Christine, Wondering

Random Musings of a Human Becoming

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Pros and Cons

Note: if the sheer wall of text here is daunting, I’ve provided a tl;dr summary at the bottom!

Every time our relationship has encountered the slightest hiccup, S has asked whether our relationship is really working out. More recently, he’s said he feels that things will never be right between us again, because we’ve both said things to hurt each other. I’ve always kept a hopeful, positive attitude and I’ve always been the one to point out the good things in the relationship, to reassure him that passing arguments were not the end of the relationship. Otherwise they would have been, time and time again.

To do this, I had to put my own doubts aside. S was not someone with whom I could discuss his behaviour; he could not accept any criticism without shifting gear into histrionics and melodrama. I’ve not always been the best at taking criticism either, but since some wake-up calls last year I have been very conscious of that element of my personality and I have made a massive effort to take criticism on board and alter my behaviour where it’s not acceptable. And I can see the differences in myself. So anyway, I would reassure him, and never raised my own doubts because there was no way he could discuss them without getting defensive.

It’s time, now, for me to look at whether he is right. Is the relationship workable, or is it fundamentally flawed?

I’m going to discuss the cons first – the things that have made me doubt the relationship over the months. The point of this is not to paint S’s character or the relationship black, to talk myself out of the relationship, or to whinge about how he was bad and I was good. It is very subjective, because people live subjective lives. I need to see whether these aspects are going to be a problem in my subjective moments, not just in my quiet, self-aware, rational moments! In some ways it probably will sound like a string of complaints, but I’ll try to be analytical.

Con #1: Negativity. As mentioned above, any hiccup would cause S to revert to a litany starting with ‘I just don’t know if our relationship will work out’. There were no suggestions or strategies, no sense of responsibility, just a hopeless despair. I can see why in the first few months of a relationship you might question it, but it never changed, and my suggestions and reassurances and hope never stuck, so I wound up repeating my own litany in the routine, starting with ‘every couple I know have fights’ and so on. I don’t think it’s healthy in a relationship for one person to always be dragging everything down and the other always trying to bolster it. I think you have to be equally invested in making it work, equally willing to try, equally hopeful and enthusiastic for the future. We definitely weren’t equal in those regards.

Con #2: Food. I have a medical condition called hypoglycaemia. To combat the symptoms of this I need to ensure that I eat at regular intervals, otherwise I can get sick quite quickly. S was well aware of this from our first date. However, he has never been prepared to adapt to it. In the evening he insists on doing several hours of exercise and having a shower before cooking dinner, no matter how desperately my body needs carbohydrates in order to keep functioning. If I got hungry before dinner his solution was to offer me crisps or chocolate, despite the fact that I was trying to stick to a weight-loss diet. No matter how I tried to persuade him, he would not change dinner time to one that was medically appropriate for me. There was no way I could adjust my eating schedules enough to cater to his eating time, because as a teacher I have to eat lunch at a fixed time, and I can’t just snack on whatever I want in the afternoon when I’m trying to lose weight.

Con #3: Food, Part Two. S flatly refuses to eat any meat that is not diced or minced, he won’t eat cooked vegetables, and he grumbles and complains if he has to eat any home-cooked food that is not one of his half-a-dozen favourite dishes. When he stayed here during prac he tried to take over the cooking completely, so I would have to eat his food at his schedule – despite the fact that I’m a good cook and enjoy being in the kitchen. He refused to even try most of my favourite meals. But heavens forbid I should comment on his cooking! I had to eat exactly what he cooked. I have a fairly mild palate, but if I asked him to make something a bit less spicy, I “hated everything he cooked, he was a horrible person, our relationship was doomed”. Yes, seriously. And when it came to dieting, I wanted to find out how many calories his meals had in them so that I could work out appropriate portion sizes. He refused to give me the recipes or even the lists of ingredients in case I tried cooking them myself or shared the recipe, because they were HIS and no one else could have them.

Con #4: Freedom. S was quite happy to cancel our plans because he wanted to hang out with a friend. Which is fine, he doesn’t see his friends often, and since I don’t either, I know how he feels. But he had a double standard. Several times I cancelled engagements with friends or pulled out of parties because S made too much of a fuss about the interruption to our plans. During the school holidays I would come down from the country and stay with him in the city, but I wasn’t supposed to go and see my friends while I was there, because that would be taking advantage of his house. I could go while he was at work, but I wasn’t allowed a key to the house, so I had to leave when he left and be back within minutes of him getting back or he would sulk. And when he was in Perth and I was in the country, if I wanted to go and hang out with my friends I had to let him know what time I was going to be back, and if I wasn’t online exactly on time he would act like I’d done it deliberately to inconvenience him. The one time I went on a bus with friends to a function and couldn’t tell him what time I would be home, he ranted about it for a week. There was never any suggestion that he was just worried about me, although it might just have been that he wasn’t good at expressing the worry and it came across as nagging control issues instead. But it has made me feel henpecked (yeah wrong gender I know, but translate the gender and you’ll see why I used ‘hen’ regardless . . .) and unable to have a normal social life. That’s not good.

Other Cons:
* We didn’t agree on childrearing – he wanted to use old-style revenge punishment, which is not okay with me.
* We didn’t agree on religion.
* I am better educated than him, and more intelligent in everything except financial management lol. He was insecure about this, and although it didn’t bother me too much, I occasionally found his lack of general knowledge surprising and couldn’t continue certain conversations because he didn’t want me explaining things to him. We couldn’t have in-depth conversations about some things because of that.
* He is an unreliable driver and I frequently felt unsafe when he was speeding, missing merge signs, etc. He has written off two cars (one since I’ve known him) and since an animal was involved both times he denies all responsibility for the crashes. I don’t know about the first accident, but the second . . . yeah, he lost control after a flock of cockatoos flew in front of him on a gravel road. But, he was on a road he knew was bad and dangerous, he was an inexperienced driver on gravel, and he was going 20kmh faster than experienced locals said was safe on that road. I also heard three separate reports afterwards that he’d nearly run other cars off the same road while driving too fast, and he lost control a bit with me in the car the first time he drove that road, so it wasn’t like he hadn’t had warnings that he was doing it wrong. He is totally unapproachable about his driving and once blew his top at me when I mentioned that it worried me when he was doing 20km over the speed limit on a rainy night on a poorly lit winding road - in my car. Once again, not something we could rationally discuss.
* S had these fixed dreams about the way certain things would happen, and wouldn’t change them. For example, he’d always dreamed that when he proposed he would have planned a surprise family dinner in advance, so that he and his new fiancée could then go and announce it to everyone in person. That won’t work with my family. My parents are divorced and both have remarried, and they simply don’t do dinner together. Plus they both have children so going out to dinner can be a hassle – Mum still needs a babysitter when going out. It’s a cute plan but impractical for my family, and it also doesn’t gel with *my* dream of being able to call my mother in great excitement right after becoming engaged. But he wouldn’t budge on it. Likewise, his idea has always been that his bride’s family and his would have a Christmas barbecue together at his place on Christmas day, because that’s how his parents’ families did it. Again, I have divorced parents and they don’t mix, especially not at Christmas. Plus, Mum is not a big people person and would find it exhausting having to spend the whole day socialising with S’s family. She’s just got to the point where she can cook her own Christmas dinner and just have her immediate family and their partners around for her perfected meal. She’s not going to sacrifice that hard-won pleasure for an unappealing whim promoted by her potential son-in-law. Not going to happen. But S was so inflexibly attached to this dream that he wanted me to pressure Mum into accepting the plan, and pressure my parents into reconciling so they could both be there. He bullied me about it to the point of tears a couple of times. It’s a nice idea but my family are not the same as some hypothetical dream in-laws. It won’t work for them, and he couldn’t get his head around that. Needless to say, I found this irritating! A similar thing cropped up with his ‘dream home’. He is determined that he will get the exact dream home he imagines in his head, complete with a subterranean theatre room. I don’t want that but was prepared to entertain the idea; however I wanted to look realistically at building costs and plan for something affordable. But no. It was his dream house or no house!

I’ve read and re-read this as I’ve been typing it, and the concept that leaps out at me here is ‘inflexibility’. We were unequally flexible. I’ve made a lot of changes, a lot of sacrifices, a lot of compromises to make things work, because I was consciously determined not to let stubbornness, temper or fixed ideals ruin the relationship. S has not been able to show the same level of flexibility. Could he learn flexibility? I’m not sure.

I've also realised that the cons quoted above are not so much separate issues as repeated examples of the same underlying issues. They're illustrations of that same problem I keep coming back to . . . for S, things have to be done his way, and if not then people are either saying he's a horrible person, or they're completely incompatible with him. There's no middle ground, no "oh well, I could give way on this", no "if I think objectively I can see their point". Just "WAH" and "NO!".

Now for the pros to the relationship. Again, the idea is not that I should talk myself in to wanting to continue the relationship over and above any potential problems. The idea is to get a balanced look at the relationship.

Pro #1: Common interests. We both love fantasy and sci-fi. We’ve read a lot of the same books, we like a lot of the same movies, we’re both happy to sit down and watch endless episodes of cult shows together. We had a lot of fun doing that. We also both enjoy writing fiction too.

Pro #2: Uncommon interests. S and I both have ‘obsessions’ that are not mainstream. He collects Star Wars figurines with single-minded determination, and spends ridiculous amounts of money on them; I am a namesnerd and I want to collect porcelain dolls and figurines although I don’t have the money to do so right now. Because we have that common obsessive aspect, we can each respect the other’s need to devote time and money to the ‘mania’, and can tolerate the other’s need to discuss their interest.

Pro #3: Life plans. S and I have very similar ideas about the future. Marriage, overseas travel (including wanting to go to the same places), a house on a large block where we can grow our own fruits and vegetables, starting a family. We also have similar ideas about where we’d like to settle down eventually. If we’re together, neither of us has to sacrifice too much in the way of dream home / dream property / dream lifestyle et cetera.

Pro #4: Feelings. We do, apparently, despite everything, love each other. I don’t feel the earth-shattering devotion towards him that I felt when we first got together, but that’s normal, right? I still definitely feel strong feelings of warmth and affection for him, although I’m wary of using the term ‘love’ right now because I’m just not sure. And he says he still loves me, even though there’s been precious little evidence of it in the past month or so. And we must have been sure of it at one stage – we picked out rings, we made a 5-year plan, designed our ideal wedding – we must have believed that we were in love! I can remember the events, but I can’t recapture the feelings. But they must have been there, and who is to say that they’re not just buried under all this anxiety? I don’t know.

Minor pros:
* S is financially stable, has good career prospects and capital investments. I’m not mercenary but those are advantages on his side!
* His family are pretty normal and nice . . . no crackpots or drug dealers lol. His family like me, and the small selection of my family who have met S like him, too.

Like the cons, the pros all come back to one or two things. The cons came back to tantrums and inflexibility; the pros come back to common interest and common feeling. 

So what’s come out of all of this?

The tl;dr version:

Con: S is sooky, negative and inflexible, which impacts on my mental and physical health and my ability to socialise outside the relationship. And generally annoys me and thwarts my hope and enthusiasm for the future.

Pro: S and I have a lot of common interests and share similar hopes in life, and we do seem to have feelings for each other that would make the relationship flourish if we could get past the negativity.

Verdict: Still full of doubt about the best course of action. The relationship could be wonderful if I was prepared to be the one to compromise 100% of the time, and if I was able to be the one to support and build the relationship 100% of the time. I’m not, so we have a problem. Can we work on the relationship to get it to the point where I don’t feel like I’m constantly bending over backwards and never getting anywhere? Is there any point in trying, or is it too hard? Can love really conquer anything or is there just not enough to work with in this case? I just don’t know.


When I read that I was reminded strongly of Ken, down to the last sentence. I wouldn't stay in the relationship, honestly. That need for control, the unwillingness to let you eat your own food, etc - it's not worth it. I spent a year with him, then two years in flux, never knowing where I stood with him, trying so hard to make it work - before I finally cut ties.

Don't do it. I'm not sure if I'm seeing too much into it or over-identifying - but I don't want anyone to go through that drama and pain that I had with Ken. Ever.

I LOVE my life now. I love being able to make all sorts of crazy foods and have someone try them. To listen to my music, to go where I want to go - all of this is something that I value greatly. Don't give it up on the hopes that he *might* change - go into counseling, see if its' manageable - but don't hold on just because it *might* be.

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