Monday, April 2, 2012

Friends Don't Treat Friends Like Their Own Personal Unpaid Therapists

Came across another one of "those discussions" on the internets where the (mostly hetero female) commenters air various grievances about their husbands not sharing the weekend childcare load equally. Specifically, where the men make these unilateral choices to just leave the kids alone with the wife at their house for several hours on the weekend, while they go off to pursue their hobbies without first communicating or seeking any sort of agreement beforehand. How sucky. And just Wrong.

It seems to me that "how to actually solve the problem" talk is NOT particularly welcome in (most of) these discussions. Yes, I understand folks need to vent. Yes, I get that sometimes we need to seek feedback to assess what is typical across society, to see if our situation is really as off as it feels. However, at some point, we all need move on to the next logical steps.

We eventually need to identify and address the actual problem. (Unless, of course, we're enjoying the shitty status quo pity party. Clue #1 you are wallowing in your shitty status quo: you leave a blog comment saying you're distancing yourself from your real life friends who you have convinced yourself are just lying/bullshitting/sugarcoating about their marital happiness in order to try to make you feel bad.)

Then someone offered this viewpoint:

"Who needs a therapist when you have really great friends?"

To which my initial reaction is "Aw, hell NOOOOOO!!!!!"

And then I laughed a little, because I recognize that sentiment as the exact thinking of one of my (recently-divorced) best friends. She has totally gone over her limit of office visits to the Friend-as-Unpaid-Therapist's Office. An old econ professor once made the "friendship as a form of social insurance" argument, and it never rang true until recently.

Going over one's social insurance limit with friends generally looked like this in my world: My BFF's other BFF would call me up (or vice versa) and say he's at his wits end with her, he thinks she's making bad choices, he wants to stop being her nonjudgmental shoulder to cry on. He's about to say something to her he'll regret a la the Cher character in Moonstruck: "Snap out of it!!" Inevitably, I'd tell him to hang in there, but maybe have better boundaries, take a break from those heavy discussions with her. He'd do the same for me. It got to the point where we finally mentioned it to our BFF, and shared our feelings that she would be better served by speaking to a licensed therapist instead of us. Luckily, she's a real and true friend, and did not reject us for saying so.

Anyway, I know folks generally want to vent and have people empathize with them while doing whatever it is they really want to do anyway - and it is great there are spaces out there on the internets for that. Up to a point. It can't go on forever. Whenever I read same, I can't help but want to move right into SOLUTION mode, and make a comment about improving the communication, or going to therapy, or working through a Hendrix or Gottman book together as spouses. I have a bias towards Doing Something About It.

So I don't generally comment.

Look, I don't claim to have all the answers to the problem of being married to a good person but having fallen into a shitty dynamic you can't seem to address. That said, I do feel qualified to say that I know what does not work.

What generally does not work is kvetching to your mother or your friends in real life who will then be forced to continue to interact with both you and your spouse forever. More often than not, they will begin to resent your spouse if you talk too much shit about them. It's just human nature when you care about someone. You'll eventually forgive them and have sex. Your friends and mom won't. So please, go ahead and talk directly to your spouse. And exercise extreme caution when bitching about your spouse behind his/her back.

Bottom line. Licensed therapists, relationship books, blogs = yes. Overburdening your friends and family = no. End rant.


nicoleandmaggie said...

Hahaha! Yes, we've ranted the same rant... it's probably why I'm finally completely off of mommy boards now.

Cloud said...

Yeah, I don't get those posts/comments, either- as I mini-ranted about last week! I, too, just don't comment. I sometimes think the people writing some of them prefer to martyr themselves and don't really want to fix the problem. I had a very similar dynamic at one point- I would spend the weekend doing child care and my husband would do chores. So I told him I wanted to mix things up so I could get some of the bigger things off my to do list, too. And so we started discussing our plans/needs for the weekend on Friday nights, and still do. And mostly that works. Of course, we still manage to argue about this sometimes, but I don't understand why someone would seethe about this sort of thing, and not just talk to their spouse and try to fix it. Or maybe they do, and their spouse doesn't take it seriously? Then yeah, I guess some couples counseling or something might help.

Claudia said...

Agree about there being a limit. I haven't suffered it much since I stopped interacting with someone who was no good for me in any way. Thankfully!
However, I do want my friends to get stuff off their chests, and not play up what is really a miserable time. You know, don't give me some sugar-coated bullshit if you really are feeling badly.

I have a friend who has recently discovered that her husband is mildly autistic/Asberger's, and their son is more so (the son's diagnosis led to insight about the husband). She is caught between a rock and a hard place; several things must come into being before she could consider leaving her husband. They get therapy every couple of weeks, I think, but their regular therapy kind of serves to remind hubby that he must behave in certain ways (not go off on screaming rants because someone didn't close a cabinet, for instance. No joke.). Really, this life is wearing her down, and she is allowed to rant to me all she wants. But she's an exception.

nicoleandmaggie said...

@Claudia-- I think there's a difference between people who are actively trying to get out of their unpleasantness, going to therapy, considering other options, etc. and people who attack you if you even suggest something like that.

I have a lot more patience for the former. Complain all you want if you're open to solutions. But at some point if all you're doing is whining and you're never going to do anything to make the situation change, and you don't want to hear any suggestions... then really there's not much point in another person listening. Sure, maybe one time to get things off your chest, but after that either try to fix the problem or deal with it.

blue milk said...

Feel this is something of a mischaracterisation of the conversation at my blog and the post I've written.

nicoleandmaggie said...

ROFL... I didn't see a link to Blue Milk in the post. This phenomenon is so prevalent on the internets that it doesn't really matter what specific post Hush is talking about. But I suppose complaining about it is a great way to drive hits to one's blog. (Almost as good as praising prostitution as a feminist statement.)

Everyone should look at our post today. Hush has completely mischaracterized it (even though it was posted the day after this one).

momboy said...

"Bottom line. Licensed therapists, relationship books, blogs = yes. Overburdening your friends and family = no. End rant." Totally agree. My partner and I have a zero discussion with other people rule regarding our own disagreements and it has been such a good thing for the relationship and for maintaining healthy friendships. Obviously abuse shouldn't be swept under the rug but then again it shouldn't be tolerated within a relationship so I'm not talking about that at all.

Cloud said...

@bluemilk, I hadn't put this post together with your post, but now that I go read the comments I see it.

But I'll be honest, the reason I didn't read the comments on your post before is that I knew what they would be like. I don't necessarily think that this is anything you can or should change (and as @Nicoleandmaggie note, this is definitely not exclusive to your blog), but when you post about something like this, there are a lot of comments from women who seem caught in some sort of dynamic with their partners where their partners do crappy things and they vent about it online- but don't think it is something that can be changed.

And that is incredibly frustrating for someone like me. Because the comments tend to focus on the men and how they "can't" or "won't" do X,Y, or Z. And if I (or someone else with a similar view) posts a comment saying that men can in fact do X,Y, or Z and if theirs "won't" then maybe there is something wrong in that relationship that needs fixing, we're told we don't understand. And if we say that we don't have that dynamic in our relationship, and this is how we fixed it, we get told we're sugar-coating our lives and denying the hard parts. Or- and this is fun- we get told we're tools of the patriarchy, because we aren't acknowledging the influence of our patriarchal culture on all this.

I don't think I'm sugar-coating my life. And I acknowledge the fact that there are cultural influences at work- but I don't see how we're going to change them if we aren't willing to insist they change within our own families. I don't think I have working motherhood all figured out. But I do think that there are some things that are within our own control to fix, and it is really frustrating to have someone insist that something as fundamental as the dynamic in her own relationship is outside of her own control. I either do the really snarky thing and just say "if you don't like it, LEAVE HIM" or I get sucked into a long comment conversation/argument, and frankly I don't have time for that. I'll save my energy for women who do want to fix the things they can fix.

So I just don't read the comments on those sorts of posts anymore, even if it is a really good post, because it tends to just spiral into pointlessness rather quickly.

Anandi said...

Love this rant - I see this situation IRL all the time too.

It seems disloyal for friends to kvetch about their husbands. I tend to stay out of it. I wouldn't do that to mine - if I have an issue, I talk to HIM about it. He'd HATE it if I was ranting to someone else about him.

And on the Internets? Bah, I don't have time to spend on other peoples' relationship drama. Life is too short.

Claudia said...

Precisely all of what Anandi said!

Vacationland Mom said...

hush, can you email me? I feel like you might be able to provide some support, I am so sleep deprived I can't even think straight. Not looking for therapy, haha, just needing help with WHY MY CHILD WAKES UP EVERY HOUR ALL NIGHT LONG TO NURSE, and why last night he woke up at 1 am and didn't go back to sleep until 5 am. Do you have any insight? Am I a horrible parent for continuing to cosleep/nurse? My email is

Sorry to hijack your post, feel free to delete this comment if you wish. I just didn't know how else to get in touch with you directly. When I'm not so sleep deprived I will definitely be commenting about the therapy rant.

oilandgarlic said...

You know, I think the topic goes beyond chore-sharing. When I was going through a rough period a few years back, I relied heavily, too heavily, on my BFF. At one point, she did suggest therapy. I realized that i was overburdening her with my woes and made a real attempt to 1) talk less about my problems and 2) focus on solutions. There are times I wasn't ready to just deal with my problems but I don't think it's fair to burden a friend either.
It goes both ways.

hush said...

I'm back from my Spring break travels, thank you for all of your comments.

@Blue Milk - Mea culpa. I should have handled this with some goddamn regard for your feelings. Lessons learned. My own notion of blogging etiquette doesn't match up with some of the prevailing blogging norms out there (always directly link to the comments one wishes to critique).

To be clear, I did not and still do not wish to cite your blog for the proposition that "eyeroll-worthy, defeatist relationship conversation happens here." On the contrary. I'm a huge fan. I've linked to your blog before because so much of what you write, particularly on the topic of rape, is inspired:

My rant (and yes, I'm making an informed choice to call it a "rant") was absolutely not in reference to anything you've written about your own relationships, nor to any of the material in your body of posts. It was triggered inside me by a couple of tangential remarks made by two of your commenters that I admittedly took out of context and unfairly compared to other conversations I've had in my real life. I get to do that. I also get that there are consequences for doing so. I get why that might rub folks the wrong way. My readers get to call me out on it, high five me, to take me off their blogrolls, encourage me to have other conversations, and/or to post blistering dissents (that aren't per se responses to my blog, but have been bubbling up inside them for awhile... hells yes, I actually understand that feeling completely). You posted something recently that I happen to take as constructive feedback, and I encourage everyone here to read it and to consider it:

You're right - people want to be heard not fixed. That's one I've been trying to learn for a long time. Be well, @Blue Milk.

@Vacationland Mom - My gut reaction to what you've described about your son suddenly not sleeping is that he's finally entered the dreaded 18-month sleep regression. Hang in there! Ask Moxie was a good resource for me when my family was in the thick of it, and it was great just to be validated that lots of kids go through it and it is related to a developmental shift around 18-21 months:

nicoleandmaggie said...

Yes, that last linked post of blue milk's is very much in the same vein as her pro-prostitution posts. Brava.

Ironic how it silences women who actually DO have good relationships with their husbands. Look, the cultural internet crabs in the bucket majority wins again! Also: completely ignores the fact that we get to decide how to cognitively structure the things that we think about. We get to choose whether to work on not being miserable or try to change things. Except we don't, because women who say, "Hey, you don't have to take this" are shut down. Only people who are miserable are allowed to share their misery. And if someone disagrees, and says hey, maybe there are healthier ways to deal with these problems, they're told to shut up in these passive-aggressive posts. It angers me.

These kinds of discussions have made me pretty sick of the internet. So, in order to continue to be happy, I'm going to just ignore it and, other than the posts we've got in the queue, I'm going to stay away from the mommy blogs. I'm really sick of hearing people complain about how I'm a bitch for daring to tell people that I'm happy and that other people can be happy too. I'm sick of watching people making themselves miserable and forcing each other to be miserable too.

I'm going to take a page from the Los Angeles ethos and get negative influences out of my life. Ignore the crabs in a bucket and let them pull each other down.

hush said...

@nicoleandmaggie - Points taken. The best counter-argument to my line of thinking goes something like this -

hush, your vapid focus on your own life practice overlooks the importance of the theory that necessarily undergirds so many womens' actual experiences of oppression. Your personal practices prove too much. When you fail to properly acknowledge the issues of your own unspoken privilege, it renders the lessons of your practices inapplicable, untranslatable, and not to mention rhetorically unpalatable - and frankly, you come across as smug and unschooled in the theory. I'm therefore not sure we have anything to learn from you: when you don't deal more directly in the theory it makes it seem as though you have not fully thought it through. Perhaps you don't see your own oppression, you ought to keep looking. Further, I wonder if your practices even have much meaning because you have left them unexamined according to our methods.

The quickest retort I have to the above line of thinking goes something like this:

If your overarching theory is unsupported by the specific practices so many women like me are both engaging in and negotiating within the framework of our own lived experiences, then I insist that's a problem with the theory. Re-examining the theory ad infinitum and then using it as a post hoc rationale to maintain a sexist status quo may look to some like progress. In the specific context of feminist internet discourse, that narrative is too often used to deny the reality that there are other actual, lived experiences like mine. Yet the deniers will never know it if they continue to exclude our narratives and our data points, if they continue to insist upon reconstructing our voices as irrelevant and void for over-privilege, if they continue to pooh pooh us as ungrounded in the proper theory, nevermind the evidence our narratives might offer of the ineffectiveness of the theory -- no, to them the theory is paramount, so much so that they'll silence women whose lived experiences run counter to it.

Zenmoo said...

Fuck, you've just reminded me of why I didn't take any women's studies at uni. I tuned right out at 'post-hoc'.

Seriously though, sometimes I think I don't read carefully enough because I just don't have the intensity of response I see in some comments (generally, not specific to this post).

hush said...

@Zenmoo - Lol! You must not have had profs who were good at bridging the gap between the theory and life. I was bored, too, by some lecturers (in other areas) who weren't able to do that - sometimes, luckily, the subject area was interesting enough (plate tectonics comes to mind) to make it a decent class in spite of shitty teaching.

@anyone who wanted to comment but Blogger told them to please fuck off - feel free to email me (checked infrequently mind you) hush everyone at gmail dot com