Connecting Diversity

The extrapolation factor

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Doug points to a post by Broad at Bat who discusses a recent dinner with friends and one couple’s behavior to each other. Specifically, she focuses on the wife, Sandy’s, behavior to her husband, Mark.

Later, Mark was telling us a story – nothing rude or anything, just something that happened earlier in the day – and in the middle of a sentence Sandy told him that was enough and we didn’t need to hear any more about it. He tried to finish his thought and she interrupted again, even more forcefully. That was when he shot Doc the WTF look, and Doc could only shrug helplessly. It was just a story! And one that I was enjoying, thankyaveddymuch. Aargh. Again, mouth dropped open, bit tongue, jesus, it’s no wonder I have jaw problems, I suppress things I’d dearly love to say sometimes.

This could be nothing more than another story about a dinner and married couple not treating each other well, except that Broad at Bat then takes what she sees with Sandy’s behavior and extrapolates from the specific woman to women in general.

The scary thing is, Sandy isn’t any different from MANY women we know. MA-NY! I have sister-in-laws who do the same kind of belittling and condescending treatment to my brothers and it makes me want to puke. If we counted up all our friends who do this, I’ll bet it’s over half. Even Sandy’s best friend spent more time rolling her eyes and clucking and admonishing her husband for his behaviour at the table, than anything else. She actually — I swear to god this is true — on their way out the door that night she apologized to us for her husband’s behaviour. While he stood right beside her! I couldn’t hold it in any longer and I told this woman I had only just met that I thought her husband was charming, he hadn’t been the least bit inappropriate, and she had no business apologizing.

Doug concurs with BaB, drawing on his own personal experiences:

If you’re a woman you can not imgine what it does to a man to be treated to the kind of abuse that BaB talks about. Society expects men to be strong, in command and there are a thousand ways to punish a man who is not, all of them designed to make him feel a failure. I’ve known so many men who have suffered enormous amounts of emotional abuse at the hands of the woman they loved. Why do they stay in the relationship? Some of the same reasons women stay in abusive relationships: insecurity, love, fear of failure, children (men do not stand a chance in a custodial battle), financial reasons, broken spirit. Many men in such relationships live lives of quiet desperation, sick at the thought of stayin, afraid to leave, afraid if they do they’ll never have another partner, marked loser for life, some invisible cabalistic sigil planted on their forehead that only women can see and immediately reject them as a loser not worth her attention. Oh, most men have experienced that feeling well, but we don’t talk about it.

In my life I must have moved in different circles because most of the couples I’ve known seemed to treat each other with respect, affection, and humor. Not all–I have seen just such a woman that BaB describes. And while I may concur with BaB that I haven’t seen this as much with men treating women that way, that’s usually because with these men, the ‘little woman’ is left at home to care for the kids.

Still for the most part, the couples I’ve known treat each other decently in public. So much so that when they break up, it amazes me sometimes. But then, I know that many people were astonished when Rob and I broke up because we got along so well. We still do — heck we’re roommates.

However, to say that this type of behavior is predominately female, or that it occurs in many women, is to take the responsibility of ‘people behaving badly’ off the individual and place it on a gender, and that’s something I just can’t agree with. But then, I was an abuser myself, long ago, so perhaps I can’t really speak on this issue.

My first husband was an amazingly handsome man — black hair, brilliant blue eyes, the strong bone structure of his Native American heritage. He was tall and lean and moved like a panther and I was swept off my feet and into marriage far too quickly. And too young, being only 16.

Steve was not an unintelligent man, but he was an uneducated one, having suffered from learning disabilities and finally dropping out of school when he was 15. He was very sensitive about this, and in particular, his difficulty with reading. I, on the other hand, loved to read and had been reading since I was five and counted books as some of my best friends.

Steve worked but didn’t want me to work because this just wasn’t done in his family. So after he went off in the morning, I would do whatever baking I had planned for the day, do the house cleaning, and whatever else needed doing, and then I would spend some time either walking in the fields surrouding our house, or reading. We lived in the country and I didn’t know how to drive, and we lacked television reception, so I didn’t have many other options.

The county had a library system whereby a person could fill out requests for books and they’d be mailed. Then when we were finished, we would put them back into the envelopes provided, and mail them back. It was perfect for me, because I didn’t have to pay postage, and I could get books without being able to visit the library.

When Steve came home from work, to sit down to his home cooked meal (and I was, and am, a good cook), he’d talk about his job, what this person or that said or did. About the only thing I had to talk about was what I had read that day, so I would talk about the books. I used to love talking about whatever book I was reading — sharing the characters and the experiences one feels as the words wrap around one.

(I still do to this day, though I am reluctant to bore another individual with my ramblings, which is why all of you are blessed with my many writings — lucky yous.)

Now, I imagine to BaB, this would seem that I was taunting poor Steve — him with his reading disability, me with my love of, and discussion about, books. It was not the intended purpose, but perceptions are so dependent on the person. Regardless, Steve felt that I was ‘making fun of him’ and forbade me to have any more books in the house. Not one book.

Of course, I could disregard what Steve wanted and just continued with my reading as is, but I was dependent on him, in more ways than one, so I tried to give up books. I would fail, at times, and sneak one in, hiding it from him, but only rarely; only when I was desperate. To fill the hours, those long, long hours, I obsessed about ‘making’ things — once spending three months making Christmas stockings out of felt and hand embroidering and beading each individually, for everyone as a Christmas present.

This state couldn’t last and after a few years, we divorced. Since that time, I have developed this oddball habit of reading three or four books at a time, leaving them laying face down (I know, librarians cringe) here and there, even in the bathroom. And my mom says its a shame that I stopped doing embroidery, because my work was astonishing in its detail.

When BaB talks about Sandy’s behavior to Mark, I do empathize with Mark, and wonder why he doesn’t leave his wife if their marriage is so much hell. I empathize with anyone in a marriage where the partner is abusive, physically or mentally or emotionally. However, they do have a recourse: they can leave.

Easier said then done? True, especially when there are children involved. But it is doable, and in our society people have the legal right to not live in an abusive relationship. If Mark choose to do so, then perhaps there is more to the story to Mark and Sandy than meets the eye, but we’ll never know because the only facet we know of this relationship is what we’ve heard,

Doug writes of his own experience being emotionally abused, and brings up the concept of a person who is easy to abuse:

Guys like me are very easy to abuse. We love fully, unconditionally. We care deeply for our partners and we do not like confrontation, in fact we avoid it at all costs. That’s what happens to non-alpha type males in this society, if you can’t strut your stuff and rise to the top of the pecking order you better be non-confrontational or you’ll be destroyed. That makes it very easy for women to abuse us emotionally, making you feel even more like a loser.

I have to disagree, but respectfully, with Doug about a woman making a man feel like a loser; the only person who can make us feel like a loser, is ourselves.

I’ve also never believed that one should love anyone unconditionally, and this includes our parents, children, and especially our significant others. To do so is to put too high a trust on the other, which forms an unreasonable demand that the other never do anything that could cause harm. But what is harm? To a kid in high school, harm is not being able to stay up all night with his or her friends. In my first marriage, the ‘harm’ was me talking about books because my husband has a reading disability, and therefore I should give up one of the joys of my life in the interest of his self-esteem. Harm is not being perfect and never making mistakes, and not sharing equally all the enthusiasms of your partner.

Loving unconditionally also means that you stay with a drunk, even if they go back to the bottle; you don’t kick your kid out for bringing drugs and drug dealers into the same house where his young, pretty sisters sleep; you pretend not to see that your partner is sleeping around.

Unconditional love is a burden and a cage, on both partners, and one that I’ve rejected, absolutely and completely; so much so that I am ambivalent about now having another long term relationship. I have found a beauty, fragile as the finest Fleur de Sel, in those times of loneliness I experience, and I hesitate to challenge the balance I’ve been able to achieve in my life between wanting to be with another and being content to be only with myself.

But I digress. To return to BaB and her statement that ..when it comes to public degradation and disrespect, it happens way more than my stomach can handle, and always by the women , says as much about the person making the statement, as it does the statement being made. For instance, does BaB see this preponderance of mentally abusive behavior in other women she knows because it really exists in the people around her? Or does she only ’see’ this behavior in women, because doing so sets her apart? In her own words:

I, as usual, end up leaving to go sit with the men before I say something and make any more enemies. Not that doing that endears me to other women much either, though. Sigh.

(emph. mine)

Perhaps if BaB sat with the other women a bit and actually talked with them, she might find the answers she so earnestly seeks.

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