I’m in a book group. Most of us are women, a couple are gay men. In the recent election, we all voted for Hillary Clinton. We all thought Hillary would win. When she didn’t, many of us dissolved in shock, devastation, and fear. My husband seems not to quite understand why I am so disturbed about Trump’s win and Clinton’s loss. (He supported Sanders, by the way, though he claims he voted for Hillary in the end.) And I am not the only one in the group to feel as I do about their husbands, it seems. Many of the women who have husbands, though not the two women who have wives, are having this conflict at home. I feel alienated from my husband now—I want him to get how I feel, and I want him to support me.
I sympathize with the sense of alienation you feel, living with someone you think doesn’t share your views. Here’s a story.
Once there was a woman—let’s call her Dori—full of hope and vigor. She had projects she fussed with, though I didn’t see her get far with them. She met an impressive older guy and they got married. The whole town knew about his Grand Project, because he never stopped talking about it in that faux-modest humble-brag way that impressive older guys have. And Dori thought she’d help with his work—she wanted to be part of something great. Over time she came to realize that her husband—let’s call him Ed—wasn’t getting much done with the Grand Project. Even worse, he acted angry that she wanted to help with it! Ed was actually kind of depressed, though like most men he wouldn’t admit it. And his depression made her depressed too. She wanted to feel worthy. Dori had given up her own projects for his Grand Project. Now they were both cranky, and the two of them skulked about Ed’s huge drafty stone house–like silent wraiths. The house was dim. Little light penetrated the windows from outside. Ed was dark. Dori was dark. She felt her own life energy—the humors, the vim of her own body—leaking away. (And we hear absolutely no mention of any sex whatsoever between them, by the way. The brief touch of a dry hand, a bony elbow—that’s it from old Ed.)
Does this sound like some kind of gothic soap opera? Actually, when you read it—because as you may have guessed, Dori and Ed live inside a novel—most readers cringe. “Dori, you idiot! Can’t you see he’s a jerk? Don’t accept him!” And then later—“Dori, get the heck out of there!” But since fictional characters must engage their flaws (because otherwise there would be no story), Dori does marry and stick with Ed.
In the past six months in particular, I have heard from several women in politically disjunctive relationships.
Ellie was hired to manage Brad’s business—and she turned it around. She assessed it financially, expanded marketing, increased profits, built employee loyalty. She worked a lot of unpaid overtime.
Meanwhile she watched Brad making crude sex jokes with his male higher-ups—even mentioning his teenage daughter–and saw him chase women half his age.
One sleety, slushy winter day, Brad dumped on Ellie’s appearance. He sneered at the practical fleece jacket and stumpy boots she had layered on, to make it to work through messy streets and biting wind. She felt demeaned, ugly, emotionally crushed. She told me, “OK, maybe I’m frumpy and overweight and middle-aged. But Brad was standing there, dressed like a slob as usual, while he was raking me over!”
Brad, I said to Ellie, sounds anxious and insecure. Ellie was just the person in the room he felt safe for him to kick. Plus maybe he envied and resented her, a woman, showing she was better at running his business than he was. Ellie bested him, without even realizing it or meaning to. He felt one-down. Ellie was a consummate achiever, yet everything she accomplished, this guy refused to see. Or maybe he did see it, and her successes made him feel small. She couldn’t win.
But Ellie said, I need this job—I can’t quit. I need the money. I have to work. And I love to work! Besides, how many other good positions are there out there for me, a sixty-year-old woman? Ellie was not without emotional resources—she had a strong, loving marriage. But she felt stuck in an abusive relationship she couldn’t leave.
What to do? Sure, if Ellie’s boss does something like this again, she can meet the boss’ eye, present a confident—even reassuring!—smile. She can then respond mildly, brushing off his negative remarks like a piece of lint on the shoulder of one of Hillary Clinton’s snappy pantsuits. But Ellie’s task is not to defend herself to her boss. She has nothing to defend, after all. Her real challenge is to hold to her own value in the face of his undermining, and against her own self-doubt. Ellie needs to define and celebrate her own value, not let her boss define her.
I also heard from Ronda, a twenty-something dancer. She was dating a man she called “a good dude,” and says they shared many interests. They differed on politics, however. Ronda was liberal, a strong Hillary Clinton supporter, and she stuck to her guns in discussions with her boyfriend. Though he held to libertarian ideas, she says she worked to challenge his beliefs for many weeks before the election. But Ronda said, “I was so disappointed when he voted for Gary Johnson!” She felt he was swayed by media lies about Hillary Clinton. Now, though, she said he regrets his vote. She thinks his views are shifting.
Ellie’s boss has no reason to change. Ronda’s boyfriend might.
But back to you, Salt-Seeker.
You say your husband’s response to the election result rankles you. You feel he doesn’t understand something important—about the world, about you. By the way, you said he supported Sanders and you supported Clinton, so did you feel rankled for the entire past year? Did he grumble about the house muttering that Clinton was a “warmongering Wall Street sell-out”? Did you retaliate that Sanders was an “old New Left Socialist Workers Party misogynist”? Also, I’m wondering about any rumblings of discord between you even before last January. It’s hard to believe this rift sprang up suddenly.
What is to be done about this disagreement between you and your husband? Nothing, probably, for the moment. You are living in the same house. So you have a roof over your head and food. Are you in reasonable health? If so, there is no crisis. I know what a life crisis is. This is not one.
We are all simply who we are. And we are here, where we are in our lives now. Most of us are in relationship with people with whom we do not share every feeling, view, belief. Maybe we live with someone who likes “Under My Thumb,” by the Stones, but we really, really hate that song. Maybe our partner who likes it is even a woman.
Not that I trivialize. Though something compelling brought the two of you to live together originally, that was then. What is possible between you now? Is there a flame of connection into which you would like to whisper breath?
Do laundry. Cook. Go for a walk. Clean. Write or draw or sew or build something. Eat together. Or don’t. Just pass in the night, if that feels better. Create and live your own life, Salt-Seeker. That is your task. Not changing your husband. We cannot, after all, change another person. And another thing. It’s a ridiculous, overwrought, filigreed ideology that adult paired relationships should fulfill every one of our emotional and intellectual needs. Many people in the pre-nineteenth-century past, and many in non-Western cultures, would have laughed at that. Some people in the past did not even know their spouses very well. They may have been fine with it (although strictly speaking historians do not know).
Dori wasn’t. But she was a rich idle Victorian with no direction in life. She did not focus on herself. She expected marriage with Ed to magically fulfill her. And Ed, for his part, didn’t see Dori’s value. He didn’t care about her as an equal.
There are programs for people living with addicts. Addiction can be anything—it doesn’t have to involve a substance, like alcohol or heroin. It’s an attachment, and a habit of avoidance of what’s really happening. You see, for some people there’s an addiction aspect to their following a candidate, despite information that the candidate isn’t what they hoped, projected. There is something called cognitive dissonance, and something else called confirmation bias. You can Google. In many cases, a voter’s perception of a candidate says more about the voter than who the candidate really is—his history, qualifications for the job, likelihood of being elected and then having the skills and professional relationships to move forward his agenda. One can’t change addicts—they want to hold tight to their unicorn despite everything. And being around addicts and trying to relate with them makes other people feel crazy. These programs can be helpful in supporting focus on yourself.
It’s possible you may find your intimate path crosses again with your husband, in wonderful ways you cannot predict now. It’s possible that your husband may shift his views. But again, do not especially focus there. Listen to your inner voice and look toward the horizon—your life—and walk in some general direction toward it.
By doing so, you may become a light to others. But first and always, be a light unto yourself.
(And if you want to follow the story of Dori—as well as a woman quite unlike her, Mary, who keeps quite firmly to her truth—you’ll find that in Middlemarch, by George Eliot.)