Wow, in all of my Doper experience, I never thought I’d start one of these “personal business threads.” But here I am, sharing this stuff with people I don’t know, but people who are pretty wise and forward-thinking. I actually wonder if I’ll be able to finish/publish this thread… we’ll see.
I’ve been married for almost 8 years. My SO and I have been together for many years - back to college. I’m pretty social and have tons of meaningful relationships with lots of people, everywhere I’ve ever been (HS, college, work, grad school) but never dated anyone else seriously after HS besides my SO. My SO is rather different. She’s smart and respectable but has very few friends. She’s friends with the people she works with who are all very nice people but I wouldn’t say close. Most of our mutual friends are friends of mine that she’s friendly with, and as we’ve been together for so long my friends are always friendly and inclusive. We’re at a point where a lot of friends are married as well so that makes sense.
My SO has some really strange habits/behaviors - and I say this trying to be as fair as possible. For instance, we’re having a horrible row right now (she’s in bed and I’m looking at the couch/office floor for the night). Here’s how it happened:
SO wears glasses. Problem is, she’s not careful with them. Had them for many years and often falls asleep in them (I’ve removed them as she sleeps many times). They’re bent a bit and while I’ve been able to bend 'em back in to shape more or less, they’re needing replacing, methinks. There are more stylish and modern styles she could wear.
I also wear glasses, and have a long history of being dissatisfied with them. Pinching my nose, uncomfortable, sliding off my face… but a friend convinced me to go to a “eyewear boutique” instead of Lenscrafters. And you know what? I found a wonderful pair that I really like, almost perfect, and the shop is really good about adjusting them - great service. They cost a lot more than I usually pay but as I wear glasses for years I thought it was a wise investment. For months I’ve been getting compliments about them.
I thought a certificate for glasses at this shop would be a wonderful gift for her birthday/anniversary (fall in the same week). However, SO is very… careful with money, should we say. She’d never go in a store like this because of the fact it costs more than Sears and those types of places. So I needed a GC that was “cashless” - sort of “go to the store, pick what you like, and everything will be taken care of.” I talked to the manager about this and he was very helpful - basically said they’d back off, give her time to look, and not mention prices and I could handle the financial part later.
I told SO I had a surprise for the anniversary and to meet me near the shop after work - we walked over, went inside, and I said, “Why don’t you try some of these on?” SO tries on pairs, finds fault with all of them and so on, but at least is looking them over. The staff is sort of aggressive in the store so I sought out an employee, explained the situation, and asked him to call the manager (as he told me to) so he would understand how we’d handle the transaction. SO is eyeing me out of the corner of her eye, and says that she doesn’t want to buy anything, that she doesn’t see anything she likes (after looking at one little section of the rather expansive store).
As you might imagine this is SOP - if money is involved all bets are usually off. I don’t want a fight or play “this is why you should consider a new pair of glasses.” I tell the employee, “Right now isn’t a good time - we should probably come back,” and SO and I leave the store. I’m seething but silent. Damn it, I live with SO, I think carefully about apt, useful gifts she needs or might want, and I only do “gifts” like this at the holidays and this time of the year. Furthermore I went to efforts to make it as “easy” for her - no need to see the cost, just pick what you want, let your taste dictate what you want instead of the price tag.
SO asks “what’s wrong.” (Like it isn’t obvious.) I state that I’m upset because I was trying to give a gift and she didn’t even give it a chance - I mean, if she looked around for a while and decided that the place didn’t have what she wanted and we left, I’d wouldn’t mind. But the fact she leapt to “I don’t want to buy anything” annoyed me. She wasn’t going to “buy anything” - if there was going to be buying I would take care of it. SO then said the old glasses were fine… and I told her that actually, they’d taken a beating over the years, and as a professional, she would look much better in a newer set of frames. She responded “No one else thinks there’s anything wrong with them” - and I say, if you’re not particularly close to people, it’s not something you usually get to hear. If you asked them, do you think I should get new specs, they might gently suggest that that would be a nice idea. Then SO says the selection is limited - my response was well, you didn’t really look around a lot. And because they are a boutique they can get almost anything you want. SO then says, well maybe I can look at Sears… and I find myself in the familiar spot. Hey, this is a great place, why not try something a little fancier (and a little higher quality) for once. It’s apparent to me though that this is about money (again).
I should point out that we have no consumer debt. We rent. Car is a old beater but paid for. I just have grad student loans and we save like mad. We have a LOT of money saved up - easily over a year’s salary for both of us - that stays constant because we don’t spend much - no movies, booze, partying, fancy shopping, and that kind of thing (though I do all of those things in moderation and like the technology stuff). No kids. Both of us came from modest households and while we weren’t poor, money was always tight - and our parents haven’t always been the most prudent with their finances. We of course are careful because of this. I had a sizable consumer debt when I was much younger, about 12 years ago when I was just out of college and making very little money. I got counseling, got out of debt by myself by sticking to a budget, and now have a very high credit rating - investments in 401ks for both of us and so on. So it isn’t as if we are scaping by to make ends meet.
But SO is parsimonious to a extreme level. I don’t have a problem with store brand stuff like toilet paper and tissue, and some of her money-saving tips rub off on me. But I like my name-brand cereal (while she will often by the generic equivalent - which I won’t eat). We’ve both started thickening a little, and so I joined a gym very close by. It’s about $60/month, and there are cheaper gyms elsewhere - but traffic and parking in our area is horrible, and I figure the stress and time I save by going to a place nearby is worth it. SO came on the tour with me, and liked all the stuff there - except the price. Didn’t sign up, although there was a really great special going on when I did. Bang goes an opportunity to do something outside the house together. When we were on vacation recently, SO went on and on about the gym in the hotel and the pool - and of course I said, “We have the same equipment at the gym at home - if you’re interested and want to get a regimen why don’t you join?” She of course had a litany of reasons (too many people watching, tired when I come home) but it was clear that if the gym was free she’d go.
I’m the first to admit to being a little on the cheap side (wearing sneakers that I’ve had for about 7 years) and I’m not above using coupons when I shop and so forth. But I’ve noticed the tendency in a market economy for goods and services to cost a little more when they are of superior quality. In other words, I love a bargain, but I value quality and integrity more. My car is a beater but it is still running decently after 15 years - that’s why I bought a more expensive model when it was new. In short, looking for the cheapest deal is an example of being penny wise and pound foolish at times. I buy high-quality shoes and shirts because they a) look better and b) last longer. Trust me, it took me a while to learn this lesson but I get the importance of quality - which guides my purchasing decisions.
SO is always looking for the cheap way out, though I admit after a particularly skeevy motel stay our accomodations are usually good to excellent on vacations. But now I get asked, “Are you hungry? I’m okay until dinner. Do you want lunch?” when we go on vacation. I eat twice a day, every day. Why would that change, especially when we’re visiting somewhere new (for me, the highlight of travel is trying new food!)?
It would be hard enough dealing with this if it were simply a quirk that SO understood as being a little weird and hard to deal with. But SO thinks there’s justification and I’m being a snob (even though I think paying big $$$ for a purse is dumb, for example, and I’m usually in a pair of Gap jeans or shorts from the outlet). Essentially, the discussions we have on the issue are very unsatisfying - usually making me the problem and her ignoring the fact that a) I am smart with money and don’t believe in spending for spending’s sake and b) for a birthday/anniversary you might expect someone to want to give a nice gift. She’s rejected gifts I’ve given before - even ones she put on a list for Christmas - and I find that very hurtful, even if it’s something minor. If it’s the wrong size or color I understand taking it back, but to take it back and get cash or credit back (she doesn’t keep it, she gives it to me usually) kind of says “I don’t want your gift.”
Thing is, she’ll bitch about a purchase (computer, TV, laptop) for the house or for herself but a week later, she’ll use the thing with no problem. A few years back I told her I was getting her a laptop (tired of her using mine and complaining about how hard Macs were to use). She asked me to cancel the order but I refused. When she finished grad school, she finished it using that computer (and it meant that there was no waiting to use the computer or the lab on campus). It’s fair to say that it is one of her most used items.
A few months ago I got a new laptop and it came with an iPod mini - I already had one, so I gave it to SO. It sat on the table for several months until I threatened to give it to someone else - and then she started to use it, and got some enjoyment out of it. I notice she doesn’t use it that much anymore even though she has a 45 minute commute on a bus to work. Before I gave her the iPod she wanted to use my antiquated 128MB mp3 player… which made no sense to me.
Anyway, for these reasons, and the horrible argument we had this entire evening, I am seriously considering divorce. I hate that this is a continual issue, I hate that SO always ends up twisting the discussion into irrelevant stuff and that I spend so much time pissed off and annoyed, and I hate the idea that if we have a child this kind of stuff is in the picture. I know I have hang-ups about money but I want our child to grow up not afraid of money, able to respect it but not hoard or spend it like water - so I force myself to “grow up” and confront my financial issues instead of doing the same unexamined stuff. I think SO is not willing to analyze and perhaps even modify these behavior for the good of the relationship and for the good of a child. SO will do anything - purposely attacking me, straying off topic, pretending to be “too tired” to talk about her behavior - but avoids discussing the real issue - why do you have such a hard time spending money, even for a good cause? For example, SO will never dip into her pocket for a charity or a fundraiser but probably would do community service.
I’m really bitter and frustrated. I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who has gift-giving occasions turn into arguments and harsh words. I certainly love SO but it almost seems abstract because the day-to-day reality is frustration. SO lives in a reality where no-one else’s opinions matter, and if one dares to disagree with her they are either a) jealous or b) trying to put someone down. I am so down and I know normally in a few days we’d reconcile and continue until the next issue comes up. I’m tired of that way of living. SO’s favorite saying is that I’m taking out stress from work on school on her - in actuality, I love my school and work and I take on challenges willingly. The real frustration in my life comes from disagreements and arguments. I’m successful in those realms in SPITE of what happens at home, not because of it.
We tried counseling years ago but it went really poorly. I felt counselor wanted to blame me for everything - I think she was of the “blame the man” mentality. While I know I’m not perfect it seemed way out of balance. We’ve had one-off meetings with counselors and that seemed to go okay but SO is of the opinion that counseling indicates that there’s something wrong with you. I’m sure it’s cultural, I used to have the same hang-ups, but I’ve talked to counselors as an adult and I think it is really useful. I think SO is scared of a lot of things - she used to be really OCD (undiagnosed, but really bizarre repetitive behaviors about locks, doors, that kind of stuff) but she’s much better now.
SO had a tough childhood - no physical abuse but a lot of neglect, especially from dad, who certainly didn’t hold up good examples of expressiveness or fidelity. SO claims “she’s dealt with it” through reflection and prayer but I don’t think this is the case. She distrusts people more or less instinctively, while I consider myself street smart but still trusting of people generally. I think she needs to seek out counseling individually and we need to seek out counseling as a couple, but she’d never agree to it. I will probably seek out counseling for myself just because I can’t possibly burden my friends and family with this anymore.
Maybe some of you have dealt with relationships like this before and have advice for me. Or you can help me see the assumptions or problems I’m causing, because I really don’t see how I’m creating a majority of the difficulty in this household. I know I am quite self-critical and at times I am critical of SO, but I have really cut back on that behavior. For instance, I used to strongly suggest that SO style her beautiful hair (she used to wear it in a really unflattering manner) - but eventually I stopped and a co-worker made it clear to her that she needed to do something with it, and she more or less has a nice, manageable style. I felt that if she had close friends they would have made the suggestion as well, but I’m the bad guy because I actually present reality instead of polite conversation and interactions that come with people you don’t really know. I realize that and back off quite a bit nowadays.
I could go on and on and I appreciate anyone who even gives this a cursory read or skim… apologize for the extreme length, but I’m really hurting and I think writing this has helped a bit. Advise away!