February 10, 2012

"My fiancee is pushing me away and I've lost hope"

my advice can't be worse than his

Here is an Ask Metafilter question, and my reply.  Maybe it will do someone else some good.

If you've already read it there, skip to IV, for what I could not include there.

My fiancee and I (both 23) have been together for just over 5 years and living together for the past 3. There have been ups and downs during that time, including a month-long break up about 2 years ago, but I love her and want to spend the rest of my life with her. She had a rough childhood (alcoholic father who left) and I think that this is negatively affecting our relationship and her self-image.

I had a female best friend from high school, who I knew before I met my fiancée, but I have largely given up this relationship because my then-girlfriend was jealous. It was a slow and ugly process and since then my fiancée has thought that I could and should find someone better suited to me than she herself is. I have tried my best to quell her insecurities, but they have been around for most of our relationship.

I proposed about a year ago and she said yes. Things seemed to be going well, but a few months later there was a conflict between my fiancée and sister at a wedding planning convention. I wasn't there, but my sister was apparently late and then didn't stay for very long, which my fiancée and her mother took offence to. Since then there has been tension between my fiancée and sister. This is even more concerning for me, since both of my parents are deceased and my sister is the only immediate family that I have left.

This past September was a terrible month for my fiancée, as her father died and she was laid off from her job. I tried to be as emotionally supportive as I could, but she didn't lean on me as much as I would have expected.

Roughly 2 months ago she started saying that she didn't feel right wearing the ring that I gave her because the diamond that I used is from my mother's wedding ring, and my fiancée thinks that the diamond should stay in the family (sister). I talked to my sister about using the diamond before I got the ring made and she was ok with the plan and the way I see it, once we get married my fiancée will be in the family anyway.

About the same time she told me that she had started taking anti-depressants. She said that she had thought about suicide, but had no immediate plans to do it in the future. I encouraged her to see a therapist, but she only took the pills which were prescribed to her. My fiancée stopped wearing the ring two weeks ago and a few days later she said that she really doesn't want to live anymore and that she has been pushing me away intentionally. I found her a therapist myself this time, and made sure that she went. She said that the therapist was insightful, but it hasn't made her change her mind. She said that she doesn't really want to go again.

We've tried talking about this, but she is emotionally distant and insists that I find another girlfriend so that she can leave me and not be missed. Feeling confused and unsure about what to do, I asked her best friend if she knew what was going on with my fiancée. She told me that she didn't know that my fiancée was thinking about suicide but that she did know that she was having second thoughts about the wedding and that she was stressed out about money.

So here I am. I'm scare and confused. I've tried my best to show my fiancée that I love her and that she deserves to be loved, but she is pushing me away. I'm tired of struggling to keep this relationship going, but now I'm worried that she will hurt herself if we break up. She seems to want to continue our normal day-to-day routine and act like nothing is wrong, but I just can't play this charade.

Any thoughts about this situation are welcome. I'm looking for some outside perspective to help me figure out what to do next. Let me know if I've left out any important details. Thanks.


Here's my reply:

No. Please take this in the spirit it is intended.

You make it sound like your fiancee is suicidal; that you may be the only thing keeping her alive. Most of the Mefites' responses are about her depression. Yet your subtitle is: "My fiancée is pushing me away and after years trying to make things work, I've lost most of my hope."

"This past September was a terrible month for my fiancée, as her father died and she was laid off from her job. I tried to be as emotionally supportive as I could, but she didn't lean on me as much as I would have expected."

Her father dies, and what your radar detects that is amiss is how she treats you.

Do you think you know her better than anyone?  I think you believe other people have more facts about her, but that you can interpret them better than anyone. That's unlikely, but even if it's true then this--

I asked her best friend if she knew what was going on with my fiancée. She told me that she didn't know that my fiancée was thinking about suicide but that she did know that she was having second thoughts about the wedding and that she was stressed out about money.

-- indicates that her best friend's view of the "facts" is that the problem is you/marriage, not suicide. But instead of considering what that might suggest, you move to:

So here I am. I'm scared and confused.

You wrote that you proposed "about a year ago." I wanted to get a sense of where your head was at around that time. Fair guess you got engaged in Feb 2011? At that time, you Asked Metafilter: "The Liberal Education ideal is ruining my life. Please help disabuse me of it."

It started with Mortimer J Adler and his 'How to Read a Book'. I bought it about two years ago, and shortly after that time I became fixated on the idea of getting a liberal education and reading the Great Books.

I also have a tendency to avoid my university studies to look for "something else", some other activity or field of knowledge which will bring satisfaction to my life. I'm not sure if this is strictly procrastination, or if its something more. I started with reading books from Adler's list and other similar lists on the internet... Then I rekindled my learning of French. I've given up on the idea of learning to play an instrument, but I feel like I ought to, and I occasionally browse the web for pianos and piano lessons.

This much I could handle reasonably well, but then I found the The Teaching Company and The Modern Scholar. ...I've downloaded most of the courses that I could find through torrents, and have since been listening to the lectures for an average of 20 hours each week for the past 7 months.

I also need to find a job as my savings have nearly run dry.

I'm guessing I have a combination of an inferiority complex, a habit of procrastination, and a tad of neuroticism thrown in for good measure.

Somewhere around this point you asked a woman, "honey, will you marry me?"

And this is worth asking: what does it mean when a college student turns to the Teaching Company for a liberal education?  College has failed you.  Demand your money back. But you didn't really want a liberal education, you wanted to be... smarter.

A month later you Asked: "How can I feel good about finding a job and starting a career?" Not how can you get a career-- how can you feel good about it?

I'm an economics major who doesn't know what the hell he is going to do for a career after graduating, and frankly doesn't feel qualified to do very much. I went into university thinking that I would try for medical school, but I was one of those kids in high school who got good grades without trying very hard, and my nearly non-existent study habits have left me with a C average, although even that has been slipping lately. Now that I'm nearing the end of my academic career, I'm starting to freak out about my career potential, and the related anxiety has me neglecting school work even further.

Last year in a labour economics class, my prof stated that first jobs after college correlate with lifetime earnings. This has also added to my worrying, and I have been putting off getting a much needed part time job (partly) because of it.

The future is indeed terrifyingly unknowable when you can't even focus on the present.


I go through all this not to embarrass you or criticize you but to show you two things: your life around this time is marked by ambivalence, anxiety, uncertainty, yet you decide to get married. But of course it makes sense that you would try to lock down at least one aspect of your life. You chose marriage-- which is typically what girls do when they're looking to be taken care of, to be defined by someone else.  Right?

But what if she's as ambivalent as you about the future, but she wants something else (other than marriage) to lock down?  Now a marriage is one more burden of uncertainty she has to carry around with her.

The second thing all this shows you is what your words reveal: that you are intelligent, interested, eclectic, hungry-- AND you are very conflicted, ambivalent, and uncertain.  These aren't psychoanlayses, these are explicitly your words.  This is the message you want people to hear.   If I can see all this just from Metafilter posts alone, it is absolutely certain that your fiancee knows it. Maybe she senses that you're grasping on to her because she's an anchor, and she doesn't want to be an anchor, she needs an anchor.  Most women don't want to be responsible for their man's stability, and she sounds like she wants some attention all for herself, of her own. Maybe she doesn't want to be married, maybe she's depressed, maybe she...

...regardless of the reason, she needs to get help, a therapist, and you need to get focused and NOT a therapist. Your problem is not unique: too much freedom. If you were stupid you could plug into the system easy, one talent= one job.  But for you there are too many possibilities.

Your parents being deceased, being in college, being smart... that's the ether in which a naturally worried, "is this good enough?" young man finds himself. The mistake many with that problem make is thinking that the problem is "themselves" and they need more introspection, or more insight, or more "brain hacks." You need less of those things. What you need are goals with concrete steps that you force yourself to boringly take.

So I think your relationship will end, hopefully you'll both be strong enough and mature enough to do it without drama and the stickiness that accompanies furtive attempts at breaking up (this is your third time?) I'm sorry for you, these things are inconsolably painful for a while. But whatever happens, your future happiness is entirely related to your ability to impose your own limits on your freedom. The time has come to not be everything you want to be, but to be one thing you've wanted to be.

I may as well tell you that once you've chosen a specific goal, and begin to legitimately work towards it, you may then find a different path suits you better; but that kind of insight is only possible after activity, after doing. Less thinking, more doing.

Good luck. I hope it works out well for you.


That was what I posted at that time.

But what I did not put in that post, the thing that I deliberately withheld because I didn't want it to get lost in all the other words; because it is the most important thing, and the thing most likely to be denied--  is that this guy chose that girl on purpose, for the purpose of maintaining his ambivalent world so no concrete decisions need to be made.   Concrete=loss of potentialities= no thanks.   Math and graduating is very forward looking; it's much easier to say, "can't study now, my girlfriend needs me, she's in pain."  I'd bet it makes him feel like a good person, too, all that sacrifice, just for her. 

I doubt very much if he truly believed she was going to say yes.  Her friends didn't think she'd say yes, apparently.  The point was not really to get married, the point was to create a dramatic event upon which to focus energy and thus delay any kind of physical forward motion.  By engaging in conflict that is impossible to resolve.

This is why I say he chose her to get rejected; to get jealous; to get sad over; to obsess over.  And then to recruit the rest of his world into this problem.  Nothing matters more than ego integrity; nothing matters more than the status quo.  Do you see? 

All of that is unconscious, and as soon as I say that word a specific group of people goes bananas.  No one likes to think they're not in control of their own lives, that they're saddled with an Abusive Boyfriend that wants nothing to change; but if they are in control, why are they anxious all the time?  Why so little progress despite resources, opportunities, and freedom?  If they're in control of their own lives, why do they all dress alike?

If you're in control, why do these relationships happen to you?  Isn't it more likely you chose them?

Others/the same people will take issue with my derision of introspection, because they believe it to be a Socratic ideal.   I'm not against introspection, I am against masturbation.  I'm against edging.  The critic wants to be able to contemplate, to go to therapy and discuss and introspect and what he will do there is talk about himself, think about himself, identify patterns in his life, things that have held him back-- and nothing will change.  So then he will tell me that he has "a really good therapist, she really pushes me!" 

The therapy becomes an elaborate narcissistic defense, the promise and appearance of progress while protecting an at best artificial and at worst non-existent identity.  "I want to learn why I am this way."  Then what?  Will learning why you made those choices be what changes your choices?  You're still eating junk food, aren't you?  You're eating it while you're learning  how bad it is. 

"But... why am I this way?"  That question is a narcissistic defense.  It doesn't want an answer, it wants you to keep asking the question. 

"I'm a good person, I just am making bad choices."  Wrong.  You're not a good person until you make good choices.  Until then you are chaos.

And you know it.