Ask Polly: Men Are the Worst, and I’m Married to One!

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Dear Polly,

Since the election, I’ve been having a hard time in my relationship. My husband is a funny, weird, supportive white man (I’m also white) who hasn’t really ever had anyone ask him to examine his privilege. We’ve been together for a few years now, and we’ve definitely had a lot of conversations about gender and race and institutionalized racism and sexism. He’s already learned a lot through our conversations and is usually very good about listening and growing. I know on a broad level that he’s on my side when it comes to these things. I’m more of an activist, and I feel things more deeply than he does — especially injustice.

Anyway, I was feeling patient about him learning this stuff, but since Trump was elected, I have very little patience. I want him to wake up right now. And he’s angry and sad and scared about Trump and what he’s doing to our country, but he’s not angry and sad and scared ENOUGH for me. He has a short attention span for pain or sadness (and I arguably have a tendency to ruminate on things — so something in the middle would be more ideal), and he can also retreat into white-male-privilege-keep-head-in-sand-until-it-all-passes land. I wish he was more personally motivated to learn about privilege and that I didn’t have to be the one forcing him to think about it. Sometimes he doesn’t get things and I feel so disappointed and afraid that maybe I settled. That’s harsh. I hate even typing it. Everything is just so fucked right now.

On top of that, since the election, I just don’t really like men all that much. I work in comedy, and there are dudes everywhere. For the most part, they are very liberal, thoughtful dudes. But I’m just so damn tired of being surrounded by men. Movies, TV, politics, my life. I’m tired of men running shit. And I feel so permeable since the election. I’ve always been emotionally watery — I often feel overwhelmed by my emotions, and I feel like I lose my boundaries and control over myself when I’m very sad. I’m so sad and anxious about the future, both in a broad sense and with my relationship.

Before Trump was elected, my husband and I were planning to have kids in the next year or so. Now, on the one hand, I still want to and I am really looking forward to being a mother. On the other hand, the world is a scary place right now. I’m 30, I have some time to put off having kids.

How can I keep my relationship healthy in this political climate? We’re going to go to therapy, but how can I help my husband unpack his privilege?

Sincerely,

I Wish Hillary Won

Dear IWHW,

Yes, living in a country run by an amoral billionaire is not very relaxing, as it turns out. With all of this rage and anxiety bouncing around, it’s easy to want to find a scapegoat. Why not choose someone you have a few minor issues with already? Why not focus on this dope sitting right next to you?

Don’t do it! You can’t turn the story of ignorant white men into a story about your actual husband. Sure, we’d like some of the ignorant white men who voted for Trump to wake up, not to mention the ignorant white ladies who have swallowed society’s hatred whole-hog and therefore believe that being ruled by a mean daddy who doesn’t respect you is somehow preferable to being led by a woman — or, worse, who believe that a faceless mob of Muslims and Mexicans is out to ruin their good life. But let’s not fuck with the good men by our sides. Let’s not fuck with the liberal guys who are just as anxious for a woman to take a shot at the job as we are.

Remember, too, that every straight married woman has a day of reckoning on which she must come face-to-face with her obviously stupid decision to marry a man. This is not specific to men, necessarily — choosing to eat hamburgers every day for the rest of your life might feel stupid simply because hamburgers are not roasted chickens or steaks or pizzas. So part of it is just the nature of marriage. “This is all I get? This is the obnoxiously simple flavor profile I’ll be savoring UNTIL I’M DEAD?” you ask yourself, quite naturally and healthily, a few months or years into your marriage. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS I THINKING?”

And look, let’s not mince words. Men, specifically, can be really fucking dull. Many (but not all!) men are repetitive, avoidant simpletons who really do have feelings and souls deep down there somewhere, but they prefer to pretend that they don’t a lot of the time. Now I’m not saying that plenty of women aren’t the same way. But because our culture hates the shit out of women, their feelings and souls are usually leaking out all over the place in spite of their best efforts to hide them. Sometimes these leaks can feel toxic, particularly if the lady in question isn’t really owning up to the fact that she’s making a giant mess, and instead wants to blame you for the fact that her sewage is staining your nice new shoes. But at least something is happening! Poisonous leakage can be exciting! At least everyone else can talk about it, or analyze it behind her poisonous blamey back!

Men are more like the Fukushima Power Plant. You know that a big disaster occurred somewhere in their pasts, compromising their structural integrity and causing them to spew nuclear waste into the environment. You can fucking tell! But no one wants to fucking talk about it! “Everything is fine, it’s under control!” they say as radioactive waste glows eerily in every direction and fish with five eyes swim around their faces. “Trust me, it’s all good.”

When you’re sensitive and a little anxious, being in the company of that kind of denial is seriously crazy-making. CAN YOU NOT FUCKING SEE THE TWO-HEADED SEA HORSE RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOUR FACE? you scream, but your guy just looks at you like YOU are a two-headed sea horse.

I’ll never forget the first big vacation I took with my soon-to-be husband. Even though he was patient and kind and smart and funny and he looked smoking hot (as always), he seemed very, very boring to me on that trip. He chattered about everything we saw and heard, but he always seemed to be stating the obvious, adding no new insights, just cluttering up the space between us with pointless noise. Can you tell that sometimes I am the worst fucking wife, the kind that haunt commitmentphobes’ fever dreams? Because I really am. Sometimes I’m like this impetuous queen on a throne. I cannot be pleased. No one brings me the sweet nectars and the fine silks that I like, they bring me not-sweet-enough nectars and not-fine-enough silks instead, the fuckers! “GO BACK TO THE MAGIC FISH,” I tell my poor bedraggled fisherman husband. “TELL HIM I WANT TO BE QUEEN OF THE SUN AND THE MOON AND THE STARS.” I am impossible to please. And also I mix my metaphors a lot.

So I was a total bitch through France and most of Spain, and then I got my period and I was in love again and we were having great conversations and marveling at the wondrous sites, and then, a few days later, our expensive vacation was over and I’d fucked most of it up by being an asshole.

But you know what? It’s hard to be with one person most of the time, no matter what gender, no matter how talkative or silent that person is. In a marriage, you really have to resist the urge to scapegoat your partner for things that you’re feeling. This is particularly true once you have kids — which I would strongly advise you not to put off just because the world is going to hell. The world has gone to hell before, and even if it’s real this time, you know what? It’s nice to be alive anyway. It’s also nice to have kids to focus on, believe me. You can’t let yourself fall apart completely when there’s a kid there. That sounds oppressive to you, I know, but you don’t realize that it’s a good kind of oppressive, like working really hard on something you care about or running four miles in the rain because you know you’ll lose your fucking mind if you don’t get off Twitter and break a sweat for a change. Impetuous queens like me have a terrible time being our best selves under duress and in the company of children. But it’s good for us. And honestly, I’m much less of a bitch than I was before I had kids. I hate all of the idiotic myths about how parenting makes you a better person because they’re mostly self-congratulatory and they marginalize people without kids. Nonetheless, having a few responsibilities is sometimes good for a restless, emotional neurotic like me. I’ll bet that you’ll love it, too.

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re seriously questioning whether your husband is right for you. It just sounds like you want him to make the same noises you make about the world right now. You shouldn’t expect him to match you perfectly, though. If he were just as emotional and anxious as you are right now, he’d probably be doing that wrong, too — and it might send you over the edge if you were both losing control. Maybe part of him feels like there’s not really any extra room for him to fall apart with you in the state you’re in.

Maybe instead of focusing on your needs, you could try to focus on making some extra space for him to feel what he feels. It sounds like he struggles to let his thoughts and ideas about what he’s going through flow with you, possibly because he feels like if he says one wrong word, he’ll be persecuted mercilessly for it. But when you really encourage him to let things out — without expecting that a delightfully complex flow of delicious, interesting poisons will usher forth, because sadly we can only get those flavors of sweet nectar from our high-strung ultrasensitive lady friends most of the time — he might surprise you. You might find your connection growing, but only once you demonstrate that you accept yourself AND accept him for who you each are, flaws and all. That’s just part of being married: looking into each other’s eyes and saying, “You are fucking wretched and a huge disappointment in almost every way, and I love you like crazy anyway.”

It’s an uncomfortable time to be a white dude who knows that he’s privileged. It’s embarrassing, like walking around with your flaccid dick hanging out. Our president is a living, breathing model of what’s wrong with white male privilege, and there you are, formed in his image? Not fun. Cut the semi-almost-woke lily-white motherfuckers some slack and keep gently nudging them in the right direction. This is not a moment for shouting them down — unless they actually believe in the orange menace’s racist, anti-woman agenda.

But don’t make everything personal under any circumstances. Remember the people who are truly suffering: the Muslims who feel like their country is hanging them out to dry. The black people who’ve felt hung out to dry for decades now. The LGBTQ people who worry that they’ll be next. The Asians, the Jews, the Native Americans, the Mexicans. Where does it end? As a white woman, you can’t even say it’s about women without mentioning everyone else. You have to constantly recalibrate your view. We need each other right now. We must have each other’s backs, and the people who are targeted need to hear from you that they, specifically, are included in what you call America. That doesn’t mean that you’re some white savior, propping them up. You are merely setting your own battles aside in order to acknowledge that they are in the firing line. You are refusing to put your concerns at the center of everything, because you’re aware that others are suffering more than you are, and that others have suffered for far longer than you have. But you are fucking pissed now, and you’re committed to this fight, and you’re fighting for the rights of all people to live their lives, free from oppression from racist overlords who don’t give a fuck.

But I’m seriously not lecturing you for being fed up with men. I get it. On a more mundane level, I want to reassure you that as you have kids and your career advances and you have more and more strong friendships with great women, you won’t feel as besieged and surrounded by men. I do kind of wonder what TV and movies you’re watching where men are everywhere, because I honestly don’t watch that shit anymore. I do like Billions, which is a hopelessly man-centric show, mostly because both male leads manifest different classic male weaknesses in contrasting ways. But otherwise, Jesus, we’ve never had more amazing shows and movies about women! Broad City, Veep, Transparent, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Holy shit, this show is such weird lopsided hokey genius, please go watch it right now — and it has a bubbly delightfulness to it that really will get your mind off the apocalypse. It is saving my fucking life at the moment). Do the dudes of Silicon Valley really count as dudes? They’re so manhandled by life at every turn. Maybe you’re being too passive about what you and your husband watch together. Maybe you’re letting him dictate some of your shared choices and then resenting him for it.

Tell him what you want, directly, and admit that you feel disappointed sometimes. But don’t blame him for being who he is and don’t tell some absurd story to yourself about how you settled. He accepts you for the emotional water fountain that you are. Accept him for his giant concrete walls and multitiered cooling systems and external heat exchangers and used fuel ponds, even when they really aren’t functioning perfectly. He’s working really goddamn hard behind the scenes to keep things from overheating and exploding all over again, even if he won’t admit it. (Though if the state of Fukushima today is any example, he might want to try to address his feelings more openly to prevent a total meltdown in the future.)

But it doesn’t sound like he blames you for pushing him. He sounds open to learning more. Don’t make him your big project. Spend more time on yourself instead. Process how angry you are. Write it down, get it out, celebrate it, make jokes from it. Create something out of your rage.

The good news is, as you get older, men seem less oppressive because you just naturally care a lot less what they think of you, or what they think of themselves, or any of that shit. Are they always in charge? Not where I work. The more you succeed at what you do, the more you can pick and choose who you work with. There are a lot of great women in charge all over the place. Also, trust me, when you really, truly, deeply don’t care if douche bros around you are making douche-bro sounds, the bros perk up and want to know what you think about everything. It’s almost a little creepy? The point is, marginalize the motherfuckers and focus on other leaky fucking emotional freak magnets like yourself. Focus on the two-headed sea horses who have just as much fucked-up shit bouncing around in their brains as you do.

No one person can make you happy. It takes a village. Being married to a dude and relying on him for 100 percent of your emotional well-being is a terrible idea. Outsource some of that shit, or you’ll always scapegoat him even though he’s totally on your side.

Let me just add that the people who taught me to unpack my own privilege the most were people who simply owned who they were, and didn’t apologize for expecting me to catch up and figure it out, and didn’t slow down to educate me on things I should obviously know already. You don’t have to convince your guy of things or be punitive with him. You can just focus on what’s important to you. Get in the fight, align yourself with like-minded people, and let him catch up by watching you in action. Trust that he will catch up.

But when you do have kids? Insist on an egalitarian balance of chores and babysitting. Make sure your anxiety doesn’t prevent you from handing over the baby. Ask him for what you want from him, and encourage him to ask for what he wants. That’s where you need to put your energy: into making sure that you build a life together that works. Micromanaging his mind-set about privilege is going to feel like small beans pretty soon. Lead by example instead.

You will be growing very quickly, whether you can handle it or not, and so will he. Slow down and appreciate that he’s willing to learn new things, to hear you out, to respect your opinions and have your back. He sounds to me like he’ll make a great husband and father. Believe in that and trust it. Stop worrying about a whole world packed with dudes and just look at the dude you have. Appreciate and celebrate his cooling systems. You’re going to need them.

Polly

Order the new Ask Polly book, How to Be a Person in the World, here. Got a question for Polly? Email askpolly@nymag.com. Her advice column will appear here every Wednesday.

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Ask Polly: Men Are the Worst, and I’m Married to One!