"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
I love your column and think you are very wise. I could use your advice. I am an early 40s woman who has been twice divorced. The first marriage was right out of high school, no kids thankfully, and the second one was in my early 30s. Again, no children came of this relationship. Both husbands cheated and that is the reason I left. I did a great deal of emotional work on this pattern of picking men and realized I was picking narcissists.
I started choosing men who were the opposite of narcissists — guys with Asperger’s disorder. Men who were so thankful to have a date that I knew they wouldn’t cheat on me. This resulted in a history of three-month relationships. I began to feel I was cursed, that all my relationships would end at three months. My point of view is that it takes me that long to see the real person without the illusion that we tend to create in new romances. I am always the one to end relationships.
I am currently in a new relationship with a person who I have a great deal in common with. He is definitely not Asperger’s. He seems insightful, caring, giving, intelligent, funny and thoughtful. However, it seems we have a lot of disagreements.
So, to give you some history about me, my family of origin was pretty violent and angry and abusive.
I try to avoid disagreements and arguments at all cost.
I have been known to dissociate when someone is yelling.
We have disagreements about my ex being my best friend. I get that this would make my boyfriend uneasy but I don’t have a history of cheating AT ALL!
We also seem to have a hard time communicating. We get defensive with each other. I think he uses things I’ve told him against me and he says I do the same things. I think I’m more open about constructive criticism and have admitted wrongdoing and apologized. When this happens with him, I don’t think he apologizes and it seems he just defends himself. I often find myself being lost in the arguments — like he is running circles around me and I get confused. “How did we end up HERE?” is a frequent thought of mine. I think he has a pretty strong ego yet he can talk the talk about letting go of ego. He seems to play the role of devil’s advocate a great deal. I also feel like he argues semantics a lot.
In so many ways, he’s terrific. How do I know what things to accept and what things to bail on? I really want him to be “the one.” But wanting it doesn’t make it happen.
I guess I thought that true love would be easy, that it wouldn’t be hard, tedious work every single day. I’m getting tired and don’t want to imagine my life in the future to be filled with arguments and disagreements. Ugh! So, as you guessed, we’re three months into our relationship and I’m starting to wonder if this is my lifelong true love or another three-month relationship. We insist that we want to stay friends if things don’t go well with us romantically but sometimes I find that I don’t really like him (when we’re arguing) and can’t imagine that any breakup with him would go smoothly enough to maintain a friendship after. So, Cary, do you have any advice for me?
Scared of the Three-Month Curse
I’ll bet if you can adopt certain ground rules for communication together, that will help.
You’re still getting to know each other. I think you need some rules of engagement before anything else. You have habits of communication that seem to be setting off hot button issues. So take a look at these sites and see if you can find something helpful to share with your new friend.
Sure, there are a lot of reasons this is happening. But I suggest right now you try to stabilize your communication routine so that you can relax a little bit and not be blowing up all the time.
In the process, you will learn some things about each other. It will happen slowly. You come into this relationship with admirable self-knowledge and an understanding of your own tendencies and habits. Try to learn what his history is and what his habits are.
Changing our habits is hard without an outside observer to give you a sort of freeze-frame of what’s happening and suggest adjustments, like a couples coach or therapist. You need new skills for interacting.
But having a set of ground rules for communication is a nice place to start. In the process of learning to communcate, listen to his history. Find out where he has been and what has shaped him. Look for patterns. Try to understand what he is afraid of and why he reacts the way he does. Don’t psychoanalyze him. Just take note of what seems to set him off.
You’ve been through a lot. You know yourself well. You don’t know this guy nearly as well as you know yourself. You don’t know him well enough to trust him with your fragile self, nor does he know you very well. So take it slow. Don’t expect too much. Show a lot of respect. Be cautious and careful with each other’s feelings.
If he wants to stick it out for the long haul, then maybe there is a future. The big question would be, Is he willing to change? And are you willing to change? I mean, when we’re being defensive and argumentative, it’s often because we’re angry or hurt or frightened and we’re not so eager to admit that. We have to be willing to show some stuff we’re not too comfortable with. We’ll keep arguing until we’re willing to admit why we’re doing it.
So if I were you, if I were trying to decide whether it’s worth it, I would adopt some communcations rules, and ask him what he’s willing to do to keep the relationship going. If he’s willing to do practically anything, then go ahead and try to follow some rules of communication and start looking for some kind of couples therapist who has useful, practical behavioral tools you can begin using right away.
I wouldn’t necessarily start by going deep into past trauma and all that. You need practical communication tools, ways to stop these patterns while they’re happening.
Later, for sure, I’ll bet you could benefit immensely from meditation and a deeper examination of your life patterns. Who couldn’t benefit from that? The path of wisdom is for everyone. But right now, find a way to set some rules about how to interact, and find somebody who can help you in these early days of the relationship.
What? You want more advice?
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)