Sunday, January 28, 2018

Warning signs

I just finished reading The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen, a taut thriller about a young woman--Vanessa, her ex-husband Richard, and his new love--Emma. The story that unfolds is not at all what you might think it to be—the jealous ex-wife who makes life difficult for her ex and his new love. Rather, Vanessa tries to save Emma from making the same mistake she did. There are lots of reasons for that. The major reason is that Richard is a control freak (as is revealed gradually during the course of the story) with very disturbing character traits. I’d recommend reading the book, not only because it is a decent thriller and a page-turner filled with ‘palpable tension’, but because it brings up uncomfortable issues to which women should pay attention. Those issues should serve as major warning signs when deciding about the future of any romantic relationship.

Whenever I watch rom-com films, I am always surprised by the ‘couple stupidity’ that gets presented as part and parcel of modern relationships. For example, a man and a woman meet, he has his cushy job on Wall Street and is the wealthy bachelor, she is also a professional woman (journalist, artist, or photographer) with less money than he has. One assumes that the women being portrayed have a modicum of intelligence, such that things like the size of engagement rings and having a big house in the suburbs wouldn’t really matter all that much to them, especially in the 2010s. But in Hollywood films, they still do. And the women’s friends ooh and ah over the large diamond ring, or think it’s totally ok that the man purchases a house for him and his fiancé without consulting her. The fiancé has had no say in the matter, but her reaction (and her friends’ reactions) are always the same—oh how wonderful, generous, and thoughtful her soon-to-be husband is. And so on. I don’t know any couples like this in real life. None.

In real life, every woman I know who is married (and still married) went to look at the house/co-op/townhouse she and her husband eventually purchased--together with their husbands. The husbands did not purchase their homes without the wives present. Had any potential husband done this, I would have thought he was disrespectful of my wishes and feelings. I would have been angry about it and he would have heard about it in no uncertain terms. There is nothing about that type of ‘surprise’ that appeals to me in the least. I want to see for myself the house I might want to live in; I don’t want anyone making that decision for me. I want the decision to be a mutual one that is discussed mutually and respectfully.

So this type of behavior in a potential husband should ring many warning bells. If he doesn’t respect and value your opinion enough to go house-hunting together with you, he’s not worth marrying. Any man that insists that you wear your hair a certain way because he wants it that way, is also a man to avoid. Any man that solely uses his nickname for you that you do not like (e.g. in the book, Richard called Vanessa Nellie because she was nervous—think, nervous Nellie), is a man to avoid. Any situation where you have no say in what transpires, no control over your present and future life, is a situation to avoid like the plague. Any man who assumes that you will give up your career once you’re married is a man to avoid, no matter how rich or powerful he is or how well he can take care of you. Much better to be able to take care of yourself, and any chance I get, I tell young women that. Be independent and don’t base your financial security on your husband’s wealth or earning ability. Because somewhere down the road, you never know if he will decide that he wants a new life partner, and then you’re out, hoping for a decent divorce settlement from him. Any man who is unfriendly to your friends, or does not want you to see your closest friends once you’re married, is not worth marrying. Any man who buys you a dog or cat to keep you company, only to take it away from you at a later point (and lie about it—saying it ran away) because he didn’t like that you got too attached to it, is a man to run from. I mean, run, and never look back. None of these behaviors is love; none of these behaviors is indicative that you are loved and respected. These types of men are psychopaths—charming and abusive liars without an ounce of empathy for those whose lives they destroy. Why women would ever have children with these kinds of men is a wonder in itself.

But young women continue to marry the Richards of this world. I have empathy for these women, because it’s not always easy to navigate the murky world of love and romance, and we all make mistakes. I have made them too, because I believed that some men were worth trusting and believing in. How wrong I was. Many women believe men who are overly-romantic and attentive, who call at all hours under the pretense that they are worried about them, truly love them. Many women believe men who tell them that they hope that these women can save them from themselves. But there are two old sayings that are applicable here: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is”, and “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”. I would much rather have my independence and freedom to control my own life and my decisions; I do not want to give the reigns to a man so that he can control me and what I do. I would much rather have one phone call a day from a caring husband rather than ten calls that to outsiders might signal caring, but that are really disguised attempts at stalking, control and lack of trust on the husband’s part.

There might be some women who are content with such constricted lives, but by and large, if one person has nearly complete control over how another person lives her or his life, it’s a situation waiting to explode at a later point. It takes a long time to understand how one might want to live one’s life, and how to deal with the opposite sex, and how to tackle all of the situations that arise during the romantic phase of one’s relationship. Navigating those choppy waters requires common sense, intelligence, and the support of good friends and family. Luckily, most of us have that support, and do not wish to discard it for the Richards of this world.