Advice: Relationship Q&A

Hara Estroff Marano answers feedback on her advice about kissing Mr. Right goodbye.

By Hara Estroff Marano, published on January 7, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

I am taking the liberty of condensing three intelligent and
impassioned letters that expressed “shock” at my response to
"Can I Get Mr. Wonderful Back?" They all raise issues worthy of
discussion.


It seemed as if the writer was being attacked for feeling
lonely. There is no crime in wanting some attention for yourself. This
woman should not be berated for being true to herself. Is she is
regretting her actions now? Of course; it's normal for her to question
herself over the loss of a long relationship. Maybe better "grown up"
advice would be for her to look past her momentary loneliness at all the
reasons she wanted out of the relationship and to go from
there—pursue him or move on.


It would have been more constructive to explain how men cope
with multiple role strain and depression, while validating her need to
feel as if she was a part of his life. Perhaps putting things in
perspective for her while offering recommendations for how she might
become involved in helping him to cope with his sister and father would
have offered her some options. After all, women too frequently (as you
have said yourself) put their needs on the back burner. If, indeed, her
transgression was synonymous with infidelity and marriages sometimes
survive infidelity, is it not possible that this couple (with some
guidance) could salvage a friendship?


It seems that 'Mr. Wonderful' expected too much from this
woman, and she did the right thing for herself by getting out. My husband
has children from another marriage who were not nice to me at all, and
sickly parents that he needed to take care of. But all through this, he
was always attentive to me, which in turn, made me more than happy to go
out of my way for him and his family. "Mr. Wonderful" seems to treat this
woman like a piece of furniture. If he was so quick to move out, it is
obvious that he had no interest in working on the
relationship.

Definitely, women are too often taught to suppress their feelings
and to service the men in their lives, which only breeds resentment on
the part of women and lack of gratitude on the part of men. But I chose
to address a matter that in my view overrides either individual—the
couple relationship. The writer confessed she had no little idea how
relationships worked.

The implicit understanding in a relationship is that each will be
there for the other in a time of crisis, that her time of need will come
at some point and she could expect that he then would be the one to give
100 percent. It wouldn’t be a matter of servicing him; he would
give when her time arose to take. A crisis for one partner is not the
time for the other to be “true to herself.” It’s a time
to pull together; the relationship comes first.

Could Mr. Wonderful have been more attentive? Probably. Could he
have coped better with stress? Perhaps. Everyone’s coping style is
different. But that’s not the core issue at a time of
crisis.

The fly in the ointment—why else would she even have brought
it up—was feeling rejected by the son, on top of feeling unneeded
by her partner. That’s a double whammy of rejection, which she took
personally when it was strictly situational. Rejection from others is
especially hard to endure when it’s in your own home.

But it is thoroughly unrealistic to expect gratitude or even
cooperation from non-stepchildren who didn’t ask for their
parents’ divorce, who are probably reeling from the changes in
their life (parental separation, moving to a new home, living on the
sufferance of a new person they didn’t ask to be in their life) and
who have no idea how long the current (nonmarital) relationship will
last. The love and respect of a stepchild often has to be won over time.
Those who choose such relationships would be wise to educate themselves
to the realities of stepparenting so they do not continually frustrate
themselves through misplaced expectations and so that they equip
themselves with workable strategies for cooperative living.

Could a relationship be salvaged? Possibly, with help. But since
she was the one who ruptured the trust, it is up to him to decide whether
he wants to, or can, forgive. It may have been such a core violation of
his expectations that he feels it impossible to regrow trust.

I still think a heartfelt apology on her part is the first step
towards the possibility of a continued relationship of any kind.

I agree with all of you that coming down so strongly on the side of
the relationship may have led me to treat her failure a bit
harshly.