A reader sent me Hauser’s recent essay in the Paris Review — The Crane Wife. It begins as Hauser has just canceled her wedding and goes ahead days later with a planned birdwatching trip.
The essay skips between whooping cranes and what brought her to this point — not how she left a cheater, but how she tolerated one.
In the year leading up to calling off my wedding, I often cried or yelled or reasoned or pleaded with my fiancé to tell me that he loved me. To be nice to me. To notice things about how I was living.
One particular time, I had put on a favorite red dress for a wedding. I exploded from the bathroom to show him. He stared at his phone. I wanted him to tell me I looked nice, so I shimmied and squeezed his shoulders and said, “You look nice! Tell me I look nice!” He said, “I told you that you looked nice when you wore that dress last summer. It’s reasonable to assume I still think you look nice in it now.”
The devaluing. The corrosive little acts of surrender. The bargaining. She gets it — and she’s got the guts to describe it.
What I learned to do, in my relationship with my fiancé, was to survive on less. At what should have been the breaking point but wasn’t, I learned that he had cheated on me. The woman he’d been sleeping with was a friend of his I’d initially wanted to be friends with, too, but who did not seem to like me, and who he’d gaslit me into being jealous of, and then gaslit me into feeling crazy for being jealous of.
The full course of the gaslighting took a year, so by the time I truly found out what had happened, the infidelity was already a year in the past.
It was new news to me but old news to my fiancé.
Logically, he said, it doesn’t matter anymore.
It had happened a year ago. Why was I getting worked up over ancient history?
I did the mental gymnastics required.
I convinced myself that I was a logical woman who could consider this information about having been cheated on, about his not wearing a condom, and I could separate it from the current reality of our life together.
Why did I need to know that we’d been monogamous? Why did I need to have and discuss inconvenient feelings about this ancient history?
I would not be a woman who needed these things, I decided.
I would need less. And less.
I got very good at this.
And that’s the humiliating part. Worse than the cheating, even before you know about that — what you tolerated to have a fuckwit in your life. Believing somehow you’ve no right to ask for more.
Hauser nails how by trying to not be needy, it results in the worst sort of neediness — keeping an abusive partner.
Even now I hear the words as shameful: Thirsty. Needy. The worst things a woman can be. Some days I still tell myself to take what is offered, because if it isn’t enough, it is I who wants too much. I am ashamed to be writing about this instead of writing about the whooping cranes, or literal famines, or any of the truer needs of the world.
But what I want to tell you is that I left my fiancé when it was almost too late. And I tell people the story of being cheated on because that story is simple. People know how it goes. But it’s harder to tell the story of how I convinced myself I didn’t need what was necessary to survive. How I convinced myself it was my lack of needs that made me worthy of love.
I can only wonder where Hauser’s ex is today, as she publishes in the Paris Review. As her new book, Family of Origin is a #1 best seller on Amazon. Is he offloading a hundred monogrammed cocktail napkins? Recycling his shitty engagement ring on his next victim? Swanning about with loads of unquestioned entitlement?
Chumps — see what happens when you know your worth?
Leave a cheater, gain a life. And maybe some literary awards.