When I met my husband, he was a senior in college and in ROTC. Other than his uniforms, his clothes were few and almost worn out. Both his parents were professionals in decent paying jobs, his only sister had already left home and had a good job, and there was only one brother still living at home in school. Yet I noticed that my husband was always broke (always hungry), wore only raggy clothes and underwear, all his socks had holes, and I wondered why his parents didn’t at least subsidize him with food packages. This was just foreign to me.
Being the early me, I didn’t ask right away. I was sensitive to embarrassing him or bringing up a difficult subject and causing him emotional pain. Little did I know…
Shortly after the wedding, I broached the subject one day. By this time, I’d seen his parents house, seen how well they lived and dressed, knew they often ate out, and that they’d taken a trip to Europe just a couple days after we got married. These were people who could at least have bought their son underwear and socks and food while he was going to school. I asked him why they never gave him more basic support, and why he’d never asked for it.
The young man who so often responded to questions with a strange confused look as though he hadn’t just heard me, instead looked at me directly and without hesitating replied, “Because it wasn’t worth paying the price.”
Paying the price? I was confused. “What do you mean?” I asked.
He said, “With my parents, everything comes with a price. Everything is conditional. I’d rather not get anything from them than to deal with that.”
I know I just stared at him in a confused way, and that seemed to irritate him. “PJ, my parents don’t just ‘give’ me something without expecting something.”
Then he changed the subject, and I let it go, but I didn’t forget because it was bothersome.
After a few decades of being married to him, now I understand. This is why whenever he’s behaving well, I’m never truly entirely relaxed. When he’s doing something nice, I don’t think he’s plotting to use it against me. But something inside of me never relaxes, because I’ve learned that at some future time when he’s upset, I’m going to be reminded of what he did ‘for me’. It’s not truly just given. It’s owed.
He might feel guilty about something, at least guilty in the surface way that things seem to bother him. Guilt often looks like he’s irritable and distant. He’ll still ‘do’ and when he’s done enough, the guilt turns more easily to self-pity and then resentment.
He might be in a good mood, and doing things that will actually be something I care about. (This is more rare.) I’m still aware that he might behave badly or neglect me sometime sooner than later, but this is when I’m most willing to shrug and pay the price later. At least I’m getting something out of it temporarily.
With a passive aggressive busyaholic man, giving and ‘doing’ is also used to remind themselves, you, and the world what a great guy they are. It means that they’re too busy to have a relationship. It means a ready excuse if their misdeeds are noticed or brought up. It means they’re misunderstood and unappreciated as a way of life.
Passive aggressive men pay a huge price. The price is the loss of intimacy that would embrace them. Respect that would benefit them. Trust, affection, and relationship are lost as part of the price they pay to remain a creature in faux control that doesn’t need anyone.
Oh, and that trip to Europe that his parents took just a couple days after our wedding? They’d just given us a rehearsal dinner. They’d generously invited many more people to this than the short list that I’d given them. Other than that, my husband and I took out a loan to pay entirely for our thrift wedding. I carried three roses instead of a bouquet, the bridesmaids had their dresses sewn, we had the technical school make the cake and food, and rented space from a private school for the reception instead of a hotel. I had a fixed budget and calculated every cost. I thought it was so nice of his parents to pay for that big rehearsal dinner and invite so many of our family and friends.
Except guess what? They didn’t pay for it. Even that had a price for us, but I didn’t know it at the time. Years later, one of my cousins called me and said that she couldn’t stand it anymore and finally needed to speak up about something. She couldn’t believe I was so ungrateful to her mother (my aunt) and our other aunt for being so generous to me, and I’d never even thanked them.
Thanked my aunts? For what?
The two aunts had each given $250. and handed the total of $500. (a lot of money back then!) to my future mother-in-law to give us to help defray the costs of our wedding. We never saw it, and we were never told about it. I was shocked and so embarrassed. I called my aunts in turn, hardly knowing how to explain, but telling them the truth, and thanking them over a decade later for their generosity. I should have raised h-e-double-l with his parents, but I didn’t at the time. I think I didn’t want it to backlash on my husband and kids.
The stuff I wished I’d known and understood before I ever married. Everything has a price with him and his family.