt almost dread when it turned out he wanted to hire me to be the church camp’s cook! I wondered how I would cope with the religion.

I remember arriving at Camp Paddy Run in June 1993. It was, and still is, a very beautiful location. There was a huge meadow, enclosed by mountains on either side and a vast forest. There was a crude little church space out in the meadow, with weather worn splintery benches, a fire pit, and a cross that was strung together with rope. Deep in the woods, there was Paddy’s Run, a mountain creek, where kids would go rock hopping. There were cabins and “hogans”, and a garage that stored the canoes and camping equipment served as our staff lounge. I remember at night, the stars were absolutely incredible. There was no light pollution at all, so you could see so many stars in the summer sky. If I were inclined to be religious, I would say that God chose Camp Paddy Run to be a sacred place. I wish I had more pictures of it.

It took me awhile to get used to church camp life. I was pretty quiet at first. I wasn’t familiar with the Bible, despite going to church and Sunday School my whole life. I knew nothing about the origins of the Presbyterian Church, or the fact that my ancestry has a lot to do with why my family is mostly Presbyterian. I didn’t know anything about why church services are set up the way they are, and I didn’t enjoy “devotions” or “vespers”. I had nothing much to say during those meetings. Despite having gone to Sunday school and church and being raised in a religious extended family, I was never taught much about Christianity. My dad took me to church every week because it was something people did. It was the expected thing to do. But we never talked about religion at home. We didn’t pray before meals or bedtime (except when I was very little). So when I worked at the church camp, I wasn’t necessarily the best model of Christ-like behavior. I did get in trouble for cussing, too.

At camp, every day started early and ended late. It was my job to cook, and I was good at it. I had three teenaged guys working with me and we ended up becoming friends. I was introduced to canoeing, which was something I had never tried before I worked at camp. I also went on some wonderful hikes in the woods and found swimming holes, one of which had a natural slide. I slept on an uncomfortable cot in a platform tent with two or three other women, depending on the week. The pay wasn’t much, but I had few expenses. It was a healthy lifestyle, far away from “civilization”. I ended up enjoying the experience so much that I went back in 1994. Then, the following year, partly based on my church camp experience, I joined the Peace Corps.

I’m still not a very religious person, although I do enjoy sacred music. Perhaps that’s where my relationship with God is strongest. I don’t do a lot of praying and don’t feel comfortable in offering prayers to people. I still find religion kind of icky, especially since it’s been co-opted by powerful people who want to use it to promote their own agendas. And yet, that job working at a church camp gave me so much… especially in friendships. I still have many friends from that time period, including my former boss, who was a minister for some time and officiated at my wedding to Bill.

Simon has since left the ministry and become a Catholic. I’m not exactly sure what led him to take that step, although he clearly feels most authentic as a Catholic. His wife is still a Protestant. Talking to him now, I see that maybe it was a case of his being somewhat of a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. When I met him, thinking he was this very uptight religious person, I didn’t know that he was also a bit nuts like me. He has a great sense of humor, loves outrageous rock music from the 70s, wears nail polish, and has both earrings and long hair. In the 90s, he had to appear to be someone he wasn’t really. Now that he’s no longer a minister, he can be himself. That must be very liberating for him, although I’m sure the decision to leave his life’s work was extremely difficult. If I know him, he did a lot of praying and soul searching before he took that step.

Simon later became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a psychiatric hospital. I’m sure his skills as a minister were useful when he worked at that job. He recently had to stop working there due to health reasons and family responsibilities.

Like me, my former boss spent a lot of time in school. He’s earned a couple of master’s degrees that he doesn’t use for paid employment. He’s also a bit of an eccentric, like I am. Like me, he found his soul mate and has enjoyed a long, happy union. He’s married to a wonderful woman with whom he enjoys a great marriage and has three lovely daughters. I look up to my former boss as an example. He’s yet another person who didn’t take the conventional road through life.

Bill and I will soon celebrate our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Although the years haven’t always been easy… they’ve all been fun. We still love each other very much. I’m so grateful we were able to have our wedding officiated by someone who is a true friend. He made the ceremony very special and meaningful. We still talk about what he said to us during our wedding. And despite all of the little hassles that come up in our daily lives, we remain committed to each other and happy to be in each other’s lives. I realize how very fortunate we are every day, especially when I go a little nuts.

So… even though I know people read this blog and think all kinds of things about me, the truth is, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good things in life. And I have many good people in my life, too. Especially Bill… I could not have asked for a better partner. When I look back on my pathway through life, I realize that every decision I made, before we first encountered each other in a chat room back in 1999, led me to him. Even working at a church summer camp when I am not particularly religious myself.

I’m also really glad I grew up Presbyterian. If I had to go to church, I’m glad it was one that embraces education and scholarly research. I’m glad I didn’t come away from the experience with religious baggage. The Presbyterians also have the distinction of being from Scotland, too.

And now I have to decide what to get him for our anniversary, since we can’t travel anywhere. Wonder what Hallmark says the 18th anniversary present is. Guess I’ll go find out, especially now that the power is back on.

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lessons learned, love, marriage

My husband… the anti-narcissist

Last night, it was chilly and cloudy outside. Bill had come home to telework in the afternoon, because the heating oil guy came by with a delivery and he didn’t want me to have to deal with it. I don’t have a problem dealing with the heating oil guy. I’ve done it before. But Bill was happy to do it, and is now allowed to telework when he can. In fact, I think it won’t be long before he’s back to working at home full-time. COVID-19 is ramping up again. Wiesbaden is now a red area.

So anyway, he was home yesterday afternoon. He asked me what I wanted for dinner. He proposed baked potato soup or going to the commissary to pick up steaks. I preferred the soup, so he made it from scratch, along with homemade buttermilk biscuits. Bear in mind, when I met him, he was a decent cook, but had a very limited culinary repertoire. He now makes pasta from scratch, brews his own beer, makes great cocktails, and bakes killer cookies. I don’t need to be eating a lot of the goodies he makes, but I have to admit, he’s a great cook. I taught him a lot, but he’s also learned a lot on his own.

Last night, we were enjoying the soup and biscuits and I took a picture of him cooking. I still can’t believe my good fortune. My life has not turned out the way I thought it would… and sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me that I didn’t end up in suburbia with a job and kids. But I really can’t complain, either. Bill is absolutely a prize.

This morning, he made breakfast, as usual. As I was about to tuck in, he hands me a pill. I said, “What’s this? A roofie?”

He said, “No, that’s Vitamin D. We don’t get much sun this time of year. And if you get sick with COVID-19, Vitamin D supposedly helps shorten the duration of the sickness.” That’s Bill, always looking out for other people besides himself. It’s a wonderful quality.

It occurred to me that no one has ever genuinely cared about me as much as Bill does. Not even my parents. He thinks of other people all the time. He works with me to make our lives the way we want them to be. He’s mature and kind and absolutely the opposite of the stereotypical man. When I think of the circumstances of how we met, I still can’t believe my luck.

I was reading the news this morning, once again reading comments. I noticed that a lot of men really dislike it when a woman takes them to task. There’s a contingent of men out there who are very offended by opinionated women. My dad was like that. He didn’t appreciate the fact that I spoke up. He complained that I was “arrogant”, mainly because I argued with him and didn’t call him “Sir”.

I mentioned to Bill that a lot of those types of men, after being really condescending to women, will eventually lose their patience and call them the c-word. It’s happened to me on more than one occasion. A lot of guys think that’s the best weapon to use against women who they think need to be brought down a peg. Frankly, I think it’s very weak on their part, calling someone a “cunt” because you don’t like what they say or how they say it, especially if you would only call females that. In fact, I know that when a man calls me a “cunt”, they have grown frustrated and pathetic, especially when they also add the word “fat”.

Given that a lot of men enjoy access to women’s sexual parts, and most everyone owes their lives to some woman’s cunt, along with other reproductive organs, it makes little sense to use that word as an insult. So I usually laugh when a stranger does that to me… because I know that many men might hate my personality, but they would enjoy having free and total access to that part of my body, even if they found me otherwise unappealing. If they could only access that and nothing else, except maybe my breasts, they’d be pretty happy. Although there are plenty of men out there who are thoughtful, kind, and appreciative of women as people, there are also a lot of men who really just see women as objects with whom they can be sexually gratified. And a BIG clue to me that I’m dealing with that type of man is when he calls me something like “fat cunt”. It really is very sad to the point of being funny.

I am grateful that I found a man who values almost everything about me, even the negative things. He doesn’t see me as simply a life support system for my sexual parts. He cares very much about me and wants the best for me… and he doesn’t mind making me soup for dinner. He thinks about my well-being and cares about my feelings. I’m sure a lot of women before me thought he was dull or needed improvement. A lot of women think nice, kind men like Bill are boring. I know Ex was never happy with what she had… until she married #3 and confessed to her daughters that Bill was a better husband. But count me as glad I found a loving man who cares so very much.

I know men who are divorced from their ex wives and still very bitter. I will admit that I’ve been bitter about Bill’s ex, even as I am grateful that she divorced him. But I have never heard Bill refer to his ex wife with disrespectful terms. I’ve never heard him to refer to any woman in degrading terms. He doesn’t even use the word “bitch” toward most women… not even his Ex, who definitely would deserve such a moniker.

He even admits to his part in their disastrous pairing. He was young, inexperienced, and thought he could “save” Ex and her son. It was classic “white knight” syndrome… the same mentality that leads religious people to adopt children in an attempt to bring them to the gospel. Ultimately, it’s self-serving behavior that is rooted in one’s ego. No one wants to be pitied, particularly when it comes to marriage proposals. A person who proposes marriage out of pity instead of love isn’t asking for the right reasons, and that will probably doom the relationship to failure. The ten years Bill spent with Ex were not good. I think of them as years akin to being spent wearing ill-fitting shoes or a misaligned dental crown. Sorta functional, but uncomfortable, unpleasant, and likely to disintegrate…

Next month, we’ll celebrate our 18th anniversary and I can state with no hesitation that they’ve been good years… easy years… mainly because we love being together and have fun, even when there’s no money. I realize that we’re very lucky, and I just wanted to write about it today. But I do still wonder how I ended up in this life and not in the life I thought I would have. Was it luck or fate? It’s hard to tell… but I’m glad we’re together.

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family, marriage, musings

DINKs whose marriage might be about to sink…

First off, sorry about yesterday’s post. It’s a good one that took me some time to write, and it’s probably about 90% fine to share publicly. Anyone who wants to read it can send me a PM and I’ll give you the password. Actually, it’s 100% fine to share publicly… and I probably will at some point. Just not right now.

Now, for today’s topic. This morning, I read Carolyn Hax’s advice column in the Washington Post. Today’s letter was written by a 33 year old man whose wife, aged 26, has decided that she would like to have a baby. The man, who signed himself “Baby Rabies” explains that he’s looking out for his wife’s best interests. He claims that although they both have good, stable jobs and health insurance, she doesn’t realize how much work babies are and how expensive they can be. He worries that she will regret having a baby so “young” (since when is 26 too young for a baby?) He wants her to enjoy being DINKs (double income, no kids) for a couple of years longer, since they’ve only been married two years. He says her friends will have settled down and started having babies and she won’t be so “isolated”.

Apparently, the letter writer tried to tell his wife that his thinking is for her own good. She is upset because she thinks he’s “infantilizing” her. But he insists that she hasn’t considered the long term consequences of having a baby and what that will mean for their marriage.

Carolyn points out that yes, of course, this guy is infantilizing his wife. I would take it a step further, though. I have written about projection a few times in this blog. Many people don’t know what it is. I think this is an obvious case of projection. Letter writer is apprehensive, immature, and not ready to be a dad, but instead of owning up to that, he’s claiming that his wife isn’t ready because she’s “too young” and his statements indicate that he also thinks she’s immature, since he assumes she hasn’t considered how much “drudgery” is involved with caring for babies.

When I read this guy’s letter– a letter that is all about his opinions about his wife’s emotional and mental states– I hear a man who doesn’t want to become a father yet. But instead of simply admitting that HE doesn’t want to be a dad yet (or maybe even ever), he’s putting it all on his wife. And yes, he’s insulting and infantilizing her, because instead of hearing and understanding his wife’s thoughts about how SHE feels, he’s claiming that his opinions and impressions of her feelings are more relevant and correct.

I sure hope the two of them discussed their feelings about having children before they got married. If they didn’t, this marriage may soon wind up on the rocks. If I were “Baby Rabies'” wife, I would be very pissed off and offended by this guy’s overbearing attitude, especially regarding decisions about MY body. Moreover, if they aren’t on the same page about having a family, this is sure to be an issue that will cause a serious rift in their marriage. No matter what happens, they will probably end up deeply resenting each other.

However– that being said– I also think that Baby Rabies must have a say in their family plans. Clearly HE is not ready to be a parent. And ideally, he should be ready to have a baby before his wife gets pregnant. Since he wants to wait a couple of years and she doesn’t, she may want to consider– 1. whether or not she wants to wait, and 2. how long she’s willing to wait– for her husband to get on board with a pregnancy. I think that would be the wise thing to do. Unfortunately, when it comes to having a family, a lot of people don’t take the other person’s wishes into account. But then, maybe she’s like me and doesn’t find willing partners all that easily. 😉

As I have written many times before, Bill married his ex wife after she had already had a son. Bill was committed to treating the ex’s son as if he were his own, which, frankly, was a mistake, since Ex obviously considers her children to be solely her possessions. In the earliest months of their marriage, she got pregnant, claiming that the birth control failed. Bill was happy to be a dad, but they were not financially ready. Moreover, it’s clear to me that Ex’s birth control didn’t fail. She just unilaterally decided that she wanted to get pregnant and quit taking it. Meanwhile, Bill didn’t wear a condom (which he definitely should have, if he truly wasn’t ready for fatherhood). She did the same thing two years later. Then, when she married number three– sure enough, pregnant within two months and again three years after that. These were ALL her decisions alone, and it was unfair to Bill, and their kids (and their other fathers), although they could have chosen to wear condoms or abstained (but you’d think a man should be able to trust his wife when she says she’s using birth control).

I do think that men– prospective fathers– must have a say when it comes to family planning. I think that both parents should be fully prepared for the responsibility of starting a family and, as much as possible, ready to take it on, especially in this day and age, when everything regarding child raising is so expensive and complicated. It sounds to me like Baby Rabies simply isn’t ready to be a father yet. But instead of just admitting that he’s not ready, he’s putting everything on his wife, and being very insulting to her by claiming she doesn’t know how she feels or what she’s doing. That attitude is bound to piss her off.

Frankly, I think that the fact that he’s projecting his apprehension about having a baby onto his wife is a huge red flag, especially since he’s already seven years older than she is and probably thinks that means he’s “older and wiser”. Some women do like that– but a lot of smart, independent, modern women don’t. This ain’t The Sound of Music— we’re not “Sixteen Going On Seventeen”, needing someone telling us what to do. (as an aside, I’ve always liked that song, even though the lyrics are incredibly sexist and insulting– the melody is nice.)

Blecch… in the end, it turns out that Liesl is a lot less of a child than Rolf is.

I think Carolyn Hax did a good job with her advice to Baby Rabies. I completely agree with what she wrote. But talking about this with Bill this morning reminded me of a truth that has served us well. When I married Bill, I knew there was a good chance we’d never be parents. He’d had a vasectomy when he was with his ex wife. And I am about to digress for a moment, so please excuse the next two paragraphs–

In retrospect, having a vasectomy was a very smart thing for Bill to do, since Ex uses her children as weapons and she clearly wasn’t done having them, as she had claimed before Bill had the surgery. She has had children with each of her three husbands, and when she divorces them, she forces them to take her side and denies them access to their dads. She did it with her first ex husband, and she did it with Bill. Number three is still married to her, but it’s reportedly not a very happy marriage. We’ve heard that Bill’s daughters were forced to call their stepfather “Dad” because he got jealous when Older Daughter once referred to Bill as “Daddy” in front of number three’s baby. Ex reportedly said that she didn’t want her third marriage to fail, so the kids were expected to latch on to number three, forgetting that they already have a father who loves them (which they evidently weren’t able to do, despite appearances to the contrary).

Now– I’m not sure if number three actually felt better when the kids started calling him “Dad”. My guess is that he knew it was bullshit, and he’s likely been unfavorably compared to Bill a lot. Ex probably told him many times that he doesn’t measure up to Bill. I only say this because this is what narcissists do to keep their victims in line. Once you’ve been around them, you realize that they all have the same playbook. They aren’t faithful; they constantly look for supply; and they always have to keep their victims just a little bit insecure so they’ll fight for their position. It takes awhile before the victims realize that the position they’re in is not worth fighting for. I did notice, some time back, that number three had a picture on social media of all of the kids and he referred to them as “All my kids”… but we later heard that it was mostly a sham, done only for optics, and a lot of that stuff was put out solely to punish Bill.

When I married Bill, I knew that I might not become a mom in the usual way. Yes, there are a lot of ways a person can become a parent. We could have adopted a child, although our nomadic lifestyle would have made adoption a challenge. Bill did undergo a vasectomy reversal, which did not result in my getting pregnant (and we aren’t sure why). We could have resorted to getting fertility assistance, which we couldn’t afford and I didn’t really want to do. Also– moves all the time made that prospect difficult.

Eventually, I mostly made peace with the idea that I won’t be a mother. What it came down to is that I decided I would rather be Bill’s wife than be a mother. I don’t think I could find anyone else who is quite as perfect for me. I wouldn’t want to try. I would not trade my marriage to Bill for a baby, although I know that not everyone feels that way. What I have for him is real love. I never saw him as simply someone to fertilize my eggs. I also deeply appreciated that he was willing to have the reversal surgery. He was fine with not having more children, although I know he would have loved to have had a baby with me. I was so grateful that he was willing to try, though. It meant a lot.

I don’t know Baby Rabies’ wife. It sounds like she’s ready to be a mother and has given a lot of thought to the prospect. It’s possible that having a baby is non-negotiable to her, and not having one, or at least trying to have one, will be a dealbreaker. She may have to decide if motherhood, right now, is more important than her marriage. If she does get pregnant and her husband isn’t ready, that could end up being bad for their relationship.

Or… maybe Baby Rabies will fall into line, kind of like the guy who insists he doesn’t want a pet, but then falls in love. It’s hard to tell based only on his letter, which frankly makes him out to be a bit of an overbearing and insensitive jerk. But that letter was probably heavily edited to give us the biggest bang for the buck. He may not have come across as so heavy-handed in the original letter. For all we know, he’s really more of a worry wart, rather than someone who’s boorish and controlling. I can understand a man worrying and being apprehensive about being a father. That’s understandable. I have much less understanding for men who think they know their partners’ minds better than their partner does.

Anyway… this is an academic situation for me. I am not going to have children. Instead, I will have dogs. I may, at some point, have livestock again, too… although that is looking more and more doubtful, the older I get. Fortunately, I am not one of those women who feels compelled to have a baby. I thought it was very important, but it turns out it wasn’t– at least to me. For all the shit we’ve been through in our marriage, I love Bill more every day. I count myself lucky. Hopefully, Baby Rabies and his wife will come to a consensus soon.

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