I hesitated before posting this today, because the vast majority of people who surround me; my family, my friends and the readers of this blog, are amazing and supportive and utterly brilliant and this post doesn’t apply to them. It’s just that, sometimes, just sometimes, over the last couple of years I’ve encountered unsolicited opinions and advice that are founded on frequently gender-based assumptions about me, my ability and my motivation that absolutely astound me.
I’ve talked about this before, but one of the things that initially surprised me when I split up with E, was the amount of people who assumed that because I was now on my own, after being in a long-term relationship, I was somehow incapable of knowing how to do the basics in life.
I was offered advice about how to pay bills, how to switch energy companies, how to get estimates for work needing to be done on the house, even advice about how to budget and manage my finances. Whilst I know that this was kindly meant, it’s also rather insulting. I mean seriously – would people have offered this sort of advice to a man in my situation? Of course they wouldn’t.
I suspect that the worst a man could expect would be a bit of patronising advice about how to cook or (in the rare instance he has custody of the kids) how to manage childcare, but nobody would dream of suggesting that a man was so incompetent that he didn’t know how to run a bills account, pay a mortgage or just generally manage his life.
Can you imagine offering a man in his late 40’s who has just come out of a 25 year relationship advice about getting a mortgage? Would you dream of interrupting a man’s account of the expense of having to get the heating fixed with the sage words “you must get at least three estimates you know”? Can you picture the face of a divorced man if his male friend offered him his wife’s advice re how to get insurance quotes?
As well as the unsolicited advice, splitting up with someone seems to have opened the floodgates to a tsunami of unsolicited opinions and questions from people about how I’m dealing with and responding to things and a lot of these seem to be predicated on the fact that I’m female.
There seems to be an assumption, from a minority of people, that I have stubbornly opted into a conflict (because I’m a woman scorned), that I could (should) do more to make things easier for myself and that I could (should) be the better person and step out of this *fight* that they think I’m actively participating in. As a result these people have felt free to offer their personal opinions about my understanding of things – all with a distinctly ‘calm down dear’ vibe to them. They’ve said patronising things to me like “he can’t be all bad” (answer: “I never said he was – although, frankly, at the moment, I’m beginning to wonder”), “at least he sees the boys” (answer: “I never said he didn’t”), and “you know, you do have to work together as parents for the sake of your kids” (answer: “I’ve been trying to do exactly that for the last two fucking years”), they’ve even asked “have you considered mediation” (answer: *fml*).
I’ve now been asked “have you ever considered just talking to E face to face?”, so many times that every time I hear it I want to slam my face into a wall. It’s like asking someone suffering from infertility “have you considered adoption?”. I answer politely, but the unspoken answer rampaging round my head is, “of course I fucking have, in fact, I’ve thought of nothing else for the last two fucking years, but, short of kidnapping E and tying him to a chair, I can’t make it happen.”
This deeply flawed assumption – that I am making life as difficult as possible for E and I really should back down – leads to polite suggestions that I’m interpreting everything E does negatively, or comments along the lines of, because I’m hurt, I’m blowing everything up out of all proportion and that E can’t possibly be acting as maliciously as it feels he is (answer: “I really, really, hope this is true, nobody wants E to be decent about all of this more than me”) .
The strangest conjecture that I’ve encountered is so far though is that I’m not selling the house because I’m getting a (distinctly female) bitchy kick out of making things as difficult as possible for E (answer: “all I want is peace and financial security for the kids and I, all I want it for this to be over so that I can live the rest of my life with as little to do with E as possible”). I’m really not deliberately making this difficult for E, I’ve told him I’ll sell if need be, I’ve had the house valued, I have quotes from (three) removal companies, (three) solicitors and (three) estate agents (he knows this). The only reason nothing is happening is because E seems to have gone to ground.
In fact, the only reasonable question I’ve been asked (and it’s one I also ask myself every day) is: “why don’t you just put the house on the market and go back to E when you’ve had an offer?” It must seem incomprehensible to everyone that, with the financial difficulties I’m having, I haven’t put the house on the market yet. The answer to this is, “I consider this every single day”. The simple fact of the matter is that is this is something I may have no choice but to do, and it’s something I will do if I have to, but it’s a last resort. All I want to do is at least try to reach a grown-up agreement with E before I resort to this.
The thing that gets me most about this, is that the same minority of people who assumed I was incapable of doing the basics of running a house and looking after my finances (because I’m a woman) are the ones who think also I’m making life more difficult for myself (presumably also because I’m a woman – emotions, drama and all that) and that, despite the fact that it is E who has created this mess, and caused all of the hurt, that it is somehow now my responsibility to fix it for the sake of the kids (again, because I’m a woman). All of this seems to take any responsibility away from E, and all of it ignores the fact that I’m desperately trying to communicate with him.
Vitally, all of this also ignores the fact that I’m a grown adult who has thought absolutely everything through, considered absolutely every option, and has the sense to ask for advice and opinions when and if I need them.