Dear Fuck-Up: I No Longer Recognize the Woman I Married

Illustration: Angelica Alzona/GMG
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Dear Fuck-Up,

I literally have nobody else to talk to about any of this.

A little background: I’m married; I’ve been with my wife for 20 years, married for most of them. The marriage has had damage. The past year has been the worst of it. We’re constantly at home, in each other’s faces, and it’s horrible. The election was contentious, too. The girl I fell in love with somehow went full Trump, and I don’t know how that happened. I don’t know how to reconcile the fact that what she was years ago turned into this, and that I now am caught between being a decent human being and being a committed husband. Throwing away someone I’ve spent so long with isn’t as easy as people say it should be.

Backing up a bit, absent of politics, our marriage has been a mess for years. Lack of physical intimacy has been around for a while, which I’ve been okay with—I don’t get to demand anything, and I know that. We just haven’t had the same goals or tactics, but I resigned myself to devotion being a valid replacement for affection. I am also very conflict-averse, so starting a discussion about it always felt really difficult. So in the context of a polite, chaste marriage, 2020 happened.

She moved into the guest room at the beginning of the year. We started bickering over politics. More resentment emerged. I felt like I was being trolled. I was hoping after the election happened, things would be better, but they’re just at the polite, weird place they’ve always been. I still get the occasional comment or shared video that offends me (I was texted a video with the term “soyboy” tonight). I feel like I’m choosing between being a good spouse or a decent person multiple times a week.

This is where it gets messy. I don’t have many friends, but I’m pretty online. One of my online friends is someone I confided in this year, and it’s maybe been slightly inappropriate after talking about all this. I realize the setup for this seems like me justifying this transgression, and I don’t know what to do about this. I’m now neither affectionate nor devoted, and feel like a right asshole. It’s easy to say “just end it and move on” but my wife is someone I’ve spent a long time with, and I’m not enthusiastic about exhuming the past twenty years of our life, or giving up on someone I liked a lot more way back when. I’m also feeling guilty about the friend I’ve reached out to (both that it’s a transgression against my wife, and that I’ve wrapped a long time online friend into my mess).

I know there’s no way to come out of this not being a fuckup, but I am so confused and stuck. How can I be the most ethical asshole I can be in this scenario?

Sincerely,

Stuck


Dear Stuck,

You’re right that it’s not easy to just walk away from a decades-long marriage and I’m not going to pretend that it is. A lot of colloquial advice is far too glib about this stuff, I think, so I will forgo the usual hand-clap emoji “dump her”-style rhetoric. Real adult relationships are just too complicated and unwieldy to fit neatly into the r/relationships-inflected views we have lately developed about them.

I also understand the appeal of remaining devoted to someone, even or particularly when doing so feels very difficult. Modern life offers us few opportunities for devotion if you’re not especially religious, as I’m not and I assume you aren’t either, otherwise you probably would have brought it up as a reason for staying. The last few years especially I have felt this more keenly—a certain kind of bereftness; the sense of proceeding through my life unmoored from anything that might really be worth clinging to. I’ve said before that if the right cult came along I think I’d make an easy recruit. The outfits often seem quite sensible.

The problem in your case is that objects of our devotion tend to demand our regard—we pay special attention to them; become observant. The fact that by your own reckoning your wife became unrecognizable to you and you “don’t know how it happened” means you were never really devoted at all, you were just kind of there. I’m not saying the two are causally related—that your lack of attention was in any way responsible for her becoming cruel—simply that it’s time you take an honest account of yourself. There is a difference between being conflict-averse and being a passive observer of events. I think you are more of the latter.

Frankly, Stuck, you are miserable and you don’t like your wife and she doesn’t like you either. I have no idea why she wants to stay in the marriage since that much is very clear. You don’t have many friends and you have used one of the few you do as a way of avoiding confronting how bad things really are since the walls are closing in and it’s becoming harder to deny. I’m not saying you need to pack your bags tomorrow, but at the very least you have got to talk to your wife. Exhuming the last 20 years of your life together is exactly what needs to happen, even if it’s uncomfortable and makes you consider your failures and have regrets. Maybe your marriage can survive and maybe it can’t, but we’re all given such an intolerably insufficient amount of time here and you are wasting yours simply letting things happen and pretending you have no role to play in your own life. This will be hard and painful and I’m sorry about that, but you are a grown man and it’s well past time you started acting like it.

Love,

A Fuck-Up

Got a question? Email bjensen@jezebel.com.

Brandy Jensen lives in New Orleans with her two dogs.

DISCUSSION

suffersfoolsgladly
Suffersfoolsgladly

If she’s in the guest room, she has already left and it’s probably only economic necessity keeping her there.

I was married for 41 years, now widowed, and even in a relationship where people share the same values you can have stretches of several years where things aren’t so hot, then the boat rights itself and on you go.

I threatened to divorce my husband at the 30 year mark, but we got past it because we were dear friends above all else and I couldn’t really see my life without him.

He was 14 years older and changed very little over the arc of our marriage, whereas I have been about 4 different versions of myself and that also created difficulties, but again we had shared values, and he always had my back and I his. That was what kept us together..mutual respect.
If you don’t respect each other and don’t share the same world view I don’t hold out a lot of hope for your union, but twenty years warrants at least a few couples counseling sessions for a post mortem.

Also, try to make more friends..some of your problem might be expecting your wife to also serve as your social life.