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February 8, 1999   CONTINUED e-mail e-mail to a friend in need


Predicament of the Week
In which Breakup Girl addresses the situation that has, this week, brought her the most (a) amusement, (b) relief that it is happening to someone else, and/or (c) proof that she could not possibly be making this stuff up.

Dear Breakup Girl,

It's Obsessed, again ("Thanks for Sharing"). I am the happily married guy with two kids from a previous marriage. M is my wife, and I had written that we are compatible in all respects, except for hang-ups regarding past relationships.

You had agreed, more or less, with my self-analysis, and encouraged me to let latex, not morals, come between us. (M contracted herpes from a previous casual relationship). I write seeking more clarification.

I had mentioned the herpes only to illustrate a point ­ that contracting herpes did not change her morals/values/whatever regarding casual sex. You picked up on the unprotected aspect of her sex life, saying that having unprotected sex with others, without informing them as to her condition, was selfish behavior. And you admonished me not to keep harping on it.

And while that may be useful and wise advice, I don't harp on this issue ­ in fact, after the initial disclosure, it has rarely come up. And it is her, not me, that mentions it. Each time it has, I have been understanding, sympathetic and reassuring ­ all the things I am supposed to be.

What drives me nuts is not the herpes, but the lying (to me) about the encounters she has had, the sense that I was somehow misled or misunderstood something about her during our courtship, (that something being the values/morals thing ­ I was reaching the conclusion in the wake of my first marriage breakup, that casual sex is wrong, and was seeking someone who felt the same, thought it was her, since we held off for a long time, until we were in love, but in actual fact, she was still cruising the bars, so to speak, a month or so before we dated ). This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that at least four (six?) previous partners are still in her circle of friends.

One is an absolute jerk. Loud, obnoxious, domineering, self-centered. I have spoken to him perhaps six times ­ and every time, he has said something crude or offensive. (Here's an example of his idea of a joke: "So, does she still like it when you go down on her?") He is too socially inept to realize that he is not very well-liked, just tolerated. Everyone is either too polite to tell him, or they ignore his negative qualities and focus on his positive. In fairness, there are some. He is a soft harmless person, is regarded as intelligent, funny, and as M points out to me every time we run into him and have the inevitable set-to because he has said something stupid, nothing he says is intended to be malicious. He genuinely thinks he is being witty and glib.

We have not invited him to any gatherings we have hosted, though M is regretful ­ and to some degree, resentful of me -- because she likes his wife a lot, and M is also extremely conscious of what people may think ("Ohmigawd, they might think I don't like him!"). He is, in spite of what people think about him, tolerated as part of the crowd. He may not be invited to many things, but thinks nothing about showing up anyway. When he has been around, M has shown him the utmost courtesy, laughing at his jokes, paying attention to him, being interested in his life -- in spite of my feelings, which are well known to her, and in spite of what she knows he says and thinks about her (she dumped him when he was head over heels for her; he told me at one point ­ at his own marriage, in fact, which I reluctantly attended, willing to at least give it the ole college try -- that he loved M with all his heart and always imagined that he would marry her someday).

M and I had an incredible row a few weeks back, our worst one yet. I was dropped off at a friend's place by M, well out of town, while she went off to another event. As she was leaving, the jerk showed up. I had to endure him for more than two hours, then for another hour and a half when M came back, while she socialized with him.

Things have not been quite the same since then, because it is far from resolved. My point was that I had thought we had agreed that we would make tracks if he ever showed up, and that if we hadn't agreed on that, that we damn well would agree from now on in. I loathe the man to a degree I have rarely felt, and it pains me to have M sit there and make nice to him for fear of offending him, leaving me to writhe in extreme discomfort.

At first, she was full of lame excuses ­ didn't realize how long we were sitting there, didn't want to rush her drink, was hoping someone else may show up, thought she was just being polite, and so on. Then it was that I should be big enough to ignore his comments, confident enough in our relationship to realize there is no attachment or lingering feelings on her part, and that, after all, she has an ex-wife to put with who is also a jerk.

My reply is that I do not force her to sit around and make nice with the ex, or watch me sit around and make nice with the ex, that the issue with the jerk is not one of being big, or that he is a threat to us. He's just a complete jerk, that's all. And because of their past together, I feel extremely uncomfortable when he's around. Same as she does with the ex, which is why I take pains to try and make sure her exposure to the ex is extremely limited.

And then it deteriorated from there ­ a screamerama, nasty things said to one another, angry stomps to the spare room, doors slamming, ugly, ugly, ugly. Now we sit, dug in, entrenched in our respective positions, wary of bringing anything up that could lead to a fight. Trying to get along and avoid The Issue. But now, in a few weeks' time, there is an event that she considers a Must Attend, for both of us. The jerk will be there, so I consider this a Must Send Regrets. We studiously avoid talking about this, but both know it is coming up fast.

This upcoming event is, of course, the tip of the iceberg. Though it has dominated this letter, it will be resolved one way or tri-nother. We will either go, or we won't, or she will go alone. We will probably have a fight, because none of these solutions is a solution, and the tip of the iceberg will re-emerge every bloody time we have to see him, or any of her other past partners. Any thoughts or suggestions that could help avoid a Titanic-like conclusion?

-- Obsessed, Still

Dear Obsessed,

You have done a lot of the clarification yourself here. I understand that the virus is indeed the manifestation of a larger malaise. Like, "it's not about the herpes" -- it's about trust, dissembling, the "she's not who I thought she was" thing. Issues that -- like certain viruses -- are present and active even when invisible.

I would also like to say, sagely, that "it's not about this friend, either." But it is, partly. I mean, one thing we all have to deal with is that our partners come with pasts, and sometimes those pasts come to parties. But he sounds like a total nightmare. No excuses; the stuff he's said is grounds for impeachment. Inexcusable. And, thus, plausible for you to claim that you don't hate him because he poses some kind of threat. He's odious enough all by himself.

So bottom line, what is It about? What's the rest of the iceberg? Well, much like you, I'm not sure. And this is why you two have to talk. Not about calendars and guest lists. About the mountain of ice beneath the surface: why, on one hand, does/did M engage in self- and relationship-destructive behavior AND go out of her way to please and be liked by and maintain peace with everyone? Except you? Why, really, do you slink along to these events on an ad hoc basis rather than stepping back and attempting negotiation and compromise? You're right -- you might be able to keep steering around the tip, but the iceberg itself could still sink the boat. Don't wait for the film to rewrite history.

Breakup Girl



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