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June 04, 2010

Can This Marriage Survive?

Years ago in some women's mag there used to be a feature that went by that name. I couldn't help thinking of it when I saw this:

Dear Carolyn:

My husband and I have been married 2 1/2 years. We have a good marriage, but this winter, during a casual conversation in front of the TV, I was fishing for a compliment, and he responded that he considers me "an eight" (out of 10) in terms of looks.

I got really upset. He claims that he was trying to make an unsuccessful joke and that he thinks I look great. I have a hard time seeing the humor.

I told him he needs to make it up to me. He's done nothing. It's been over four months, and I'm having a really hard time with this. I've been taking it out on him by being extremely critical lately. I'm not a very secure person to begin with (thus the fishing), though I definitely consider myself attractive. I don't know how I'm supposed to live the rest of my life with someone who could tell me I'm an eight to him, even as a joke.

He's otherwise a great husband, and he's been making an effort to compliment me a lot lately, but I have a hard time believing him.

Dear. Sweet. Jesus. I don't have much of a problem with a young wife fishing for compliments. Sometimes husbands aren't terribly good at the whole affirmation thing, especially when they're first married. But then there's no real reason they should be. It's nice to be appreciated for one's finer qualities (and I've never met a man who didn't very much need to be respected, admired and appreciated by his wife) but in the final analysis people need to take responsibility for their own happiness. Husbands or wives who can't do that for themselves usually find that no amount of affirmation is enough to fill the gaping hole in their character.

I had to laugh a bit - the letter reminded me of an embarrassing incident that occurred about 25 years ago. After reading some daft essay in [wait for it...] a woman's mag, I asked the spousal unit what it was that made him fall in love with me?

The deer in the headlights look flashed briefly across his face, but he manned up and waded into the combat zone, guns a blazin'. He's usually pretty good about humoring my pointless woolgathering. That's one of his best qualities - for a man who suffers fools poorly (if at all) he can be amazingly gracious when I make a complete ass of myself.

After thinking for a moment, he replied, "You are a very kind person."

This, of course, was a compliment. So naturally, being an inexperienced, twenty something female, it crushed my ego flatter than a bug. I had *so* hoped he might say something like, "You are just fascinating to talk to... I could listen to you go on about spit up and changing diapers all day..." or "I love when you tell me what Oscar the Grouch said on Sesame Street when I walk through the door after a grueling day oppressing Lance Corporals", or "It was your sterling personal qualities that first won my heart, Dearest One".

The thing is, though I was pretty disappointed not to be told that it was my scintillating intellect or personality that drew him into orbit around my incandescent radiance, I didn't get mad.

Really. Why are you all laughing?

I did learn an important lesson: we have no control over how other people see us, what they value, or even why they love us. Nor should we. Love is just one of those things that comes unbidden. It doesn't need to make sense.

At any rate, the letter reminded me of something else I read recently:

We all contain Narcissistic tendencies and vulnerabilities. Our current zeitgeist encourages those who do not appreciate the distinction between the surface and the depths of a person. Ava Gardner's comment would be taken as a post-modern insight of great depth were she a celebrity alive today prattling on during some day time talk show.

When young we all tend to be at our most Narcissistic; adolescents, almost by definition, suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where their moods and self esteem depend on the state of their social life and their standing in the hierarchy at any given moment. Americans have a special proclivity to becoming trapped in extended adolescence. (And apparently we no longer even expect 26 year olds to be able to survive on their own; eg, Obamacare.)


Posted by Cassandra at June 4, 2010 02:55 PM

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OH! The tragedy! He said she was an EIGHT!?!?! How DARE he say she only looked better than four out of five women!??! (which, by the way, is what an 8 represents... she's in the 80th percentile)

Posted by: MikeD at June 4, 2010 04:00 PM

That's not a question I think I'd ask any man I was involved with. No good can come from it.

Couldn't tell if she actually asked him that, or whether she asked him the same thing obliquely and he just volunteered that he thought she was an "8".

Anyway if you ask a question like that, you need to deal with whatever the answer is. Aye yay yay.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 04:08 PM

I wonder how many married fellows, especially those intent on staying married, might rate kindness as a highly desirable attribute near the top of the priority pecking order in their mate.

As time goes by, looks fade, money comes, money goes, but a kind hearted mate is priceless. Not to mention that such an SO makes facing up to whatever anyone/anything else might chuck your way easier to bear.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: My 2 cents/pesos/or €0.02

Posted by: bthun at June 4, 2010 04:32 PM

Being kind is a compliment in some cultures that exceeds simple physical beauty.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 4, 2010 04:36 PM

The funny thing is, my little nose was *really* out of joint at the time.... and still was, 20+ years later!

I wasn't at all mad at him. After all, I asked. I just wanted to be appreciated for the things I thought were important.

*rolling eyes*

The past few years have made me see things a bit differently. I guess it just took me a few decades to see that being appreciated for anything at all is nothing to sneeze at :p

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 04:37 PM

Should have rated her a 12/10.

Some people who, unable to find a strong core, thinks they desire lies or exaggerations. They think this will "boost" their confidence.

When they find out even the lie is not enough, that it must be maintained, that it still doesn't complete that big hole in their soul. Well, then they realize an eternal truth.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 4, 2010 04:41 PM

It could have been worse... A young Air Force girl over here was fishing for a similar comment and was innocently told by a guy in my company she was an "Iraqi 6." That did not go over well at all.

Posted by: Pogue at June 4, 2010 04:48 PM

If you keep score in a relationship, all sides end up losing. I'm fairly certain that if more than one is keeping score, the end is faster -- and nastier.

Posted by: htom at June 4, 2010 04:51 PM

Roger that.

A young Air Force girl over here was fishing for a similar comment and was innocently told by a guy in my company she was an "Iraqi 6." That did not go over well at all.

Heh :) I told myself (after I got over my embarrassment at having been a jackass) that a person who fishes for compliments is lucky if she gets exactly what she deserves and no worse. Funny how lessons like that stay with you.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 04:57 PM

That ranks there with "does this make me look fat" as far as dangerous questions to ask. That young lady needs to get over herself.

Posted by: LittleRed1 at June 4, 2010 05:01 PM

The odd thing here was that the reason I asked is that reading the article made me curious as to how he saw me. That's what it was about - the fact that very often the things that attract us to a mate are often qualities that have a flip side that annoys them, too. The other interesting thing about the article was that often physical features the person doesn't like about themselves are the very thing their mate *does* like!

So it's kind of funny that when I got the answer to my question, I was disappointed that it didn't comport with what I thought it "ought" to have been!

It genuinely didn't occur to me at the time (because I was fixated on what I was thinking about) that I had put him in a very awkward position. But we live and learn.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 05:03 PM

That ranks there with "does this make me look fat" as far as dangerous questions to ask.

Yeah, I agree. But I've asked that before and actually meant, "Does THIS make me look fat", not "Do YOU THINK I'm fat". The first is OK in my book. The second, not so much.

My husband will answer that one truthfully and I appreciate his candor b/c that's why I asked him in the first place - if an outfit is unflattering I'd rather know that up front.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 05:06 PM

The thing is, men aren't really well evolved to figure out complex parallel coding, designs, patterns, symbols, colors, or the other stuff used in society to denote subtle shades of expression.

It was more convenient, back in the day, simply to find out who the leader was by body language and voice tones. The dress of the enemy could, after all, be a deception or a lure/trap.

Training can overcome individual limitations or biological disadvantages, but the natural talent, in its untrained form, still gives an edge over those that haven't trained at all who lack that born ability.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 4, 2010 05:15 PM

Done, over, toast, sayanora, if the guy had any brains he'd be gone. If she took such umbrage at being called an 8, what will she make his life like when he does something worth being censured over, shoot him?

My fiance, asked me recently about why I became attracted to her. This is a perfectly legitimate question because she was genuinely curious about my thought processes. I told her, to be honest it was no specific thing, but rather an accumulation of different attributes of hers.

Posted by: Allen at June 4, 2010 05:34 PM

I am curious about just about everything :p I've always been fascinated by how differently guys view the world. Sometimes what I find out is very upsetting.

But that's kind of the whole point - if I wanted someone just like me I would have married another woman ... and would have been bored to death.

There have been times when my husband was honest with me that I found "what he thinks" upsetting. But I've also found that it always makes me re-examine the way I look at things, even if the process isn't comfortable or easy.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 05:57 PM

If you married someone just like yourself and got into a roaring fight, would that be a form of self-abuse? :)

If you're getting honest answers from your partner, even when they know you won't like it, that is a form of flattery. It shows that they can be completely vulnerable to you.

Posted by: Allen at June 4, 2010 06:21 PM

My wife is a very kind hearted person (most of the time, when she is not dealing with my offspring). And even though I have never met you, I know that to be true of you, too, Cass.

Life would be unbearable if she wasn't patient with me, being so kindhearted.

The Unit is strong, honest and loyal. Semper Fi, baby. That's his handle.

Sounds like a pretty good match. The rest of us should be so lucky. :)

But, I guess you already knew that. Are you fishing for a compliment today?

As John Prine once said (in a song),
"stop wishing for bad luck
and knocking on wood.."

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 4, 2010 06:43 PM

The young lady who is upset that hubby thinks she's an 8 --BTW, I'd not bet on the marriage lasting-- would do well to listen to this fellow's advice.

Don't blame me, Don brought it up! I'm just plugging in the support structure around the snippet Don shared. =8^}

Cheers to ya Don.

Posted by: bthun at June 4, 2010 07:26 PM

Of course you're kind. I think though, that as you have gained more experience (we won't say aged), you have realized what a truly noble and great thing being kind is.

As to the whiner; an 8 means you get men to turn their eyes upon your pulchritudinous self. Not avert them.

Posted by: Cricket at June 4, 2010 07:53 PM

If you're getting honest answers from your partner, even when they know you won't like it, that is a form of flattery.

Either that, or you're married to a Marine :p

I suspect it has more to do with his temperment than anything I'm doing. He's a straight shooter.

As for kind, my Mom is kind. If I learned anything at all of forgiveness, it is due to her example.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 10:27 PM

I guess you already knew that. Are you fishing for a compliment today?

Oh man. Now Don's going to tell me I'm only a 2 and then I'll have to find another spot in the back yard. I knew I should not have let my son become a cop...

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2010 10:40 PM

Ladies' Home Journal, "Can This Marriage Be Saved?", I betcha. Gadzooks, I remember reading that as a kid.

If you want to keep score, remember to give yourself the points for having dated a Marine, for having become engaged to a Marine, for having married a Marine, for having stayed with that Marine over a deployment (one point for each deployment), for being the Mother of a Marine (again, one point for each), ... about the only point I see that you've missed is graduating from Boot Camp before meeting him! Oh, and there are those points for being married to the X.O and C.O. but I never had to learn how to count those.

You can give points away and still win.

Posted by: htom at June 5, 2010 01:41 AM

My hunch is that there are other issues in this marriage that are finding expression in this whole "8 out of 10" business.

On a sidenote, whenever I ask my husband questions about my appearance, he always answers in the superlative--as I do with him. :)

Posted by: colagirl at June 5, 2010 08:35 AM

I think Colagirl is probably right about there being other issues. For example, maybe her husband, in telling her he was joking, communicated something more along the lines of "What's your problem? I was joking!!" instead of, "I'm sorry, that was a dumb thing to say. Please forgive me" (the first response is a passive-aggressive way to deal with a whiny wife, I'd think...).

The wife is definitely a narcissistic pain, but I wonder if the second approach would've smoothed things over a lot better...

Posted by: FbL at June 5, 2010 08:45 AM

I just keep marveling at this line:

"I told him he needs to make it up to me." Considering the rest of the note, I'd have to doubt that was expressed with any other sentiment (whether overt or covert) than, "You jerk, you owe me--you'd better make me happy after what you did!"

What a relationship... Sounds more like an arbitration hearing than two people who love each other and want to make each other happy.

Posted by: FbL at June 5, 2010 08:50 AM

I'm sorry to keep commenting, but this story and the discussion about kindness keep rolling around in my head...

I don't think I've ever thought about it this way, but I agree about the importance of kindness in a relationship. This week I met a man for coffee one evening (started with an online matching service, so this was our first face-to-face). Long story, but it took me 1 hr 15 min to make a 10-minute drive, and there was nothing to blame but myself--I kept getting directions confused, and then arriving at wrong locations (to say I have been preoccupied this week would be the understatement of the year--it takes a basic tendency to distractability/confusion and magnifies it 10-fold). Finally he just came to me instead of vice-versa, haha!

What I found absolutely amazing was his response: not even a WHIFF of irritation or frustration about my airheadness. On his job and in his leisure activities (i.e. sailing and skydiving--2,000 jumps) he's pretty driven, so I tend not to think he's just laid back.

That kindness and patience made a gigantic impression on me. I was mortified at making him wait so long, but he did nothing to increase that, even in his body language. And when I briefly described my reason for preoccupation, his expression was of genuine concern and sympathy.

We'll be seeing each other again this week. I don't know how well we'll ultimately hit it off, but if we do, I wouldn't be surprised to discover one day that I can look back and say what initially attracted me to him was not the fact that he's cute and not the general idea that he's an interesting person I'd appreciate as simply a friend... but that he is patient and kind.

Had he responded with irritation, criticism or thinly-veiled jokes about my directional incompetence when I was so horrified at making things inconvenient and difficult for him, I don't think I'd be seeing him again even if he wanted to--and that kind of attitude from him would've created a response in me that he probably wouldn't have found attractive, either. But by being kind and patient, he encouraged in me a tiny seed of trust in him and we had an enjoyable few minutes that made us both want more.

Pretty cool, and a lesson for me on the importance of fundamental kindness in a romance...

Posted by: FbL at June 5, 2010 09:20 AM

Yeah: "I told him he needs to make it up to me." He should have hit the door running!

Cass, you must be more secure in your kindness than I am, because I would have taken that as an extremely charming compliment. I'm 100% sure that kindness wouldn't have figured into my husband's reasons for being attracted to me at any time, though I'd have loved it if it did. In any case, I'd rather hear something like that than any kind of general statement that "it was a whole bunch of factors that I can't identify specifically," which is a comment that I'd have taken as a sign that he hadn't ever really noticed anything about me and wasn't interesting in talking about it anyway. Don't we wish someone were paying enough attention to compose an ode to particular qualities we actually possess? Even if they aren't the qualities we happen to think are most important about us.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 5, 2010 09:26 AM

"The funny thing is, my little nose was *really* out of joint at the time.... and still was, 20+ years later!"
"The past few years have made me see things a bit differently."

So what happened in the last few years that cause your poor nose to re-joint itself after 20+ years? I would think that after that long the issue would have been so internalized so as not to be subject to much change.

Posted by: Pogue at June 5, 2010 02:51 PM

Those are tough questions in a young marriage--maybe even tough questions in an old marriage.

My fiance and I were unchurched; but we decided to get married in a Methodist church where my I'd been a Boy Scout. A couple of months before the wedding date, the minister said he'd like to see us. (I assume that all couples planning to be wed in his church got the same invitation.) We were young--21 and 22, and he "had a few questions" for us. I can distinctly recall my bride's answers to two of his questions. 1. What is the most important thing or quality about your future husband to him? and 2. What is the most important thing or quality about your future husband to you?

Well, she aced the test! I think I answered those same two questions about her correctly--but I can't recall. And if I flunked it, she forgave me anyway. In many ways and many things she's smarter than I am--and vice versa. You work it out over a long marriage.

Posted by: Mike Myers at June 5, 2010 07:27 PM

Cass, I fell in love with you when I saw your picture at the top of this blog.

You look smoking in purple.

Your solid political writing helps, too.

But mostly its the gams.

Posted by: Average Looking Male Fully Clothed For Your Benefit at June 6, 2010 02:00 AM


If only I looked like her! Punk :)

Posted by: Cass at June 6, 2010 10:08 AM

steam punk

Posted by: Ymarsakar at June 6, 2010 07:15 PM

So what happened in the last few years that cause your poor nose to re-joint itself after 20+ years? I would think that after that long the issue would have been so internalized so as not to be subject to much change.

Well, first of all I wasn't all that upset about it :)

It was more that I recognized the huge gap between the way I saw myself (or my romanticized picture of who I wanted to be) and the way my husband's response made me think he saw me.

I don't know that there was any one definitive thing that happened. Perhaps graduating from college and going back to work after spending two decades as a housewife and mother?

The last 10 or 12 years have been very different from the first 20 years of our marriage. The first 20 years I spent raising kids. We never had enough money but I had lots of time.

Now, it's the reverse - lots of money but never enough time. Working has (paradoxically) made it much easier for me to understand something of the pressures my husband has to deal with, while at the same time making me less patient and less able to act on that understanding. When I stayed home, there were many times when I didn't understand him but I was able to substitute patience for understanding.

Maybe that just helped me not see being kind as so much of a boring/dependable/doormat thing (IOW, women are expected to be kind - it's supposedly "natural" for us and therefore is not to our credit)

I think, too, that some of the difficult things that happened over the past few years changed the way I look at a lot of things.

Posted by: Cass at June 6, 2010 09:33 PM

That's the same negotiation we play out in the rest of our lives, though: you want to be a actor, but the world really values you for your abilities as a table waiter. At some point, you sort that out.

Posted by: Grim at June 6, 2010 10:13 PM

Working for a living, full time, is hard. I've been on the treadmill for over 30 years, and I really want to get off, but I have no choice. I've got to keep going. I'll probably work 'till I drop. I don't earn near enough to get ahead, and everything it takes to raise kids and put them through school is eating me alive.

If the Unit is going to retire, and you really don't need the money, take off for some time together.
When the time is gone, money can't buy it back. Treasure the time NOW. Cherish the best things you have now, you both have earned it. You never can know what tomorrow will bring. Being kind in a world that constantly grows more coarse and cynical is a refuge from the culture storm that tries to batter us into submission.

Don't become calloused and cynical, it's no way to live. You are not a boring doormat, and probably never were. Working and feeling the "buzz" of being busy and "essential" is just as false a drug as anything you get in a bottle or shoot into your arm. I fight that battle every day, and it is wearing me away.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 6, 2010 11:12 PM

Best posts on life. I was going to write something pointed until I read FbL. Good for you! Best Wishes!

Posted by: Curtis at June 7, 2010 12:00 AM

"Maybe that just helped me not see being kind as so much of a boring/dependable/doormat thing (IOW, women are expected to be kind - it's supposedly "natural" for us and therefore is not to our credit)"

Wow. I would never have read boring/dependable/doormat into kindness. That's it, if the wife ever asks me that question I'll be sure to respond, "Dearest, I love the cold, hard look in your eye as your rip the oppositions jugular out with your teeth most." ;-)

Posted by: Pogue at June 7, 2010 01:12 AM

Pogue: I think that the way we see things has a lot to do with where we are in life (circumstances). I'm sure it didn't help that I married and became a mother very early in life. I would do it all over again, but at the same time you don't get one thing without giving up others.

Maybe if I hadn't been a FT housewife and mother at the time I wouldn't have reacted the way I did.

Again, it's not that I was all that upset about this :p I *was* kind of amused at my own reaction though - one reason I remembered it. Besides, it gave me the opportunity to make fun of myself!

Posted by: Cass at June 7, 2010 04:33 AM