Advice: Unconventional Wisdom
Questions and answers on calling it quits and the word "love."
By Hara Estroff Marano published October 26, 2004 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
Not All Men Have Testosterone Poisoning
In 1976, at 28, I married my star Yoga student, a very bright, very competent, adored and revered primary school teacher who has a basic need (and trained competence) to organize and run all around her. Families have actually chosen homes in her school area so that their children could enter school through Melinda's class; she's that good. Three years later I was so exhausted with being covertly directed, organized, and disparaged that I sought advice from a marriage councilor. I finally got Melinda to accompany me only by threatening to leave. Over the next 22 years, we have had three able councilors-all women who each eventually told us to separate. Melinda blamed; I needed to believe that eventually love would conquer all. My glass is always half full, Melinda's is always half empty.
July 2002 we separated, my choice. I finally just plain gave up on a life without reward. Neither of us likes to give up; you might call us stubborn. I have always wanted marriage to be about sharing and growth; the last thing I am is controlling. I'm still over there twice a day to walk my 10-year-old daughter to school and to read to her at night. But I must say leaving was the best thing. Melinda and I get on now far better than ever before, I think partially because I strive to keep her personally at arm's length, and partially because I understand better why she is like she is. It's her personality.
Frequently I read in your column letters that ask, "Why do I keep picking controlling men." Or "I just read with much interest the article, 'Why Does my Ex-Boyfriend Keep Coming Back?' I am going through a similar experience..." Most self-help books are good at describing problems; very few offer real insight or real tools, let alone solutions. May I recommend to your readers a most empowering book, Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them: When Loving Hurts And You Don't Know Why, by Susan Forward. Of course, I had to transpose genders while reading, but it was very surprising (and sometimes unsettling) to find on its' pages private conversations that Melinda and I had shared.
To those who are about to marry: If you have even the slightest pause or the most remote concern over any of your beloved's words, actions, or character, especially if he/she wants to speed along your nuptials, read this book first. I wish it had been available to me before we married. I enjoy your column, Hara.
When Love Is a Four-Letter Word
Love is a word that is used far too often in our society. People are always claiming to love one another. After watching from afar, I have a hard time believing that these people even understand what the word means. I have been in a relationship for over two years. It is a very caring and stable relationship. We both care deeply and respect one another. Neither of us has used the word "love" yet. In the past we have both been hurt and betrayed by that word. Is it healthy to have a caring monogamous relationship without the "L" word being involved.
Love demonstrated is always at least as precious as love declared. As the old saw says, actions speak louder than words. There's no one timetable by which a couple must make specific declarations of love. Some people are more comfortable talking and some more comfortable doing, although their feelings are intact.
However, that other people misuse words should not enter into your love life. Other people's liberties should not provide you with an excuse for withholding endearments if they truly represent your feelings. You wouldn't forego dinner just because some people overeat, would you? You wouldn't avoid saving money just because some other people throw money around, I presume.
What matters is whether you have a way to communicate the true feelings that you have. Further, since relationships work well only when they are completely mutual, it's important that you both be equally comfortable with feelings being unspoken, that you share the feelings, and that you feel equally secure in the relationship. Hopefully, words are not being withheld out of fear of being hurt. That would suggest that one or both of you is still under the sway of an old relationship and not fully secure in the present one. And hopefully neither of believes that verbalizing feelings somehow changes the relationship.
Still, few words, spoken sincerely, have the power of "I love you." They can be transformative, and there are times when only words will do. So at some point you might want to consider it a worthy goal to develop expressiveness of word as well as of deed.