On The Asking of Questions

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39 Responses

  1. Jaybird says:

    Some people ain’t happy unless they’re unhappy.Report

  2. wardsmith says:

    I’ll bite. Having read the article and the other one “Case against marriage” I’m confident the fault was hers. No doubt she imagines herself to be the Sarah Jessica Parker character in Sex and the City. No doubt women will automatically assume the fault is /his/ since that is a default reaction. Even when it is a soap-opera, even when the femme fetale is corrosively written, even then women will sympathize with the female character. It is in the genes I suppose.Report

    • Bad-ass Motherfisher in reply to wardsmith says:

      I’d agree. She seems pretty emotionally unintelligent, from what she’s written. Relationships take mutual nurturing to stay alive: she seemed a little too self-involved to bridge that gap.Report

    • Anne in reply to wardsmith says:

      And no doubt men will automatically assume that women will automatically assume the fault is /his/ since that is a default reaction. It is in the genes I suppose.

      I fixed it for you WardReport

      • Sam in reply to Anne says:

        I struggle with the idea that this was her fault entirely; at some point, he had to either get over the pain he was carrying or substantively deal with it. We do not know what attempt that he made at this, only that his own bitterness had apparently (and, perhaps, reasonably, given what his girlfriend was writing) calcified. I do note, however, that nobody seems to be finding common cause with what she said in her response to me. It doesn’t seem to be a shared opinion that all of this was his fault, which I find relieving given my own inability to find that narrative within the article.Report

        • Mo in reply to Sam says:

          The more I think about it, the less I’m inclined to think he shares as much blame as I initially thought. At the end of the day, she is also the narrator and when one tells a story, even one where one is the “bad guy”, there is a tendency to be more forgiving and omit details that are in our favor*. I’m sure the story from his POV would show a Rashomon effect in the story. We don’t know if he ever brought it up or tried to bring it back up again. We do know that when he said getting married would require a discussion, that there was no discussion.

          Also, as a side note, am I the only one a bit turned off by her views on marriages? When it’s her straight friends and relatives it means the end of her career, divorce and a move to the suburbs, but when it’s gay people who are getting married it’s precious? Does she not know there are single income gay couples that live in the suburbs, some of whom get divorced?

          * There are exceptions, of course, such as when one tries to blame themselves for a death or feel guilt for an accident.Report

    • James Vonder Haar in reply to wardsmith says:

      Care to offer a justification for your conclusion beyond rampant misogyny?Report

  3. Patrick Cahalan says:

    From the source article:

    > I became obsessed with justifying my decision.

    The sad part to me is that the author didn’t seem to realize the implications of that very human impulse.

    > Another time, he threw my argument back at me:
    > “Why do we need marriage? It’s only a piece of paper.”

    This is an important data point.

    > He had never forgiven me for turning him down.

    I suspect he would have forgiven her just fine for turning him down, if he wasn’t forced by circumstances to justify his existing circumstances, after being turned down. Instead, he had to justify to himself why he was still there, and that justification couldn’t stand up to time.

    That’s just a guess.Report

  4. Morat20 says:

    Eh, I can see a few things that jump out:

    He had filled a fancy hotel room with roses and Champagne. He had asked my parents for their blessing. He had even planned an engagement party

    That part, right there? That could either be (1) incredibly romantic or (2) incredibly coercive. The difference is entirely in the context, context that’s impossible to get from an article — but easy to infer from your own experiences.

    Worse yet, both parties actually involved might see it from opposite perspectives, and that’s before we start projecting our pasts and lives onto the scene, adding in emotions and judgements of our own.Report

  5. MikeSchilling says:

    No offense intended, Sam, but anyone who tries to have a serious conversation on Twitter has to expect disappointment.

    As to the main topic, she’d made it clear over a period of years that it wasn’t a marriage, just a “for now” thing. It’s hard to blame him for believing it.Report

  6. Will Truman says:

    I’m not sure how it’s even possible to assign fault here without normative views on the value of marriage.

    I also want to second everything Pat says.Report

  7. The fault was theirs.

    First of all, we have no real access to the innumerable nuances of their relationship over the years. We don’t know about that one time he hurt her feelings without meaning to or that one time she made him look foolish in front of his loved ones or that one time yadda yadda yadda. One or two articles written by one of them gives insufficient grounds for pronouncing on who bears more blame.

    But insofar as we are able to draw a sound conclusion from the evidence at hand, they are both to blame. He is to blame for pretending to forgive her rejection when he had not. After it became apparent to him that the hurt was still there and nothing could make him forgive her, he should have been honest about it in a way he (from what we can tell) was not up until the very end. And she is to blame for failing to see how important marriage had been for him, and for not only making her position on marriage their de facto position as a couple, but furthermore for holding herself up as a (literal) cover girl for rejecting marriage.Report

    • Sam in reply to Russell Saunders says:

      “The fault was theirs.”

      That seems exactly right. I don’t think he ever got over the rejection. I don’t think she ever understood how much it hurt him (because it’s tough to understand for another person). Incidentally, I think she was right to turn down his proposal, because from what I’m gathering, they were both relatively young.Report

      • Patrick Cahalan in reply to Sam says:

        I generally agree with this.

        The way she wrote this article, though… it seems to me she’s still thinking about marriage as a thing to “have” or “have not”. Rather than a state to be in, or be not.

        You shouldn’t be obsessed with the external trappings of anything to the extent that the thing is the focus. Your own being should be the focus. I’m not entirely convinced she’s figured that out.Report

  8. Klm2 says:

    I am woman and after the original article I came away feeling the woman had made a terrible mistake. I am completely on the man’s side in this.
    I also believe though had the man taken this woman up on her proposal, she would have changed her mind again. It’s about power for her, she’s afraid to give it up. He realized it and smartly moved on.Report

  9. James Hanley says:

    I’m sorry to hear your relationship with the writer because she wouldn’t meet you halfway. 😉

    I’m also glad to see another Sam W. post.

    I’m inclined to split the blame, but put it mostly on her. He clearly worked hard to accommodate to her views; much more than she made an effort to understand his view. To the extent he is to blame, well, it sounds like he was going to be the one who actually made the call to split, and it was just a matter of when. I’m not sure he’s to blame for it ending, but he may very well be to blame for it ending, perhaps more painfully. after another seven years than much earlier.

    It sounds like both of them did a good job fooling themselves for a long time. Most folks are unfortunately adept at that.Report

  10. Chris says:

    One thing I don’t think people understand, in their own relationships or in others, is just how much of a dynamic system relationships are. We tend to treat them as linear relationships between two causal systems, instead of a complex, single system with causation in multiple directions on multiple time scales, existing in a complex environment over which the single system has little control but which also has a dynamic relationship with that single system.

    Put differently: there’s all sorts of shit going on all of the time, so that one person’s perceptions, emotions, and goals, both long-term and short, are playing off the other,who is in turn playing off the first person, while the world around them constantly conspires against them both individually and as a couple in myriad ways. It’s a huge clusterfuck that doesn’t lend itself well to being dissected in a short article by one of the participants, much less by an outside observer, because so much of it is hidden from them both for different reasons.

    But as I said above, this sort of thing is precisely what Twitter is for. Man, I hate Twitter.Report

    • Plinko in reply to Chris says:

      I think Chris has the right of this, including the final line.

      I see this all the time in the way people talk about relationship problems, as if it’s not just probable but required that all issues have a single cause, the failings of one of the two principals.Report

  11. karl says:

    Isn’t the real question here “What would Elizabeth Wurtzel do?”Report

  12. Tod Kelly says:

    I have to say I’m not sure what the argument about the liked article is about. For various reasons – many of which I will guarantee you have nothing to do with the data points reflected on in the NYT essay – this relationship did not stand the test of time. At various times one or the other partner kept the relationship from growing towards something more permanent. This might not have been conscious, but was probably not accidental.

    I’m failing to see, then, why there needs to be “fault” assigned to anyone. I’m not sure that every male-female relationship has to end in marriage or be seen as a failure. Is it not enough to say that this relationship make it many steps, but not all the way, to either a marriage or successful lifetime commitment?

    Their lives will continue; they will meet other people. That their ex-partner did not end up being the one person with whom they will spend the rest of their lives together does not mean that either is a failure.Report

    • Sam in reply to Tod Kelly says:


      My goal was absolutely not to judge either as human beings, but rather, to understand what happened within their relationship. Obviously, it is unlikely that either of these two people are failures, especially the woman who works for Tumblr, which notwithstanding its high percentage of teenagers and .gifs is an awesome platform (oh, and all the publications and everything else).

      But to see somebody allege that the guy was at fault for his intransigence and to completely ignore all of the other data was what struck me and was what I better wanted to understand. People in this thread generally seem to be coming down on the side that maybe both of these people were responsible; maybe nobody was particularly. Maybe they were both just young and this sad thing happened.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Sam says:

        What happened? Well, as a guess:

        1) She felt pressured into getting married, wasn’t ready, said no.
        2) He, understandable, was not happy about that.
        3) They decided to stick together.
        4) Marriage continued to be an awkward topic, because she didn’t really want to get married and he had and did.
        5) She changed her mind, or maybe felt she had to change her mind due to internal pressures — no idea if she felt ready or not.
        6) She suggested they get married.
        7) He got upset, because he was still unhappy about the original proposal.
        8) Neither side seemed to grasp how the orignal proposal — and the years of awkward igonoring of the issue — had affected the other.

        Then they broke up, because one or both of them realized that he had REALLY wanted to get married, she really hadn’t, and neither one of them were valuing something critical (career, marriage,etc) the other did.Report

  13. Fnord says:

    Obviously, a short article cannot give you a full view of a years-long relationship. But she gives a list of things they did after that first marriage proposal. And notably absent is any mention of actually talking about it. Promises of love, but no mention of communicating the fears that made her turn down the marriage, or for that matter what made him propose it in the first place. And, years later, when she proposes to him, she explicitly says there’s no discussion.

    The picture it paints is of a couple with a terminal case of non-communication.Report

  14. Jaybird says:

    Back when Maribou and I lived in Our First Apartment, we could regularly hear the people next door arguing (and there were different folks in there every other month). One couple of kids who had been just married seemed different than the others. Instead of screaming curse words at each other, we heard them argue and felt better about them.

    He would yell stuff like “when you say things like that, you sound like my mother! I have asked you again and again not to do that!” and she would yell similarly honest/insightful things. They were working things out and being honest and passionate about it. We usually said “they’re going to be okay” after it got quiet again.Report

  15. Good post, Sam. Really interesting article, too. I sympathize with your Twitter experience, by the way — it can be difficult to prove your sincerity in 140 characters.Report

  16. Mo says:

    While Twitter is not ideal (or even particularly good) for this kind of back and forth, I think you place too much blame on medium and not enough blame on the other person. That person didn’t try to see your POV or even try particularly hard to answer your and seemed awful quick to take offense merely because you challenged her opinion.

    As for who is at fault in the relationship, it is primarily theirs for not communicating well.Report

  17. Kazzy says:

    I’ve thought about this quite a bit as I’ve worked through the various relationships I’ve found myself in (and the various “other people’s relationships” that me and my partners have argued about while really only using them as a proxy to discuss our own as indirectly as possible).

    I remember one relationship between mutual friends (my roommate dated her roommate)…

    Her friend, the female, was in the military and had to put in a request for where she wanted to be stationed. He was not in the military. He said to her that he wanted her to list a base near his hometown as her first choice with either an implicit or explicit threat that he would break up with her if she didn’t (I realize that the difference between implicit and explicit matters, so let’s just assume the threat was real and communicated). My lady was aghast at this. I pointed out that ultimatums, which is what she termed his position, often work in both ways. If militarygirl refused to list his desired base first, she was essentially saying, “You must follow me.”

    Who was right? I don’t know. There is certainly room to negotiate how reasonable a position one takes is. But, ultimately, if two people have different viewpoints on an issue, at least ONE of them has to budge. And the refusal of Person A to budge, either off of their stance or all the way over to Person B’s stance, is a de facto demand on the other to budge… though it is rarely seen this way by Person A. Likewise in the other direction, as well.

    Ultimately, with what little we do know, it seems there were some real breakdowns in communication throughout the relationship. He should have had a better sense of where she was before that night in Seattle. And she should have had a better sense of where he was from then on.

    Several of my friends asked how different I felt after I got engaged. I didn’t feel much different… at least not towards my lady. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t the engagement that made me want to marry her… but the desire to marry her that made me want to get engaged to her. I think folks often presume the former about engagement and marriage (“Marrying her will be the turning point for wanting to be with her” as opposed to “Wanting to be with her will be the turning point for marrying her”) and other commitments.Report

  18. A Teacher says:

    Reading the article I guess I see something different.

    I see someone who is stated as a romantic, “wore his heart on his sleeve” go out of his way for a woman to propose. And she admits that he was “the guy she’d marry if she was going to marry”. But she says no.

    And then for how many years beats into him that marriage is a sham. Beats into him that relationships end all the time and it’s better to not be married because marriage just leads to divorce like it did for all their friends. Constant reminders of how wrong he was to want marriage.

    Then… one day.. .epiphany. “I want to get married.”

    What’s he supposed to do with this? He’s had how much time of listening to her go on and on, not to mention publish a front page article in Newsweek, about how bad marriages are. And now she wants one? And he’s supposed to be excited about it?

    I think he made a mistake in staying and letting his views, his beliefs, be destroyed by someone who didn’t share them. I think she dropped the ball moreso in not recognizing what an about face she had done on the issue and really work to communicate that to him in no uncertain terms.

    No where in the article does she say she ever said she was wrong to him. She just decides one day that she was and hopes he’s ready now for marriage. If only people were that easy to control….Report

  19. Pyre says:

    I just saw “Seeking a friend for the end of the world” (Thanks, Tod Kelly, for showing me Alyssa’s blog.) and I’m formulating an essay on the movie so, maybe, I’m seeing this another way but I don’t think it was anyone’s fault.

    The thing that stands out here was this line:

    “He had never forgiven me for turning him down. ”

    Was it? Did she ever talk about why he was breaking up with her? Did he ever talk about why marriage was no longer important

    Both of them proposed at differing periods in their life. He proposed at a time when her career was the main goal. She proposed 6 years later but we don’t really know what was going on with him. She grabs for the blame with the notion that she had destroyed his belief in marriage but was that the case? Perhaps he had been coming to that conclusion on his own. Perhaps, after years of living together, he was of the opinion that “this, right here, is cool” but now she’s the one on the marriage kick.

    Sidenote: The biological clock factor can’t be ignored here. I have read more articles than I care to count by women authors who have stated that, whether consciously or unconsciously, they hit a certain point and that clock goes from a mild ticking in the back of their heads to TICK TOCK TICK TOCK. I know she doesn’t mention it but there appears to be a lot she’s not mentioning. It seems suspicious that attending one gay marriage just makes her attitude take a 180 on marriage.

    On the subject of not mentioning things, he moved 2000 miles away from her. What’s that about? Could there have been something going on in his life that wasn’t being communicated or did he really just say “I can’t stand to be in the same state as you”?

    I admit that I have a bit of a bias towards the abolishment of marriage from a legal perspective (That’s a long essay and it involves a lot of the advancements in the law that make the legal status of marriage obsolete so I won’t bang it all out here.) but, if I had to retitle this article, it would be:

    “How I lived 6 years with a man that I never once communicated with.”

    There is not one point in the article where I feel either actually communicated with each other. If they had communicated with each other , they’d probably still be together. As it is, you could have buried them with a rain forest worth of paper and they probably would have still broken up. If fault must be assigned, it is their lack of any communication that is at fault and that’s a two-way street.Report

  20. damon says:

    I’ll chime in as well. Yadda yadda on the dynamics, hard to assign blame, etc. as everyone has said, but here’s what I got out of it.

    She blew off his proposal and spent years justifying it to him. When she brings it up, probably casually, to feel him out about it, he throws back in her face what she’d been saying for all those years. (hell, I’d have done the same thing) He probably did it in a playful way and she failed to hear the bitterness/snark. He probably didn’t believe she was serious after all that negative commentary on marriage and he probably resented her bringing it up. It’s like re-opening a wound every few months just to pour salt on it.

    One day, he finally had had enough when he concluded she was never going to marry him and he said “fuck it, I’m done”. Jessica finally gets an inkling of why when she writes “there’s something to be said for uttering “I do.””. It’s not the piece of paper; it’s the willingness to commit.Report