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The Vine: March 5, 2002

Submitted by on March 5, 2002 – 11:10 AMNo Comment

Okay, first a little background stuff. I am 24 years old, first-year graduate student. I've spent the past two and a half years out of college working full-time, living on my own, and dating a boy who I soon grew tired of and left this past January. Knowing I'd be moving halfway across the country in a few months for graduate school, I resigned myself to hot baths and movies with friends for the next few months until I met my current boyfriend at a concert, a guy three and a half years younger than me who lived five hours away with his parents and had never lived on his own. We finally decided that we "couldn't live without each other," and he made plans to move with me across the country. We moved in together four months ago, and things have settled into a mostly sane type of existence; we're happy, we're both going to school and working part-time, manageable (and normal) fights about his lack of being "used" to living on his own.

Fast-forward to the present. Last week, my wonderful guy turned 21 and his mother (stay-at-home type, married at 15 with three children still roosting in the nest) came out to visit. Things seemed to be going well until I noticed that my boyfriend's and my many progressive inside jokes about annoying breeders and their free-range children, gas-guzzling SUVs, and other things seemed to be bothering his mother. I still thought things were okay until the third night, when she exploded at me on the way back from dinner, citing my differing opinions as attacks on her personally. She repeatedly told me how much I was "like her" and how I needed to grow up (this coming from someone who removed herself from individual personal growth at the ripe old age of 15!).

Now, I will admit there are things I don't know about (duh!), but I'm at least taking time to figure out who I am before foisting my half-formed ideals on a brood of children. This unprovoked attack went on for about fifteen minutes — in front of my boyfriend — who didn't say a word the entire time. I managed to have an "Oprah" moment, saying whatever it would take to get myself home in (mostly) one piece. Needless to say, this created a bit of a rift between my boyfriend and I — not to mention with his mother. In all honesty, I don't see her that often, nor does her influence really impress upon me that much, but I'm trying to think long-term here. I really dig her son and want to make sure this doesn't blossom into something larger. Any advice on how I can ignore her different opinions on life, liberty, and the pursuit of…while still maintaining my relationship's independence and my own sanity?

Thank you,
Confused in Colorado

Dear Confused,

Well, you might start by dialing the judgmental bullshit down about a hundred notches. How exactly did you expect a woman with several children to react to comments about, and I quote, "annoying breeders" — comments you apparently made right in front of her? Because I can tell you right now, if my brother had brought you home and you'd said that crap, my mother would have slapped you into next week, and you'd deserve it, too. And since when, exactly, does having children "remove" a woman from "personal growth"? Did you seriously expect your boyfriend to defend a position that uninformed and snotty? Bad manners don't make you better than anyone.

Instead of "ignoring" her opinions, why don't you just accept them and let it ride? I don't recall her saying that you should live your life the way she's chosen to live hers, or interfering in the "independence" of your relationship, or challenging you and your beliefs in any other way, really — so what's the big deal?

Your boyfriend's mother is right. You need to grow up. Call her up, apologize for judging her, and resolve to keep your damn mouth shut from now on about things you don't understand. The woman raised a man you fell in love with. Show her the respect that that deserves.

Dear Sars,

My question is basically pretty simple. What are your thoughts on marriage? Specifically, on getting divorced.

I have a friend who is married and has been with her husband, all told, for over six years. They are good friends, even now, but they're having some problems, and my friend has even considered having an affair (but she didn't). They have been in and out of marriage therapy, but it doesn't really do any good, and at the end of the day they leave.

Now, my friend still loves her husband, but she's no longer in love with him. There's little physical attraction, and she wants to go out and party five times a week while he's a homebody. All of her other friends say she should get a divorce, because they don't have any kids to worry about and she's not happy, but I think that's a cop-out. She married the guy, and since neither of them are being horrible to the other (they still enjoy the other's company) I think they owe it to the marriage work it out.

Okay, that being said, I don't know how valid my point of view is, because I'm basically in the same place my friend's husband is. My husband recently moved 2000
miles away because he was no longer in love with me. We're still best friends, and we never fought (well, serious fighting) or stopped liking each other. He just felt frustrated and anxious all the time, and decided I was the cause of that frustration. I liken our situation to that of many couples who are simply dating and one person's feelings change over time. It sucks for the dumpee (in this case, me), but it's life.

But back to the question. Am I totally out of touch and old-fashioned to think that being married means that there are ups and downs, but that the couple in question ought to work things out? Especially if the relationship isn't totally screwed up (as evidenced by still being good friends)?

Loveless and lonely

Dear Loveless,

"Good friends" isn't the same as "love." It's nice. It's comfortable. It's better than screaming fights and thrown crockery. But it's not love, and if a man and a woman don't love each other anymore, I think it's best if they go their separate ways, so that they can find love with other people.

Your friend has gone to marriage therapy; it hasn't worked. She seems to have basic incompatibilities with her husband. And the bottom line is that she isn't in love with him anymore. I'd tell her to get a divorce too. She's not doing herself or him any favors staying in a relationship that's a ghost of what marriage is supposed to mean, and if she gave it her best effort, well…she needs to call a lawyer.

I don't think it's old-fashioned to believe that married couples should try to work things out; all couples should try to work things out. But I also think you need to stop projecting your own situation onto your friend and her husband. Marriage isn't a guarantee — just the opposite. It's more like a long race, with all the effort and uncertainty and dreams of glory that that metaphor entails. Not everyone gets to the end, and clinging to the idea of it won't protect you from anything.

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