My dear friend is about to marry the wrong person. He is a brilliant, outgoing man, always willing to put others first, and in this case to a fault. His fiancée has pursued him since high school. He avoided her romantic advances for years, knowing he could do better, but she is a very smart and manipulative person and succeeded in landing him as a boyfriend. In the early years, he occasionally expressed a desire to break up with her, but could not build the nerve to do so. Since then, almost a decade has passed, and they are still the only partners either has ever had. I know that if he could press a button and wake up tomorrow with her happy and living in another city, and him happy and single, he would do it. However, a number of factors have kept him from leaving her. Their best friends from childhood are very close-knit (for example, his older brother is best friends with her older brother), and their families are close friends as well. Understandably, he feels like to break up with her would shatter this group of people he cares so much about, not to mention the emotional impact it would have on her.
Now, if she were as kind and selfless as he, I would give them my blessing. However, she has a devious, controlling side that she has used, in combination with his naive kindness, to secure him as her lifelong mate. On a day-to-day basis, he is constantly made to apologize to her, as she finds fault with the most harmless guffaw or, heaven forbid, a difference in opinion. Recently, she forbade him from going on his own bachelor party because she suspected he would cheat on her, costing him thousands in plane and hotel fees in the process. She has used her cunning to manipulate him over the years, to the point where he feels like he has no choice but to marry her.
How can I save my friend? I have stopped confronting him on this because his wife-to-be is so shrewd and smart that she has altered his fundamental thought process: He BELIEVES she is a great partner now, a real catch, because she has told him so time and time again. Deep down, somewhere, I know he knows that he's settling and that he could do better; he's made this much clear by putting off her very public and repetitive pleas to get married. Is there any hope for him? There are other close friends of his who feel the same way -- what can we do?
I predict that the marriage will go one of two ways. Either he'll snap out of it, get sick of being mistreated and break it off in a nasty divorce. Or, much more likely, his wouldn't-hurt-a-fly benevolence will get the best of him, and his fear of hurting her will force him to spend the rest of his days with someone he does not love. He'll swallow his romantic ambitions, as he has all of his life with her, and force himself to believe that they're meant to be together ... all simply because she told him to.
Help Me Cary!
Dear Help Me!,
What if your friend had a need to be controlled and manipulated? What if his fiancée were meeting that need? Would it be wrong of her to meet that need?
If a person locks himself in a cell because he feels safe there, is that wrong?
Do we allow our friend to lock himself in his cell? Do we blame the cell? What if the keys are right there but he prefers the cell? Do we keep running over there and opening the door? Do we insist he can't stay in the cell, that he has to come out and walk around like the rest of us good American souls, making his own decisions, standing on his own two feet? What if he doesn't want to stand on his own two feet?
What if a man wants a woman to run his life for him? What if he wants her to tell him what he really wants so that he doesn't have to think about what he really wants because thinking about what he really wants would mean having to ask for what he really wants. And who the hell wants to do that? That's scary!
What if he has a strong need to not make decisions and a strong need to avoid conflict?
Basically, relationships meet needs. That's why we have them. There are needs for love and companionship and sex that seem pretty normal. We get that. But what about other needs?
We're not always meeting the needs people think we should be meeting. We're not always meeting our most admirable needs. That doesn't mean they're not needs. They're just not the needs other people think we should be meeting. And, well, duh: That's what makes them our needs and not somebody else's. They might be perverse and pathological needs, but they're our needs. I know it's sad. Doesn't it help a little bit to look at it like this?
I hope this doesn't make it worse. I'm just trying to help.
Why not leave him alone and wish him well? Why not just say to him that if there ever comes a time when he's ready to bust out, you'll be there for him.
That's one way to look at it.
The other way to look at it is that she has put him under her spell. This happens too. People become hypnotized and lost. They become dependent on others to run their lives. They get addicted to drugs. They retreat into fantasy and it's not entirely choice; there is a malevolent force at work.
When that happens, we can say things. We can say, you're ruining your life. We can book a hotel room and get all his friends and family to sit on chairs and couches waiting for his arrival, and then tell him, Oh, listen, I just have to drop by here at this hotel to pick up my sister, won't you come up there with me, and then Boom! Surprise! It's an Intervention!
Interventions are great. When else do family and friends say what they really want and what they really feel? Interventions are terrific. The tears, the choices, the driving off to rehab!
But a pre-wedding intervention would be kinda weird. Hey, dude, we really hate your fiancée. We think she's ruining your life. We think you should dump her.
You see the problem with that?
So here's a thought: We act as if we have repressed our desire for happiness and that's the problem, and if we only let it out, we would be happy. But what if we actually have the reverse situation? What if what's actually repressed in our society is not the pursuit of happiness but true tragic consciousness? What if our overwhelming social insistence on happiness has actually driven the tragic underground, so that it is the tragic that threatens to arise out of repression, so that that it is the tragic that we seek in our intimate moments, in our private moments? And what if that is why we have these problems with drugs and suicide and depression -- not because we're not happy enough, but because we have repressed the tragic?
What if not everybody wants to visit San Diego at least once in their lives?
If that were the case, if grief were the thing most repressed in society, then we would find ways to express our melancholia, our sense of the tragic, in our intimate relations.
Another way to look at your friend's situation is to consider the possibility that he is getting ready for something but is not ready yet. Maybe his soul is getting ready. Say a fierce battle awaits the soul. We can be in a holding pattern. There is not much to do while waiting for the soul's great challenge. So we amuse ourselves with pastimes.
Maybe she is a pastime. Maybe he is waiting.
One thing I know: We can't change people.
I hope this helps you accept what he's doing so it won't be so painful to watch. Maybe if you think about it in terms of his needs, strange as they may be, you won't feel you're letting him down by not interfering.
Promise to be there for him if he ever decides to leave the cage.