Bill, family, love, marriage

Few people manage to “come see the softer side of me…”

Some years ago, before its recent financial woes, the retail store Sears had a catchy jingle that went, “Come see the softer side of Sears.” It was about how the store, known for its hardware, heavy mechanical goods, and power tools, also sold things like fuzzy sweaters and silky nightgowns. Potential customers were invited to “come see the softer side” of the retailer and maybe go home having bought new sheets or a fluffy bathrobe.

It’s not lost on me that, especially online, sometimes I come off as a really cantankerous person. There are a number of reasons why I’m like this. A lot has to do with my own personal baggage and traumas from my childhood. A lot of those damages were caused by my family of origin. Some were caused by people outside of the family. I’m not necessarily trying to blame anyone for this, by the way. I think everybody has the potential to unintentionally damage other people. We all have baggage, don’t we? Sometimes, that baggage causes pain to others.

For instance, I know that my father wasn’t an evil man. Most people who knew him would never think that about him. He was outwardly a very nice guy– at least to those who didn’t have to live with him. They saw him as a “peach”– soft, sweet, and fuzzy on the outside. But the truth is, he had a lot of personal problems that were brought on by his own upbringing and situations he was forced to face in his lifetime. Like, for example, his time in the Air Force during the Vietnam War era. He went over there and came home with PTSD. But he was also the eldest son of a violent alcoholic who was abusive. He never dealt with that issue adequately, so he passed that crap along to others. I was one of the recipients of his crap, and sometimes I pass it along in the form of being cranky online.

I don’t necessarily blame my grandfather for my dad’s crap. Like my father, my grandfather wasn’t an evil man. But he did have problems, and sometimes his problems became problems for other people. I know that my grandfather caused his family significant pain. I also know that he was a very funny man, and according to my Granny, he was a very kind person… when he wasn’t drinking. He was, in part, a product of his environment, just like we all are. He didn’t come of age in an enlightened time. I’m sure our strong Celtic heritage didn’t help matters much.

So anyway, this morning, I noticed that one of my sisters went on Facebook last night. She is a “friend”, but she almost never visits Facebook, and comments and “likes” by her are even rarer than that. I was surprised and amused to see comments and reactions by my sister. Then I looked at my Facebook feed and realized that an average person looking at it might come away with the idea that I’m kind of a bitch. I mean, seriously… it’s like looking at The Atlantic’s feed, which lastly mostly consists of “doom porn”. A lot of my status updates are cranky. My blog posts, which I share on my personal page, often have cranky titles. I often share “bad news”. On the other hand, I do try to share “cute” stuff, too… like funny animal videos. But, by and large, my feed is kind of pessimistic and crotchety.

While we were eating breakfast, I looked over at Bill and said, as objectively as I could muster, “I see that Becky has left me a few comments and reactions. Looking at my my latest posts, I must come off as kind of a bitch.”

And Bill deadpanned, “I don’t think that’s ALWAYS true…”

I had a good laugh at that, and took a picture of Bill, who laughed with me. He knows I’m not always as cranky as I seem. Over our twenty years together, he’s had long talks with me. He’s seen me cry when I listen to especially beautiful or moving music. He’s heard me laugh when he says something funny, which is pretty often. I am easily amused, so offline I laugh a lot, even if I seem like a crab to people who have never met me in person. He’s heard me say loving things to him, and especially our dogs, who accept us the way we are. He knows that there’s a lot more beneath my prickly, bristly exterior. I can be kind and generous and very soft and emotional. But if you don’t actually know me, you might never see that side. Instead, I sometimes look like a jerk to other people. I’m kind of hard, rough, and coarse… kind of like a coconut. But beneath the shell is sweetness.

Bill has a good laugh with me after his observation that I’m not ALWAYS a bitch… Actually, he would never call me a bitch. Compared to Ex, I am an angel.

Maybe it’s not always a bad thing to look like a jerk, though. It’s kind of a defense mechanism, isn’t it? If I manage to turn someone off before they ever get to know me, maybe they aren’t actually worthy of knowing that softer side of my personality. It’s said that real friends are true rarities. Most people want to know you when you’re doing okay. It’s the ones that hang around when things are bad– and don’t have any ulterior motives for hanging around– that are real friends. I mean, a person could be dying of a terrible disease. If they are very wealthy or they have something of value to others, maybe others would hang around in hopes of being named in a will or something. But it’s the people who care for those who can’t give them anything that are real friends. In my experience, those types of people can indeed be rare.

So, when someone is good to me even when I’m feeling cranky or irritable, I pay attention. I give double points to those who make me laugh when I’m feeling like that. And I give triple points to people who don’t mind my many idiosyncrasies. For instance, yesterday I was trying (and failing) to finish my latest jigsaw puzzle, while listening to my HomePod. A karaoke version of the song “Hello Young Lovers” came on. I like that song, so I joined in… Bill complimented my “performance”.

I said, “Thank you. You are a very tolerant man.”

And Bill said, “And you are very talented woman. It would be different if my ex tried it.” Then he gave me a grin, Stanley Roper style.

Bwahahahaha… I’m a Three’s Company super fan.
Kinda like Stanley…

To put this into context, Ex once serenaded Bill with her version of Juice Newton’s 80s era song, “The Sweetest Thing (I’ve Ever Known)”. Because he’s a very good man, he listened to it with a straight face. For all I know, it really was a sweet moment between them. Ex reportedly wanted to study music, but was told she needed lessons before she could major in music at a local college. But now, Bill can’t bear to listen to “The Sweetest Thing” anymore. Ex actually ruined a lot of songs for Bill. Some of them are good songs, too. Like, he doesn’t like “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, because Ex used it in one of her object lessons. And he doesn’t like “To Really Love a Woman” by Bryan Adams for the same reason. For the longest time, he didn’t want me to play Kenny Loggins’ children’s album, Return to Pooh Corner, because of Ex. Ditto to anything by Sesame Street or The Muppets. But he doesn’t mind when I burst into random song… or when I redo songs, replacing their words with silly, profane, or disgusting lyrics. At least when I sing, I do it with feeling and on key. 😉

Bill has proven to me time and again that he’s a real friend. So he gets to see the softer side of me whenever he wants. Or, at least he sees it after I’ve calmed down and had some dip.

The coconut vs. peach idea isn’t one I came up with. I’ve often heard certain cultures described that way. A lot of people think of certain southerners like peaches. They’re sweet, juicy, fuzzy, and warm on the outside. But beneath that sweetness, there’s a stone pit of a heart in some people. Those sweet “honey lippin'” types who are nice to people’s faces can sometimes be, deep down, hardhearted people who would disown their own family members for being gay or marrying someone who isn’t the same religion or race. And some people think of people from New York City as being more like coconuts. They’re gruff, cold, and hard on the exterior… but when something really terrible happens, they are compassionate and kind. Of course, neither of these stereotypes always apply to every situation. Some people from up north are mean. And some southerners are extremely kind and loving. But you get the idea, I hope…

Toodles!

Anyway, Mr. Bill wants to go to Wiesbaden and get a Swiss “vignette” for our car. We need one because we will be passing through Switzerland on our vacation, which starts next weekend. So I will close today’s post and get on with the day. I hope you all have a good Saturday. I’m really not as irritable as I seem… and contrary to some people’s opinions, I can be quite introspective. I just have some baggage full of peaches and coconuts.

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book reviews, healthcare, love, marriage

Repost: Catherine Graves’ intimate memoir about losing her husband…

Here’s a reposted review from Epinions.com. It’s short, which tells me I probably wrote it for their annual “lean n’ mean” challenges. We were supposed to write reviews of less than 500 words to be entered in the monthly sweepstakes. I think I won a couple of those. Anyway, this post was written February 6, 2013 and appears here as/is.

Catherine Graves feared marital infidelity when she noticed a change in her husband, John.  The two had been running a business together.  Catherine had always been the practical one, while John was more whimsical and easygoing.  But then his behavior began to change and Catherine was sure he was cheating on her.  Then she wondered if he was dealing with a serious bout of depression.  They saw a therapist, who thought maybe John needed time in a rehab facility to find out what was wrong.  The couple went to Sierra Tuscon, an inpatient counseling center, where a staffer brought up the possibility that John Graves’ problem was neurological, rather than psychological.  When John experienced seizures and was taken to a hospital, his brain tumor was finally discovered.

The doctor who discovered the tumor told Catherine that it was cancerous and putting pressure on his brain.  She told Catherine that while John could have treatments that might extend his life, his condition was terminal.  John Graves had what is known as Glioblastoma multiforme, a nasty and thankfully rare brain tumor that kills quickly.

In her 2011 book, Checking Out: An In-Depth Book At Losing Your Mind, Catherine Graves explains what it was like to suddenly lose her beloved husband to a personality altering sickness and death.  Then, once John died, Catherine began to lose her mind with depression.  The aftermath of brain cancer nearly destroyed the author, her children, and John’s children.   

My thoughts

I was alerted to Checking Out when I read an online review of it on CNN last year.  It took awhile to get around to reading it, and once I did get to it, reading the book didn’t take much time.  It’s a short memoir, but packed with raw emotion and eloquence.  Graves includes touching revelations from her children, Alex and Caroline, products of another relationship who thought of John Graves as their dad and were devastated to lose him. 

As poignant as I think Checking Out is, I thought it was a bit short and could have used more substance.  The paperback version is priced at $16.95 and $9.99 on Kindle, which is pretty steep for a book that only takes a few hours to read.  On the other hand, this book is a beautifully written tribute from a woman who obviously loved her husband and whose tragic loss almost destroyed her.  Her recovery is triumphant and I was particularly moved by the thoughtful passages her children contributed.        

Checking Out will move many readers as it did me.  I certainly recommend it to those who can bear to read about such a depressing subject as losing one’s beloved spouse.  While I wish this book had been a little more substantive, I admit that it’s beautifully written.  I think it rates five stars and a box of tissues.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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family, LDS, love, marriage

Discovering you’re wife #4…

Yesterday, someone wrote an off topic post on the Recovery from Mormonism messageboard. Or, she’d labeled it as OT. Personally, I didn’t think it was an off topic post at all. I’m sure a lot of people who are ex members of the LDS church can relate to the ultimate breach of trust and lack of respect she describes with this post.

I was aware of my husband’s previous marriage. What I didn’t know, until I recently discovered it, is that I’m actually wife #4, not #2, I thought. We discussed previous relationships before we got married, but he referred to them as relationships, not marriages. I also pulled out our marriage license application where you have to declare which marriage this is…he wrote “second”.

When asked why he did this, he replied, “it was along time ago, the marriages were so short, I thought you may not marry me, you didn’t ask”.

I’m really struggling with this. It feels kinda like discovering hidden church stuff all over again.

This lady’s post was up for several hours before someone responded to it. I happened to be that person. My comment to her was this:

I don’t blame you for being upset. I would wonder what else I wasn’t told in that situation. It’s a breach of trust.

I could have written more, but I was on my iPad and it’s a pain to type on the iPad. Also, I really just wanted her to feel heard and validated without having to wade through too much. Her instincts are correct. Her husband lied to her, and that’s a major betrayal. I’m not an ex Mormon, but Bill is. When we met, he claimed to be a devout church believer. However, we met in a place not typically frequented by church types. After awhile, I realized he was trying to convince himself that he was a believer. He wanted to save his first marriage– felt it was his duty to try to save it, even though it was a relationship built on bullshit. Those kinds of relationships pretty much never last.

A couple of hours later, another nevermo regular poster also replied. She agreed with me. Then, came the somewhat inappropriate responses from men. One guy wrote:

“Everyone with the ability to speak ‘edits’ their life story.”

That may be true… but glossing over two previous marriages is a bit extreme, in my view, even if they were super short and “meaningless”. At the very least, it means that her spouse once had little regard for the institution of marriage. He obviously didn’t take it seriously a couple of times in his life. I would have a hard time regaining trust for my husband if it turned out he’d hidden something this significant. I also think it says something when the spouse who lies by omission says something like “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me if you knew the whole truth about me.” Cover ups are almost always worse than the truth. At least if you tell someone the truth, they have the ability to decide for themselves about the right thing to do .

I’m interested in the whole story… even the ugly parts. Sometimes, the ugly parts make the story more compelling.

Consider this. If you’ve been reading this blog for any time, you know that I love my husband with all my heart. This year, we will have been happily married for 19 years. But if I’d relied only on my common sense, I never would have married him. He had a lot of baggage that would have sent a lot of women packing. Here’s a list of his “shortcomings” from those early days, over twenty years ago.

  • He had bad credit. He and Ex had gone through both a foreclosure and a bankruptcy. After getting to know him, I realized that Bill wasn’t the one with the problem handling money. But if I had been exercising common sense, I wouldn’t have gotten involved with him because of his financial issues.
  • He was broke. After his divorce, Bill was paying over half his salary to Ex in child support and alimony. It was really tough going for awhile, but I realized it was a time limited issue. And, based on our lifestyle, you can see that I was right.
  • His ex wife was (and still is) legitimately “crazy”. Those of you who have followed my blogs probably already know how crazy. She has no compunction about making insane demands on people and smearing them to others. She withheld visitation with the kids from Bill and completely alienated them after he married me. I strongly suspect she has a character disorder.
  • He’d had a vasectomy. Bill is not only my first husband; he’s also the only man I’ve ever been intimate with. I wanted to have children, and he’d already had them with Ex, who then asked him to have a vasectomy. He obliged. However, he was willing to have it reversed for me. That was enough for me, even though I never managed to have children. Now, I realize maybe not having children was a good thing, given how complicated his situation with Ex and their kids has been.
  • He was involved in a “weird” religion. Not everyone thinks Mormonism is “weird”, but coming from the South, where most people are Protestants, it was certainly different to me. Fortunately, Bill wasn’t that committed to Mormonism, nor did he feel compelled to convert me. If he had, our relationship probably would not have worked. I can tell you right now, I would never willingly be involved in a faith that dictates what undergarments I wear or what beverages I choose to drink. Other people’s mileages vary, of course.
  • I met him on the Internet in a chat room! I might as well have met him in a bar!

So why has our relationship worked, given all of these “obvious” shortcomings? It’s worked because Bill was completely honest with me. Three months after we started chatting, he sent me a long email explaining everything, even though he worried that I might reject him. Also, he stayed platonic in his conversations with me until he was legally divorced. He even wore his wedding ring until his split was official. We didn’t meet in person until about a year after his divorce was official. Even after the divorce was official, he wasn’t inappropriate with me. I realized that he was a decent, honest person and I could trust him. He also eventually learned that he could trust me, despite what he’d been through in his first marriage.

It took about five years before Bill completely trusted me with finances. He finally gave me access to his bank account when he deployed to Iraq and I had to handle the household bills. While he was gone, I made a point of paying off all of the horrible, high interest credit cards he had because he’d trusted his ex wife to pay the bills and she hadn’t. A year later, USAA, which had taken a loss in his bankruptcy, granted him a new credit card. PenFed let him refinance a car loan, saving us hundreds of dollars. He’s never missed paying a bill the whole time we’ve been together. He now has an excellent credit score.

When Bill goes on business trips, he is incredibly reliable about contacting me. In fact, it’s almost annoying… I’ll be watching a movie or something and he’ll want to chat. But I appreciate it, because I know he’s thinking of me and is faithful. I don’t worry about him fucking around when he goes TDY. He is extremely respectful and faithful, and I knew he was when he was still married to his ex wife. Meanwhile, she was shacking up with her now third husband in the house Bill was paying for and she later let go into foreclosure. I was certain he was trustworthy when I met him, and so far, he’s proven me right.

Over the years, Bill has been incredibly brave about telling me pretty much everything about his life, even some things that are completely embarrassing and potentially humiliating. And he has had quite a life… and a lot of weird stuff has happened to him. He could write a book. Every day, I’m amazed at how balanced, reliable, and decent he is, despite everything that has happened in his past. He could have chosen not to tell me about the embarrassing things in his past and risked being rejected by me. But, it turns out I was willing to trust my instincts, rather than common sense. I knew he was the best kind of person, and I was right. It would devastate me if he’d hidden something as major as prior marriages, no matter how short. It would mean he didn’t trust me, and that would make me wonder if I should be trusting him.

I don’t think strong relationships start with deception, either outright untruths or lies by omission. When I married Bill, I was taking on a new relative. That means he’s family… family I CHOSE. I wouldn’t voluntarily choose to make someone a family member if he didn’t trust me enough to tell me the whole truth about who he is. Likewise, I would expect my partner to know everything there is to know about me. But I also realize that I have been extremely lucky. Bill is an honest person who doesn’t hide skeletons in the closet. I am also an honest person. We told each other the truth. A person who can’t handle hearing the whole truth about serious issues before agreeing to marriage is probably not the best candidate to be husband or wife.

A good example of times when honesty is NOT the best policy…

Now… it’s true that I do believe in being completely honest about the major things, like prior marriages, criminal history, health situations, and finances. But that doesn’t mean I think it’s always a good thing to be completely honest about everything. Like, for instance, if Bill thinks my ass looks especially dumpy one day, he doesn’t have to be honest about that and tell me so! That would hurt my feelings unnecessarily, especially since there’s nothing I can immediately do about having a dumpy ass. Fortunately, he’s not the type of guy who is overly hung up on looks. 😉

But yes… if I found out that I was wife #4, rather than wife #2, I would be very hurt and feel betrayed. I think it would be difficult to trust a partner who hid something major like that from me. And I would not think too highly of someone who tried to brush it off by saying the marriages were short or insignificant and, therefore, unworthy of being mentioned. Marriage, to me, is a huge deal. The fact that someone got married twice, but doesn’t see them as significant is a huge red flag, in my opinion. I have a lot of empathy for the lady on RfM who is making this discovery now. I wish her luck and strength. She might even feel like she doesn’t even know this man anymore.

At least at this point, Bill and I are a team. We work together to achieve common goals. He supports what I do, and I support what he does. We trust each other, and, for the most part, we’re completely honest. We don’t hide things. Like… I can say whatever is on my mind and, for the most part, Bill doesn’t judge me for them. The same goes for Bill. Because I think we both know that neither of us wants the other person to be hurt. That being said, though, I also think I hit the husband lottery. Bill is an unusually mature and respectful person. Most people aren’t like him, including myself. I never forget that, and I try not to abuse it.

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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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love, marriage, modern problems, musings

Half boiled eggs…

This morning, before he went to work, Bill and I were talking about an article I discovered this morning. Someone had found several letters from advice columnists like Dear Abby and Carolyn Hax, as well as sites like Reddit, and aggregated them into a single article. Three of the five profiled letters stuck out to me. Each of the three letters that captured my attention were about the so-called importance of image, which is a recurring issue in my life.

Bill and I have both had to deal with image obsessed people. My late father, for instance, often conveyed that he was ashamed of me. On multiple occasions, he criticized me for not being more like my eldest sister. He had problems with everything from how I laugh, to how I look, to the fact that I hadn’t achieved enough success in life. Even the things I did well, like music and writing, were sources of shame or envy for him. He made it clear that he thought the image I projected reflected poorly on him. Yes, it was upsetting and offensive to hear one of the two people responsible for my very existence constantly telling me about how I hadn’t measured up to his expectations. It was depressing, and I knew that even if I did start doing things to appease him, it would never be enough.

I eventually told him that his issues with how I turned out were his problem and he needed to get over it. I am certainly not a perfect person by any means, but I’ve done plenty of things that should have made him very proud of me. When I pointed this out to him, he was shocked and probably very embarrassed. He backed off. Unfortunately, a year later, he slid into dementia and spent the next few years dying a slow death.

Bill, likewise, had many issues meeting his ex wife’s expectations. Because of the traumatic way she grew up, she felt she should be living an idyllic existence. She wanted a small town life in a cute little house with a picket fence. She wanted new cars, new furniture, and attractive landscaping. She was only interested in her image, and making it look to others that she was somebody special. Unfortunately, she didn’t spend much time working on the internal structures of her life– the things that actually supported her existence. Her focus was all about the external and what other people thought… not what the people involved in the relationship thought. Their relationship failed.

All of the advice seekers in the article we were discussing had what one might call “first world problems”, but the ones that really stuck out to me were about people who wanted other people to change for them. The core issue was mostly about image, and how the perceived importance of image causes relationship problems. Bill said “It’s like a raw egg versus a boiled egg. On the surface, a half boiled egg looks as perfect as a boiled egg does. But when you crack beneath the surface, there’s a gooey, uncooked mess.”

Letter #1

The first person’s letter was written by a woman in her 60s who claimed that men never appreciated her for her mind. They only seemed interested in her looks. She claimed to look at least twenty years younger than her age and was tired of people thinking she was just a pretty face. Dear Abby told her that she should appreciate what she has, since so many people would like to be considered “beautiful” when they’re in their 60s.

I could kind of see the letter writer’s point. I was never a “hottie” myself, so the vast majority of men who are my friends are friends because they value something in me other than my looks. Most of them seem to think I’m smart or funny or talented. They don’t just talk to me because I have big boobs or a nice ass… And while there have been times when I wished men found me more physically attractive, I can also state without hesitation that women who are only valued for their looks don’t have it so easy. It is a legitimate problem.

I’m reminded of an incident I once wrote about in my old blog. Back in the late 1990s, I was in my 20s and working at a very stressful restaurant. I hated the job, but I made pretty good money and some friends. Because the job was very physical and I often worked long hours without eating, I lost a significant amount of weight without trying. Back then, I looked pretty good, even though I was also constantly sick. Of course, it was all relative. Even though I’d lost about 35 pounds, had a new wardrobe, and had started getting my hair done, some people still didn’t think I was all that cute.

One night after work, a bunch of my work colleagues showed up at a local bar at the same time I was there. One friend, a very attractive young woman a few years younger than me, was dancing to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle”.

I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around. There was a young guy standing there. He said, “Hey, are you with her?” gesturing at my gyrating blonde friend.

“Excuse me?” was my response.

“That girl over there. Is she your friend? And is she here with anyone?” he repeated.

I don’t remember what I said. Obviously, he had spotted her across the room, appreciated her rhythmic movements, hot body, and pretty face, and decided to make a move. However, instead of speaking to her directly, like a real man, he’d decided to speak to her less threatening “fat friend”, to see if it was worth his while. I remember thinking he was an asshole because his message to me was, “I don’t think you’re cute, but your friend is hot. I’d like to meet her and then…”

And then what, Junior? Do you just want to “talk”? Or did you have something else in mind?

At first, I will admit that I was merely insulted by the guy’s tone deaf query. But then, years later, reflecting anew on that incident, it occurs to me that maybe I was the lucky one. Because I don’t think I would enjoy having to deal with randy guys hitting on me all the time simply because they liked what they saw. To be clear, as a female, I have certainly been hit on before. Most women have had that experience. It’s generally not a compliment when some guy who doesn’t know me at all makes it plain that he’s just looking to hook up because he’s horny. Most of the ones who hit on me were not very appealing anyway. Women like my friend probably have to put up with that kind of shit all the time. Relationships built on the external are usually flimsy, at best. They often end in heartbreak.

Maybe some women enjoy being able to charm men with a cute figure and a pretty face, but I don’t think I’d want to be valued simply because of the way I look. I’d much rather someone like me because they think I’m funny, talented, or intelligent. I’d much rather be respected for what’s on the inside, especially since looks often fade. Most of the men in my life are there because I bring something to the table besides big boobs and a dazzling smile. So I can see why the first letter writer was having issues with being called “beautiful” all the time, even if her complaint comes across as obnoxious to some.

Letter #2

The next letter was written by a guy who had taken his girlfriend of three years to Vietnam and Cambodia. They’d spent an amazing two weeks hiking, visiting spiritual places, eating good food, and enjoying themselves. One night, when they were in their hotel room, the guy pulled out an engagement ring and proposed. His girlfriend accepted the marriage proposal, then hit the shower.

When she came out of the shower, the guy’s girlfriend was in tears. She gave the ring back to her beau and said that she was disappointed in how he’d proposed to her. She had pictured a more dramatic proposal, one that didn’t take place in a hotel room. She encouraged him to propose again, somewhere more “suitable”.

My first reaction to that letter was, “Run!” And sure enough, the letter writer, who was crushed by his girlfriend’s shallowness, was considering breaking up with her. He wanted to know if he was being unreasonable. My thought is that if you’ve gone from wanting to spend the rest of your life with someone, to considering breaking up with her over her disappointment regarding a marriage proposal, your relationship is in deep trouble. You shouldn’t consider getting married to someone with whom you are considering breaking up, especially if it’s because she’s “disappointed”.

Girlfriend threw up a major red flag when the proposal wasn’t “good enough” for her. I have a feeling that a marriage to her would mean years of his never quite measuring up and her constant dissatisfaction and disappointment. I was reminded of a story Bill told me about his ex. They were at a gas station and she’d asked him to get her a drink. He went into the store and bought her a bottle of Dr. Pepper. She said something along the lines of, “If you really loved me, you’d know I wanted a fountain drink.” Their marriage was full of these kinds of situations, where she’d demand something and it wasn’t enough, wasn’t done right, or didn’t project the image she’d had in her mind. She was never happy, and before long, neither was Bill. And if you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know how their story ended.

I think the second letter writer’s hesitation in a marriage proposal “do-over” is another red flag. If he married his girlfriend, there would almost definitely be a divorce in the future. Think about it. A marriage proposal is supposed to be a very happy occasion. Ultimately, it’s not the proposal or the wedding that makes a marriage work. It shouldn’t matter where the question was popped… and I don’t think doing the proposal over in front of a waterfall or next to a holy temple is going to erase the memory of her reaction to his first proposal. I think it would be a thorn in their sides for the rest of their time together. Divorce is messy and expensive, especially when children are involved. So, I hope he did follow his instincts and dump her, so they could both find partners who are more suitable.

Letter #3

Finally, there was a letter from a guy who was dating a very beautiful, funny, intelligent woman with whom he wanted to have babies. The trouble was, he was ashamed of her because of her weight. She was too fat for him, and because of that, he had avoided introducing her to family and friends. However, he “loved” her and would be heartbroken to lose her… and, of course, he was “concerned” about her health.

As I was reading that letter, I inwardly groaned. Here’s a guy who wants to “fix” someone. She’s too fat for him, and he sees her problem as something she should be willing to overcome. If she’d just lose weight, she’d be just “perfect”. I can just hear him now saying, “If you loved me, you’d lose weight.” But what happens when something happens and she gets heavy again? Will he still love her if she loses weight, but then regains it? Or will she be on a tightrope the whole time they’re together?

Well… that just sucks. As someone who has heard many insulting comments about my body, I can honestly state that I would much rather be alone than be married to some guy who obsesses over my looks. I know being overweight is considered unhealthy, although I doubt there are many people who are, in fact, in perfect health. If you’re not a healthcare professional with intimate and current knowledge of another person’s stats, you aren’t really in a place to judge their health. You can assume someone who is “fat” is unhealthy, but in most cases, you really don’t know for sure, and it’s beyond offensive to make that assumption.

I’m not saying that people in relationships should not encourage healthy habits in their mates. If girlfriend wants to lose weight, he should encourage and help her within reason. His first concern should be for her health and happiness. If he’s not attracted to her the way she is, the relationship is probably doomed. Plenty of people lose weight and put it right back on, along with more. She could lose fifty pounds for their wedding, get pregnant, have health issues, and put it all back on and never lose it. Would he still love her then? Or, she could lose weight and decide he’s not good enough for her. I’ve even heard of people who thought they didn’t like their partner’s weight realize that after weight loss, it wasn’t the weight that was the real issue in their relationship.

Someone who utters the phrase “if you really loved me” is probably going to eventually end up in divorce court. Again, divorce is expensive, messy, and heartbreaking. So I hope the letter writer in this case broke up with his girlfriend who doesn’t “measure up” to his preferences and found someone more to his liking. However, I have a feeling that he’s a fixer and would find something to dislike in a thinner person, too. Fixers usually have their own issues that they haven’t worked on, so they focus on the flaws of other people. Thinner gal would probably have crooked teeth or crossed eyes or something that he’d want her to fix for him… if she really loved him, that is.

I feel very lucky that Bill and I accept each other for who we are. Sometimes I’m a cranky bitch who complains too much. I have issues with anxiety, and a tendency to look on the dark side of things. I don’t wear makeup every day, fix my hair, or sometimes even get dressed. I could stand to lose weight, and a new haircut would probably do wonders for my appearance. I definitely have my problems, and could make many improvements and changes.

Bill is, likewise, a fantastic spouse, but sometimes he’s too eager to fix everything and please other people. He’ll bend over backwards for others, even when they don’t appreciate or acknowledge it. Being so eager to please gets him into trouble, because he often doesn’t speak up until things have really gotten bad. Then, instead of a little mess to clean up, there’s a much bigger mess.

Bill sometimes does little things that irritate me. For instance, he has a habit of repeating things I say right after I say them. I’ll add something to a story and he’ll repeat what I just said, as if I’d never said it. It’s annoying when he does it in front of just me, but hurtful when he does it in front of other people, because it implies that the other person didn’t hear me and needs him to speak for me. I ‘ve told him about this, explaining that I know that he doesn’t do it on purpose. He knows why I get upset this way, too. It’s because my whole life, people have discounted me, ignored me, or told me I either didn’t matter or wasn’t good enough. I know that’s not how he feels about me, but sometimes that’s how it feels to me– that yet another person doesn’t think I can speak for myself.

Fortunately, we can talk about these things. And even when talking about our issues and idiosyncrasies leads to one or both of us getting upset, it doesn’t kill the love or appreciation we have for each other. We acknowledge that neither of us is perfect, and never will be. What’s most important isn’t the perfect image of a smooth, oval, chicken egg… it’s what’s beneath the surface that counts. Is it a gooey, uncooked mess? Or is it carefully cooked, easily peeled, and waiting for a dash of salt?

I don’t think it’s a good idea to start off a marriage with residual disappointment or with the idea that the other person is a “project” who needs to be improved or changed. Look beyond the external image and consider whether or not that person is someone with whom you are compatible. Bill loves me despite my flaws, because I make him laugh and find fun stuff for us to do together. We’re very compatible, and enjoy each other’s company. We empathize with each other and are each other’s best friend. I think that’s what’s important. If you don’t have that basic compatibility with a significant other, and you can’t love them for who they are, it may be better to be alone.

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