One common thread I see running through a lot of stories here is that the chump is takes a parental role in the relationship. Gah! This person won’t pay the bills/watch the children/work a job and I must do this and then they resent me for it!
I was completely guilty of being Mommy in my first marriage, and baffled by it, because he was 10 years older than I was and you’d think he would’ve worked out the basics of Adult Responsibility. He had a job he’d held for many years and owned a home, so on first glance he seemed normal enough. But when I was married to him awhile, the guy couldn’t pay bills on time — or at all. (Part of this was OCD, he freaked out if anyone touched his papers, but I learned about his anxiety disorder years into the relationship.) He also couldn’t/wouldn’t clean things.
So not only was I doing the lion’s share of the adult work, I was resented for it. Which made me totally lose respect for him, and pissed me off no end. And he was pissed off… but I could never figure out why. Because I’m organized? (I’m not terribly organized, ask anyone who knows me.) At some point the dynamic dawned on me, like that Miller Lite beer ad (tastes great, less filling) — All the control! None of the responsibility!
To a chump — why would you want control if you weren’t going to be responsible?
Wrong question to a disordered person. The answer is always ” Because you are not the boss of me.”
Now, of course, the healthy thing to do in a relationship like that is speak up. “Uh, we’re both adults here. The mortgage needs to be paid. What’s your plan on that? How should we approach this?”
If the freak is true to type, they’ll feed you some line that they’re going to get around to it. Or the check is in the mail, or some such. And then inevitably we discover… that’s not true. Or they’ll blameshift and tell you you’re a hard ass. Bills, schmills.
So, if you’re not a chump — you’ll connect the dots. This person’s actions demonstrate they don’t give a shit. And I need to act on that. Like consider a divorce, because we don’t share values and I can’t be the only adult here.
If you ARE a chump — you won’t connect the dots or act in your best interest. You’ll accommodate and resent. You’ll be afraid of your sunk costs. You’ll spackle. (Well, I guess child care/bill paying/cooking dinner/working isn’t their thing…) And you’ll arrange your life in such a way that Peter Pan/Petra Pan gets to live in Never Neverland.
Life becomes a game of chicken. Who is going to pay the mortgage? Who is going to care for the children? If you’re a chump, you feel a tremendous amount of anxiety at those things not happening. A disordered person? Little to no adaptive anxiety. They’re cool cucumbers in the face of disaster, mostly because they have you sussed — you’ll take care of it. Of course you will, Chump-o. The chump always caves. The chump needs order over chaos.
And if you’re deeply chumpy, you’ll feel this is your role. You need to be needed. You need to be that guy with his finger in the dyke. The metropolis would drown without you!
But you’ll seethe. There’s no way to keep your finger in the dyke and enjoy other aspects of life. You’re stuck there saving everyone from disaster.
If this sounds like your marriage — you’ve become the Parent, the kind of person who seethes at the immaturity of their roommates. Ever live with a teenager? There’s a reason the wealthier classes send them all off to live in boarding schools, quarantined from polite society — they suck to live with. Between the hormonal drama, the obliviousness to chores, and the feigned helplessness, there isn’t a lot to recommend the experience, except that eventually teenagers grow up.
Peter Pan never grows up.
And Peter Pan never finds you sexy. You don’t live in Never Neverland with Tinkerbell. You live in some drab, gray London and care about life insurance and pruning the garden.
Here you are, smoothing out the chaos, you think they’d recognize your value. Oh, they do — as someone who smoothes out their chaos. But a soul mate? No. You don’t sparkle with fairy dust. You’re not terribly spontaneous or fun.
Yeah, well being a parent doesn’t bring out your best self in a marriage does it? Being a parent doesn’t bring out your best self in child care either. Someone has to be the heavy, if you’re doing it right. But marriage is not supposed to be heavy. You’re supposed to share burdens together with reciprocity and mutual respect.
Peter Pan doesn’t respect Wendy. He just needs her.
If you’re married to someone like this — let the fantasy world have them. Come over to the land of adulthood. There are some nice people here. And we keep our rooms tidy and our bills paid. And the gardens are really well cared for.
This column ran previously. Happy MLK Day!