How to put blog comments to good use


I don't usually write about my life in real time, because the difference between a blog post than reads like a diary entry and a blog post that someone would want to read is usually just time passing.

So time passing means that even though I get a ton of comments, I do not usually run my life based on the comments section. But in the last week I have been particularly lost, and particularly inundated by timely comments. On top of that, I know it seems like I can tell anyone anything, but I'm not actually like that. I don't understand the normal give and take of conversation.

I don't have friends, which is typical for someone with Asperger's Syndrome. I mean, I have friends, but it's not normal. Like, I know some people call their friends a lot. My two best friends are not in Madison, and I call them to say hi once every three months. At most. The second best friend doesn't even know she's my second-best friends. She'd probably be horrified to hear it. I'm probably her twentieth best friend.

(I am the type who has a significant other and they are my friend. I am a person who should be married. I like being married because I want a friend and that's really the only way I know how to do it.)

So I didn't tell anyone I was getting married. I wrote it on my blog. And friends who follow the blog wrote to me to congratulate me.

Ryan Paugh—who is my harbinger for good social skills and also my universal example of someone who I like and is nice to me but I don't know if he is a friend or not—called me the day I blogged about getting married. He said congratulations. He told me I should have told people at work. He told me it's weird that he heard about my engagement from the two people in his life who follow my blog closest: his girlfriend and his mom.

I told him I didn't know how to tell people. I feel too weird telling people stuff about me because I think, why would they care? It's so different on a blog. If you don't care, you can just type in a new URL. But if I'm standing in front of you and you don't care, I won't even know. Like many people with Asperger’s, I don't know how to tell.

So I have told only one person in the non-blog world that the farmer called off the engagement. Which means I'm definitely short on feedback. But, one of my strengths is asking questions and getting feedback.

So, I bridged the feedback gap by running my life based on the comments section. Here's how I did it

1. I paid close attention to why some people completely missed the boat.
There were a few comments that were very harsh, against me, and they were that way because the people didn't have the whole story. I considered deleting some of those comments. Then I wrote a response instead. Then I deleted the comments and the response. I never delete comments like that. But in this case, the process helped me to understand that I did not have the story straight in my head. Here's the missing part (from my missing response to the missing comments):

The farmer’s lawyer recommended that the farmer threaten to leave the farm in order to get an irrevocable inheritance. I wanted to stay at the farm he has now, and not leave.

And, I suggested that things would be easier if the farmer worked for cash, as he had been doing, and not worry about the land. And the farmer and the lawyer said no. It had to be the land.

So the farmer told me that I need to explain to his parents why I will have no security if they can revoke his inheritance at any time. Because with that arrangement, my behavior is always being tested. The farmer told me that if they still didn’t want to give him an irrevocable inheritance, then he’d leave with me.

I told them that, but, in the conversation it became clear, as the farmer distanced himself from me, that he wouldn’t leave. But I had already given the ultimatium.

2. I read the comments from farm families and gave them extra weight.
Some of those comments explained to me why farmers never leave their land. I didn't know this, because the farmer was telling me he could leave. I see why he was hoping he could leave, and I see now why he can't.

There were lots of people who told me that the family was insane and that the guy should always choose me before the farm but I decided that if you want to live on a farm, you have to live by those values, so I should go with what the farm family comments told me.

3. I gave special weight to people who said things I hadn't thought of.
Especially when I could tell that I was acting out of fear. People wrote that I was assuming the worst, which is true. And I don't want to be that kind of person. And people wrote that I've always been a risk taker, so I should take a risk.

This seemed true. I felt like I had been acting out of fear. And I didn't want that.

So I told the farmer that I'd move to the farm under whatever circumstances he wanted.

But, as you can imagine, it was too late. He didn't want to talk about it.

4. I paid attention to the comments about systems.
This comment, in particular, made me think about how people in relationships feed off each other. You want it to be that each person makes the other better. The farmer and I had that. But we had the other way, too.

I got scared and gave him ultimatums. He got scared and dumped me. And then we both got more scared and did the cycle again. Until, in the end, everything was based in fear.

So this is what I learned in the comments section: I need to not be so fearful. I think there are a lot of ways to do this. There are many ways to understand fear.

But that's not what I'm writing about here. What I'm writing about is how to take advice, and how to know what advice is good advice.

If you're lucky, you get tons of advice in your life. And if you're normal, only a small percentage of it is good. The key is to be able to tune out what's not right and to act on what is right, and take responsibility for fixing the roadblocks to doing better next time.

You know this. We all know this. But, like all things that are hard to do, if one more person is reminding you to do it, you're more likely to get it done.

And P.S. Thank you for all the great comments!

114 replies
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  1. M
    M says:

    I just wanted to validate you. While I’m all for not making decisions in life based out of fear, you have a higher priority than your relationship, and that is providing your children. It’s not fair their well-being your tolerance for risk needs to be a lower than someone without children. It’s hard for them now. Think about how much more difficult it would have been had you actually moved out the farm and then had this happen. You did the right thing by drawing the line where you did.

    • Kay Lorraine
      Kay Lorraine says:

      I cannot help but agree with M that you are brave not to make decisions out of fear. It’s easy to get sucked into that hole and hard to climb back out.

      That said, I worry that you believe that your problems with the farmer (and his parents) is the result of your having Asperger’s Syndrome. Penelope, most of us don’t have Asperger’s and yet we all have problems. Particularly in relationships. Here you have the farmer’s parents who are judgemental (or protective, depending on how you look at it). You have a lawyer who recommended that the farmer issue an ultimatum (which one should never do unless they are prepared to carry it out) and then the farmer put the onus of the ultimatum on you. That’s not OK under any circumstances. It may be understandable that he wanted to have his cake and eat it too (don’t we all!), but that doesn’t make it OK. You have his parents who are holding the farm hostage. In legal terms, I think that this is called extortion. And then there is you — running on fear.

      In the end, the biggest loser here is the farmer. Not just because he doesn’t have you, although that is unfortunate for him. But because he used you to test his bond with his parents and he lost there, too. Now he knows that they will control him for the rest of their lives. So even if he had managed to keep you, he would always know down deep inside that his parents chose control over support. That’s gotta be a blow for any grown adult man.

      I knew a family growing up who had a family farm. One by one, as the kids married they moved away to other lives and other occupations. Only one son chose farming as his career. He (and his wife) got to not only work the farm alone, but they ended up caring for his parents until their death — at which time they discovered that his parents had a will that divided everything up equally between their children. The end result was that at age 60, suddenly the farmer and his wife had to leave the house that they had nourished for 40 years to move into a small apartment in town. He had to take a job at the hardware store and his wife took a job with the local farm bureau. After 40 years of hard work, he had nothing for himself and nothing to leave his own children. All of the brothers who didn’t stay on the farm got to stay in their homes and continue their careers. Only the farmer got screwed.

      The moral of this story is that if it’s family land, and only “your” farmer is working the land, then he has a responsibility to protect himself. Beyond that, he has a responsibility to protect any new family that he was planning to create. This wasn’t about Asperger’s Syndrome. It wasn’t even about love. It was about control and the farmer lost. (Also, he lost you.) Maybe you’ll get back together. Maybe you won’t. But his fearful relationship with his controlling parents is always going to be a problem, so you should be prepared for that if you get back together.

      In the meantime, aren’t you glad you didn’t buy that wedding dress in K-Mart that your son pointed out?!

      • Corinne
        Corinne says:

        I have a similar story. My grandfather passed away when my father was in college, and my grandmother inherited the land. My father has the heart of a farmer, but it was his older brother who took over the family farm. The farm was to be divided equally between my grandmother’s 3 children when she passed away. I hope that was made clear early on to my uncle, who farmed the land for 45+ years before my grandmother died. My father used his teaching degree to support his farming habit, and purchased his own land to farm. However, when my grandmother passed, my 70ish father still considered buying the family land. I don’t understand it, but I know that the family land meant more to him than his own ever would.

  2. Ulyana
    Ulyana says:

    I don’t know… you seem to always focus on how you need to fix this or that about yourself. I think you need to write a post about things you’ve done right, things you want, and how you are going to move on and accomplish them.

    Constantly focusing on what’s right… that’s a hard life to lead, and you never know what’s right. Sometimes it’s just what you want, and you don’t need to make others happy – be it your commentors or your ex-fiance’s parents. And sometimes it’s just okay to call the guy an asshole because that’s what he was to you.

  3. Anita
    Anita says:

    I am often moved by your vulnerability. You share your life so openly. My sister and I talked about you leaving the farmer and we felt bad for you. We talked about you as if we knew you . . and thanks to your posts . . . maybe we do – a bit.

  4. Margarita
    Margarita says:

    I really hope this all works out for you in the end. Your heart will mend. And the farmer can fuck right off. From my very distant end it almost seemed like it was a game he was playing… but who knows. Men are men. Farms are farms.

    All the best.

  5. Brad
    Brad says:

    Thanks for the additional details. As that worthless lawyer might say, many comments assume facts not in evidence.

    “So the farmer told me that I need to explain to his parents why I will have no security if they can revoke his inheritance at any time.” I cut him some slack up till now. HE should have explained that to his parents.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      YES – this is the dealbreaker for me. YOU had to explain and HE distanced himself? Talk to the hand.

      I’ve thought that you were outrageously wrong before, and also that past columns were great. I’m sorry that this didn’t work out, though, because it is hurting you and anyone who has been hurt like that before knows that it stinks.

      That said – the “you explain” thing is a no go for me. As is the lawyer’s game of chicken. If you are going to play chicken, you have to WANT to play chicken – and it doesn’t seem like he did.

      Take care of your self and heart and your boys and things will get easier.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        I agree with both of you. This was the farmer’s message to share with his parents, not Penelope’s.

    • Lisa M
      Lisa M says:

      Agreed! The farmer never should have put the onus to negotiate with his parents on you; that was his job alone, and for whatever reason, he wasn’t man enough to do it.

  6. Erica
    Erica says:

    Here’s another way to look at it: you’ve broken up before, and gotten back together. It’s not just the sex, something in each of you completes the other person. You challenge each other to grow and change, which is difficult, but not bad or wrong. And each of your break-ups has been motivated by fear of this growth and change, rather than by nastiness or gossip. Going forward you have to take care of yourself, and your children, as others have noted. But I think it’s possible this is not the end of the story between you and the farmer. Something pulls you together, even if the path to a life together is not smooth.

    • KateNonymous
      KateNonymous says:

      Not necessarily. They may well be drawn to each other, but that doesn’t mean on its own that they should be together long term.

      • Erica
        Erica says:

        We can’t know who should be together long term. But if you wait to commit until you find someone with no family issues, who will always put you ahead of everything else in his life, and who never makes you unhappy, then you will never find someone. We all have issues. Obviously, if one of them finds the other’s issues too much to bear, then that will end it. But so far, they seem to be drawn together. I worry they are both letting fear of future pain keep them from enjoying the love they share in the moment. We can never know the future, but we can spend our time with people who bring us joy today.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        @Erica, they seem to be drawn together and then driven apart. The direct involvement of the parents is recent. I don’t know whether they should be together or not, but I do know that just saying “Oh, we keep trying” is only looking at one side of the issue. Because they also keep splitting up.

        It’s possible to be both romantic and practical. And your “you will never find someone” just isn’t true. Everyone has issues–it’s how they express them, and how they let those issues affect others, that tells you whether those issues make them functional or dysfunctional.

      • Erica
        Erica says:

        You’re welcome to your experience, I only try to speak from mine. My husband and I met at 18, and connected, but could not succeed in a relationship together until we had matured. All I’m saying is that some people see bright lines and are sure the relationship is dysfunctional, based on evidence that doesn’t read the same way to me. If there were violence, that would be a bright line to me. If she found him boring, likewise. But I’ve had to say things to my in-laws in place of my husband, and I’ve tolerated not *always* being the tip-top priority in his life. I didn’t threaten that PT would never find someone if she didn’t settle for the farmer; I only argued that you can’t hold out for some idealized image of a person with no issues. She and the farmer may not work out, but it doesn’t look hopeless from here.

      • KateNonymous
        KateNonymous says:

        And if you can show me where I said they certainly shouldn’t be together, please do. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. How could either you or I know definitely, when neither of us is actually in Penelope’s relationship with the farmer? But just looking at the positive side isn’t any more helpful than just looking at the negative. There’s a whole picture that includes both positive and negative, as there is for in any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

        It’s the categorical imperatives like “never” that are misleading, IMO.

  7. pericat
    pericat says:

    I am sorry your engagement is no longer on. That is a hard place to land.

    Some things that occur to me:

    It was unkind of the farmer to put you out on a limb, and not stay out there with you.

    It is quite difficult enough to build a relationship with another person, without including all those extras: the mixed land ownership, the existing family dynamics, the family business arrangements. You can expect to deal with some of those things, but your situation seems to have included extra heaping helpings of knobbly baggage.

    The risks you take with your money or your livelihood are not the same as the risks you take with your heart. The first can be quantified, measured, limited. It seems to me that if you hedge on being in love, you’re not doing it right. So I think you are doing it right, and that’s why it hurts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      That is such an interesting distinction to make — risk taking for livelihood vs. risk taking for love. I am so accustomed to assessing risk taking for business. You’re right that it’s a totally different ball game.


  8. Kerry
    Kerry says:

    You’ve written about things that your parents did. You had parents that didn’t have your back. They should have, but they didn’t.

    And you don’t have a lot of friends…so you don’t have a lot of people who have your back.

    So I think it’s especially important that if you get married again, you marry someone who always has your back. That’s not an unrealistic expectation in a marriage to begin with, and I think it’s especially important for someone who seems to have never really had that.

    For whatever reason, this guy didn’t. Having YOU explain it to his parents, and then backpeddling when you did…that ain’t it. Don’t settle for that again.

    • MJ
      MJ says:

      YES – great point. I have a lot of people in my life who ‘tell’ me that they have my interests at heart. A few controlling friends, my parents (who generally mean well but used to value MDs, JDs, CEOs and cash over little things like happiness), my bosses (who need me to stay and work).

      My husband is the one person who has my back AND is not a bullshitter. He’ll tell me when I’m wrong, or when an idea has more cons than pros, and (after 16 years it is clear that) he has no interest in my “status.” Lawyer, president, teacher, cat groomer – he doesn’t care what I do. His ego is not involved. He supports regardless.

      You can find a guy like this – he may make less, probably won’t be an Alpha Man CEO type, but they exist. They will be relentlessly normal, perhaps maddeningly undramatic at times, unusually interested in sci fi/fantasy/history/weird stuff and not glamorous. Many are engineers. I would not change this for anything (though we’ll take an extra $50,000 on either of our paystubs, thanks).

    • Chris Pepin
      Chris Pepin says:

      First, I wanted to say that I remain a big fan of Penelope. She (Penelope) has an uncanny way of portraying all of the complexity, pitfalls (and joy) of life in an entertaining way. Reading Kerry’s comments I am reminded of the way my parents always could unite against the meddling of their own parents. I think that Kerry also echoes the comments posted by alicyn on 12/08/2009 at 02:56pm.

  9. Chaely Chartier
    Chaely Chartier says:

    I think this was a good time to let your comments be your guide. I often do the same thing, not because I don’t have friends, but because sometimes the people closest to you can’t give good advice for fear that they will give you the wrong advice. Or for fear that their advice will hurt your feelings and make you angry with them because sometimes the truth is painful. Most of the time the best my friends can do is offer a sincere, “that sucks, dude.”

    I don’t know too much about this man Ryan but his actions are that of a true friend. He exhibits a clear interest in your well being and the more broad details of your personal life. Perhaps part of this new age of not acting out of fear could also involve the strength to say to Ryan, “do you consider me a friend?” It’s nice to have an ally now and then.

  10. Christopher
    Christopher says:

    Perhaps this is one of those times in life to pull up the oars and see where the current leads. Love your kids, love yourself and everything will find it’s place.

    “You know a dream is like a river
    Ever changing as it flows
    And the dreamer’s just the vessel
    That must follow where it goes
    Trying to learn from what’s behind you
    And never knowing what’s in store
    Makes each day a constant battle
    Just to stay between the shores.”

  11. Mariellen
    Mariellen says:

    I’m very sorry. 2 thoughts:
    1)My mom says you’re in for a long, hard life if you don’t get along with your inlaws. In her opinion, it was not worth all the crap and the strain they would put on your marriage.

    2)I feel a little sorry for the farmer. For his parents to be able to exercise that kind of control over his life is frightening. I refuse to believe this is business and not personal. He’s shown them that he can be coerced into anything as long as they are alive and can keep dangling that piece of land over his head. Even if land was more important to you than the person you wanted to marry, you would think it wouldn’t be as important as surrendering your personal agency. I can only imagine that you’re in for a long, hard life when you’ve sold your soul to Ma and Pa Blackmail.

    • sophie
      sophie says:

      I agree with #2. The fact that the farmer has worked with his parents for 20 years and still not acquired equity in the 500 acres points to major problems in relations. Whether it’s a problem in his character, his parents, or all three, it’s an issue that existed long before Penelope came along.

      Years ago, I worked in a rural bank, located in a small Wisconsin town similar to Darlington. One of the crabbiest, pessimistic customers there was an elderly bachelor. He was a dairy farmer, living all alone on his beautiful land. Very likely, his weekly trip to town was the only human interaction he ever had.

      This could easily be the farmer some day.

  12. Anna
    Anna says:

    Penelope, I witheld my comments when you posted about the farmer dumping you, but now that I know the details, I just can’t hold back.

    Don’t ever go back to him. No matter what. He has put you through a roller coaster, and you deserve better. No matter if he is a good person or not, he is not the person for you if he can’t be fully, 100%, always committed to you and the kids. If you go back with him, you will always feel in the back of your mind that he could leave at any time. You deserve to feel secure in your relationship. You deserve so much better than this. And you will find it!

  13. Liz
    Liz says:

    Thanks for your posts. Love your blog, fascinated by your life. Maybe you could buy your own farm? Your kids seemed to love it and so do you. Then maybe you could look for your own mate to share that farm.

  14. Bob
    Bob says:

    Even parents who actually like their future daughter-in-law aren’t going to consider her personal security in their estate planning. Especially if she asks them to.

  15. Kathleen
    Kathleen says:

    Sorry for the cliche, Life IS a journey, isn’t it.

    I so understand your reaction to the farmer’s unwillingness to “choose” you over his parents (although I never think choices like this are as black/white as it sounds)when you asked him to (I think it rarely work out when you posture any choice as having only two options: black or white). But, that’s his choice. And, your response has been to leave him now because of the possibility that he might leave you down the road if his parents were to ask him to choose them over you (down the road, since they’re not asking him to make that choice now).

    Sort of the classic flight, fight or freeze dilemma. In this case, you’ve chosen to flee with the hopes of eliminating the possibility that he’d choose them over you down the road.

    You can still choose him.

    It might work out.

    And, mightn’t it be worth embracing the possibility that it might work out? Instead of assusming the possibility that it wouldn’t work out down the road?

    You married your (ex)husband with the assumption that it would work out. It didn’t.

    You started 2 companies with the assumption that they would work out. They didn’t.

    You started a 3rd company ( with the assumption that it would work out, but it’s looking good.

    Although you may be sad about some outcomes from choices you’ve made, they were the right choices at the times for all the right reasons.

    Mightn’t choosing the farmer (and all that entails) also work out?

    Sure, the possibility exists that it may not work out. Isn’t that the same with everything we pursue in life, including the perfect pair of jeans, the perfect haircut, or the perfect life partner? That possibility always exists.

    So does the possibility that it will work out.

    Isn’t that worth pursuing?

    For both of you?

    I suspect there is a higher price to pay in terms of regrets if you don’t pursue something that might make your heart sing and your life complete.

    Cheerios, Kathleen

  16. Susan Johnston
    Susan Johnston says:

    Apologies if this is a duplicate comment. I think my first one got eaten by WordPress (or a spotty wireless connection). When my Dad died, I announced it on Facebook and my blog so I wouldn’t have to keep repeating the news to friends and colleages. I know it’s unconventional, but I understand why you would announce your engagement this way. When you’re the one with the news, you can to determine how it gets disseminated.

  17. Annette
    Annette says:

    Sometimes we don’t know whether the advice we got was good or not until much time has passed, we’ve moved on, and we can look back at the situation. Hindsight is definitely 20/20!
    Once I got some very good advice from an accountant regarding a business venture. She recommended I forget about it, it didn’t sound financially viable– I thought she was wrong (I listened instead to the feelgood, “just go for it! it’ll work out!” crowd). Years later, I realize the advice she gave me was terrific, but the funny thing was, I wasn’t ready to hear that advice. The good news is that I feel that I’ve learned from my “wrong turn.” And life right now is very good.
    Life is all about making good calls and bad ones. However, risk-taking needs curtailing when there are children in the mix. For what it’s worth, I think you’re making a good call here to move on and put your kids first.

  18. Lizzie
    Lizzie says:

    Penelope, I too held back when I read the post about you & Farmer breaking up. I felt that I didn’t know enough to comment, but now, maybe I know a little more.

    I do know Wisconsin farmer’s though. Oh yes. My Wisconsin farmer lives in Hawaii now, because I didn’t take the leap of faith. I have another life now, a different one to what we would have had together – & so does he. By being apart, we freed one another. But some days, I would love to be stuck on that farm near Appleton.

    I think that the Farmer’s parents have put him in a very strange situation & I cannot for the life of me fathom out why. The only thing I can think of is this:

    They did not see him happy with you.

    They must have only seen the stressy bits – not the fabulous bits. I don’t know, but I think that they are, in their own way, holding him hostage to his land because they are afraid for his future happiness. The deep interpersonal relationships formed in their farming have never allowed them to see him as an independent, autonomous male. Clearly, because he is not one.

    You will get through this, & life will be different. But you’ve offered it to him on his terms & his parents terms now, so you have no more ‘what ifs’ – you did your best, now chin up x

  19. Tom Guarriello
    Tom Guarriello says:

    The whole Thanksgiving situation concerned me. The farmer’s family seemed to rise up as one to expel you from their midst. I don’t know what I’m talking about so I have the luxury of saying whatever I want here but it sounds to me that the farmer’s family is highly conventional; and you’re anything but. Over time his family would be highly likely to point out those differences (in thousands and thousands of small ways, mainly being critical of you) if the farmer were to entertain them. If this current rift passes, I’d suggest you make it clear to him that discussions with his family about your unconventionality be shut down whenever they arise. The test of whether or not he’s worthy of the family inheritance can’t rest on you becoming someone else.

  20. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    My heart hurts for you and the boys. From what you’ve clarified in this post about his behavior, I don’t hink he deserved you. You are far more loyal than he deserved. But it still sucks.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks, Lucy. I always want there to be poetry on the blog. But every time I put a poem in a post, the post flops. This seems like a nice compromise: poetry in the comments section.


  21. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    I’m one of the people who said that you deserve someone who puts you first. Based on your analysis here, I’d like to clarify my point a bit.

    You deserve someone who puts you first. That person may not be the farmer. He’s entitled to set his own priorities. But if they aren’t yours, then the two of you are not likely to be a good match over time.

    I think both of you are in a tough spot. Each of you has been placed in an awkward position, and it’s highlighting things that you hoped wouldn’t be issues. But they are, and it sounds like they probably always would be.

    So I hope you find a person who shares your priorities, and makes you one of theirs, and I’m sorry the farmer didn’t turn out to be that person. He wants different things from his life. I don’t know that that makes him a bad person, but it sounds like it makes him the wrong person for you.

    Best of luck.

  22. Joe
    Joe says:

    One thing I’ve found in life to be a universal truth: any man over 40 who’s never been married has a skeleton in his closet, and should be seen as a red flag. Unfortunately, you’ve found the farmer’s skeleton a bit late in the game…but, on the bright side, it could have been a lot worse, as many posters have pointed out.

  23. alicyn
    alicyn says:

    I just don’t think it’s fair that you’re expected flip your life upside-down, to move to his farm, and yet he isn’t willing to move anywhere for you.

    I don’t understand all the specifics of this story…but while it does seem that he is being unfair, I also think that he probably did not maliciously intend to break your heart. When people are romantically interested in each other (not necessarily in love yet), people make mistakes. They make irrational decisions.

    You are probably both just not fit for each other’s lives. I would simply move on and really have keen eye for a man that does match you- as a person, in terms of lifestyle, commitments, geographic area, career-wise, etc. If one person is having to make all the sacrifices or carry all the weight then it’s just not balanced.

    I’m only 22 but that’s my 2 cents.

  24. neko
    neko says:

    The posts advocating sticking around & “fighting” to make this relationship work kind of give me the creeps …. as if demanding (or silently hoping/pining for) significant change in another person will somehow end up in a successful, mutually fulfilling relationship.

    “If the person you’re with has a fundamental trait that makes you fundamentally unhappy, despite reasonable efforts on both your parts to work through the problem, then you dont get along really well and you dont have a great relationship. What you have is important insight on what you need to be happy and what you currently arent getting. So collect that insight, turn off the wishful-thinking switch and go.” (~liberally plagerized from Carolyn Hax, the genius WashPost syndicated columnist who’s been my hero for years.)

    At the end of the day, the root of true friendship (to include romantic love) is the other’s ability/willingness to watch your back at least as attentively – if not more so – than his own. (~More CH genius. These words helped inspired me to finally end a relationship that just wasnt working, no matter how many different times & ways we tried … )

  25. prklypr
    prklypr says:

    Your link above to the comment you especially liked actually showed two comments: the first was probably the one you intended for us to read, but I found the one beneath it even more interesting. The commenter talks about how after the novelty of the situation wears off, an environment like the farm can suck the life out of someone like you. I think you should reread that comment, too Penelope.

  26. Mascha
    Mascha says:

    Dear Penelope, even if you had moved with him to another farm, his parents would have been present, just in a different way. Let me tell you, even if they live in a different country or on a different continent they will reach him and you by phone, email and will maybe even come visit or you will have to visit them. The impact of these calls, messages and occasional visits are HUGE. So unless you feel you and the farmer (or whoever manages to steal your heart) can deal with that, it would be a big leap. Even after 20 years with my husband (10 years of marriage) his parents get to him and his mood is affected by their demands and behavior. We’re still trying to deal with this, in a better way than we used to do so I guess we have learned a little in that time.
    Sometimes they find a way to blame me for something, another time it’s my brother in law or my husband, their son again. I know it’s rather my MIL who is causing all this but my FIL let’s her – because he depends on her to take care of him? –
    It saddens us but we are learning how to deal with it. We’ve accepted that it is not going away. We are trying to distance ourselves since we can’t seem to solve it.

    Hopefully you’ll find yourself a family who truly cares – or maybe they will find you.

  27. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Keep your chin up. My boyfriend and I broke up way more than fifteen times in the first couple years of our relationship and we are going on six years now. We aren’t even engaged yet and though I hope with all my heart that we will make it to the end together, I never allow myself the luxury of thinking that any given situation is forever indefinitely. I have heard about too many relationships splitting after 10, 20, 40 years together. Even my grandparents divorced for a two year period when I was ten (try making sense of that when you are a confused preteen)!

    I hope the Farmer sees the light because I think what you have together sounds special and he will probably not have anyone else come in his life that has a deep understanding of his lifestyle. When you talk about the sweetness of him working with his parents (I’m almost quoting you here), my heart strings feel a bit of a tug. That’s what life is about – accepting and cherishing what most people don’t have enough emotional clarity to observe. If he doesn’t come around, he has probably lost something he doesn’t even realize he has.

    I found your blog when I was looking for career advice that suited my outlook on life. Thank you for your honest approach to life and being brave enough to show the world who you really are.

  28. Sosympl
    Sosympl says:

    This might sound naive?? But why can’t you both just sign a pre-nup and leave the farm financials the way they are? Why did it have to be either or?

    He sounds like a satisficer. Leaving well enough alone. Without you. I don’t understand why he’s not trying to make things better, for both of you. If he was happy with you, wouldn’t he want more of that in his life? And if he truly wasn’t happy with you, couldn’t he just tell you that? Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

  29. Alex @ Happiness in this World
    Alex @ Happiness in this World says:

    I found you last point interesting, that if you’re lucky you get tons of advice. We all seem to think it’s our advice that’s most helpful to people rather than our encouragement, when the opposite is true. Only you are in your shoes, wanting what you want, dealing with whatever negativity you’re dealing with, can really figure out how to solve your problems. Neither I nor anyone else knows how to, but we sure can encourage you and make you have more confidence that you can.

    I would say: this too shall pass. Relationships rarely end when people say to each other they’re done. A little breathing room might do wonders for you both. Things change in ways neither of you can predict. Your happiness may feel like it’s entirely contingent on being married to the farmer, but it’s really not.



  30. Green
    Green says:

    I never would have thought I could root for someone so much that when they don’t get what they thought they wanted, what I was hoping for them, that I’d get tears in my eyes – I’m generally kind of cold-hearted – but here I am.

    I’ve never been married or lived with a guy, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think the girl should have to say the difficult things to her parents and the guy should have to say the difficult things to his parents. He shouldn’t have made you say difficult things to his parents.

    I’m so sorry, P.

  31. Farmer Anders
    Farmer Anders says:

    Tell the farmer’s parents to realize that if they don’t have their estate planning completed, and if they don’t have it listed to some one (whether it be the farmer or his siblings – at least I think you said he has sisters) then once they get admited in their elderly state to an assisted living or nursing home community – (at least 5 years before) it will be divided up and given to these places instead of their precious family! Everything that the farmer’s parents worked so hard to grow and develop (and just guessing the land was passed on to them previously since land really doesn’t change hands all that often in a well established farm) that they will not provide a means for their son to continue farming! He will be left high and dry with nothing! We had to explain that to my farmer’s parents and once they realized that it had to be passed on to some one if they wanted it kept in the family for an eternity then they best act now while it isn’t too late (or sooner should tragedy strike). Amazing how once a lawyer told them that everything could go to some one else to profit off of, how quickly his parents reacted! Our lawyer told us that nursing homes are the largest land owners in the state of ND.

    For me, having to sacrifice everything for no security has turned out worth it….my husband is a farmer, that is who HE IS. As much as he says he would have moved when our “ultimatum” happened in life, I knew deep down in my heart that a very large piece of him would have died them. He would have been miserable and taken it out on me and help it against me, even if not on purpose. And, who HE was is what I fell in love with not what I could make him in to or what he was willing to change in to! (and if you ask me every farmer I know will NOT hold their girlfriends/wives hands in public unless they are somewear far far far away from all their friends/family and no one can witness – I think that is just their human nature).

  32. Dave C.
    Dave C. says:

    PT said “If you're lucky, you get tons of advice in your life. And if you're normal, only a small percentage of it is good. The key is to be able to tune out what's not right and to act on what is right, and take responsibility for fixing the roadblocks to doing better next time.”

    Wow! Sometimes you hit one out of the ballpark, and this is the best statement on taking advice I’ve ever seen. You always have to consider that anyone’s advice comes from their viewpoint, and that viewpoint is unlikely to be 100% congruent with your situation. The ability to filter out the garbage and find the worthwhile bits in that mound of advice you get is a good skill to have and a hard one to learn.

    As for your relationships, I’m not sure I am a good one to give advice. I got lucky and met “the one” at the age of 19, got married at 20 and we’re still going strong 32 years later. I got all sorts of advice against moving forward (you’re too young, she’s too old [she’s 4 years older than me – a much larger gap at 19 than it is now], you haven’t known each other long enough, and so on) Fortunately, I followed my own council and rejected all that “advice”. That’s not to say I didn’t worry about the magnitude of the commitment I was making, but I was certain it was the right decision. Trust yourself, listen to your heart and your mind, take advice you find worthwhile and then work on making that decision work out for the best.

    Good luck and best wishes.

  33. Cathy
    Cathy says:

    Here’s some more advice for you to consider (and ignore if you wish!). Based on my experience, there are three things you need from a partner that are relevant here:
    1. They must be prepared to put their wife first, ahead of their parents. When you are married, you create a new family and that must be his priority. The most worrying thing in this whole affair is that he expected YOU to explain to his parents. WTF?!?!? His family is not your family. That’s important – his family is NOT your family. (Perhaps it was when women married at 18 and became like another daughter but not these days.) He must do the negotiating with them on behalf of both of you, to achieve what both of you want. This is a real red flag.
    2. Love is not enough. Just because you love him and he loves you, does not mean it will work. There must be more than love. This is a hard one to get your head around but trust me, it’s true.
    3. It should be easy. If it’s hard work there’s something wrong. This might seem simplistic but it’s not when you give it some thought.
    Of course there’s lots of other things to consider, like his relationship with your sons. But for me the three points above are the absolute rock-bottom essentials for a good relationship.
    Do you have even one of these with the farmer?
    Wishing you happiness whatever you decide.

  34. LC Kane
    LC Kane says:

    I have only recently been reading your blog after a friend told me about it. God only knows I need career advice but the reason that I started reading it was because I was interested in your comments about living with Asperger’s. My young adult son has Aspergers and is struggling with its impact now more than ever.

    When you speak of not having “normal conversations” or not having the expected response in a social situation, I can absolutly relate. Knowing my son and reading your blog confirm for me that it is less a disability than living in an alternate universe. You reveal much of yourself in your posts, are incredibly perceptive and yet there is “distance”. We all feel sad and disappointed when relationships don’t work out. But if I am correct in seeing my son’s attitudes in what you reveal of yourself, I know you must feel it more acutely. I am sorry about the farmer even if I don’t have the whole story.

    I love your blog and have never responded to a post before.

  35. planetheidi
    planetheidi says:

    You spoke about ultimatums, fear and risk but you brought a lawyer into this decision. Lawyers weight their opinion based on worst case and try to minimize risk. And ultimatums should be uncommon in business and non-existent in any family or loving relationship. Lawyers and warriors use ultimatums, but in of themselves, ultimatums are poisonous.

  36. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Cathy stole many of the words right out of my mouth: good relationships are EASY! Bad relationships take lots and lots of work. I have been following your saga with the Farmer since the beginning, and, from my perspective, you have put in your share of work to make this thing a “go.” Enough.

    A strong measure of whether or not a relationship is a “good” relationship is whether in the heat of argument, either of you say things that you cannot take back. Whether it’s “you’re fat,” “you’re ugly,” “you are no good in bed,” “I don’t love you,” or “I want a divorce,” these are things that (even if you make up and each says they are sorry) the recipient of that comment has lurking in the back of their mind. And it is painful to hear it from the person who is supposed to love you unconditionally.

    Breaking up so many times (and by your own accounts, you trying to convince him to take you back so many times)? You just can’t take that stuff back. You may have gotten what you wanted in the short term (the two of you back together), but the long-term consequence of all of that is broken trust. Relationships are difficult enough as they are without having to continuously rebuild trust with someone who has already broken it over and over again.

    I admit it. I have never liked the Farmer. Even my husband (who I read your posts to during our commutes home) exclaimed at your Thanksgiving post, “What is she doing with that guy?!?” The Farmer has said and done things to you that I would never have allowed to pass with the boyfriend of a friend of mine.

    That said, I am very sorry for your pain, even if I am happy that you have chosen the path of less drama. But, allow yourself the possibility that there is someone out there for you who shares your values and will not send you up and down on the relationship rollercoaster.

    Sent with all of the love and concern that your best friend would/should have for you . . .

  37. mama
    mama says:

    Delurking to say that I’m astonished – a bit horrified, actually – that the farmer would do this to your boys. As I understand it, you specifically discussed your concerns about your young, vulnerable childrens’ attachment to the farmer, and to the farm, as a reason for ending the relationship. At that point, instead of thinking about the feelings of two young boys who have already experienced a great deal of loss, the farmer proposed.

    I have no opinion about your relationship per se. You’re both consenting adults, and consenting adults make mistakes and messes every day. But I have a very low opinion of adults who run rough-shod over little kids in their insistence on spinning a fantasy world for themselves. It’s narcissism of the highest order. I won’t tell you that you’re better off without him – but I know that your boys are. Too bad that they don’t know it yet (although they will soon enough, I suspect).

    What a creep that guy is.

  38. GenerationXpert
    GenerationXpert says:


    You need to be kinder to yourself and let yourself off the hook. It is clear you are a good person who has done a lot of good for others (I bet if you asked the Ryans they would agree).

    Also, I seriously doubt your 2nd best friend would be horrified to find out she’s your second best friend. I think she’d think my friend Penelope is a kook, but I love her anyway.


  39. Cat in Boston
    Cat in Boston says:

    I read this on the January Oprah magazine issue (yes I read her magazine), it was part of He’s just not that into you movie review. I keep it on my refrigerator as a reminder (I kind of forgot what a nice guy should look like), but I remember now.

    “it’s easy to lose sight of a simple truth: that a worthwhile man likely won’t wait to make the first move; will forgo sleep and football to be with you; and will be ardent about making you happy, whether it’s on the third date or after the third kid. Come to think of it, if you are hankering for a chick flick and you ask really nicely, he might even take a deep breath and come with you”.

    The guy the writer is talking about, is the kind of guy special women deserve. Lets not settle for anything else.

    You deserve such guy too Penelope.

  40. foulpapers
    foulpapers says:

    Thank you for this post. I've learned a great deal from you in the months I've been reading your blog, but your assessments of when to take advice and when to ignore it have frequently proven the most helpful. Since you have often said that you need social interactions explained clearly – and I have observed this trait in loved ones with Asperger's in my own life – I offer the following thoughts on why putting The Farmer down is something your loyal readers will be tempted to do. This may already be obvious to you, but just in case it isn’t…

    –Because they/we care about you, and you are hurt, and his actions are a part of what hurt you.

    –Because they/we are invested in your relationship through this blog and thus feel hurt/betrayed (albeit vicariously) by this outcome.

    –Because heritage does not carry cultural weight in mainstream America, so his divided loyalties are incomprehensible to many. In this scenario his choice of family/land is seen as an actual insult to you.

    –Because it's easier to project feelings from one's own past relationships than to see other people's relationships clearly (even in glimpses).

    For what it's worth, I am very sorry for what both of you have lost.

    • Betty in Munich
      Betty in Munich says:

      “Because heritage does not carry cultural weight in mainstream America, so his divided loyalties are incomprehensible to many. In this scenario his choice of family/land is seen as an actual insult to you.” This was so beautifully said, most of us don’t get the farmer’s decision or way of thinking. But in this sentance you are right – it wasn’t an insult. It is just that he and his parents are coming from the perspective of heritage. They may not even “hate” Penelope, they just don’t have any understanding or give any weight to her talents and strengths. No one has yet said this, but I wonder how much of this has to do with the fact they don’t see a possibility of an “heir” with the farmer and P. together. And if the rest are sisters, then who is going to carry on the heritage and the tradition of the farm. These beliefs are deeply traditional and deeply rooted and they are valuable in their own right. I am still really sorry for P. but I have just a little bit more understanding for the farmer. And I am sure he is hurting at this outcome too….

  41. Isao
    Isao says:

    I think the valuable advices are those which came out from genuine care, regardless of their content or usefulness. That way, even if the advice is missing the point we know who is caring for us. Realizing someone is (are) still there for us is a great energy booster.
    What is difficult might be how to figure out who is “caring” and who is not, from reading the message. Blog might be one of the greatest tools to gather feedbacks but maybe not so good at filtering non-tangible stuff like caringness. If it is face-to-face it is easy to filter but then the number of inputs are limited.

  42. Siobhan
    Siobhan says:

    Thank you for being so open and straight with us, your webosphere supporters/friends(?) It’s hard to know what we should call ourselves when you open up so much of yourself to us, in the manner of a friend. But we don’t get to call you up and bitch about the breakup or take you out for therapeutic shopping/dinner/movies. It’s good to know that blog comments actually mean something to you other than that people are reading the blog. What I notice in reading the comments is that most people who read you, really like you, or at least respect you and wish you well in your life. I wanted to see the story of your farmer romance come to a happy ending because it seemed as though you really worked hard to make the relationship work for him as much as for you. I feel sad for your kids because it sounds as though they’ve as much to lose as you do. Those farmer parents have used a double bind on you – you could never win. The sad thing is that both you and the farmer have lost.

  43. TwistedByKnaves
    TwistedByKnaves says:

    Out of the strong came forth sweetness.

    Another remarkable post.

    I feel sorry for Penelope, for the Farmer and for the parents. I’m guessing that they are reasonable people who want their son to be happy and who would love and appreciate Penelope.

    But who can’t put their personal feelings ahead of the Family and, in particular, the Legacy. Families who put people first tend not to have farms, in the long term. (And farms are by nature pretty long term.)

    In the end, though, everyone who marries must promise to “…leaving all others cleave only unto her” or him. The parents have made that promise too. Maybe they had their fingers crossed, but I would like to think not.

    If you’re reading this, Farmer, a lot of us are rooting for you too. Is it really too late? All bridges burned? No bridge builders to hand? Or are you, in the end, better off with separate lives?

    Best wishes to all six of you.

  44. Tricia Dycka
    Tricia Dycka says:

    A valuable lesson I have learned is not to allow fear to make decisions. When fear strikes I hold off on making decisions especially ones that will effect my life. I am sorry your cycle of fear ended in the relationship being over.

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