book reviews, mental health, narcissists

A review of Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, And It’s Time to Get Real About It by Ann Silvers, MA

I have just finished reading Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, And It’s Time to Get Real About It, a book for male victims of abuse written by Ann Silvers, MA, a counselor who practices in Washington State. Silvers is herself a former abuse victim, but she is also formally educated in counseling and has a speciality in helping both men and women survive and escape abusive relationships. She’s been practicing for over 30 years.

This first edition book was released in September 2018 and appears to be a product of self-publishing, as it was published by an outfit called Silvers Publishing. In spite of the fact that it’s apparently self-published, Abuse OF Men BY Women is an excellent book. It’s surprisingly comprehensive, well-organized, and readable.

Why did I read this book for male abuse victims if I’m a woman?

There are a couple of reasons. First off, I have master’s degrees in both social work and public health, and if I weren’t “The Overeducated Housewife”, this might be considered professional reading for me. As it stands today, I just find it interesting subject matter. Secondly, my husband’s first wife abused him. Bill and I have been married for 18 years, and I’m still learning about everything that happened during their marriage, which lasted almost ten years. Although he’s come a long way since we first met, the healing process has been long… and a lot of people have little empathy or regard for men who have survived abuse.

Since I have both an educational and real life background in the subject matter Ms. Silvers covers in her book, I thought it would be interesting to read her thoughts on male abuse victims. More people need to realize that women are not the only ones who get abused in relationships. Unfortunately, it’s much harder for men to get help when they are in toxic relationships with women. A lot of people don’t take them or the issue seriously, or they assume the man is lying. I have seen firsthand the psychological and physical scars my husband bears after his first marriage. I take this issue seriously, and I want others to know more about it.

This book’s strengths

One of the things I noticed about this book that may be a plus for some readers is that the concepts are broken down into easy to digest pieces. Silvers has an easy to read writing style that takes little effort to navigate. I think that is especially important in books such as this one, since the people reading it are likely to be in trouble and upset. The book is very comprehensive and realistically covers a broad array of topics that male abuse victims may face. For instance, Silvers confronts the reality that not a lot of shelters will accept male clients, even if they need somewhere to go after they escape. She even admits that if a man calls the police for help, it could backfire, and he could wind up the one in trouble with the law. But she also reminds readers that if they don’t ever ask for help, there is a 0% chance that they’ll get it.

I liked that Silvers covered the many ways men can be abused. A lot of people wrongly assume that men, who are often bigger and stronger than women are, can always fight back when a woman gets physical. That’s not always true. Aside from that, some women use weapons… and there are also times when the woman uses other means of getting her way. She may, for example, use her femininity to get sympathy from others. She may alienate children or family members, or engage in financial or legal abuse. As I read Silvers’ descriptions of the scenarios that can arise in female to male abuse situations, I found myself nodding my head. Almost all of them have happened to Bill.

Silvers explains that men may have to accept that some people won’t believe that he’s a victim, but they may end up pleasantly surprised that the public attitude is changing. Bill’s ex wife turned the children against him and even tried to convince his parents that he’s an abusive, woman hating pervert. However, Bill’s younger daughter, who was estranged for years, eventually recognized that her mother abused him. And her parents were not swayed by the Ex’s lies, either. His stepmother took a little more time to be convinced.

This book’s weaknesses

Overall, I don’t think Abuse OF Men BY Women has that many weaknesses. It’s a well-written and useful book. It’s practical, engaging, and easy to read. I guess if I had to offer a complaint, it might be that, to me, the book has a somewhat academic feel, not so much in the writing style, but in the way it’s laid out. There aren’t any graphics or charts, per se. The chapters are arranged as if they were done for a university thesis, rather than a book to be read by laypeople. The lone one star review on Amazon mentioned that the reader had been expecting journalism, rather than a self-help book. I knew this was a self-help book, so I don’t have that complaint.

Overall

I think Abuse OF Men BY Women is a useful tool for men who are in abusive relationships. I don’t know how many men in this situation would take the time to read a book like this one. I think it’s more likely their caring female companions, who get involved during or after the abuse, probably will. For instance, I noticed that some reviewers on Amazon were not men in abusive relationships; they were women who were involved in some way with men who had been abused (family members or new significant others). I have learned a lot about this issue myself, having been married to Bill. This kind of extra reading makes it easy for me to talk to him, even though ideally, he should talk to someone who is licensed to counsel him and isn’t directly involved, as I am. But this kind of book does make the problem easier to understand for me, and I suspect it would have been helpful for Bill when he was still in an abusive relationship.

Silvers writes like someone who understands the problem very well and has done her best to cover every angle. I like that she does so in a way that isn’t derogatory, either. Other books I’ve read on this subject have a tone that is unflattering toward women. I remember one book I read years ago was published in Ireland, and the title (which was later changed) was, That Bitch: Protect Yourself Against Women With Malicious Intent. While most abusive women are, in fact, legitimate bitches much of the time, I don’t think that title was appropriate. It’s hard to take a book seriously when the very title is a misogynistic insult. I suspect the publishers determined that the good information in that book was not being read, since the title was so antagonistic and, in and of itself, somewhat abusive. On the other hand, I remember reading another book, over 20 years ago, that was entitled Let’s Face It: Men are @$$#%\¢$: What Women Can Do About It. I remember not being very impressed with that book, although I’m sure the title attracted plenty of attention and helped make sales.

Anyway… Ann Silvers is much more professional in her approach, and that’s what makes her book more useful, in my view. Abuse OF Men BY Women is not just a book about offering sympathy and bashing males or females. Silvers offers practical and realistic advice, and even warns that sometimes doing the right thing can lead to unpleasant consequences. For men, sorry to say, calling for help can be legitimately risky. On the other hand, if more abused men would stand up to be counted, they would more likely be taken more seriously and have more access to the help they need. We’ve got to break the stigma against male domestic violence abuse victims. I think this book helps do that, so I highly recommend it.

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

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condescending twatbags, mental health, modern problems, musings, sex

Transaction denied!

This morning, as I enjoyed coffee and a chocolate cream cheese muffin with Bill, I read today’s Dear Abby. The first letter was this:

DEAR ABBY: Two months ago, I met a lady I will call Amber. We were instantly attracted to each other. The first date went well, and we reached first base (kissing). On the second date, we reached second base (fondling). On the third date, which was also going well, after I finished paying the check for dinner, I asked her if she wanted to continue where we had left off. Amber said no. I was fine with it.

Later that night, when we spoke over the phone, I pointed out, nicely, that she did not even say thank you for dinner, and Amber got offended. I decided to end things after that phone call. I felt she was being disrespectful of my feelings by not listening to what I was saying.

Fast-forward: Her birthday is in two weeks, and I don’t know if I should bury the hatchet by dropping her a Happy Birthday text that day because I really did overall like her. — BRAND-NEW IN NEW JERSEY

Dear Abby, to her credit, very diplomatically set the letter writer straight. She wrote:

DEAR BRAND-NEW: Amber may have become offended when, after she declined to proceed with further intimacy, you told her she “hadn’t even” thanked you for the dinner. When I read that line, for a moment I wondered if you equated the two and had expected that after buying her dinner you were guaranteed sexual favors in return. The two of you have a significant communication deficit. Contact her again only if you are willing to acknowledge that fact and hope she is willing to work on it with you.

As I read this piece, I was reminded of a post I wrote on the original Overeducated Housewife blog. Actually, I wrote a few articles on this subject– about the idea that if a man takes a woman out for dinner, she owes him sex. Or she owes him ANYTHING, except perhaps money if the date is a “Dutch treat”.

In April 2018, I wrote about a woman named Amanda Burnett, who went out with a guy. He paid for dinner, but Amanda never texted him back afterwards. A few weeks later, Amanda got a letter from this guy, along with an invoice for about $40, because she didn’t respond to his request for another date. In true 21st century fashion, Amanda posted the “bill” online. It proved to be a controversial move. Many people felt Amanda’s date was rude to send her a bill. Others felt that Amanda was the asshole for “ghosting” the guy. Dating is not cheap, and the least she could do is thank him for taking her out and treating her. Except he didn’t really treat her, since he expected her to pay him back for the dinner.

Generally speaking, I agree that ghosting someone is a shitty thing to do. It’s disrespectful, rude, and hurtful to just disappear without a trace. However, Amanda may have had good reasons for ghosting the guy. Maybe he gave her the creeps. Maybe he was too intense for her. Perhaps she detected a bent in him toward being controlling and petty. She may have even been concerned about her safety. I would submit that any guy who is dickish enough to send someone a bill weeks after a date is probably not someone most people would want to spend time with long term. On the other hand, I also understand that money doesn’t grow on trees, and whether or not they want to admit it, a lot of guys do expect something in return for investing in dinner.

What prompts me to write about today’s Dear Abby is, that as I read the letter, it seemed pretty obvious to me why “Amber” got offended by the guy’s chastisement for not saying “thank you”. He clearly was hoping for sex after their date. After all, on their previous two dates, Amber had allowed him to get to “first and second base” (is this guy still in the 70s?). It probably seemed to be a given that Amber would let him get to “third base” on their third date. When she demurred, he thought she owed him gratitude for taking her out to eat. While it would have been good manners for Amber to say “thank you”, there are any number of reasons why it slipped her mind. For him to basically insinuate that Amber is rude for A, not fucking him, and B, not saying “thanks for dinner”, I get the sense that this guy has a very transactional view on relationships. I do something for you. You do something for me. If you disagree, we’re done.

But now he admits that he likes Amber, even though she didn’t want to put out and didn’t say “thank you” for dinner. And he wants to know if he should wish her a “Happy Birthday” via text. Abby wisely told him not to contact her unless he understands why Amber got offended by his chastisement and is willing to acknowledge it. My guess is that he won’t want to do that.

Any man who sends a woman a bill for not agreeing to more dates or, any man who is rude enough to criticize a woman’s manners after he buys her dinner and she doesn’t put out, is likely a major asshole. It’s also likely that Amber and Amanda behaved as they did because these guys offered major clues during their dates that they’re assholes who strongly believe that paying for dinner means they get access to the woman’s company and, eventually, her body.

A $40 dinner is not a fair exchange for a woman’s health or well-being. Sex is a big step for a lot of women. Bill and I did not have sex with each other until two weeks after our wedding. Now… it’s not that I was against having sex before marriage. I would have had sex with Bill if he had wanted to have sex with me. But it turns out we are compatible when it comes to that. When we first met, Bill was a Mormon, and Mormons don’t officially agree with premarital sex. Granted, he quit practicing Mormonism while we were dating, but I was a virgin and he had only been with his ex wife. And we both wanted to wait for marriage. Then, on my wedding day, I had the same problem Ginny from Sixteen Candles had…

Yep. I got my monthly bill on my wedding day. It also rained. Isn’t it ironic?

Fortunately, I didn’t take a muscle relaxant or tranquilizer before I walked down the aisle. In fact, Aunt Flow even had the decency to wait until after the reception. I don’t regret waiting, and I’m grateful that Bill was willing to wait. He was concerned about my comfort and didn’t see our relationship as transactional. He has never acted like he has the right to free access to my body. Eighteen years later, we’re still in love. We probably would be in love anyway, even if we’d had sex before marriage. But I can honestly say Bill is the best lover I’ve ever had. I never had to experience worrying about pregnancy or STIs. I don’t have any bad memories of sex with some jerk who used me, or had the idea that after a certain number of dates, I needed to either fuck him or end the relationship. Waiting until marriage was the right decision for me. Bill loves me for who I am, and not just how I can make him feel when his dick is inside of me.

In any case, I don’t think either Amanda or Amber have anything to be ashamed about. Granted, it’s rude to ghost someone, as Amanda did, but if she was really a gold digging hussy, she would have kept stringing the guy along. He should have been glad she only cost him $40, if he’s that concerned about money.

And Amber might have been shocked that “BRAND-NEW” had requested sex and put her in the position of saying no thank you. I can tell you that I would have been pretty upset if I was on a third date with someone and they expected sex that early. Some women are fine with having sex that early in a relationship, but a lot of us aren’t. It sounds like the guy was rather forward in his request. When he later “nicely” reminded Amber that she hadn’t thanked him for dinner, he was sending a big clue as to what kind of a man he is. And when she got irritated with him for calling her out, then he decided not to call her again, he sent another clue. For all he knows, Amber has a history of sexual abuse or another issue that makes her less sexually adventurous. I’ll bet by the third date, they hadn’t ever talked about that. Which, to me, is the more amazing thing, especially for those of us who grew up in the era of HIV/AIDS. I would certainly want to know my partner’s basic history before I opened myself up to him sexually.

In my April 2018 post about this subject, I wrote:

A lot of guys seem to think that if they pay for dinner, they are entitled to sex or company or whatever else.  The fact is, a $40 dinner is not a fair trade for someone’s health or well-being.  No one owes another person access to their body.  If one party wants more than good times on the town and the other person doesn’t, then it’s probably best to just find another partner.  Paying for a date entitles you to absolutely nothing more than a person’s company, for as long as he or she wants to offer it.  Moreover, I’d love to see that guy actually collect his bill.  I don’t think it’s gonna happen.

I have never “ghosted” anyone, but it has happened to me before.  I was in college when I had a “date” with a guy who didn’t spend a dime on me and got disgusted when I wouldn’t put out, hours after I met him.  After that, he wouldn’t even speak to me.  In retrospect, it was really no big loss.  But no… I’ve never ghosted anyone and generally speaking, wouldn’t… unless I had a very good reason.  

I wouldn’t mind singing this song about ghosting, though…

In that same post, I continued with a story about a guy I used to know who has probably been ghosted a few times and scared the fuck out of me…

Back in the fall of 1999, right after I began graduate school, I ran into a guy I used to know from ACOA (adult children of alcoholics) meetings.  He and his ex girlfriend had a baby and he wanted to know if I wanted to see the little girl.  Although I had plans for later in the evening, I agreed.  Stupidly, I rode in his truck with him.  After we visited his adorable little girl, we got back in his truck and he proceeded to drive to the Colonial Parkway, which is, if you’re familiar with the Tidewater area of Virginia, a well-known pretty drive that has also been the site of several notorious unsolved murders.  

I told the guy that I had plans to meet a friend– and I did.  I was meeting a male friend from college for dinner.  The truck driving creep wanted me to “blow off” my friend because, apparently, he found me alluring that evening and wanted to “hold me”.  I had to insist that he take me back to my car because my friend would be waiting, and I told him he would call the police.  My friend probably wouldn’t have called the police, but the dude driving the truck didn’t know that.  

The whole way back to my car, my body was numb with fear as he lectured me about how wrong it is that I “let other people dictate what I do” (and apparently not realizing that he was trying to dictate to me how I should spend my evening).  We got back to my car.  I heaved a sigh of relief and got out of his truck, about to crap my pants because all of my fight or flight impulses were firing off at full steam.  Yes, had that been a date, I absolutely would have ghosted him.  In fact, some months after that incident, I ran into that guy again.  He acted like nothing had happened while I fought to control the nauseating sense of fear I had, seeing him again.  I feel sorry for his ex girlfriend, who presumably had to share their daughter with him.  She’s a grown woman now.  I wonder how she feels about her creepy dad.

Amanda might have had a good reason for “ghosting” the guy who billed her. Maybe he gave her the creeps. However, I think it’s more likely that he wasn’t scary. If he was, she wouldn’t have posted his bill on the Internet. She probably just found him boring and stingy. Ghosting him was rude, but since he sent her a bill, my guess is that she probably found him offensive on the actual date. Amber’s date sounds like he might have been too pushy. Any guy who refers to steps in intimacy in baseball terms, especially in 2021, is probably a jackass. I don’t think I would have wanted to fuck him. Of course, he probably wouldn’t have wanted to fuck me, either. 😉

So… I do understand why some men think women are rude for ghosting them, not thanking them, or not having sex with them. But I also think that women should always remember that there’s “no obligation to buy”. A $40 dinner is not a fair trade for one’s health or well-being. And we have to protect ourselves from diseases, pregnancy, and the mental anguish from being intimate with assholes, literally and figuratively. Decent men, who were brought up properly, understand this. Frankly, I think that if all you want is sex, you should simply hire a professional and pay her for the experience. That way, you don’t have to shell out for dinner and there won’t be any crying jags. Unless, of course, you pay extra.

Today’s featured photo is a screenshot of Andrew McCarthy and Anna Maria Horsford, who played a black prostitute named Naomi in the film St. Elmo’s Fire. When Andrew’s character, Kevin, asks Naomi why she never tries to sell her wares to him, she says, “I thought you were gay.” Then she goes on to explain why a prostitute is a better deal for a man who just wants sex.

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family

Polluted gene pools…

I’ve been watching with some dismay comments from people near and dear to me. I grew up among very politically conservative Christians in Virginia. My dad was a dyed in the wool Republican his whole life. As he got older, his views became more and more rigid. He’d listen to Rush Limbaugh religiously. He was also a fan of D. James Kennedy, a very conservative Presbyterian minister who had a very right wing religious program that aired every Sunday. I remember how D. James Kennedy railed against liberal politics, particularly anything having to do with abortion.

My dad was a believer.

And yet, as conservative as my dad was, and as racist as he sometimes was, he was probably among the least racist in our family. I think his years in the Air Force made him more open to people who weren’t just like him. Still, I remember a couple of very embarrassing incidents in restaurants in which my dad was egregiously racist toward the wait staff… the only excuse I can think of for him was that he was suffering from the beginnings of dementia.

I remember, on occasion, racist words used in my presence as I mingled with family members. I remember an aunt who told me about how she’d been accused of racism by a former student when she taught high school. At the time, I was surprised. Then, months later, I heard the same aunt casually drop the n bomb in front of me. I heard racist jokes from uncles and cousins, and we all laughed because they were “normal” in my family.

Then, in the mid 1990s, I joined the Peace Corps and left Virginia for Armenia, a country that was once part of the Soviet Union. I met different people from the United States and from other countries. I became exposed to people we used to collectively call “commies”, most of us not knowing the first thing about communism or socialism or the people who lived within those regimes.

Granted, the media and entertainment industries didn’t help. In the United States back in the 80s, Eastern Bloc and Soviet countries were routinely referred to as evil and oppressive. In fact, I specifically remember an episode of Fame, one of my favorite shows back in the day, about a pretty blonde Czech student who had come to New York to study for a month. The principal, Mr. Morloch, says “You’re in a free country now, little lady…” as if she should be thrilled to be in America, even though she’s followed by minders who make sure she doesn’t try to defect. Naturally, she falls in love with Chris Donlon, an American guy who tries to save her from communism.

My time in Armenia forever changed me. My world view was broadened significantly and it seemed like I couldn’t unring the bell. Now, when I am exposed to certain people in my family, I wonder how it is that we’re related. One of my cousins has been spewing some pretty offensive stuff lately. What’s shocking to me is that he’s still a young man. His father is my first cousin… and his grandfather was my uncle, a wonderful, kind, affectionate man. Yet somehow, I’m still sharing the same genes as a guy who seems to be trying desperately to minimize the horror of George Floyd’s public execution by cop last week and the ensuing protests…

Here are a few recent posts by him. He seems very much entrenched in the conservative mindset and despite his protests, is kind of subtly oozing racist proclivities:

He’s definitely not the only one in my family to display this attitude; he just happens to be the most recent one to do so publicly. In his defense, I know where it comes from. My family is from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, which is full of people who were steeped in old style values. Although most people in my family have either been in the military or went to college or both, I wouldn’t say most of them are travelers. They place a lot of stock on “family values” and protestantism. Most people in my family are Presbyterians, at least on my dad’s side. I don’t know nearly as much about my mom’s side, although I think they’re more liberal– that wouldn’t be hard, though. They’re good people, but they are very much stuck in this way of thinking, and they are not flexible.

I often wonder what they would be like if they spent time out of the southern United States among people who aren’t like them. Would they experience the same “awakening” I did? I’m not saying I’m the world’s most “woke” person, because I’m definitely not, but I can’t support Donald Trump as president. He’s inhumane, racist, and power hungry. I can’t blame George Floyd for being killed last week, even if he didn’t have a clean rap sheet. George Floyd allegedly tried to pass off a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. He didn’t deserve to be tortured and killed for that offense. I think the fact that he supposedly went to Minneapolis to “make a new start” is irrelevant. In fact, if anything, I think his decision to try to start anew is admirable.

There was a time when I had a similarly narrow view. I grew up in a small, conservative, predominantly white, southern town. Many of the people I knew when I was growing up are a lot like my relatives. They are good, decent, hardworking, salt of the earth type people. But they also steadfastly support Donald Trump and his ilk as world leaders. And when someone like George Floyd gets publicly executed by a cop, they try to excuse it.

I used to be much like that myself. What changed me was leaving that environment and being among other people with different perspectives. I’m glad I did this with my life, but now I can’t relate to my family anymore, because I am no longer with them politically or religiously. Some of my friends make me feel uncomfortable. I remember them as wonderful folks, but cringe as they proudly defend Trump and people like Derick Chauvin.

On the other hand, just last week, I defended Amy Cooper, and a lot of people would disagree with me about that. However, I don’t see that situation as the same as this one. I do think people should be able to call the police if they need help, even if other people don’t feel the call is justified. BUT– I feel even more strongly that the police should try their best to do their jobs without killing people. There is NO REASON George Floyd should be dead today. It doesn’t matter if he has a checkered past, and to be honest, I didn’t bother reading the link to see why Floyd needed a “new start” in Minneapolis. I don’t think it matters. What matters is the day he died. He was not a threat to anyone on that day, in that situation. He shouldn’t have been killed by a cop.

I have an uncle who, for years, used to send me racist spam in my email. He was always one of my favorite people. I love him very much, even today. But we haven’t spoken since early 2017, because he kept sending me racist/politically conservative Trump loving spam and I finally asked him to stop. I was relatively respectful at first, but then he called me a “liberal nutcase”. I proceeded to tell him off, including using the word “fuck”. He became enraged and sent me an angry response that was much like the spew I would hear from my dad when he was angry and drunk. It really brought back some horrible memories… and now, I don’t think I want to see my uncle again. I probably won’t see him, because he’s in his 80s and I have no plans to visit Virginia anytime soon. That makes me sad, because I still have some great memories of growing up with him as my uncle. But I can’t abide naked racism on display, especially since he’s not the kind of person with whom one can have a civilized discussion. He has a tendency to argue a point to the death and doesn’t consider the other side.

Fortunately for my family, I don’t think my empty seat at the Thanksgiving table is particularly missed anymore. Last year, when one of my beloved uncles had a stroke and later died, I found out about it on Facebook from a friend of my cousins. No one thought to tell me about it. Their excuse was that they told my sister to tell me. I used to feel very close to these people, but none of them thought enough of me to send me an email or a private message on Facebook. Maybe they see me as a defective member of the gene pool for turning out liberal…

I’m not the only one, by the way. I have another cousin who is a black sheep because he’s not only liberal, but gay. We often commiserate. Last time he went home to see his father– same guy who sent me racist videos and emails– he got into an argument with him about racism and homophobia and was turned out of the house in the middle of the night. This was in November in rural Virginia, so it wasn’t like he could go to a hotel with ease. So much for a loving and supportive family, right? Only if you think and act the way they do…

It occurs to me that this may be why I relate so well to ex Mormons. People who leave the LDS church, particularly when they are members of families with a long history and heritage in the church, are generally very brave individuals who can’t unring the bell. They can’t align with the church anymore, so they strike out on their own. They get ostracized and ridiculed and shunned… and they often turn out to be very interesting and empathetic people who can relate to others.

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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 Coke. 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 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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