It’s time again for “Dear Wendy Updates,” a feature where people I’ve given advice to in the past let us know whether they followed the advice and how they’re doing now. Today we have a first! We’ll hear not from a LW, but from the subject of a letter. In this case, it’s the sister of “Questioning my Sister,” who thought her sister was giving bad advice to her teenage sons.”Basically, she is telling them to choose a spouse wisely and treat them like any good husband should, but also to resolve that they can fall out of love with them one day, because eventually anyone you’re with might very well either not care about, or enjoy ‘tearing down/bringing to an end,’ what was once a great love story — something she says from personal experience.” She was concerned that this was too cynical a view and wondered if she should offer a different POV to her nephews. Her sister, the mother of the teenage boys, read the letter posted here – which, by the way, Carolyn Hax also answered in her Washington Post advice column last week – and had this response to share:
Nonetheless, I feel a need to explain why I teach them the way I am doing so.
I was married to my husband for six years, and for a long time he was the person I wanted to spend my life with. Then, I decided I wanted something new. I wasn’t “unhappy” per se, but I wanted to explore. Sex with others, etc… And this could have happened in many marriages for many other reasons, like infidelity or different career locations, but for me, I decided I wanted out. I don’t regret it. Maybe I should feel sorry for him, but I don’t, to be honest. He sees me as irreplaceable, and he’s hurt to have lost me, and maybe I should feel sorry about that given things were lovely once, but I don’t. To some degree, maybe it makes me laugh, a little, because history is replete with men doing the same to women.
With that said, I have sons. I see my ex in pain, and I don’t want my sons to be in pain. But how can I guarantee the women they might be with won’t do the same, or something else won’t go wrong? I can’t. The way I see it, I should be honest. Everyone wants to be loved, sure, and in the short-term a relationship provides that in spades. The longer you go, the chances increase that your partner — the person to whom you have developed an attachment which science has shown triggers the same parts of the brain as addiction — will see you as replaceable/disposable and/or replace/dispose of you. All you can do is take that into account. Try and have a great relationship, with the two of you being wonderful to each other as long as you can swing it. But I want them to tuck it somewhere in their brains when they enter a relationship that their partner one day can be replaced with someone equally good. Because I can only assume from my ex’s woes that unreturned love sucks, and I don’t want them to accidentally end up wanting to be with someone more than is likely to be returned in the long run. If drugs and love trigger the same parts of the brain, I see no reason why moderation in love is less of a good idea than with substances.
I think this is good advice. Sure, it would be nice to find someone who loves you forever and wants nobody else, but it won’t happen. I see no need to pull the wool over their eyes.
– One Person’s Cynic Is Another Person’s Pragmatist
Hi! I hope you aren’t too upset with your sister and that any harm this experience may have had on your relationship in short-lived. I do stand by my advice to your sister to butt out and let you parent your sons as you see fit. I also think that between your cynicism and your ex-husband’s grief and pain over losing you, your sons probably already have pretty strong models of the more devastating part of the love-them-and-lose-them equation. But you’re wrong that this is the only equation available in romantic love, and I would hope that if your sons are lucky to see models of long-term love that look different than the kind of relationship you had with your ex, you wouldn’t try to negate whatever message they might glean from seeing these kinds of models.
In the end, your ex-husband is going to survive his heartbreak just as millions of people before him have survived their own heartbreaks and just like your sons will survive their own potential heartbreaks one day. A key to good parenting, if I may be so bold, isn’t to protect our children from hurt and grief so much as it is to empower them and give them the tools to get through to the other side and to be stronger for the experience. I read something the other day – I think it was part of a graduation speech and now I can’t remember whom to credit – but it went something like: “I wish you just enough pain and grief and hardship and disappointment in life that you will be wiser, more empathetic, more compassionate, and stronger from those experiences.” Heartbreak is just one of many disappointments your sons might experience one day. You cannot protect them from all the pain the world may throw their way, but you can always be a soft place for them to land. It sounds like you really love them, and I bet they know you’ve always got their backs.
If you’re someone I’ve given advice to in the past, I’d love to hear from you, too. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to the original post, and let me know whether you followed the advice and how you’re doing now.
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