Saturday, 3 November 2012

Story Out of Britain

A British agony aunt got an letter about the kind of man she has never met in her life, but a lot of us may have, so here is the letter and the reply.

I have a few thoughts. First, I think the reader was right to tell her fiance, who was himself a virgin, that she wasn't one herself. Second, I think she was wrong to lie about the circumstances. Third, I don't think she should have had to go into details. Her past was her past, between her and God and (one hopes) whichever medic checked her out for STDs before she married.

Fourth, I think her husband is being a toad. Fifth, on the other hand, many men feel really creeped out by the idea of the woman they love having slept around, and these feelings of disgust are sometimes uncontrollable. The men may feel miserable that their feelings are so out of control, but short of therapy, I suspect there's not much they can do about it on their own. (Unless everyone he knows shrieking "Man up! Man up!" really works, which I doubt. I am relatively sure that if I were a man, and anyone told me to man up, I would punch him.*) And I think this guy is having a mid-life or maybe an elderly man crisis. Apparently some men get a bit cranky and power-mad when retirement looms.

Sixth, it was incredibly unwise of this woman to talk about the dead past with her gal pal when her husband was in the house. I've listened to married female friends reminisce about ex-lovers or giggle over current crush objects but, let me tell you, it was not when or where their husbands were around.

Bel's advice sounds pretty good to me (except for the threatening letter). Personally, I've been married such a short time that I don't feel at all qualified to advise married women. I think leaving him alone to stew in a bedsit for six months while she carried on with her life as if he were a sulky child stewing in his room is the best way to go. He's not a total creep, I see, as he is still sending financial support.

*I don't know what I would do if I were a man and the person telling me to man up was a woman, since hopefully I would not punch her. I think perhaps I would leave the room and turn up my precious stereo system to 11.


Jessica said...

Bel Mooney is apparently in her late 60s, yet has never met a man who valued virginity before marriage?? really??

Also, I didn't think it was clear what the letter-writer had actually said to her husband, beyond "it was 40 years ago, so what does it matter?" Bel assumed that she had already apologized to her husband, explained that her original lie was based in fear, and asked for forgiveness. I'm not so sure the letter-writer had really done all that, which might help explain her husband's reaction. "You shouldn't be so mad at me!!" is a very different approach from "I'm sorry I hurt you, how can we move forward?"

sciencegirl said...

We also don't know how the girl talk actually sounded -- the wife had not only lied that she'd had only one partner, but that she was incredibly sad about having slept with him at all. If the ladies were having an uproariously good time chatting about old lovers, it would be sound like she was a very different person than she'd claimed to be; someone who relished, rather than regretted, the men she had loved before her husband. That would hurt! He'd feel like a dupe.

What they have to decide now is whether they can move forward -- whether he can forgive her for lying and whether she can forgive him for moving out and being so angry with her for the past. I hope they do.

Anne said...

My comment is not about the story but about Today's Swashbuckler Protector "Sir Robin the Brave". Love it!!!!! What's next, a viral "Hey Girl" series from this little froggie? (hope so!)

Charming Disarray said...
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Charming Disarray said...
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Seraphic said...

I don't know about men's feelings being catered to--I just don't think that men-in-general are as good as consciously feeling them, expressing them and getting rid of them as women are. I'm a John Grey Men-are-From-Mars kind of gal.

This is the second time I have read of such a case. The other letter I read was by a woman who had lost her virginity before she married with a pal of the man she did marry, lied about still being a virgin, bit her lip whenever her husband sighed romantically about how they were virgins together, and decades later the pal "got religion" and told her he was going to tell her husband the truth. Sadly, the religion wasn't Catholicism, so she couldn't get a priest or bishop to tell off the pal. I'm not sure why this guy needed to "confess" because it wasn't about blackmail; maybe he was a secret sadist.

Really, it's better not to lie about these things. Either you marry a guy who does not have serious hangups about sexual pasts or you tell him you're not a virgin and keep your mouth shut on the details.

At any rate, in this case, B.A.'s thought was that the guy had been looking for an excuse to bail, and she unwittingly gave it to him. That may be true. If not, though, my guess is that the guy just needs to sit in his Men-Are-From-Mars cave and grieve whatever it is that he feels he has lost.

Either way, Bel's letter-writer can't really do anything except try to get on with her life. Actually, perhaps she should talk to a therapist because, one thing for sure, she has been abandoned by her husband. It is simply not okay to abandon your wife, unless she is abusing you.

Seraphic said...

Sorry. I left out an important noun. I don't think men are as good as WOMEN in consciously appropriating their feelings, expressing them, dealing with them, getting rid of them, turning them into art, etc.

I don't think it would be very nice for a man to nag at a woman "How come you can't lift as much as me? How come you always make me carry the heavy stuff? And what's with this inability to drink pints of alcohol without getting drunk?" As far as I'm concerned, it's the same deal with feelings. To channel "Men Are From Mars, they aren't so good with articulating. They need to hide and stew.

Seraphic said...

Oh, I also left out the obvious remark that virgins don't have to worry about this kind of crap, which is yet another practical reason not to have sex before or outside marriage, if anyone needs one.

Charming Disarray said...
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Seraphic said...

Online chats on (and presumably) dating websites often feature women saying, in effect, "Oh please like me, men! Please, please, please! I'm not like those rhymes-with-itches on here; I'll agree with whatever you say."

Both the women and men you describe seem incredibly stupid about human nature: the women aren't going to find a husband by sucking up, and the men aren't going to attract confident, quality dames by whining about how awful women are.

There's babying men (sucking up, really), and there's trying to understand where they are coming from (not always easy), and there is also trying to deal with a man who is not perfect and who may even be a bit of a jerk but is one's own husband, whom one married with eyes wide open. That's what this poor woman in Britain is trying to do.

It would be great if there were no men in the world who think women should be hermetically sealed like aspirin bottles until they (the men) get access to them, but this is complicated by a few thousand years of religious traditions (including our own) that teach that sex is only for marriage and so unmarried people ought to be virgins.

I am all for slapping men upside the head and telling them not to treat women like aspirin bottles ("Whoa! Where's the safety seal?) but at the same time, I am also for dealing with the concrete individual where he is, and it would seem that men get more creeped out by the idea of women they love having slept around than women do.

This is, of course, not a universal. For example, I get letters from women who simply refuse to consider a non-virgin male as boyfriend or husband material.

And there are also extremes. I once had a male reader who intimated that he would not marry a widow because she would not be a virgin. That's just crazy. But at the same time, it's his life.

B.A., who is a decent guy without hangups about marrying annulees, obviously, asked me at once, when I told him of Bel's letter, how many men the British woman had slept with in the four years. The woman didn't mention it, but I find it significant that the first question out of B.A.'s mouth was "How many?"

If it had been dozens, says B.A., that would probably indicate some kind of troubled character. Another reason is the more people a woman has slept with the less exclusively intimate it might feel for a guy.

BUT he says he totally understands that there is a double standard at work here. All the same, he thinks that double standard is hardwired into both men and women, for right or wrong. In fact, we know that having multiple sexual partners is both physiologically and psychologically damaging, so maybe it comes from that.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and I think wherever the married guy is now is his cave where he is stewing.

Either that or he is a bastard who'd been longing to leave but needed a way to make it her fault.

MaryJane said...

This is really fascinating. I tend to agree with the aunt's advice only in the sense that the husband probably feels really betrayed because his wife lied, not necessarily because she lied about her virginity. I don't know - if I were married to a man for 40 years, and overheard him reminiscing with an old pal about the good old days, the women he "loved"... a completely different story from what he had told me before proposing... I would be pretty freaked out too, and wondering, "what else did he lie about?"

I'm not in favor of him wanting a divorce... but maybe he just needs some time to process. Like you said, he is still sending money (which for most guys, is a strong indication of wanting to care for a woman they love)... he probably just doesn't know WHAT to do. I don't know if I would classify that as stewing/sulking as much as processing. Then again, we don't really have enough details.

If the situation were reversed, and it was a woman wanting to go to a bedsit (is that British for "hotel"?) because she had found out about her husband lying all those years ago, would we be so hard on her? I tend to think we would be on her side, casting him as the jerk who lied. I could be wrong, I don't know.

[And, can I just add: I like men! I feel like sometimes in the comments they get beat up on a lot, but I really love men and think they are wonderful.]

Seraphic said...

A betsit is a rather economical and plain one-room apartment. I think in North America we would call it a bachelor apartment. It doesn't sound very luxurious or somewhere to take the kind of girls who find 60+ year old men who are still sending their wives housekeeping fascinating.

My guess is that it's a cave for processing in--and have a pre-retirement What-was-my-life-all-about? crisis.

Seraphic said...

Oh, and you're right. It doesn't add to the tone of the blog to have a lot of man-bashing comments. There are many, MANY blogs where women can channel their frustrations with men (and the dumb things some men say under the semi-anonymity of the internet), but I don't want that to be what my blog is about.

Anonymous said...

From a male who checks your blog occasionally (once every month or two), and I know I have at least a few female friends who read it regularly -
"The whole idea of saving yourself until marriage seems to belong to another age — although I do respect the views of those who, for religious reasons, think it’s important."
This sentence jumps out in a particular way. I would say it contradicts itself by speaking of those with honorable intentions in a condescending way, then saying she does respect those to whom she is being condescending.

Moving on, I can't speak specifically without this man, but I would be perfectly fine, though more cautious, in marrying a non-virgin woman. Of course, she couldn't be the type who still follows that life. However, the other issue here is the lie this woman has held for forty years. I'm barely more than half of forty years old, so it's tough to say how I would respond, but you would think a reasonable woman would have told him at some point.

Seraphic said...

Bel Mooney is a British agony aunt, and Christianity doesn't have as much currency in media circles in the UK as it does in the USA or even Canada.

So it doesn't surprise me that Bel, who must have been on the vanguards of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, thinks she doesn't know any men who would prefer to marry virgins. I think she's forgetting the Hindus and Pakistanis in her neighbourhood, although they might be why she put in that "but I respect" qualifier.

There are several interesting issues in the letter. It is a very serious matter to tell a person a lie so that he or she will marry you. In some circumstances, that would be grounds for an annulment.

At the same time, it is incredibly painful for women to be rejected for something that is actually nobody's business but their own. Women's histories do not belong retroactively to our future husbands. I am sympathetic to anyone's fear of being cheated on by someone he or she loves, but premarital sex does not automatically mean that a woman is more likely to be unfaithful.

The tragedy of the situation in the letter is that the couple have had a very happy forty years together and the wife still deeply loves her husband.

Personally, if I were to be widowed and marry a third time (the mind boggles), I couldn't care less if the chap were a virgin or not. I'd be much more concerned about a past or present porn habit, or if he had been unfaithful to anyone ever.

And as for me, I'd be over 40 with two marriages under my belt, so men really worried about comparisons, etc., would simply not go near me, which is fine.

Alisha said...

I sympathize with the guy - the bottom line is that his marriage was based on a lie. No doubt that throws many things into question: whether she really loved him, if she'd lied about other things etc. He made a major life decision based on false information...I'm not unsympathetic to the woman in question, but I am nearly sure the unbending attitude of this person is coming from hurt...

Seraphic said...

Yes and it is clear that their children and friends all going to see him to tell him how unreasonable and stupid he is has not been working.