On Sidling

It has been suggested that sidling is an ineluctable trait of men. So, do I even need to change?

May will have to accept that I’ll never be amazingly empathic or good at understanding people and their emotions, but should she just take me as I am – infuriating (to her) habits and all? It would certainly be easier* to not make an effort and just try and get on.

This post attempts to set out my feelings as to why I don’t think this will really do – in doing so I’ll reveal a bit of my life story to explain the context  of my behaviours and where I’ve come from to be in this situation.

May is already unhappy because of the craptitude the universe has thrown at her. My role, as a spouse, should not be add to her burdens by making her unhappy with me too, but to comfort and support where I can. I also feel this is an important part of my identity. It’s scary and difficult having the sort of person I think I am pointed out to be failing to live up to that, but it leaves me a clear choice: accept I’m not a supporting and caring person or become one.

I said in my last post that I have a problem with strong emotions and a reason why. However, I think I need to learn not to react with fear and self-stifling when they occur – just because they are strong doesn’t mean that they are extreme. This I’m hoping will be dealt with by some counselling, which I must confess I have still to arrange.

The other big issue is difficulty letting go and dealing with the other main ‘self identity’ I’ve had since childhood around what constitutes success in life. As a teen I planned by the time I was 35 to have a highly-paid job, own a house and sports car (impractical, I know), have a wife, family, etc. sort of ‘on way to be a millionaire’ type plans. While this is probably common in teenage boys, I think I took it probably a bit too seriously in my binary sort way. Careers advice centered around pay and not really what I would find interesting; luckily there were promising looking ones that I had the skills for – actuarial for example. This was re-affirmed when I got a very good A level exam results in stats – it wasn’t until well into my university course I realised how much I hated stats… bit of a blow. Second blow was not quite getting the degree mark I thought I ought to be able to (this also unfortunately meant that when May didn’t either I wasn’t as supportive and sympathetic as I should have been, probably still being slightly bitter). Third blow was not getting onto the bank graduate scheme – joining a bank on a guaranteed generous income and fast track to management (because of degree mark, I think).

So, I moped out of university into life. May was finishing her degree and actually getting to spend a year abroad**, while I had to pick up temp jobs and then enrolled onto a university sponsored ‘business course’, which I didn’t really enjoy. It was all very humiliating. I eventually found a proper job, very entry level – but at least in a tech industry I enjoyed. Fast forward a couple of years, just when all seemed to be going well (second job by now), a management change above me meant I was forced to apply for my own job – and obviously failed to get it because I was ‘tainted’ by previous management. This fourth and probably biggest blow (to me) meant that May and I had to give up the flat we had moved into together just a few months earlier (don’t miss the flat, but it was the principle of independence). May’s mum and dad extremely kindly offered accommodation within reach of the big city, but it took me six months to secure another job (I think stretching their generosity a little – there were a couple of comments towards the end of our stay – although May’s siblings have since made that look like the briefest of inconvenience). During this time I felt a complete and utter failure and once again humiliated. I was unable to support May in any way because I was stuck in my own misery – just at a crucial time for May, when with her PhD was going pear-shaped.

When I got a job we moved back in together into a flat in the big city. May’s PhD collapsed (through no fault of her own – I squarely blame the tutors) and left her bereft as I was enjoying the excitement of a new job – leaving her rather abandoned (again). We muddled on and I kept on reassuring May that I was happy to support her while she sorted her life out – however, that didn’t seem to happen. May got into to a very depressed state – to a worrying degree (which causes problems now – causing me to be scared of encouraging her giving up her job even though it is really annoying). We did, however, manage to get married during this time – so I carried on supporting May financially. We then started TTC, but in quite a casual way, I certainly wanted kids (and still do), but was in no rush as my plan meant we should really buy a house first. May did get a job (part-time initially), but unfortunately I think this just made my child-hood ambitions kick in again – perhaps we could get on the housing ladder after all, perhaps I could make this work out. So when another part-time opportunity came up at May’s work I persuaded her hard to take it too (me being controlling – a trait I have only just come to acknowledge recently). I supported her through her second post-grad degree and the miscarriage – but this was purely in a practical way, rather than emotional support (seeing the pattern yet?).

It wasn’t quite enough though – despite our joint incomes we were about five years too late to get something affordable in the big city… the housing market in the UK in the last ten year has just been crazy-stupid and I certainly can’t blame that on May, but I still have a feeling of what if/if only… for example, if May had got a job too rather than letting the ill-fated PhD peter out – would this have made a difference? This is not something I’ve consciously considered until now, but I wonder if subconsciously it’s been unfairly festering. I think it chimes with something May said the other day about me holding our relationship to ransom over this “ideal” (quite materialistic one, which May doesn’t really share) of how my (our?) lives should pan out. It really isn’t helpful and needs to change – as I said I need to let go, accept it didn’t happen like the unrealistic grand plan/pipe-dream and appreciate and enjoy what I do have.

So, this brings us up to the start of this Nutsinmay blog. The RPL has been tough, no doubt, but as we were talking about it last night – I have managed to let go. That is easier for me I’m sure, not going through the physical symptoms – but it did lead to May feeling abandoned (again) for a while as I barreled along with the rest of life. We have since come to a better mutual understanding of where we are on this issue, but I think for a time while I was happy to give May the space to grieve I had sort of gone through that very quickly and therefore wasn’t an emotionally supportive as I could have been.

Where does this leave us/me? Well, I don’t think all of this can be sorted by counselling, but there are definitely head issues that need sorting as well as certain behavioural things. The account above shows that where I have failed to live up to reasonable expectations of both May and myself over the years. I’m not proud of it.

Over the years May has suggested and encouraged me to read quite a few self-help books, which I have to a greater or lesser extent tried – a couple even resonated and helped a little – probably giving her false hope. One ‘error’ I feel May possibly made is thinking that she could somehow change me. You can never change someone else, however, you need to engage with them in a way they understand so they realise and accept they need to change themselves. I think this may have finally been achieved.

Change – whatever that ends up being, I don’t know yet – will be slow, I’m sure, (and as I said at the top there are probably some things that will never change) but it has to start somewhere. I think it should start here and now.

May, I’m sorry it’s taken over fifteen years.

*in some ways, at least until the marriage self-destructs.

**not as idyllic as that sounds really, but that’s not my story.


15 responses to “On Sidling

  • valeryvalentina

    Making virtual cups of tea and/or hot milk for both of you. (that’s all I can manage this close to midnight)

  • Twangy

    Good luck indeed. You’re a good writer, you’re thoughtful and courageous. You can do this.

    (For me, I find rewards very useful. Okay, I say to myself, do (alarming, far, far out of comfort zone) x, and then you can do (niiiice, comforting) y. Really works! I am very simple, of course. Disregard as appropriate!)

  • ladyguest

    I just wanted to say that maybe thinking of this as a “male thing” is not helpful. I am a lady who has many of the same problems in my own relationship – he’s the one who wants to talk about feelings and share emotions and my reaction is “wouldn’t you like to pull out my fingernails instead? please?” I am SUCH a sidler. These kind of intense conversations make me physically uncomfortable and extremely anxious. I deal with stress in my own ways and talking about it DOESN’T make me feel better – unlike my fella, who genuinely does feel better once he’s had a good long talk. So what happens is, I always end up feeling shitty either way – like a bad person for not talking, and stressed out and upset when I do engage. Anyway I think it’s a people thing and not a man thing.

    • H

      Oh absolutely these things are a people thing and certainly this response is only claiming to outline how *I* feel and how it effects *our* relationship, because that all I can speak to. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s perspectives though, so thanks for sharing.

  • Anonymous

    A very honest account of a number of difficulties, H.

    I don’t get the impression that you and May are quite like my boyfriend and me, but I thought you may find our story somewhat relevant.

    I am also a bottler-upper while my boyfriend is a more expressive chap. By “more expressive”, I mean more likely to be emotional, to act out, to get angry, to whinge – but I digress. Sometimes I feel that if only my boyfriend dealt with his own stresses and I dealt with mine, life might feel a little easier. In his hour of need, whatever that may be, I feel that my boyfriend needs the whole world to suffer with him. I tend to feel dragged down by my own disappointments, frustrations and anxieties and, on a rare day that I feel unaffected by them, the last thing I want is to be dragged down by his problems, especially as he’s not in the habit of toning down his feelings. He finds my attitude unsympathetic and cruel.

    While it would be helpful to your relationship with May (and to May herself) that you find a way to show (and feel) more empathy, I don’t think you should feel guilty for the way you happen to handle life. I don’t think potential guilt and the subsequent beating up of yourself would help, on top of the existing difficulties and sadnesses you and May are facing. I do believe that some form of counselling might help with the challenge of showing empathy without the fear that, in doing so, you are sabotaging your own equilibrium.

    I hope I haven’t over-stepped the mark in advice-dispensing. Many, many sincere apologies, if I have.

    Very best wishes.


    • H

      Another interesting and different relationship dynamic, fascinating. I don’t think feel the guilt for how I handle emotions directly, but I do feel guilty for where my behaviour upsets May if you see what I mean.

      • Anonymous

        Indeed, a very different dynamic and completely unique to us. I do see what you mean, regarding feelings of guilt.

        Have a good weekend.

  • Verbatim

    This is cool: he said- she said. You should keep doing this! I am impressed with your honesty. It sounds to me that you have spent your life doing things not for their own sake and enjoyment, but because they would get you closer to some exterior “goal” (money, house, status etc.) and are now realizing that things are not working out as you had hoped. You even blame May for not being a superior earner and helping you achieve this goal, which is not hers. You two are not on the same page. It also sounds to me that May is the one thing you’ve chosen in your life for its own sake, and not because it could help you achieve some exterior goal. And it sounds like that old goal is not working out for you, probably largely due to things outside your control. (How many of your friends who are homeowners were able to do it because they got help from their families? I bet it’s most of them!) So I think your problem isn’t sidling, it’s that you’re having a mid-life crisis, and you have a good deal of self-awareness and would do really well in counseling. See a counselor with the attitude that there’s nothing clinically wrong with you, but go seeking help with adjusting your thinking. Maybe counseling will help you to start doing things because they are worthwhile in themselves, not because they are going to “get” you something, and also help you realize that you have more control than you think you do over your life. I wouldn’t be surprised if all this illness you’ve been going through wasn’t connected to this on some level. Good luck!

    • H

      Oh, I’m sure illness and stress brings out and exacerbates these issues. Not sure whether I’m quite at mid-life crisis though – certainly no motorbikes purchases being planned.

  • m

    Hi H — you and May sound like a very sincere couple and I am impressed that you are using this blog as a way to open up communication — brave move! And yeah, not a substitute for therapy but I hope you both find it helpful. (And I guess if you didn’t, you wouldn’t do it). I hope it doesn’t accidentally add more problems than it solves, always a risk, I guess. I feel for both of you, and I am a little sad that you seem so hard on yourself. Ouch, about the number of times you wrote the word, ‘failure,’ in this blog post and about your fears for the marriage — through it all your care for May shines through. It seems that you’ve taken on the traditional provider role that society usually dumps on men, and on top of that, it also sounds that you are taking on more care-taking duties due to May’s physical and possibly emotional health issues for several days a month. This is not so traditional in your culture, I would imagine. No one needs to tell you that is a lot to take on, and it is perhaps not so surprising that you might be a wee bit hesitant to take on the more intense care-taking responsibilities involved with providing for a family. I am not a psychologist and I don’t play one on TV, and for better or worse, I am married to one, so it may be the professional universe I live in influencing my perspective. I hope you and May try to pick up the pace a bit on finding individual therapists, and identifying another therapist together to work with you as a couple. I realize this could mean a significant financial investment at a time when you are planning on how to manage the financial impact of IVF too, so it might not be the easiest step to take.

    I came across a lovely definition of community by Peruvian indigenous people — to nurture and to allow oneself to be nurtured. You two sound like you can find ways to practice this together. Good therapists can help.

    And about that house — bummer about the restrictions of the housing market in Big Cities! My husband and I are about 10 years older than you and May and we were just able to buy a house two years ago after we finally moved out into the hinterlands. We went the distance with the PhDs and have a lot of crushing debt to show for it — no one path is the right way. Best wishes to you both.

  • Everydaystranger

    I am, as ever, thinking of you both. Admitting a change is needed is huge. Enacting it is even bigger.

    You two remain – to me – that couple who without question should always be together in the definition of how people should love each other.

  • wombattwo

    Well, the housing market in London is crazy, elsewhere it isn’t…

    Anyhow, H, reading your post you sound angry. I’m not sure what or who with, but that’s how it comes across to me.

    Several points occur to me – the first being that there is no such thing as a perfect spouse, just as there is no such thing as a perfect person. It isn’t perfection or failure, most of us are shades of grey in between, and our particular shade of grey varies according to the situation. You love May, that much is clear, and you have done your best for her over the years. You are (from what I’ve heard and read) kind, supportive, gentle, romantic, and generally a good guy. You clean up her vomit when she’s been puking into a bowl with period pains (something my husband NEVER does!) You bring her hot water bottles and tea and soup. There are many many things you do which are good. You are not a failure.

    I think that perhaps (and I must admit I only skim-read this book) you and May give and receive love in different ways (talking about the five love languages here). Perhaps you show love via acts of service, i.e. doing nice things for her (see above) whereas she receives love perhaps through words and expression.

    I believe that you can’t change a person and you can’t change the person you are. But you can learn to behave in a way of compromise, which enables you to be what your other half needs. For example – I am naturally argumentative and hot-tempered and slam doors and shout. My husband hates this. He naturally fixes things, and sulks in arguments and won’t engage. So even though my natural impulse is to act like a toddler, I make a conscious effort not to shout and throw strops and talk things through calmly. He, in turn, makes a conscious effort not to try and fix things, but to listen and to try and show me he’s there with me, and also not to sulk. Neither of us manages this perfectly, but he knows I try, and I know he tries, and that’s what counts. It will never be a natural thing, but we’re willing to do it because we love each other.

    There has to be a certain amount of acceptance for the person you are, I think. You have to accept yourself, and May has to accept you. Likewise, May has to accept herself and you need to accept her as she is. I’m a big believer in person-centred counselling and theory, which basically states that growth comes from acceptance. Take the pressure off, take the conditions of worth away (basically a “you must behave like this or I won’t love you” thing) accept, don’t judge, and empathise with the other, and change will occur, because we all, naturally, want to be a) who we really are, deep down inside, and b) the best that we can be. Do google it, I’m sure it can be explained better than I just have.

    The fact is, H, that *this is how it is for you.* This is how it has been. Don’t beat yourself up for how you have acted, because it was this way, and you did what you could at the time. Who can do more?

    There is an aspect of person-centred theory that states that nobody can MAKE you feel anything. You chose how you feel. Take responsibility for your own feelings. I don’t know how much I believe this – there certainly are some manipulative people out there in the world. But to some extent it is true. So when my husband sulks, for example, I have chosen to feel rejected rather than empathise with him and think about how hurt he’s feeling. Bit of a dodgy example, but I think you can get the gist. I haven’t managed this yet by the way, I think it is very hard.

    Anyway, I think that’s the end of my ramblings for now. Take care, both, and have a peaceful weekend.


  • I make no sense just because, OK? OK. « Nuts in May

    […] has to do – that is, sit on the radiator kicking my heels until the paint dries. Meanwhile H’s post has brought all sorts of fascinating people out of the woodwork to comment. It’s gratifying and astonishing. (Apologies if you never thought of yourself as the sort of […]

  • korechronicles

    I have been rather disgracefully missing in action in this discussion because, after mulling it over and over in my head, I felt that elements of your situation are far too close to the bone for me to be able to frame an objective opinion. Or a rational one, come to that.

    And there lies the rub. When a problem presents itself, as they do far, far too often in relationships (and should you wonder about my qualifications – last Saturday marked 39 years of Advanced Marital Problem Confronting followed by Massive Juvenile Sulk over Nothing by Life Partner on Sunday evening. I am not only qualified I have PhD with bar.) we almost always resort to the rational habit of employing our intellect and thinking about said problem. Incessantly. Even when our efforts to determine what the problem is exactly and what to do about it dissolve into Nebulous Matter and float off to another Galaxy we are convinced that if we just redouble our efforts of Thinking! and Talking About It! our superior intellectual talents will out and the problem will be dealt with and all will be rainbows and kittens and Happily Ever After.

    Except,not to get all Jungian at this point, it is the irrational functions of our brain that begin to get all High and Mighty and Hot Under the Collar. And the Irrational, using your feelings and intuition to work things out, has a bit of a reputation in the broader world as Fluffy Bunny Nonsense and Not To Be Relied Upon.

    This is my very Long Winded Way (Do I have any other?) of saying that your sensible, careful but ultimately individual effort to address the long laundry list of relationship crap that is totally different to everyone else’s but vitally connects you both, gets you into trouble for failing to read one another’s mind. As married people should! Because that skill is issued along with every wedding ring sold.

    Infertility and RPL have scraped you both raw. And that has meant May is communicating what she feels and what she is trying to communicate to you makes a great deal of sense to her given the complexity of the situation. And any rational attempts to deal with that communication (and Escaping Per Sidling in the face of fear is perfectly rational) is doomed to fail as it provides a massive target for all that excess emotion that feelings generate.

    I have no answers. I know that intuition is what lets us look at a situation and discover what is possible. And possibilities have the power to transcend or overcome what is. Whatever counselling you do should be working hard to help you find those possiblities. And I wish you both the strength and freedom to create them together.

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