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  1. 1

    Something happens when we go from the early stages of a relationship to long-married couplehood.   In the early stages, our partner is an Other.   A stranger that we get to know and love.   Someone we strive to understand and impress, someone whose captivation we believe will make us happier, better able to attain our goals.   But when we’ve been with a partner long enough, we often stop looking at them as an Other and start looking at them as an extension of ourselves.   Intimacy.   Intimacy blurs the lines between the Self and the Other.   We think that’s what love is….but it isn’t.   What it is is poison.   Because the first person we criticize is ourselves, the needs we first deny are our own. So often we would never speak to a stranger the scornful way we speak to our spouses, because we speak to them as we speak to ourselves when we have internal monologues in our own minds. Our partner’s wants stop being the pathway to love, to what we want, and instead become our “shoulds” – things we don’t want to do, but feel guilty not doing.   The junkpile of our psyche.   Is it any wonder, in such cases, that striving to understand our spouses, to reach accord with their priorities, so often seems like Work? Not because it’s so effortful, but because we don’t want to do it.


    When we see our partner as an Other, as our pathway toward what we desire, we are motivated to seek accord, to prioritize their desires as much as our own.   When we see our partner as the less important half of ourselves, we have no motivation.   What would, in the first case, seem Easy, seems like Work in the second case.   Objectively the same amount of effort.   Subjectively miles apart.


    Good relationships should be easy, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t take work.   Rather, the work should not elicit resentment from us because we are happily motivated to do it.   If we are not happily motivated, the effort will seem difficult and we will no longer perceive the relationship to be easy.   Objectively there is no different in the effort expended in either scenario, but subjectively they are miles apart.

    1. 1.2

      HI Jeremy

      “So often we would never speak to a stranger the scornful way we speak to our spouses, because we speak to them as we speak to ourselves when we have internal monologues in our own minds”

      That’s an interesting way to think of it! It actually does make a lot of sense. I would say the only other people you would speak to with the same level of scorn would be your siblings (not so much as grown adults – although occasionally – but certainly when you live together). I assumed this was because you live in shared space and there’s both so much at stake in those close relationships (which can be scary) and also there’s a level of comfort that you can be angry and mean (ie., my spouse won’t divorce me over an argument). But would you say that people tend to see close family as an extension of themselves in the same way as a spouse? Or maybe you and your siblings never had nasty arguments 😉

      1. 1.2.1

        Our family is a reflection of ourselves….


        My mother loves to sing, has taken years and years of voice lessons.   Unfortunately, to no real avail – though she doesn’t know it.   Her voice warbles from a high falsetto to a gravelly alto, with no real in-between.   She performs music at retirement homes to entertain seniors, but her aspirations to become the next Barbara Streisand never took flight.   Throughout my childhood, my mother would randomly start singing (loud and high) in inappropriate places.   In restaurants, social gatherings, places where no one had invited her to sing, but where she somehow thought that doing so would win admiration from the onlookers (which it never did).   At my Bar Mitzvah she randomly got up and announced to the seated audience that she wrote a song for me, modified from a song about a little girl, and started singing it.   As I tried to hide under the table, my father hauled me up by my collar and whispered “If I have to listen to it, so do you.”   Anyway, to all the others at the party my mother was a kooky eccentric and her antics were funny.   To me, there was nothing funny about it at all, it was deeply embarrassing.   Because I saw her as an extension of myself.   Not a kooky lady embarassing herself, but my mother, embarassing ME.   The intimacy of our primary relationships confuses the self and the other.

        1. Marika

          Hmm, Jeremy, not so sure. I get your general point, and it’s definitely interesting, but personally in that example I’d be humiliated if an acquaintance did something so bizarre in public. Also, kids are so egocentric that everything feels like it’s about you. Especially sensitive kids.

          I had an extreme reaction a couple of years ago to what I felt was selfish behaviour & regular poor & clueless use of shared space by a housemate. The ensuing argument was like something I’d had with a sibling, or ex husband. I couldn’t believe how angry I was. We were also friends, but not close friends. I have other friends who lived with people and it wrecked their relationship. It can even happen by travelling together.

          I’m not necessarily disagreeing, I just think there’s more to it. Shared space and not feeling relaxed at home can bring out the worst in us. No matter the relationship.

          I’m sorry about your mother, BTW, she sounds like a real piece of work.

        2. Jeremy

          I’d agree there’s more to it.   If you listen to Trivers and Dawkins about that whole “selfish gene” thing, they’d say that most altruistic things that we do are all about the Self (or rather, the gene).   So it would be totally understandable for an individual to confuse the Self for a close relative like a mother or a sister.   But what you and I are both talking about is confusing the Self with a non-genetically-related individual – an individual with whom we developed intimacy as a result of proximity.   Whether your old housemate or a spouse – the intimacy leads to a blurring of the lines.   Of course, that’s not the only factor involved in the perception of “work” in marriages.   But I think that it’s a biggie.   The failure to realize that what the partner wants, what the partner SHOULD want, isn’t necessarily the same as what we do, because they aren’t us.

        3. Marika

          Hi Jeremy:

          “Whether your old housemate or a spouse — the intimacy leads to a blurring of the lines.”

          Not to be pedantic (well, maybe just a tad 😉 ), but this is the exact bit I disagree with. There was no intimacy with my housemate and I. Or certainly no emotional intimacy, no internal monologue that I inaccurately applied to her. In no sense did I feel that she and I were merged, other than in the sense of being in the same house. We’re very different people and I was very relieved when she decided to move out. Unfortunately, I don’t miss her at all and we weren’t particularly close friends before living together – we just happened to need a place at the same time.

          I feel that it is the shared space that can create the issues, and as I said, the feeling of not being able to relax at home. No doubt this is why some spouses choose separate bedrooms or even in some cases separate houses – to avoid these types of arguments. I don’t think it’s so much about confusing self and other, personally, or this would only happen with very close loved ones. I don’t think friends who argue and end up breaking up a friendship when travelling confuse themselves with the other, and this is a relatively common thing (so much so that I was warned by several people not to live or travel with good friends). Not everyone is designed to share a space and make joint decisions on a daily basis – as Evan so often reminds us when it comes to the importance of compatibility.

        4. jeremy

          I see your point and agree with you.   I think that what you and I are talking about are 2 separate things.   An ex of mine once had a roommate whom she hated.   This roommate would often sneak into her room and borrow clothes without asking.   My ex thought she was a kleptomaniac, but the roommate didn’t see the problem.   She thought they were like sisters, living together as they were, and what are sisters for but to borrow things from?   The roommate had a false sense of intimacy (as I describe), while my ex simply didn’t like her, was turned off by her behavior, and was made worse by their enforced proximity, as you describe.


          I think that both things can and do complicate marriages, creating the difficult times the OP asked about.   I think the difference is that when what you described is the case, the relationship is better off ending.   Whereas when what I described is the case, there may be more to salvage.


          A wife looks around at her messy home, then at her husband happily watching tv.   He is aware that she hates the mess, but thinks that she shouldn’t care (as he doesn’t).   She is aware that he doesn’t care about the mess, but thinks he should (as she does).   Is this your scenario or mine?

        5. Marika

          Hi Jeremy

          You asked: “Is this your scenario or mine?”

          I wasn’t so much talking about that. It was more the strength of the reaction to such a scenario (or any scenario) and your explanation (other as extension of self) I’m not sure about. As I said, I like it and it’s an interesting point of view to consider, but then I recalled that I had a highly emotional reaction to a housemate over something a bit like that which you describe, who I definitely don’t see as an extension of myself. So then I thought, perhaps we don’t respond highly emotionally to a spouse/family in the way we wouldn’t an ‘other’ because we see them as an extension of self. Perhaps, instead, we do so because we see them all the time, at their best and worst, and our best and worst and our peaceful living circumstances rely at least partly on them and etc etc. Perhaps anyone, any other can potentially provoke such a reaction if you live in shared space day in & day out.

          Otherwise, as I said, your explanation doesn’t make sense in some circumstances (like in my example).

          I’m not sure how else to explain it…I feel like I’m repeating the same things…and it’s not actually that important really.

  2. 2

    Dear  Evan Marc Katz,  new follower, love what you’ve got here. Apologetically off topic question, is there any way to see the dates your blogs were posted?

    1. 2.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Sorry, but no. I’ve been doing this for 10 years. Didn’t want to distract from useful and universal content by dating it. Hope it holds up for you.

  3. 3

    I don’t know about this “right person” stuff so much as doing the right  things.  I guess to an extent the whole compatibility thing is important, sure, but love is an action as much as it is a feeling. Wouldn’t it be fair to say that both finding the right person and doing the right things are important? I mean, you can have somebody who’s a perfect match but not do the right things for the relationship to stay healthy. I think a lot of divorces happen not because it’s the wrong person, but because the society we’re living in says, eh, you’re not happy? Go ahead, try again! Instead, maybe we should encourage people to just stick it out. There would be far fewer broken homes at least. I can’t stand to see the destruction that no-fault divorce has wrought.   If my friend’s husband had stuck by her instead of running off, maybe they’d have worked through their differences and been much closer and stronger for it.

    I really do think there’s something to be said for the importance of a vow. The very nature of a vow is that it cannot and should not be broken. But these days it seems like too many people are saying their marriage vows with their fingers crossed behind their backs. Makes me sad.

    1. 3.1

      I agree, Jenn. Obviously the bad old days of sticking it out even if the person is psychologically damaging towards you are over, but I feel like it’s swung a bit too far the other way. The Thank U, Next culture doesn’t work for me. No fault divorce had to happen though, really, otherwise the richer person with the best lawyers ends up with the best deal. In Australia you have to be separated for a year before getting divorced – obviously you can’t prove it – but it’s at least a recognition that you shouldn’t break a marriage vow overnight.

      It could be said I put too much into relationships and stick them out for too long. I can see the benefit of not staying in a bad relationship for a long time and finding a better match. But I know people who break up like it’s nothing. I’ll ask what went wrong and they’ll say ‘the relationship ran its course’. Not just a month or so, but years and living together, then it’s over overnight. What does ‘it ran its course’ even mean? You got bored so you moved on? They did something you didn’t like so it’s all over? People wouldn’t break a lease or quit a job or end a friendship over something trivial, but apparently a love relationship is different?

      I think, like you, there has to be a balance. Compatibility is of course very important, but also the recognition that being in a successful relationship involves a level of skill and selflessness and persistence. I think some people take ‘easy’ to mean ‘I should always get what I want’ or ‘I should be happy all the time’. I can understand what Michelle Obama means.

      1. 3.1.1
        Yet Another Guy


        In Australia you have to be separated for a year before getting divorced — obviously you can’t prove it — but it’s at least a recognition that you shouldn’t break a marriage vow overnight.

        That requirement is not unique to Australia. I had to be separated for year before the complaint for no-fault divorce could be filed.   Luckily, my state removed the requirement to have a sworn witness testify that my ex and I had lived apart and abstained from sexual relations for a year before my ex and I filed for divorce.

        Those kinds of restrictions are why not all people who are separated should be treated equal.   In states with no waiting period, the marital status “separated” means that we have not decided if we truly desire a divorce and/or have not worked things out.   It can also mean living in separate rooms within the same house. In states with mandatory residential separation requirements, the marital status “separated” is more often than not inflicted on couples who have already decided to divorce and worked things out.

        1. Marika

          That’s why I said ‘in Australia’, YAG. I recognize it doesn’t only happen here, but in Australia we only have no-fault divorce, have since something like 1976. So, in an effort to try to ensure people don’t break up marriages overnight, you’re supposed to be separated for a year first (supposed to, it’s easy to get around that). I don’t think that’s an unfair expectation personally. You are breaking up a marriage, after all.

        2. Yet Another Guy


          While my state did away with the requirement to live apart and abstain from sex for a year for all couples last year, there was a period where that requirement only applied to couples with minor children in common.   Couples without minor children in common could be divorced in less than two months after deciding to divorce, and these couples could continue to live together while awaiting their day before a magistrate.   Is a person who qualifies for a quick-and-dirty divorce any more prepared to date two months after deciding to divorce than someone who in his/her ninth or tenth month of state-required separation?   I personally do not think so; however, the person who is separated has to suffer the stigma of being separated.

          The important thing to ascertain when dating a separated person is is the marriage truly over and how long has it been over.   My marriage had been over for over ten years before I pulled the plug.   I had not been physically intimate with my ex for ten years.   That is a long time to peacefully coexist with one’s spouse, so that one’s children can benefit from having an intact family.   Breaking a family apart usually results in a significant reduction in standard of living for the children.   Luckily for my children, my ex earns a lot of money and the state calculated my child support obligation based on us spending every dime of our combined incomes, which was not remotely true.   We saved and invested a large percentage of our combined income.   I wrote a sizeable check every month for a few years, and I was never late.   My ex is complaining about her portion of the yearly college expenses; however, I sent her more than that each year in child support, and she earns more than I do.

        3. Marika


          I feel ridiculous even pointing this out, but laws aren’t written to cater to you and your specific set of circumstances. At -fault divorce would have benefitted me, as it happens, but I accept that no-fault divorce with a mandatory separation period is a generally fair and equitable system. A marriage shouldn’t be something quickly and easily dissolved in my view, particularly a long marriage involving children.

          Whether your marriage was well and truly over is only one consideration. Were you ready to let a new person in your life or those of your kids straight after your separation? Are you sure exactly what you want even now years later? Is it fair to the new person to jump right into something new? A year isn’t really that long, there’s a lot to sort out and sort through.

        4. Yet Another Guy


          You have valid points.   I am just pointing out the bias against people who list “separated” on their dating profiles.   Everyone goes through a personal growth phase after ending a marriage.   I am glad that I dated during my separation.   It gave me a period of time to rediscover myself and well as learn that not all women are like my ex, which is something that is difficult to understand and accept after a long marriage.   I made it clear that I was separated up until the day that I received my official divorce decree.   I was respectful to every women I dated during that period.


          I was not ready to bring any one into my daughters’ lives during my separation, nor am I am ready to do it with my divorce clearly in my rear view mirror.     My approach is that they do not need to know about the woman I am dating until they need to know it.   My dating life and my relationship with my daughters is completely separate.   I have that luxury because I was the non-custodial parent and my girls are now away at university.     They both also have boyfriends, so I am fairly low down on the totem pole. 🙂

        5. Marika

          That’s fair, YAG.

          It’s funny, though, I didn’t want to be avoided whilst I was separated, but now, in hindsight, I can absolutely see why a person would want to avoid someone who is only separated (no matter the circumstances), I definitely wasn’t in a good place for many months following my break up, and it’s very unlikely that I would date a separated man myself now (unless it was a few years down the track and she was dragging it out to punish him or something similar). I think if you marry, you need to accept that it can’t all end overnight. Like you, I never felt comfortable putting down ‘single’ instead of separated in my profile. They are two very different things.

          Out of interest, do women ask to meet your girls? I was keen to meet my ex’s kids as soon as he felt comfortable. Does it put a strain on your relationships at all that you keep things separate? I never liked the idea of my ex going from my house to theirs and effectively having to lie about his whereabouts to his kids – even a lie of omission. Obviously it was fine early on, but I started to feel weirder and weirder about it as things progressed.

        6. Yet Another Guy


          No, women do not ask to meet my children, nor do I ask to meet their children.   There is a time and place for everything.   Plus, most of the women I meet have fully-launched children who are through university.

        7. Mrs Happy

          YAG, you’re so considerate, adjusting vocab for Marika.

  4. 4
    Mrs Happy

    I wonder whether what Michelle Obama meant was, if you’re married for a really long time, not every moment will be easy and good, and sometimes it will be about you, and sometimes it will be about your spouse, and that’s ok, if it balances out.   Also, once you’re married it’s harder to walk, so people stay in it, and end up investing more in it, which then makes it stronger.

    Some traits of my husband’s would have seen me break up the relationship if he were only a boyfriend, and I’m sure he thinks similarly about me.

    It’s interesting to consider how our expectations of marriage have altered over time.   Now marriage is meant to fulfill, provide all the chemistry, provide a person we expect will almost always support us, listen to us after a hard day and soothe us, be there for all our physical and sexual wants; for some it’s very much about issue (I just read another Henry VIII book, those poor women, under such pressure to produce a live son), or someone to earn money, or keep a household running, split the jobs; a partner to travel with, grow old with, care for us when we are ill, and some people want their spouse to be their good friend.   I believe you can’t easily always get all of this from only one person.

    For me marriage has partly been about someone there when I want support, just not being alone and not having to be completely independent and cope all the time in everything.   Sharing the load.

    I’ve always disagreed with the “you have to work at relationships” view.   The relationships that have been successful for me (the only ones I’ve persisted in) have been the ones which were easy.   I’ve no interest in working in paid work, and working to keep fit, and working on household chores, and working on networking collegial career relationships, and working to battle through traffic every day, and working against the clock all the time, working to organise social events, then coming home only to have to work in interactions there too – are you kidding me?   That’s my home relax time.   It either works relatively effortlessly, or it doesn’t exist.

    Yesterday my youngest child, who begins school in a few weeks, had multiple tantrums in a busy shopping centre while trying on school shoes, and in my distress, after hauling the kids out of the shops and through the underground hot humid (heatwave again here) carpark, I crashed my car into a concrete pole.   It’s a newish car, and a luxury European car with absolutely everything automated, and I haven’t learnt the buttons for everything, so I couldn’t get the side mirror to reposition safely after the collision.

    The first thing I did was telephone and text my husband.   I was underground so the reception was bad and I couldn’t contact him.   This made me have to figure it out for myself.   But I’ve since decided it was sub-optimal that I so frantically wanted to talk with him.   I have had many more major crashes.   The kids were safe. The car was driveable. Why did I feel I had to talk with him?

    I think I wanted him for emotional support.   I was ringing with the excuse of “how do I reposition the mirror I just dented, which button is it?”, but I wanted someone with whom I could honesty debrief – “I’m sick of our 5 year old (who has been driving us both nuts for the whole summer), and the tantrums, and this heat, and this busy shopping centre, and being off work minding kids all day is overwhelming, and he’ll go to his new school barefoot at this rate, plus I’ve just crashed my car and don’t feel calm enough to drive, help me calm down”.

    I’ve been married for 10 years this year, and marriage has changed me into someone who leans on another, for emotional support.   Big change.   Sort of weird.

    Is it effort for my husband or I to talk with one another and help at moments like these?   Not much effort, thus easy to do.   I think if you were with a spouse who often wanted lots more than you could comfortably give, the relationship would feel burdensome, negative.   Just don’t choose someone who is that much hard work, would be the sensible advice.

    The OP asks what to do if you’re a decade into a horrible run in a marriage after 40-50 years.   Pretty easy answer, if you only have competent adults to factor in.

    1. 4.1

      I hope you and the kids are all ok after the crash.   That kind of thing can shake a person up, even when physically fine.   Wanting to debrief is so normal after such a thing.

      Marriage has changed me into someone who leans on another for emotional support. Big change.”   It’s interesting to me how many people view independence as an ideal.   Never in human history have individuals been independent.   In fact, in many cultures independence is abhorred. Isolate a chimp or a bonobo and they become insane or catatonic.   Isolate a human and the same happens.   Why do we invest our ego into proving we don’t need anyone else?   My whole upbringing taught me to do that, and it is so unhealthy.


      Recently my son has been having trouble with his teacher at school and he came to speak with me about it.   I look back on my interaction with him and I cringe at my mistakes – my repetition of my own upbringing.   He told me that his teacher is mean, that he wants to change classes.   I told him that life isn’t always fair and that we need to learn to rise above it, so he should suck it up.   My wife tapped me on the shoulder, took over the conversation, validated his emotions, calmed him down, and then gently told him that while it may not be possible to change classes, we will do whatever we can to support and help him.   When he left, I turned to her and said, “I disagree with what you did just then.   If you always coddle him emotionally he’ll never learn to stand on his own 2 feet.   He will always need a crutch to lean on when he experiences emotional distress.”   “And what is wrong with that,” my wife replied. “Having someone to validate you, listen to you, and help you leads to healthy attachments and well-being.   How does not having someone work out for you?”   She was totally right.   Can’t believe I missed it.

      1. 4.1.1
        Mrs Happy

        Our modern upbringing seems to sing from the rooftops about the importance of independence and individual resilience, doesn’t it.

        1. Jeremy

          It sings like my mother 😉

        2. Marika

          Hi Mrs Happy

          IDK, I don’t think I was given that message. Or maybe we take away different messages from our experiences depending on who we are.

      2. 4.1.2

        Hi Jeremy

        “It’s interesting to me how many people view independence as an ideal”.

        You know why. It’s a big part of some people’s identity. And in the case of an avoidant, an understandable adaptive strategy.

        1. Mrs Happy

          I think we are taught independence is good.   Schools preach it to very very young children. But Mrs Jeremy made a wonderfully insightful point, didn’t she – what a liberating view, I’m absorbing it.   Because of course it’s just fine to lean on others, and we know connection does make the average person happier; why should we (and our children) all be trying to achieve this fabled individual super strength?

      3. 4.1.3


        It’s our western culture particularly which teaches this extreme and rather insane form of independence. Our western culture which encourages mothers to put their babies down to scream for hours at a time and make them sleep by themselves, which lets children be raised by nannies and governesses (in the past) and warns against “spoiling” children by hugging, kissing them or coddling them too much. Western culture sends kids to boarding school and pushes them to stand on their own two feet as soon as they reach college age.

        As you say, many other cultures do not have these ridiculous pro-independence ideas: Living in South Africa I am always fascinated by how black children rarely cry, but it is because in traditional African cultures, children are kept close to their mothers, grandmothers or other caregivers at all times. They spend the first year or two of life strapped to their mothers’ backs. It’s rather lovely.

        And you are right, being deprived of contact and support with others drives people insane. Even short periods of solitary confinement leads to irreparable mental damage in 90% of cases. Being deprived of physical touch causes actual pain impulses in human beings.

        Of course, this kind of independence that we are taught  does  have a virtuous side. It  is  wonderful to be able to be resourceful and self-sufficient, and it comes in handy in sooo many situations in life. But – it is when it is taken to extremes that it becomes harmful. Like you so rightly pointed out, it should never be used to invalidate one’s emotions or one’s appeal for support. Unfortunately I see this so often. People being berated for reaching out for love, help and support as though it is somehow a failing and an admission of weakness. This is truly terrible. What else do we have capacity for empathy, love and emotions if not to connect with and be there for one another?

        1. Emily, the original


          Western culture sends kids to boarding school and pushes them to stand on their own two feet as soon as they reach college age.

          I think there has to be a happy medium. When I was a kid as young as 10, I got myself up for school, made my breakfast, made my lunch and walked to the bus stop. All on my own. Then I came home after school and was by myself for a couple of hours. That was too much. I was part of the latch key generation. But the generation below mine .. it’s the opposite. The pendulum has swung too far. Parents seems to do everything for their kids. At my last job, so many people had their 20-something (and older!) post-college kids living at home, though they could financially afford to leave. They’re too dependent. You should want your own life and your autonomy from your family of origin.

        2. Marika

          Hi Clare and Emily

          Emily, I see your point. I would call your example ‘reliance’. Over-reliance on others is unhealthy as you never learn important skills like problem solving or self-soothing. But I personally see ‘interdependence’ as a really great thing. For instance, if a young person lives at home but contributes to chores, pays board, babysits younger siblings etc – nothing wrong with that. It’s actually understandable given the increased costs of housing (certainly in my neck of the woods). And probably preferable to moving into a boozy, messy, expensive share house.

          Clare I agree with you. I wasn’t brought up with the idea that independence was such a great thing. There was always a parent, sibling or grandparent around. My school had a strength in its pastoral care program. I’ve spent very little of my life, almost none, living alone. Admittedly this has partly been for financial reasons. If I don’t get back to a family member or friend within a short period of time, I know they’ll follow up. At least one person from my family or social group checks in regularly (and vice versa). This is normal for me and I honestly wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s nice when I turn the key in the door at the end of the day and find it is dead bolted – meaning I have the place to myself – but I like it because it’s rare.

          I find it hard to date people who greatly prize their independence. I can generally see why they are that way, so I’m not judging, and I’m happy to try to compromise, but if it means them constantly pulling away when things get tricky, or breaking up every time a person encroaches too much into their world – how does that make for a good relationship? I’ve had to specifically explain to a few guys that for me, silence and pulling away is painful, like physically painful.

          One of my female friends is sooo independent it’s actually scary. She has no patience for people making mistakes in their relationships. She lives on the other side of the world to her family and hasn’t had a romantic relationship since moving to Australia at least 10 years ago. She’s great at her job, has a lovely apartment, travels a lot, plays lots of sport etc, is fun to party and socialise with, but I couldn’t live like her. She openly admits she is too ‘selfish’ (as she puts it) to live with anyone, and we are all actually slightly scared of her definitive views on everything under the sun – including her views on how we should all handle our relationships! Her family and cultural background, as well as political state of her country of origin is the explanation, but it’s a shame. She has dated, but she always finds the slightest reason to break up with them. The guys she liked online would never write back to her approach email and I feel that she probably wrote something too full-on, or business -like/pushy. The pull away or OCD types I’ve met, too used to their own ways and their own company are tricky to deal with too. In my social group we’ve had few recent break ups of long-term couples and it’s always been to do with one of them lacking negotiation skills in the relationship. We see this as an issue in politics too! I would even say the poor state of our environment is related to a lack of healthy interdependence (between countries, between business and consumers and even between us and nature).

        3. Clare


          I’m with you. I had the identical experience when I was growing up. My parents divorced when I was 6, and frankly they were both too wrapped up in the issues going on in their own lives to be there for us as much as we needed. Both my parents worked full-time and dated as well. As a result, as the older sibling, I took on a lot of responsibility for me and my brother, and from a young age we were shuttled back and forth, packed our own bags, caught buses, walked to school and spent many afternoons and even evenings by ourselves. Many of my school and extra-mural activities were missed entirely by my parents and I was often told that I needed to organise my own lifts, etc. It engendered an extremely independent spirit in me. I get impatient and frustrated with people who are not competent in adult activities and who take advantage of or sponge off of other people. However, I recognise that my upbringing was too much in the other direction, and I think it still hurts me to this day that I didn’t have (a lot) more support growing up.


          Likewise I agree with you about people who are too independent and self-reliant in relationships. I have an ex-boyfriend (who has since become a good friend) who is exactly like the female friend you have described. He turned 40 last year and has never been married, engaged or even lived with a woman for any length of time. Main reason being, he just doesn’t really like other people in his space. He is content in his own company and with his own activities to a degree which I have never encountered in another person. The strange thing is that he craves a partner and a relationship, but when he has one, he genuinely seems to not care whether they are there or not. The first sign of a disagreement or of a girlfriend doing something he doesn’t like has him demanding space and pulling away for days at a time, if not outright ending the relationship. When faced with the question of a greater commitment, he seems indifferent or seems to want his partner to jump through hoops to fit in with him. He gets very frustrated and even annoyed with a partner seeming to *need* him for anything, particularly emotional support. His argument is that he doesn’t *need* them, so why should they have expectations of him? If he  wants  to give emotional support then great, but if he doesn’t, it should not be expected. This is a summary of his approach. Not exactly a great boyfriend or one who inspires a feeling of confidence or happiness. Which is why when he asked if I wanted to get back together 6 months ago, I said no thanks. I love him dearly as a person, and even admire his strength and independence, but as a relationship partner, someone like that just causes misery and suffering and a feeling of loneliness for their partner.

        4. Jeremy

          Last week we had lunch with my wife’s cousin.   He and his wife just had their first child, who is now about 4 weeks old.   The couple looks absolutely awful, especially the new mom.   They aren’t sleeping, are constantly being woken up, have no freedom, and are somewhat depressed and shell-shocked.   Very reminiscent of how my wife and I were when we had our first.   They received very different advice/offers from each of their parents.   The wife’s parents offered sympathy, but basically said that this is part of raising kids and the couple needs to learn to cope.   The husband’s parents said, “Come stay with us.   We will take the baby when you sleep, we will hold her so you can go for walks and take breaks.   Because this isn’t a job that one person or one couple should have to do alone.”   They ended up staying at his parents’ house and it was beneficial for both them and the parents – them to get rest, the parents to develop a relationship.


          This went through my mind when Emily wrote “You should want your own life and your own autonomy from your family of origin.”   This is a truism rather than a truth IMHO.   It is a modern concept that never existed in the past – certainly not in our hunter-gatherer origins, but not in our agrarian origins either.   I see young parents struggling because they have no family around to help.   I see seniors living alone because they have no family.   I see people depressed because they are lonely, because someone told them that they shouldn’t live with their family of origin.   Doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t have the ability to seek solitude or privacy, depending on their need for it.   But means that this cultural message that families of origin should naturally dissolve/separate might just be a destructive one in many cases.

        5. Emily, to


          For instance, if a young person lives at home but contributes to chores, pays board, babysits younger siblings etc — nothing wrong with that. It’s actually understandable given the increased costs of housing (certainly in my neck of the woods). And probably preferable to moving into a boozy, messy, expensive share house.

          I just don’t don’t get not wanting to get your own place. I’m talking about young people who have graduated from college and are ready to start their lives … even if it’s in a boozy, messy, place! It’s an experience. Get some roommates. Why would you want to live your parents? Where is the sense of adventure? Of the chance to not have to answer to anyone? And don’t parents want their kids to … move on? It’s part of the process. It’s the next phase of life.

        6. Emily, to

            It engendered an extremely independent spirit in me. I get impatient and frustrated with people who are not competent in adult activities and who take advantage of or sponge off of other people.  

          Yes. I have a neighbor who is very needy and wanting people to do things for her that she is perfectly capable of doing on her own. She’s a user and wants to be fussed over. Now, I don’t mind fussing over people who’ve earned it. I had an older female friend who was like a mother to me who I fussed over because she liked it, but she’d been a very supportive and loving friend so I didn’t mind it.

        7. Emily, to


          But means that this cultural message that families of origin should naturally dissolve/separate might just be a destructive one in many cases.

          I didn’t say dissolve. You can still maintain close ties. You can be in contact and visit often. But a married couple, for example, needs their privacy and a parent of the husband or wife does not need to be permanently living with them unless there is a health issue or a financial issue.

          I had a friend years ago who was a devoted mother but I never forgot her saying, “I love my kids but I’ll be ready to have my life back when they go.” It’s not a bad thing.

      4. 4.1.4
        Tron Swanson


        While I agree that pure self-reliance/independence is a myth, please keep in mind that some of us are extreme introverts, and social interaction hurts us, as opposed to helping us. When I was younger, being forced to go to school every day nearly broke me. After graduating, I basically became a shut-in for the next seven years, living alone and doing a telecommuting job. I’d generally be out in public for around three hours a week. Thanks to the isolation, I had time to heal, and I became much healthier and happier. (It wasn’t very conducive for relationships, though.) For job-related reasons, I have to go out in public more than I’d like, now–maybe ten to fifteen hours per week–and while it can be rough, the periods of isolation recharge me. I certainly don’t go out for any “social” things such as dating. So, while most people may need that sort of thing, not all of us do.

      5. 4.1.5

        And what is wrong with that,” my wife replied. “Having someone to validate you, listen to you, and help you leads to healthy attachments and well-being. “

        What’s “wrong” with that is that many – many, many, MANY -people do and will NOT have someone to do that for them, ever. Some, the more unfortunate ones, may even think they do have that someone, only to be disappointed, time and time again, when that person leaves or proves herself/himself to be unreliable.

        Let me repeat: the odds of that happening – having to rely on yourself only – are considerable, especially for people who don’t tend to romanticise relationships and others in general.

        I have learned to rely on myself only, emotionally, ever since I was a child – and some of the “lessons” were unduly harsh. But I can honestly say: I wouldn’t have it any other way. Within human limitations, I have emotional freedom. Knowing I have myself to rely on  is an indescribable, exhilarating feeling.


  5. 5
    Yet Another Guy


    I am currently reading “Mating in Captivity” by Esther Perel.   I will get back to you after I have completed the book. 🙂

  6. 6

    I think that we most loathe the part of ourselves that we purposefully and painfully cut away in our youth.   At least, I do.   It is a difficult thing for me to discuss.


    Clare and Emily, you both describe learning independence growing up with uninvolved parents. I understand that very well.   I vividly remember learning how to cook because my mom would go out to restaurants by herself in the evening, leaving us kids to find what we could in the house.   I remember learning that I couldn’t rely on anyone else when my parents forgot to show up to pick me up from school, or when I found myself locked out of my house because no one was home when I came home.   I actually asked my grandfather to teach me how to make a barrel of pickles (a specialty of his that he would leave to ferment in the garage over fall/winter) so that I’d have something to eat when locked out of the house.   When I was upset I remember trying to get solace and being told that nobody cares about my problems except me.   I tell this not as a sob story – we all have sob stories – but to explain that I came to painfully carve away that aspect of myself that relied on others, to forge my independence as a survival mechanism.   To develop avoidance, a trait that was in no way inborn in me.   And,   having done this, I came to look with disgust at any sort of neediness in others.   I “grew up,” so why haven’t they?   This is why both neediness and idealism (in a personality-sense) are such anathema to me – because they are those aspects of myself that were of crucial importance that I cut away…


    …And yet didn’t cut away.   They are still there, obviously.   I still need others, still feel better for having bonded with others, still somewhat see the world as I believe it “should” be.   It’s just shoved down deep.   When I encounter someone who is needy, or someone who is idealistic, I feel disgust…but do I feel disgusted by them, or do I feel disgusted at myself, for feeling what I feel?   Over time, I’ve come to understand the answer – that, at least for me, the essence of the problem is confusing of the Other with the Self, as I described above.   It is easier to feel superior than to feel shameful.   But the superiority isn’t real and is of no advantage.   It just masks the pain that prevents us from connecting in a meaningful way.


    1. 6.1
      Emily, to


      It is easier to feel superior than to feel shameful.  

      I don’t know that I feel superior but, of late, I’ve learned there aren’t a lot of people you can really count on. I don’t mind people asking for things. You had a bad day and you need someone to talk to? I can do that. You have to go to the doctor to get a biopsy and you’re scared and want someone to go with you? I can do that. I can actually be very supportive, but what I haven’t experienced, at least of late, is much reciprocity. Or if there is reciprocity, it’s not consistent. And so I pull away. I’m not trying to write a sob story as you wrote you weren’t, just explain the reasons for self-sufficiency. I actually have friends (they’re married) who are sending (group) emails to alert me to new posts on the one’s health blog. That’s our first and only communication for about a year. Does that not sound a little self-involved and impersonal? It’s like I’m getting a press release. They have yet to even ask how I’m doing.

      1. 6.1.1

        Emily that sucks, really. Please get some new friends. Just so it doesn’t happen again…is there anything in your energy which screams ‘I don’t need anyone’? I could be way off… but it used to really annoy me that I would ask people way more questions about them than they ever would about me. Then I realized I fill every silence with a question. And on the odd occasion I meet someone who asks me about me, I’m so out of practice that I give some short, vague answer and change the subject. So I force myself not to fill silences, and try to talk about the things I wish they’d ask, without having to be asked.

        I don’t think people are generally uncaring, I just think there’s a lot of suspect social skills around, and that some people need a prompt to pull their head out of their butt from time to time.

        1. Emily, to


          is there anything in your energy which screams ‘I don’t need anyone’?  I could be way off…

          Yes, I’m sure there is.     Op… as I’m writing this, I just heard from one of the inconsistent ones. She’ll email back and forth for days and then disappear for weeks/months. I just don’t expect anything.

          but it used to really annoy me that I would ask people way more questions about them than they ever would about me.

          At my current job, I have been asked maybe 3 or 4 questions. I’ve been there almost a year.   I find people only speak if I ask them questions or if I am talking to someone else about a topic and they want to inject their opinion.

          I don’t think people are generally uncaring,  

          Not uncaring, just self-involved and not interested in anything outside of their personal circles.

        2. Gab


          I’m definitely self-absorbed, but I’m also deeply interested in the lives of my friends. I try to invest in friends who are similar so that we can take turns having the spotlight on ourselves. A 3 hour dinner catch-up could literally involve 1-2 hours discussing one of our lives, followed by 1-2 on the other’s life. What I like about this approach is that the conversations can get quite intimate because we don’t have to adhere to conversational reciprocity in the minute by minute.

        3. Emily, to


          A 3 hour dinner catch-up could literally involve 1-2 hours discussing one of our lives, followed by 1-2 on the other’s life. What I like about this approach is that the conversations can get quite intimate because we don’t have to adhere to conversational reciprocity in the minute by minute.

          I’m assuming this is in a well-established friendship, so minute-by-minute back and forth isn’t necessary. You’ve established a long-term give and take. But in superficial, party conversation with acquaintances or chit chat with co-workers, it’s rude to hog the conversation about yourself and not even inquire about the other person.

        4. Gab


          Yes, definitely well-established friendships but that’s pretty much the extent of my social life. I avoid parties and chit chat and if unavoidable I’ll usually find someone who wants to at least engage in some fun banter. I usually ask a lot of questions directing the conversation somewhere interesting. Example, their take on Jordan Peterson rather than hearing about their kitchen renovations/kids/holiday.


        5. Emily, to


          Example, their take on Jordan Peterson rather than hearing about their kitchen renovations/kids/holiday.

          You are a woman after my own heart. I personally think Jordan Peterson is a genius who bucks the status quo. He’s an original thinker. And because he’s smart and bold, he’s hot as shit.     🙂     I’m almost sad that he’s getting so well-known. Like an indie rock band you like that suddenly has a hit and then everyone likes them … yucko.

        6. Gab


          Absolutely agree re Peterson. Could he be any more misrepresented? The good thing about directing the conversation is you get to determine what kind of thinker they are. I don’t need friends who share my views but really prize openness and curiosity. I’m an ENFP so exploring ideas, different perspectives is my jam.

          Emily I already know we’d get along. You’re irreverent but sincere and hopeful at the same time. I like that!

        7. Emily,to

          I don’t need friends who share my views but really prize openness and curiosity. I’m an ENFP so exploring ideas, different perspectives is my jam.
          Me, too. You don’t have to think just like I do or like the exact same things I do but be open to different perspectives.
          Emily I already know we’d get along. You’re irreverent but sincere and hopeful at the same time. I like that!
          That is the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. Thank you.   🙂

      2. 6.1.2
        Mrs Happy

        Dear Emily to,

        On the no reciprocity rant, I’m weighing in, because I can’t help myself, this is so triggering for me.   Can I just say, this selfishness and bad manners goes beyond friendships, and seeps into everyday interactions, all the time, and I’m over it.

        Like many, I just enjoyed/endured a run of Xmas/New Years parties.   On numerous occasions at these charming gatherings, I’d chat with someone, we’d talk for a good 20-30 minutes about his work or interests, and then I’d pause.

        Basically I wanted a smidge of a flicker of curiosity or conversation about something other than him (e.g. current affairs, or me, or our host’s new house, or something, I mean, how hard is it).   Bear in mind that by this stage I knew details such as every job he’d ever held, or every city he’d lived in, or how interesting he found chemistry study during high school 3 decades ago, and he still hadn’t even asked what I did for a living.   But when I stopped easing the flow of conversation and the discussion stopped being about him, there was nothing.   These people just couldn’t express interest in anyone or anything else.   Their self-absorption was complete.

        So Emily, I absolutely hear you when ‘friends’ are all about them, them, them.   It’s a common human failing as far as I can see.   Attention vampires.   Perhaps one has to actively seek out people who aren’t like this, and cull those who are.   2019 can be the push back – the war against (well, retreat from) the attention vampires.

        1. Emily, to

          Mrs. Happy,

          Basically I wanted a smidge of a flicker of curiosity or conversation about something other than him (e.g. current affairs, or me, or our host’s new house, or something, I mean, how hard is it).

          I’ve had this exact experience with my current co-workers. What’s even worse is that, the next day, they act as if we’ve never talked before! I feel like I am in “Groundhog Day” and every day I’m starting over again where I was before. It’s completely bizarre. What I really want to say is, “You aren’t special enough to be this selfish. You’re not Mozart. You’re not Gandhi. “

        2. Mrs Happy

          Emily – you could stick up quotes around the office, such as that Asian proverb, ‘if there are 3 people present, they should each talk a third of the time’.

          Honestly, the next time I get sucked in by an attention vampire, I’m so tempted to say something like – “we’ve talked about you for half an hour now, what else should we talk about?”   Worst case scenario, they are so shocked or affronted they don’t want to keep conversing, or they then avoid me (or is that best case?).

          Is this middle aged intolerance I’m entering?   I was never this irritated by poor manners in my youth.

          Unless your job has big perks, should you change companies?   I can’t stand half of my colleagues, basically everyone bar my secretaries is odd or selfish, but the money is sooo good I’d find it hard to reach escape velocity.

        3. Clare

          Mrs Happy & Emily,

          I know I’ve said what I’m about to say before on this blog, because I know the issue of non-reciprocating friends has come up before.

          And I just want to say, yes. Selfish and self-absorbed, inconsiderate people are a dime a dozen. There is no shortage of them out there. I used to tolerate them because I somehow bought into their worldview that I was less important than them, or that the friendship could yield some benefits for me if I would only stick at it long enough. I suffered through years of high school, university and beyond with friends who were competitive with me and dismissive of me and would hardly give behaving inconsiderately towards me a second thought.

          I don’t any more. Honestly to use a frightfully new age term, I decided to “raise my vibration.” I have a certain standard to which I hold my friends, and if they cannot meet that, there’s no shame in that, but I let them go. I honestly don’t believe you have to tolerate friends/people like that just because most of the world is like that. I choose my friends based on people I can trust, people who are loyal and would be there for me, people who are kind and reciprocal… in short people who care about me and our friendship. I honestly don’t have time for the attention vampires that you have discussed – I  walk away  from people like that, and it’s usually fine because people like that will not usually try very hard to pursue a friendship anyway. I also don’t expect them to be anything other than what they are – essentially selfish, self-interested people, and don’t expect them to behave any differently. Once someone has demonstrated that they behave like that, I  stop  giving them my time, I stop inviting them to my parties or having conversations with them. I’m a great believer that allowing the wrong people to take up space and energy in your life is crowding out the right people.

          I  actively  pursue people for friendships who are kind to me. I invite them to spend time with me. Once your radar is out for fun, caring, supportive friends, you’ll see them anywhere. But I strongly believe they’ll never be drawn to you if you are willing to settle for so much less in your friendships. What is it that Evan always says about bad boys? They treat women badly because somewhere out there is a woman who will tolerate it. Don’t be that person for your energy sucking friend. Have the courage to say “This friendship doesn’t work for me” and move on to other friends.

          As I say, I suffered in a lonely place for years with fairweather friends. Now, I can honestly say I have a very solid and vibrant network around me of friends who love me, check in with me regularly, ask about my life, spend time with me and make an effort to do so, and who would be there even if I phoned them in the middle of the night. Everyone deserves that.

        4. Emily, to

          Mrs. Happy,
          Worst case scenario, they are so shocked or affronted they don’t want to keep conversing, or they then avoid me (or is that best case?).
          But they don’t get affronted. I’ve tried those tactics. And when you blurt out something like, “It’s my turn now to talk,” and drip with it with sarcasm (or maybe make it into a playful joke), they look at you blankly and keep talking about themselves. They’re narcissists. Whatever you say just bounces off of them.
          Unless your job has big perks, should you change companies?    
          I’ve started looking around for something else. I’ve never worked anywhere where the people were so insular. At my last job, they bombarded me with questions. Granted, it was less for genuine interest and more for prurient gossip, but still …

        5. Emily, to


          As I say, I suffered in a lonely place for years with fairweather friends. Now, I can honestly say I have a very solid and vibrant network around me of friends … who would be there even if I phoned them in the middle of the night.  

          That’s good to hear. That gives me hope that it could change. With most of the “friends” I mentioned, I exert almost no effort. I invest in people what they invest in me. That was hard lesson to learn. My biggest struggle is that, sometimes, the people who can be there for you are the people you don’t have that much in common with. They’re supportive, but you don’t “get” each other. The person you really click with as a friend is often the one who isn’t as invested. The same can be said of men.

        6. Clare


          “My biggest struggle is that, sometimes, the people who can be there for you are the people you don’t have that much in common with. They’re supportive, but you don’t “get” each other. The person you really click with as a friend is often the one who isn’t as invested.”

          Unfortunately yes. Whilst my friends are very kind and supportive and love me, in many cases I’ve had to trade common interests and intellectual stimulation for those qualities. You choose what’s most important to you for the role that a particular person fulfills in your life. For my friends, I decided that it was people who were loyal, caring, available, upbeat/positive and had my best interests at heart. People I could go out with on a Friday night or kick back with for a glass of wine and a heart-to-heart. People I knew wouldn’t flake on me or blab about my secrets behind my back. So yes, I have had to compromise on the connection aspect quite a bit. But then again, I’m a daydreamer who loves Tolkien and Celtic music, so people who really get me are extremely thin on the ground, especially here, so I  have  to compromise on the connection aspect or I’d have no friends at all.

          Again, I hear you about the people whom you click with being not as invested. I can’t say there is no truth to this because I’ve certainly experienced it. Then again, I remind myself that people who are capable of this are usually empaths, like myself, and I think they usually have more emotional burdens and issues to deal with which might hamper their ability to create easy friendships and relationships. I have one friend with whom I have a deep connection and bond and a lot in common, but that friendship took years and a lot of perseverance (on my part) to form.

        7. Emily, to


          Whilst my friends are very kind and supportive and love me, in many cases I’ve had to trade common interests and intellectual stimulation for those qualities.  

          For me, it’s not so much common interests or intellectual stimulation but just “getting each other.” Understanding each other. I had at one point 3 close friends who I thought knew me sometimes better than I knew myself. One died. The other two drifted away, and whereas I’ve made other friends since, I haven’t experienced the same   connection. With the new friends, there are usually some parts of my personality I don’t share.

    2. 6.2

      Hi Jeremy

      I wouldn’t worry about it being a ‘sob’ story. It is. For all of you – it’s neglect. How did it happen that no other adult in your lives stepped in, asked questions, had a word to your parents? You asked your grandfather how to make garage food and he didn’t wonder why?? Ehhh.. I’m sure now as an adult and parent yourself, if one of your child’s friends never got picked up by a parent from anywhere and was left to his own devices the same way you were, you’d make some enquiries, yes?

      How do you all feel towards your parents now? Do they regret anything?

      Emily, I moved out in my early 20s…but the place I lived in has now more than doubled in rent. Close to tripled. The young people I know living at home live near the city or beach. Live in big houses, or with single parents. Or just can’t afford to move out. I agree it’s fun to move out, but it’s a very recent thing in human history, and it doesn’t happen in all cultures. The happiest guy I’ve ever known lived at home into his 50s. To us that’s weird. 100 years ago it was probably normal. I felt a weird respect for him he didn’t let society dictate how he should live. I know another woman (maybe early 40s) who was a carer, first for her Dad then her Mom. They are both dead now and she lives in the house. I honestly can’t think of anything more horrible myself, but I have a lot of admiration for her care and patience.

      1. 6.2.1
        Emily, to


        I agree it’s fun to move out, but it’s a very recent thing in human history,  

        I know there are a lot of cultures in which young people don’t move out until they get married. (There are a lot of young people having sex in cars! Really. Where else are you going to go?   🙂 ) But considering a lot more people aren’t marrying at all or are marrying much later, the old paradigms are changing. I think it’s important to be out on your own for a while.   I feel sad for people who are middle aged and have never moved out. My former boss was like that. His mother depended on him like a husband. He’s kind of an odd guy, maybe even a little autistic, but she didn’t help him by almost emotionally crippling him. It was selfish of her.

        1. Clare


          I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve dated over the years (it never really went further than a few dates usually because this was a bit of an amber flag to me) who still lived at home and when asked about it, gave some reason for not being able to move out because their parents depended on them. I think this is extremely selfish on the parents’ part. Often the “reason” was simply that the parents did not want to be alone. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard:

          * My dad travels all the time so I don’t want to leave my mom alone and I need to be there to fix things around the house

          * I don’t want to leave my mom to live alone so I’m only going to move out when she retires and moves to a retirement village

          * My stepmother is ill so the rental I pay helps her and my dad with the medical bills

          These are men in their late 20s and 30s, and honestly, I get so cross on their behalf. Their parents are using guilt to create a codependent relationship. Their parents are grown adults who are capable of solving their own problems. Lonely? Get a few dogs, a roommate or start dating. Have friends and family over. Can’t afford your bills? Move to a smaller house. Make a plan. My point is, it isn’t your single children’s problem to solve. I’m not trying to be harsh. Clearly if my family really needed me, I would be there. But they would not attempt to hold me back from living my own life for their own reasons. It isn’t fair. It’s very selfish.

          And what I find sad is that these guys are not really capable of seeing where the boundaries lie or should lie. All they know is, these parents raised them and the feelings of wanting independence are mingled with feelings of love and guilt, and so they can’t really figure out what they  should  do, so they just give into their parents’ wishes. I have a huge problem with it because, while I believe in interdependence and on being able to rely on each other, I also strongly believe in each person having their own boundaries regarding what they will and will not do, especially with family.

        2. Emily, to


          while I believe in interdependence and on being able to rely on each other, I also strongly believe in each person having their own boundaries regarding what they will and will not do, especially with family.

          I couldn’t agree more. If the parent is lonely, the parent needs to go out and get a life. Join some groups, get a part-time job, join a church, etc. And as a woman, when I hear that grown men are still living at home, it makes me cringe. I worked with people who lived across the street from their parents and called them at least 5 times a day. Too much. Unless there’s a health crisis or real financial issue, a person should be on his/her own.

        3. Jeremy

          Clare, I just read this comment and found it so interesting.   It is exactly the point I was trying to make above, from the perspective of the person involved.   You wrote that men who are still living with their parents or heavily enmeshed with them are unable to see where their boundaries “should be.”   Should be according to whom?


          Most of us are aware that our motivations and priorities are not necessarily the same as the next person’s.   But the more involved we are with a particular person, the less objectively we can consider this.   We confuse their priorities for what their priorities “should be.”   And what should they be?   Why, OUR priorities, of course.   But not just ours, society’s.   Ask anyone.   Anyone like me.   You know, normal people.


          It would be one thing to say that because these men have the priorities they do, they are not good partners for you.   It is quite another to talk about what these men’s priorities should be.   What you consider to be “healthy” or “normal”.   To do so is to confuse the self with the other.   It is sooo common.   I experience it every day.

        4. Emily, to


          You wrote that men who are still living with their parents or heavily enmeshed with them are unable to see where their boundaries “should be.”  

          I worked with a guy who would drop everything when his mother said she was “having an emergency.” In one instance, she needed a light bulb changed. He didn’t know how to put up boundaries and say, “I’ll be over once a week to help you, but I am not dropping everything for something this minor.” In his FORTIES, he was still desperate for her approval. Not appealing.

        5. Jeremy

          Did he not know how to put up boundaries   or did he not want to? It’s totally understandable that such wouldn’t be appealing to you, but that doesn’t mean that you should extrapolate your motivations and priorities on him.   Your not finding his behavior attractive doesn’t mean he should change his behaviour

        6. Emily, to


          Your not finding his behavior attractive doesn’t mean he should change his behaviour

          True enough, but I’d bet that, as a general rule, women find men who can’t put up boundaries, whether it’s with their family or with an employer, or, frankly, even with them, unappealing. I’m guessing, but I’d bet that a lot women would be annoyed if their husband/boyfriend rushed off to help his mother with her repeated “light bulb” emergencies.

        7. Clare


          I think once again you may have misunderstood me, possibly because I did not express myself as well as I could have.

          My problem with men who are heavily involved or enmeshed with their parents has less to do with how  I  feel about it than with how  they  themselves feel about it. I have lived and dated long enough, and am self-aware enough I hope, to be able to recognise when a man and I would be incompatible. In this way, relationships with one’s family are like any other trait which one looks for in a mate, like religion, political beliefs, hygiene, whatever.

          So of course, I am able to recognise when a man has views about his family which are incompatible with me. It’s no skin off my nose, I can just move on. I can assure you I am in no rush to settle down with just anyone and have no desire to change or mould a man. A man with difficult or onerous family responsibilities is one I’d rather avoid.

          No, what I’m talking about is those situations where the man himself is not happy about the situation he’s in, but feels powerless or doesn’t know how to change it. I see this so often, and not just with people’s families. People who have bosses or co-workers who are bullies or manipulative. People who lack boundary-setting skills, or lack the ability to know when to leave a situation which is negatively impacting them. They feel bound by a sense of duty or obligation or guilt, or by needs which they have which they are not sure they can get met elsewhere. I’m attuned to this kind of thing, so I see it often. Another example is all the years I used to go to church, I was aware of acute emotional burnout in most of the pastors and pastors’ wives, only to read much later that this is a major problem among pastors.

          People often assume that because someone is in a particular situation, it is because they want to be, otherwise they would leave. This is not always the case. Not by a long shot. People can sometimes stay in a situation which is making them unhappy for years or decades, because it is bound up with their feelings of duty or obligation or because they are being manipulated by guilt or some other means. These are the kinds of unhealthy motivations and boundary issues I am talking about. I would love for people to be empowered and to be able to set  their own  boundaries, wherever they may be. If living at home and being there for their parents is genuinely bringing them joy and they have weighed up the pros and cons and decided that on a balance it is what they’d rather do, who am I to judge. There is power in that, in making  one’s own choice. But don’t stay in a situation because other people (whether that be one’s parents, one’s congregation, one’s boss, or whoever) has manipulated you into it.

        8. Jeremy

          I understand.   That is exactly the kind of thing I meant when I discussed “dyad conflicts.”   That there are separate modules in our minds, separate algorithms running with distinct goals, that don’t compromise or communicate with each other.   In the case of the men you describe, the dyad is between their wants and their “shoulds”.   Their frustration and their guilt.   Or, to a more idealistic onlooker, their authentic self and the things that interfere with their authenticity.   It is so easy in such situations for a well-meaning onlooker to give advice as to how the person could be happier….and yet if our personality is too different from the person’s, our advice won’t necessarily make them happier.


          To again return to personality archetypes, if you advise a Guardian-type to prioritize his authentic self, his wants rather than his shoulds, he won’t be happier.   Because such a personality is built on shoulds, their guilt is stronger and more toxic than their frustration.   And in the same way, advising an Idealist-type to prioritize her “shoulds” won’t make her happier, because her personality is built upon her authenticity, her frustration is stronger and more toxic than her guilt.


          This was a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, over and over.   Sometimes suggesting changes that we think will obviously help a person be happier, won’t.   We confuse the self and the other and we don’t know we’re doing it.

        9. Jeremy

          Sorry to post again, but I’d like to share a story from my life to share what I’ve learned, am trying to learn, about this topic.

          My father was raised to believe that his value as a human being comes almost solely from his ability to work, not just for the income but for the work itself. Add that to the anxiety of growing up poor as a child of Holocaust survivors, he has deep-seated anxieties. He fully believes that the reason his father ultimately died (at age 97) was because he stopped being able to sew at age 96 – as far as my father can tell, my grandfather giving up his job as a tailor was what ultimately killed him, diabetes, heart disease, and old-age notwithstanding.

          My father is now 72 years old, and has taken a job working for a rather seedy employer. This employer is in some financial difficulty and hasn’t paid my father for the past 5 months. Every once in a while he writes my dad a cheque for a few weeks pay, and he is currently paid up to September with it now the end of January. When I speak with my dad he complains about the lack of pay, but when I tell him to talk to his boss about it, he demurs. He firmly believes that if he demands pay from his boss, his boss will fire him, and that will lead to a chain of predictable catastrophic events, ultimately leading to his death. He would rather maintain the status quo – go in to work every day, not get paid, and complain about it – than change the status quo, because he fears the results of doing so.

          Whenever I speak with him about this, I itch. My fingers twitch. It’s as if I see a simple algebraic equation begging to solve for “x”, and x is obvious. So I cajole him, I seek to assuage his fears, to lead him down the road that, so clearly to me, will result in greater happiness for him, the happiness he so obviously lacks right now. Yet he always rejects the solution, always returns to the status quo. It is sooo frustrating.

          AND YET. And yet I ask myself, when the frustration subsides, whether I might not be making the fundamental error I accuse others of making. Confusing my Self with the Other. Is it that my solution will make my father happier, or is it that it would make him happier if he had the motivations and priorities I do? His life is a simple algebraic equation and the solution for X is so simple to see…….but will solving for X make him any happier? Is he truly unhappy now, or am I projecting that he is because he’s complaining? He isn’t working for the money, he’s working to have the work, to feel of value, to give meaning to his life, to stay alive. Will adding stress to his life (stress being defined as change) improve his state of mind or worsen it? Are his conversations with me leading to bonding, or to discord? And if the latter, obviously the latter, am I really seeing the solution for X clearly, or am I solving the wrong equation?

          I know the answer to the rhetorical question above. But it is so, so difficult to implement in real life. Because my brain begs me to solve for X, is convinced it knows what’s best. I repeat it here, not just for those readers who’ve made it so far in my rambling, but also for myself – just because I’m convinced that something will make someone else happy doesn’t mean it will. I must take care not to confuse the other with the self.

        10. Clare


          I appreciate your way of thinking, and believe it or not, I’ve asked myself the same question.

          I’m highly intelligent, and I consider myself highly perceptive as well. It’s fairly common for me to diagnose what ails someone (emotionally, psychologically, lifestyle-wise etc.) within minutes of talking to someone. It would be so easy for me to then jump in there with my own advice and solutions, and I’m acutely aware that this tendency is all too common among people.

          I am mostly acutely aware of it because, frankly, it frustrates and annoys me enormously when people do it to me. Offer heavy-handed, doomsday-type prescriptions about what I should do, and the dire consequences which will befall me if I don’t follow their advice. The truth is… I don’t really care for other people’s opinions. They are convinced they know what’s best for me, but… they don’t. The reason for this is that my goals, motivations, feelings, desires, sensitivities, the very make up of my personality is often fundamentally different from theirs. Sometimes I feel as if they may as well be a bird advising a frog. Both might eat mosquitoes, but their ways of catching them are worlds apart. Mostly I just smile and nod. I often will talk about the decisions or dilemmas I’m facing in my life with my friends and family, but what they don’t realise is that I’m not doing it because I want guidance, I’m simply doing it because talking about it out loud helps me to process it and makes me feel better and feel heard. Often something will shift as I talk. They mistakenly believe I’ve come to them for counsel, which unfortunately, is often largely useless. As much as they love me, they don’t really understand what makes me tick. I appreciate the thought and the care, but as I say, I just smile and nod.

          That long rant was to say that yes, I see what you are saying, and for that reason, I don’t really believe in giving people advice, or “solving for X” as you put it. I believe in asking them questions, and leaving those questions open-ended for them to figure out for themselves. That’s the approach I take when a friend comes to me for advice. I try to resist, as much as possible, telling them what to do. If I must offer a suggestion, I always frame it as, “If it were me, I would feel…” or “I would…” and then make it clear that these are personal to me. But I don’t believe in making judgments; I believe in asking questions and providing insights, and letting people make up their minds for themselves.

          All of us have different paths, different definitions of happiness, and different roads to that happiness. It is wrong to try and make other people’s decisions for them, I believe. The best approach is to empower them to make their own and have confidence in those decisions, whether they are ones we would have made or not.

        11. Jeremy

          Clare, I agree with you that it is usually wrong to try to make other people’s decisions for them.   And yet sometimes you gotta step in and solve for X.   It’s tricky knowing when to do so, and even trickier doing so in a way that doesn’t overtly impinge on their autonomy.


          An example – my sister has stage 4 cancer.    She and her family have been stressed no end by the illness, the treatments, the not knowing what each new day will bring.   This past September she got the news that her latest CT was stable, she’d not need chemo for 3 months.   She and her family were stressed out, burned out, needed a vacation.   But they couldn’t afford to take one, with my sister not working.   They wouldn’t accept gifts or money for family, pride being too strong.   So my sister resigned herself to staying home in the cold, imprisoned in her house. My parents and brother wanted to help, but when she refused they resigned themselves to her autonomy.   But I did not accept it. Her autonomy was bullshit, predicated on faulty assumptions.   I needed to circumvent the bullshit.   An equation bloomed before my eyes, an X to be defined…


          I called various charities that work with the cancer patients at my sister’s hospital and asked whether a donation could be directed to a specific person.   One said yes.   I then researched the perfect vacation – a tropical island that is free of disease, safe, and friendly both for couples and kids.   Priced out the trip and instructed the charity to offer it to my sister as though she won the vacation through their internal lottery, and donated the entirety of the funds plus a gratuity.   My sister called me later that evening to say that she won the lottery, was headed to the Caribbean, and was so happy.   It’s not that she didn’t want the vacation – she wanted it desperately.   She just didn’t want to feel shame and guilt.   All we had to do was circumvent the guilt….and the bullshit.   She will never know that she did not actually win a lottery.   She will be better off not knowing.   Autonomy be damned.


          I say this not to toot my own horn (well, maybe a little 😉   ) but to also say that there are times when one must accept the sanctity of a person’s independence and there are times to intervene.   The trick is to intervene in the way the person needs, respecting their priorities rather than our own.   Not so easy.   As I know you know.

        12. Mrs Happy

          Great action Jeremy.   Your poor sister.   Her poor family.   Poor you.

    3. 6.3


      Can I ask something? You say neediness is disgusting to you but previously that you’ve always found women with a slightly anxious tendency (who would be needy or at least more needy than you) to be the best partners. Does the disgust disappear when you love the person? Or are you consciously and logically constantly tolerating the neediness for the greater good? That seems both like hard work and amazing self control!

      1. 6.3.1

        It’s a bit of a dichotomy, an example of what I call a dyad conflict.   The problem is that my attachment style is both anxious and avoidant – anxious by personality, avoidant by upbringing – and the feelings that each aspect engenders are often in opposition.   I don’t think dyad conflicts are unique to me, I just think we all deal with different dyads.


        An example: A while back I came home to find my wife, nanny, and kids milling around the kitchen.   One of our ovens was malfunctioning and would not turn off, had been baking at 400F for hours.   My wife had tried all sorts of things but it wouldn’t shut off, and had called various repair people but none could come until the next day.   I told her I’d take a look and she scornfully told me that there was nothing she hadn’t already tried.   I tried pushing a few buttons on the oven, nothing.   Tried reaching for the plug, but couldn’t reach behind the cabinetry.   Wife said, “See, what did I tell you?”   So I went to the basement and flipped the breaker off and then on.   Problem solved.   Enter 2 sets of dyad conflict:   Mine:  On the one hand, enjoying the “my hero” admiration – needing it to some extent, because the quality I invest my sexuality into, need to be admired for, is my problem solving ability.   On the other hand, wondering why she hadn’t thought to flip the breaker herself, where were her problem solving skills, what would she have done if I hadn’t come home?   Hers:  On the one hand feeling grateful for help with a problem.   On the other, feeling negative about being shown up, especially when her intelligence is a quality so important to her.


        This sort of dyad sucks because it ruins what might otherwise be good feelings.   Gratitude becomes resentment, feeling admired becomes feeling negative about your admirer.   I’d like to say that I’ve resolved all the dyad conflicts in my life, but I’m still working on them.   I try to understand behavior and motivations, my own and others’, specifically to eliminate the dyads, to push myself toward the side of the dyad that will make me happier in the long run.


        Is this familiar to you at all?   Do you struggle with dyads?

        1. No Name To Give

          Anxious and avoidant? Avoidant won out for me, at least in the dating arena, lol!

        2. sylvana

          No Name to Give,

          You and me both (not like there’s anything TO avoid).

          In general, I found that avoidance is the perfect cure for anxiousness…haha. Simply avoid whatever   makes you anxious (or however much you can avoid), and you never have to worry about anxiousness anymore.

        3. Marika

          Hi Jeremy

          Yes. Mostly in the context of a long term relationship, and certainly when living together. Not so much in dating.

          I do know what you mean, though, I just think we handle it differently. It’s unhealthy in some ways, yet healthy in others that I choose people whose strengths are my weaknesses. I couldn’t handle someone who struggled with my stuff…it would be a constant reminder. Im sure I take it too far in the other direction, though! 🙂

        4. Jeremy

          Hi Marika, you wrote, ”  I choose people whose strengths are my weaknesses. I couldn’t handle someone who struggled with my stuff…it would be a constant reminder.”   You know, it’s funny.   I have some recurring anxieties that I have trouble dealing with, and that multiple strategies (CBT, mindfulness, etc) don’t really help with.   Yet strangely, when others come to me with those same anxieties, I find that the things I tell them to soothe their own anxieties help me with my own far more than anything I’d ever do on my own.   Essentially, encountering others with my problems is the best way to overcome those problems.   Do you ever find that?    

  7. 7

    The concept of modern marriage has changed. It is not any more a lifelong commitment as it used to be in the past “for better, for worse, till death do us part”. These were times when suffering but sticking together was normal. Nowadays it is more “I am with you until it satisfies my needs”, it is no longer seen as lifelong commitment. And there are  sociological reasons for that. Structure of society has changed since our grandparents (and possibly parents) times and so did marriage. People walk away from unhappy marriages easier. And personally I see it as a positive thing as life is finite and there is no point wasting it suffering. Instead of moaning we should appreciate the fact that we have freedom of choice nowadays. Whoever wants to stick with unhappy marriage are free to do so as well as people who want to abandon it and try again. Additionally we are seeking more from a partner than was traditionally so it is really difficult to find a lifelong partner who will satisfy our changing needs (and vice versa – us satisfying changing needs of our partners). My prediction – going forward there will be less and less lifelong partnerships and people will have several partners throughout their lives. Official marriage is becoming irrelevant, at least in Europe.

  8. 8

    Back. The site wouldn’t work for me for a couple of years.

    Marriage is walking a stony path in bare feet. That’s not the problem. Working together to do it is the trick.Still working this time much better than the first.

  9. 9
    M. LaVora Perry

    Evan, although I haven’t always agreed with you, I have always praised the value of your dating advice. So I want to thank you for it because following it led me to the best boyfriend I’ve ever had.

    He’s been so many “firsts” for me. A significant one is he’s the first man I’ve dated for more than four months without getting engaged or married to him.

    In my early twenties, I married a man I’d only known for a few months. Nine months after our marriage, I left him due to incompatibility. When I was 30, I married a man I’d only dated for two months Twenty-two years after he and I wed, we separated amicably, having raised three wonderful children together. We divorced the following year. That was 2015.

    In 2016, I got engaged to a man I’d only dated for four months. We split up soon after.

    I started dating my current boyfriend six months ago. Hence, he’s broken my record — we aren’t engaged or married. I’m glad we aren’t because I’m not interested in getting married again.

    In any case, my boyfriend often jokes that I broke up with him four times before agreeing to be his girlfriend. This is true.

    My hesitancy had centered on personality traits he’d displayed that I ultimately came to see were a reflection of the exact same traits I need to improve upon myself. These are: thinking I’m better than other people and not always being as empathetic as I want to be.

    I came to see that, just like I’m a fallible work in progress, so is he. I began to accept my flaws without downing myself for having them, while also determining to overcome them. When I accept myself as an imperfect human going through my unique process of self development, I naturally accept that other people, including my boyfriend, are doing the same.

    However, when it comes to my boyfriend, if it stopped there — with me simply putting up with behaviors of his that would normally be dealbreakers — I would have stopped dating him.

    The reason I agreed to be his girlfriend is he admits that he is “a flawed human being” and asks for forgiveness when he does something that gets in the way of us feeling close to each other; and he makes efforts to change for the better and does so. I try do the same things. I was first attracted to him, and ultimately agreed to be his gilfriend, because we share the same core values and are determined to live by them.

    He’s a nice looking man but, at first, I didn’t think he was a “hot.” Also, he’s not a “leader of the pack” kind of guy; he leans more toward introversion. For these reasons, in the past, I wouldn’t have dated him in the first place.

    But I learned from you, Evan, that a man like him — versus the “leading man” types I’d always fallen for — are the best compliment to my “strong” personality. I learned to be attracted to a man’s character more than his looks.

    Today, my boyfriend is the hottest man I know. His protectiveness, chivalry, and sensuality are huge turn ons. He’s told me i’m the first woman who’s expressed admiration for his “manliness,” which I do often because it’s so sexy.

    However, the other big reason I almost stopped our relationship in its tracks was that, as a white man, I didn’t think he would ever grasp the depth of the limitless unearned privilege he enjoys at the expense of people of color like me. The gaping chasm between how I experience life as a black woman and how he experiences it as a white man seemed impossible for me to accept.

    It was my good friend who helped me see that I was about to turn my back on a man who is perfect for me, She and I have been friends since high school. She knows who I am as person; so I listened to her.

    Regarding my boyfriend, she said, ” LaVora, you’re right. He’ll never understand what it’s like to be black, let alone what it’s like to be a black woman. But at least he TRIES. You can’t ask for more than that.” She’s always said she’d never date a white man. So she surprised herself by strongly advocating on behalf of my relationship with one.

    I realized she was right. My boyfriend does sincerely try to understand my perspectives on racism and on everything. By talking to and listening to each other, eventually, we see where the other person is coming from.

    I realized if I waited for a perfect man, I’d die without ever experiencing the kind of relationship I’ve always wanted.

    So here I am — celebrating my six- month “anniversary” with a man who amazes me every day with his kindness, generosity, confidence, and constant desire to make me happy. He’s always telling me and showing me how deeply he loves me and wants us to build our future together.

    I’ve written this to not only thank you for your dating advice, Evan, but also to encourage your readers to follow it because it led me to the man of my dreams.

    1. 9.1
      M. LaVora Perry

      I said:

      “My boyfriend does sincerely try to understand my perspectives on racism and on everything. By talking to and listening to each other, eventually, we see where the other person is coming from.”

      While my boyfriend and I have no taboo subjects that we can’t discuss together, our discussions don’t always lead to us agreeing with each other. But we do eventually come to the place where we can disagree while respecting the other person’s right to their beliefs and trying to understand their point of view. I wouldn’t be happy in a relationship in which I felt there were some topics I couldn’t talk about with my significant other.

  10. 10
    tanya pierre

    I want to say that I am a recently married woman and my success was buoyed by the practical advice of Evan. Good relationships are easy! Even when the times are tough, a healthy couple ultimately bends with the wind because they know they will stand tall again. My husband and I do everything through the lens of love and respect, and that makes all the difference. Thanks Evan! Other folks: believe!

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