Start recognizing patterns in problems

I think each person struggles with one, singular thing. I learned this when I was a graduate student in English. Each writer we studied actually wrote the same book over and over again. We each have a primary question in our lives.

Rob Toomey, a friend who is an expert in personality type, coaches executives. He sees that it’s always the same problem that holds each given personality type back. ISTPs, for example, (which is the farmer's type) have trouble planning anything in the future. They lack commitment to anything long-term. ENTJs (what I am) have trouble with tact. They lack a sensitivity that many people require in order to listen.

So, anyway, I notice that the farmer and I have the same argument over and over again. And like writers and executives, the farmer has one problem: he cannot separate from X.

A problem we have, which I don't think has actually been a problem until this post, is that I'm not allowed to mention the thing he cannot separate from. So it will just be X. Anyone who has read this post or this post can figure out what X is. And after just a little while with him, I knew that the farmer did not actually need an adult relationship with a woman until he separated from X.

Which leads me to our ongoing battle. He thinks he is separated. I do not feel like he needs me because he has X. I bring up examples. For example, during the first five months I lived with him he lied to me about that he was doing his own laundry. Guess who was doing it?

This is what he says when I point it out: “I'm really sorry. You're right. I'm really sorry.”

But he honestly believes he's separated from X.

In fact, when he reads this post he will think it's unfairly focused on his issues. So let me tell you all the things that are difficult about me:

I want to talk about everything, all the time.

I get anxious that he'll leave me. (Because he has X, and because he has dumped me about 20 times. Here’s an example.)

So this is what we do. We go in circles all the time. I say I don't feel close to you because you have X.

He tells me that I have a problem and I need to get over it.

I get a lot of emails that read like the post I'm writing. People think their work situation is so complicated and I have to understand all the motivators. But look, I'm telling you that even if you substitute X for the problem, in every email I get, it's easy to see what the answer is:

Get off the train or sit down and shut up.

I am not getting off the train. But I'm going to need a really good book or something to get me through the ride.

I answer lots of email from strangers because I learn so much: It's hard to see our own problems but easy to see others' problems. By now, I have enough practice telling other people how to deal with their bad job problems, that I know what I have to do:

1. Make the person I'm dealing with feel special and important so they like being with me.

2. Stop letting myself use the language of a victim. If I choose to stay, then I am picking my situation so I need to talk like I mean to be where I am.

3. Find side projects to make life feel better. I tell people to add things to their job description so that the job gets better—different people, different learning goals. These are all things I can do now. To make things better.

So then we had maybe the 4,000th fight about me being less important than X. And there was nothing to do. He has nothing to say anymore. He thinks I'm crazy and cannot talk rationally.

Trying to take my own advice, I cleaned up the porch. The porch is freezing right now. Even though it’s only October. But I love the porch. I kept the sofa out there because we did our whole courtship on the sofa, and I thought we'd sit on it a lot still. But it turns out we never do. So I threw it out. Sort of. It was really heavy. So I just opened the porch door, pushed the sofa out, and left it there.

And then I turned the porch into an office for myself.

The farmer was pissed about the sofa. And it sat there for five days before we could even talk about it. I worried that we'd have a big fight about it, but I forced myself to put the bad feelings aside, and for the whole week it was our picnic spot for after-school snack:

99 replies
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  1. Michael LaRocca
    Michael LaRocca says:

    About two weeks ago, as I was struggling with writing my eighth or ninth novel yet again — I do lose count — I realized that every damn one of them was the same book. I’m writing about trying to undo past fuck-ups (apologies to the farmer for that word) in every single book. That’s just sad.

  2. melanie gao
    melanie gao says:

    My husband has an X as well and we have fought about it so many times, I can actually have the argument all by myself.

    Then one day I suddenly understood one thing very clearly. I can prevent him from doing X, but I can’t stop him from wanting to do X.

    So I tried to understand X and decide if I can accept it or not. Because that’s all I can do.

  3. Jaime
    Jaime says:

    My husband has an X also. It’s the same kind of X that the farmer has. It’s taken 8 years and both of us in therapy to get to a point where he can acknowledge that X is even a problem. Strangely, it took having a child, experiencing postpartum depression and needing help for me to admit that having X around isn’t so bad as I thought. Evolution is a bitch.

  4. gordon neufeld
    gordon neufeld says:

    I have been an avid reader of your blog for a couple of years and find your posts to be wonderful. For quite a while i have felt that you need to learn about your instincts and how along with personality and IQ they play a significant part in how we take action in any situation. The leading proponent of Instinct is Kathy Kolbe who has for the last 30 years been helping people understand their instincts.
    She can easily be found on the net. I don’t want to list the site because i don’t think it’s correct to do so on someone else’s post.
    You will, I believe learn a lot about yourself and have new tools to work well with others.

  5. Sacha
    Sacha says:

    “But I'm going to need a really good book or something to get me through the ride.”

    If you’re talking about a relationship book, then I highly recommend Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. Google it, check out the website, attend an Imago workshop, read snippets on Google Books, buy the book. You won’t regret it.

  6. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    I love the door as the desktop and the file cabinets as the base.

    What I wonder is why have file cabinets at all? Remember when they said we’d have a paperless office? Ha! Hardly. I KNOW why you have file cabinets…

    But that’s not the point.

    I’m sad you moved out the things you conducted your courtship on and replaced them with your work stuff.

    I’m sad because I do a lot of that myself and am realizing slowly that my intimacy parameters may be out of whack.

    I’m happy to see your kids enjoying you on the couch though. That was sweet.

    What happens when it rains? Won’t that couch rot in the weather? Won’t your kids miss it? Won’t you?

    Yah, yah I know I sound like an amateur psychologist.

    But I am wondering.

  7. Keith
    Keith says:

    I don’t really know about X’s or anything like that (been married for 28 years)…..but I do like the look of your office location…..

  8. Kristina
    Kristina says:

    Penelope! Goodmorning. The office is beautiful! Is that a door for a desk? And an awesome view. I hope you enjoy your new sanctuary. And I hope you get to write poems there! :) Good luck with the X situation.

    Maybe the farmer wants to be babied. I’m with someone like that but it could be because his X passed when he was young. Do we all want our X?

  9. Viviann Napp
    Viviann Napp says:

    I like the way you disseminated the problem into X. I can certainly relate to this from many past relationships as well as the ongoing one I have with my parents.
    I like the way you managed the ‘bottleneck” by simply taking positive action and converting the porch into an office.
    It doesn’t matter where you put the sofa. You can still sit on it. And if it rots, it can be replaced. What is important is keeping the situation dynamic and moving on and NOT getting bogged down in frustration.

  10. Annemarie
    Annemarie says:

    I think it is wonderful that you have identified the key X problem in your marriage, and that you realize that the problem is on both sides. Both the way that the farmer is attached to X and your fear of the X influence and power. What worries me,though,is that you are fighting about this one issue so much, when you are so newly married. Having been married to a man in a family business (we are now divorced) I learned that I had to completely turn off my feelings/thoughts/opinions about the X (which was,of course, the family business.) As soon as I ignored the X and realized I couldn’t change it, our marriage got much better. (Until 14 years later, when X ultimately did separate us). I don’t think that will necessarily happen to you,but I think you’ve got make peace and accept the X factor. The farmer may change and may learn to separate, or he might not. You’ve got to accept it either way.

  11. Izzie
    Izzie says:

    My husband’s X passed in the very early stages of our courtship. It was a very strange time and while it brought us so much closer I wonder if I jumped the gun marrying so quickly. It was right and he is a good person but there was damage done by X and the other X and a few others along the way and until you live with someone for a while you don’t know the extent of it all. Those things seem to haunt us and linger long after they don’t work for us any longer in our lives. I suppose the best way to live with the X’s in our own and partner’s lives is to recognize them and try to dispel their power. Relationships….not easy. I love your office though and envy you the view. I heaved a big sigh (of relaxation) when I saw the pic. Take care.

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

    The farmer may not realize he has a separation issue with X. But your problem is not that he has a separation issue with X. Your problem is that you have a husband with a separation issue with X, an entirely different thing.

    Not that you asked for advice, but mine is to focus not on getting him to separate from X, which is his problem, but on how you deal with having a husband who isn’t separated from X (the old saw: you can’t change someone else, only yourself). The insecurities his overattachment to X brings out in you are your problem, not his. Why not view this situation as an opportunity to challenge the real reason his overattachment to X brings them out? That is, what are your insecurities really from (and by that I don’t mean what originally caused them; I mean, what continues to cause them, which is often often quite different from what caused them historically, e.g., insufficient love, attention, acceptance, or praise from your parents)? If you can get at that cause and expunge its hold on your life, whether or not your husband is overattached to X won’t impact you in the least. Why, really, would his overattachment to X cause him to want to leave you if you’re wonderful and he loves you?

    I really hope you can work this out. You deserve to be happy.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This sounds like very smart, sane advice. And, also, I know a little bit about Alex, and he is a sane smart person.

      But I am so weak in this area of interpersonal relationships and boundaries and insecurity. So I’m wondering: What do other people think about this advice? Does it sound good? I am scared.


      • Tzipporah
        Tzipporah says:

        Yes, Alex’s advice is SPOT ON.

        All you can deal with is yourself – his issues are HIS issues. Your issue is how to be yourself and be happy (or interested/interesting) regardless of how he’s coping with his issues.

      • Elaine Basham
        Elaine Basham says:

        Alex’s advice is SO on the money – so simple, so true – it makes me wonder why we all take so long to get to the realization that we can’t change anyone except ourselves, and to stop trying. I’ve been married for 30 years (2nd marriage for both of us). We both had to change ourselves and still struggling with not trying to change each other. We do 3 things every day to stay connected (1 – find something we can laugh out loud about together, 2 – get each others thoughts about something serious outside of ourselves – politics, Chilean miners, global warming…) and 3 – make some small romantic gesture (he brings me coffee while I’m on a call – I call him “my lovely assistant”) to make sure we both know we still cherish each other). Love the porch – laugh about the couch.

      • Katherine
        Katherine says:

        I very much like Alex’s perspective. I think it is really hard to get to that place in your mind but it is the right place to be.

        What struck me is that it doesn’t seem like you are feeling like you have much power right now (I don’t mean the battle power kind). You have to get beyond X; you are not allowed to write about it; you are not allowed to throw out the couch; you’re not being rational. So those are a lot of things you can’t be. So you can take back your personal power by doing the things you list above plus working on Alex’s advice.

        I also completely, 100% agree with the person who suggested that you get an office in town. That would be your place of power and feeling strong and you get to make your own decisions without anyone saying “you can’t.” I strongly believe that we all need our own little corner of the world that we 100% own. Don’t leave the farmer; Make a corner of the world that is only for you.

      • Gizmo
        Gizmo says:

        Alex nails it Penelope. Miguel Ruiz’s books “The Mastery of Love” and “The Four Agreements” are a great primer for dealing with issues like this. The only person you can change is yourself. All you can do is offer the farmer an invitation to live a different way – he’ll either take it up or he won’t. But you can’t make him. That’s his choice. Just walk your own “impeccable” path (read Ruiz!.

        And there’s actually nothing to be be scared of. That’s just your Mental Mad Monkey wanting you to keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, so it creates images of the worst possible outcome. You needn’t feel you’re walking through a minefield at night, fearful of stepping on a mine. It’s actually a green mountain meadow… :-)

      • Irving Podolsky
        Irving Podolsky says:

        Dear Penelope,

        I don’t want to be negative, and in principle I agree with Alex. But changing yourself or deciding to change is no easy task. Sometimes it takes years, and you can’t fake it. If your core needs are not being met within a relationship, you can’t pretend they are NOT relevant. And one of your deepest needs, which is mine and 99% of the planet’s population, is a secure validation, that within a marriage, there is CERTAINTY OF DEVOTION; and that no matter what, one can rely on a husband or wife’s priority love and protection which was promised both ways with wedding vows. WHAT ELSE MAKES A MARRIAGE HOLY? Or at the very least, special?

        I’ve been married 35 years to a liberated woman and within the first six months of our union a situation came up where my wife disagreed with my sister who was visiting us at the time. My sister left laundry and an ironing board set up in the living room of our very small NYC apartment. My wife (a nurse) felt leaving that mess was insensitive and inappropriate. I defended my sister’s behavior which resulted in an explosive confrontation about loyalty. The nurse demanded that when it came to a third party disagreement, I must always side with the woman I married. This issue was a deal breaker.

        Now at the time, a black and white demand like that felt like a huge overreaction. But upon thinking about it, I began to understand the implications, which went right to the core of what our marriage was all about and what we both needed to be and feel secure and loved.

        So I made that promise of unconditional back up and she promised to do the same for me. Once the mutual loyal was pledged again, and kept over time, freedom of all kinds, void of jealousy, opened up for both of us. It continues to this day.

        So although I believe that we all have to improve ourselves first, there are core human needs that must be honored, respected and accounted for by our spouse, our life partner, our best friend, our lover, our helper, our symbol-of-certainty. And if this is not promised both ways, and maintained, then why marry for love?


      • Irving Podolsky
        Irving Podolsky says:

        Upon rereading my comment, I realized I may be giving the wrong or limited impression about my wife and our relationship; and hence, unintended comments about your situation.

        My wife wants my unconditional support, and that my priority will go to her if she needs it. But this loyalty pledge is relegated to people and sometimes situations. Not beliefs. The nurse does not expect that I will always agree with her or think like her. We’re not trying to change each other in that regard. We come out of different cultures and religions and my seeking “What IS” is not part of her life. So years ago, when she tried to persuade me to leave a group that delved into psychic stuff, I told her that she had no right to stifle my need for knowing. The assembly was not a Friday night poker club. It was a mind-tripping group experience that I needed to explore. Unfortunately, that journey, which she could not understand, frightened her to the core. Yet, she relinquished her hold, realizing that I had to go through it. I had to do the “KNOWING.” This issue, had it not been worked out, could have become a deal breaker for me. It wasn’t, because the nurse agreed to my terms, as I did to hers years before.

        What I’m trying to say is, there are no hard and fast rules about what core beliefs and needs can be set aside and which one’s can’t. But those needs that beg for attention should not be denied. If they are, superficial stand-alone acts will not resolve the underlying issue: Am I loved enough?


      • Robin
        Robin says:

        Alex is right; all you can ever control is yourself. Consider that abandoning your participation in this conflict may feel scary for you…focusing on this may act as an impediment to further intimacy with the farmer and give you a sense of control—sort of like training wheels for the relationship. Or an emergency brake. Whatever the metaphor, it keeps you from going “whole hog” into your relationship with the farmer. And that might feel good.

        Sorry for the psychoanalysis, but you did ask. Hope you find peace and happiness no matter how this works out. I very much appreciate your candor. And your more frequent posting of late!

      • Sharon
        Sharon says:

        Good comments from Alex, however I’d put it much more strongly. For you to continue on in this type relationship for years means that it is filling some need that you have. At some level, though you say you are unhappy, it’s working for you. Otherwise, you’d end it and move on. And the endless (apparently) writing about it to an audience is probably doing the same thing – filling a need. Since this is in no way a normal and healthy relationship, it would be good to try to figure out what the underlying issue is, resolve it and move on with your life.

      • Veronica
        Veronica says:

        Yes, Alex is right. Your choice is NOT in how to get the farmer to seperate from X, but do you want to learn to live with a husband who has this issue or leave him. Obviously you want to stay, and with so much at stake and so many people’s happiness on the line (his, yours, the boys) I would seek professional guidance. Living with his seperation issue has to be really hard for you but the loss of all the joy you’ve found would be much worse. Like all your other readers I think you deserve to be happy. So, do what you have to do to defuse the tension, drop the subject, reframe the whole situation to yourself, eg: not ‘how infuriating for me is his whole X issue’ but ‘how sad for my love that he has this issue’. Your sympathy instead of anger could change his reaction. That could set off a chain reaction that might reach all the way to party X.
        Wishing you happiness and luck

    • Jean S
      Jean S says:

      Does it help to think of this as a “what you see is what you get” issue? Realistically, how the Farmer is now is how he is going to be. He’s not 21. And it doesn’t sound like he’s inclined to challenge the status quo or delve too deeply into his own psyche (or anyone else’s). He is who he is. And, realistically, he has a lot invested in his relationship with X. He likes it that way. You could stand on your head and spit nickles, and neither he nor X would be inspired to change.

      And that’s hard, isn’t it, for someone who is accustomed to being persuasive and charming. But there you have it. It is what it is.

      Good luck finding your way through all of this. You have a lot of support out here in blogland.

  13. Janet
    Janet says:

    I have been reading your blog for awhile and I think I understand your problem and what you should do about it.

    I hope this doesn’t hurt your feelings but I am blunt by nature.

    You went from one extreme in your young adulthood (wild and crazy life, Manhattan, etc.) to the complete opposite (farm, nothing more need be said).

    The plus side of the wild and crazy thing was that you did whatever you wanted. The minus was that you were totally out of control and nobody loved you or provided you with any security.

    Now you have someone whom you love, and the feeling of security, but you are not at all doing whatever you want. You are raising kids (so they are your bosses really) and you are not only living on the farmer’s farm (which could be an equal thing if you were both invested in it or controlling it 50-50) but it is his family’s farm, and he lived on it before you got there with your kids – which are not his. Meaning, he owns you right now, and it’s not good for either one of you. You have no space.

    Plus your friends/peers just left town for DC.

    My suggestion? Rent an office somewhere in town. You can afford it. Leave the farm at 9 a.m. and come back at 6 p.m. like everybody else. If the farmer needs help on the farm, let him hire someone. (Just make sure it’s not a pretty young girl.) If you need help with childcare, then fine on that too.

    This might be the only way to save your marriage.

    Don’t bug him if he doesn’t want to talk. And stop being so insecure. You’re fine the way you are, he’s fine the way he is, just love him and accept both of yourselves and you will lead a happy life.

    If you can’t cook, screw it. Neither can I.

  14. Diane
    Diane says:

    I agree completely with Janet. Some separation from the farm will give you more independence, make you feel happier and you will both appreciate your time together more.

  15. Evoka
    Evoka says:


    Maybe and only maybe, if you stop putting the focus on the bad side of him having X, and start putting the focus on the good side of X not being so close, It will eventually reach a balance. Never, ever, put your efforts and focus trying to destroy a bad thing / situation / etc. instead try replacing it with good things. This will ease your life. Good luck. –Sapere Aude !!

  16. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    I’ve been thinking about your post since I read it this morning. You know what? Let that damn couch rot. You do deserve to be happy. We all do. There’s no shortages of couches in this world.

  17. KD
    KD says:


    Read THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED by M. Scott Peck if you haven’t already. It changed my life. I hope you blog about it if you read it.

  18. Tzipporah
    Tzipporah says:

    I love what you did with the porch. The blue chair and the little vase with flowers says it all – this is your space, and you’re invested in it now.

    Last night was my revelation about MY x – turns out I’ve been stuck, for literally decades, because of imposter syndrome. Finding out that it’s a real thing, that it has a definite basis, has freed me to realize I actually AM as good as people say I am, and deserve to be happy, doing work I love, and paid well for it. It’s like someone just lifted 30 years of stress and anxiety and self-worth issues off my shoulders and I can finally start really living!

    I hope the farmer can have a similar revelation about x someday (and you as well).

  19. Pam
    Pam says:

    Again we lead parallel lives. Done the putting-the-couch-out thing. We burned ours after some time. My mother-in-law told us about one couch she had her husband burn that she regretted. “It was a Flex Steel. We could have just reupholstered it.”
    And I have the same set up with 2 file drawers and a door. Only not so charming. It’s sitting in the old broken house that was wrecked in the tornado of 1998.

  20. Brad
    Brad says:

    So apparently X is his family, more specifically his parents, who own the farm you’re living on, and who don’t particularly like you. I don’t see you winning this, even with 4000 more fights.

    He should not have lied to you about the laundry.

  21. Brent Winter
    Brent Winter says:

    This post made me so sad. And then I thought about writing an I-told-you-so comment, because if X is what or who I think it is, then I really did tell you so, in my comment on this post: But then I thought, shit, man, don’t pile on after the whistle, she’s hurting. So I started reading something else.

    And then a few minutes later it hit me: He *lied* to you. For five months running he lied to you. Granted, it was only about laundry, but then again, it wasn’t only about laundry, was it? It was about X. And five months’ worth of lies about X is a big deal.

    As I said in my long-ago comment, “Maybe you and the farmer can work out your other problems, and maybe you can’t”; but if he’s repeatedly lying to you as a way to avoid conflict, you definitely will not be able to work out your problems. Honesty is an absolute prerequisite for the kind of relationship you deserve.

  22. Robbin
    Robbin says:

    Isn’t it true…we struggle with the same thing over and over. I didn’t push a couch out the door but I did go build a campfire in my backyard. It’s not legal to burn here but I pretend I am using it as a cooking fire, just in case. I made a comfortable space for myself, in the midst of suburban living. I long for the country and am envious of your life. I’m wondering, what is the issue with an INFP?
    You always make me laugh and I love your open, straight-forward style. Tact? Who needs it when you can clearly make your point known? No need to play a guessing game or sugar coat, is my motto. :)

  23. Richard Sher
    Richard Sher says:

    Very touching and wonderful post. Tell him he is a very lucky man to have you in his life. I know this because You keep your heart open for him to reach you.


    Richard Sher

  24. A Gift Wrapped Life
    A Gift Wrapped Life says:

    This might be too simple and I am missing something but………..since he is with you (on or off the couch) then aren’t you now X? The good X, not the old one.

  25. coursecorrection
    coursecorrection says:

    It’s not X that’s the problem. It’s that he’s lying to you about it. First, you had one problem (X). Now you have two problems: X and the fact he lies to you about X. That’s what brings you down in a marriage – the sense that not only are the problems not getting better, but multiplying.

    My husband had X too – almost the same situation, except it wasn’t a farm but similar. He lied too. He went to therapy and stopped lying to me and himself. As soon as he started to draw boundaries with X, X turned vindictive. Turns out he had also lied to me about the level of financial control X had over his finances. We sorted it out, lost several hundred thousands of dollars all while dealing with a new baby and what was, in retrospect, PPD. We’re picking up the pieces now and we’ll be fine. I read your posts and all I want to say is ‘be careful – no one, I repeat, no one is going to take care of you other than yourself, and especially not a husband who is enmeshed with X.’ With that thought firmly in my head, and the actions I take based on it (financial separation from X, refusing to live in a house owned by X), his X is manageable within our marriage. It also helps that he has had a lot of therapy!

  26. Nichole@40daysof
    Nichole@40daysof says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment here before. I don’t know what to do about you marrying a mama’s boy, but I do know a book that would help you. Because hey, we can only fix ourselves and how we interact with others, but we can’t fix other people. Here is a link to the book at amazon:

    All of the data is from a long running study done by the NIH. And it will help you to understand why talking about the relationship ALL the time is so not the right thing to do with guys. There’s really lots of great stuff in here. And I think you might particularly like it because it’s all from a scientific study and you seem to gravitate towards concrete facts. Good luck!

  27. Alan Perkins
    Alan Perkins says:

    Here is what I would do: I agree you need to focus on you, insofar as that is what you can change. So embrace the X: see what you can do with the parents to get involved in their farmlife independent of your husband. See if you can enjoy farmlife for the sake of it and build a trusting relationship with the parents by doing so, and watch the contentment and joy this will bring out in the farmer. When the parents see your actions (selfless, willing to try new things/change) affect the happiness of their son, when they see that you will not turn him away from them or the farm, when they see that you have unconditional love, then you will feel very good indeed about yourself and all will be well.

  28. Janet
    Janet says:

    Janet here again.

    I have been thinking about your problem some more and I think I understand why you didn’t come up with the solution I had (to get your own office in town) on your own. There are psychological issues involved. (Duh me.)

    The first problem is that you are worried the relationship won’t last. And like someone picking at a scab, you’re going to noodge the farmer until he pushes you away, so that the anxiety of not knowing will at least be over with.

    Think about it.

    –The farmer’s family thinks you are temporary. Therefore they are intent on protecting the farm. This is their way of protecting the farmer.

    –The farmer fears – doesn’t think, but fears – that you are temporary. Because of your blog, your career, your past, whatever. You represent flightiness and he is attracted to you because of that, but he also is attracted to the fact that he doesn’t know what you’ll do. It is exciting to him, but also painful and scary.

    –You also fear – or maybe know – that you are temporary. Partly because the farmer hides his alliance with his family, and is territorial about every inch of the farm, as if it doesn’t belong to you at all. And partly because you, yourself, miss life outside the farm. It is just too foreign a place and a culture to you and you know that you can’t really stay there forever.

    The second problem is that the farmer has too much power over you right now. You have no turf, and he has everything. Having a cyber-business is not the same thing, psychologically, as owning a huge plot of land. Especially if he is surrounded by family and friends, and you, my dear, ain’t.

    The first problem and the second problem are all mixed up because you fear that if you leave him for any amount of time, even to get your own office, either you’re going to want to leave for good, or he’s going to get used to you not being there – and he won’t want or need you anymore.

    All of this is unhealthy. So, here is my advice.

    Step 1. Look inside your heart. Really look. Do you trust the commitment that you have made to this man? How about his to you? It doesn’t mean that you have to love the farm. Just him. And he doesn’t have to think you’re perfect either – just be committed to you. If so, then proceed to Step 2. If not, then end it now.

    Step 2. If you’re going to stay with him, then you have to make it more equal. You can get your own space in town. Or you can even get an office or an apartment outside of town. You have money. Get a condo in D.C. near Brazen Careerist. Spend a week a month getting the business off the ground. It would do you good to be back in a normal setting anyway. (Sorry if this insults the farmer).

    It would probably also do you some good to travel. Either for speaking engagements or just for fun. You remind me a little like Carrie in Sex and the City. In the movie, Mr. Big just wanted to sit around on the couch and watch TV. That wasn’t her, and that’s not you.

    If you are ever in DC let the world know. There are lots of people who probably would want to meet with you and maybe it would spark your ideas about what you want to do next.

    I empathize with what you’re feeling and wish you well. Really, sincerely. Good luck.

    • Pen
      Pen says:

      Janet, from what I can see you are really good at getting to the heart of the matter(s).

      I think I would have some of the same feelings in the same situation, so what you said rang a bell with me.

      • Janet
        Janet says:

        Thanks for saying that. Penelope doesn’t know me personally, but reading her blog has helped me to move forward in my own life. If I can be of help at all, I’m grateful.

        Plus, her feelings and issues often resonate with me. Maybe that’s why I felt like I understood what was really going on (though it’s just a guess).

    • Irving Podolsky
      Irving Podolsky says:


      You have clearly broken down the issues and explained them coherently and elegantly. Allow me to distill your ideas even further.

      The ingredients that must be maintained in any working relationship is TRUST and TRUTH. Without truth, trust dies. Without trust, truth can cannot flow. As you explained, Penelope has marriage issues that cannot be resolved separately. When a third party is involved, an in X, the situation becomes even more complicated.

      So, as I said earlier in this post, feeling safe and loved within a marriage is paramount, and trying to divert attention away from that basic need will not work as a substitution for trust and truth, and hence, devotion and love.


  29. le
    le says:

    hee hee love the couch on the lawn – very boho … shame it did not stay – nothing nicer than a picnic each arvo for you and the wee ones … BTW I am in the country now too and today it is snowing – Oct – Spring in Aust and snow – just fab – best le

  30. Chris M.
    Chris M. says:

    Penelope, I really don’t get why so many people keep saying that the farmer has all the power in the relationship, etc. My husband and I have a very “equal” relationship: we each own 50% of our house, both earn the same money, and…

    This doesn’t mean I could just THROW A COUCH out without talking to him first — the same way he wouldn’t dare to redecorate any part of our house without discussing with me first.

    It’s the place we both live, why shouldn’t we talk beforehand to make sure both agree with any changes to our place?

    I think that trying to change the way you react to X, rather than trying to make him change his relationship with X is great advice. It may take time, but if you make that your goal, I think you will reach it, to the happiness of both of you. Good luck!

  31. lynne whiteside
    lynne whiteside says:

    it’s hard to keep up with a ‘thrill seeker’ – all the stuff he loved about you in the beginning is turning against you. this is normal…if you don’t meditate, you should, try looking up ‘binaural entertrainment’ these are subliminal sounds that recalibrate the brain to it’s ‘calm mind’ state, I need it and so do a lot of other people. YOU ARE FABulous and I look forward to reading about your life…you are too much in your head…calm down…breath…and know that all your FANS are loving you at all time.

  32. dl
    dl says:

    I haven’t seen any comments on this (or maybe I didn’t read carefully enough). What about X? (I’m assuming X is either his parents or sisters).

    Even more sad than the farmer’s failure to separate from X, is that X doesn’t love the farmer enough to force him to grow up, be independent, and have a life of his own. It’s a form of selfishness on their part. They are so worried they will lose him for themselves, they fail to see what they could be gaining with Penelope and her sons.

    That X would abet the farmer in deceiving his wife is appalling. And why was X doing a grown man’s laundry anyway? My sons started doing their own laundry when they were teenagers. The farmer’s family needs to let go and allow him to fly.

  33. pfj
    pfj says:

    Virginia Woolfe said that if a woman were going to write, she needed a room of her own.

    Well, actually she said, “MONEY and a ROOM OF ONE’S OWN.”

    So women need their own space, whether it’s for writing or art or whatever they do. (I suppose a cook would need a separate, second kitchen?)

    And they need some money of their own, because every venture has financial costs. Financial in addition to all the other ‘costs’.

  34. Maria Giovannoni
    Maria Giovannoni says:

    I am a new reader & completely love it! My husband, like all men has X plus Y & Z at times. Throw in we are trying to adapt to living in a new country & he is trying to find a job (NOT like I would) in this country. And when you KNOW he is talented & great at what he does & it’s 9 mos. & still no job & he could kick tail for a company here … the X,Y & Z makes you want to throw out a sofa. So I step back retreat into my computer space because I do not have a porch. However, sometimes a hot bath works wonders.

  35. Anne Lubner
    Anne Lubner says:

    It seems you think X is the problem while the farmer thinks your thinking X is the problem is the problem. Who’s right? Probably both of you but that framing of the problem is most likely not the whole truth. We all see the world from our own perspective but that doesn’t mean the way we view the world is “right”, even if a lot of your readers agree with your perspective. It’s not even about who’s right or wrong. Marriage is like a personal college, it’s about learning to know, accept, and love yourself as well as your spouse. That old saw that it always takes two? That is a hard, hard lesson to learn but very worthwhile. So the big question is why are you so threatened by his relationship with X? And the answer is inside yourself. Are you secure inside yourself? Are you jealous of the closeness of his relationship with X because you don’t have that with your own X? Do you need to control others to feel secure? The path of least resistance is to blame our spouse for our issues, thinking if they change it’ll make us feel better. But both spouses need to change, to grow into their marriage.

    And while honesty is important in any relationship, you have to be able to handle it. If you freak out and get all insecure regarding X, it’s understandable why you didn’t get the truth. Not admirable, just understandable.

    Another book you might enjoy if you haven’t already read it is Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. I found it very enlightening and hope you will too. Find comfort in the knowledge that, no matter what, you are loved always by God. Sending you wishes for inner peace.

  36. Lois Gory
    Lois Gory says:

    Yes. Well.

    I’ve been in a mid-life funk wrassling with the whole my childhood- my parents- my job- my future- my legacy- my closets crap and you just smacked me upside the head and made it all clear-

    Get off the train or sit down and shut up.

    And of course the trouble with standing up yelling on moving trains is that you get hurt- if not by the other exasperated passengers then by losing your balance and hitting your head when the train rounds a corner you didn’t see coming because you were standing up yelling rather than in your seat looking out the window. So to speak.


  37. H
    H says:

    So let’s get this straight: the farmer asked you to stop writing about X because it made him uncomfortable and because he wants his privacy. So you go ahead and write about X while “cleverly” disguising it as “X” and pointing your readership to other blog posts that explain exactly what X is. In fact, you even dare your readers to figure it out: “Anyone who has read this post or this post can figure out what X is.”

    And then you “get anxious” that he’ll dump you? Yeah, you should get anxious. It’s called being trustworthy. You might try it from time to time. If the farmer doesn’t want you to talk about X, then don’t talk about X. You owe him that loyalty regardless of whether or not he was taking his laundry to X (such a clever disguising technique!) or if he hasn’t separated from X. That’s how people roll in mature relationships.

  38. barbi
    barbi says:

    OK, so, most sound advice has been given by the looks of "Comments."
    I have some random thoughts, since, for some reason, while I was blow-drying my hair, I was thinking about the x factor.
    In my case the ex-factor was eight years of an ex unwilling to sign divorce papers (husband was separated when I met him). But isn't a perfect marriage a paradox? Love is more like a pink lava lamp, forever changing… sometimes X is an ex and sometimes a young improved X or a family of X's, a child X, or even a cat X that pisses on your Pradas. So X is inevitable. And once you get rid of one type of X another one pops up like a pimple.
    2. His X did his laundry? Lucky you! Why complain? Our fights are like: "Show me the piece of paper where I agreed to do your laundry! I suggest you reinstate the old laundry policy and add your own and kid's to the pile and thank X for her generosity.
    3. I have a blog. I share stories about husband. But I'm careful not to get too personal because, well, he doesn't like his laundry out in public. So. Farmer may have an X who makes you feel insecure, but you have 57,034 X factors, a lot of whom have strong opinions on him and your relationship, and maybe that makes him insecure?
    Taxi is here. Good luck.

  39. jrandom42
    jrandom42 says:

    Wonderful. Given the sorts of problems that Penelope has been posting, and given the fact that she always seems to either get her own way, or just simply do whatever she feels like, regardless of what her new husband says or thinks, I belive firmly they’re gonna be separated within the next year and divorced in 3.

    • odessa
      odessa says:

      Considering how PT’s been trying to insert herself into the farmer’s business, I’m not surprised his parents aren’t wildly excited about her and her motives. PT’s not going to be the next mommie farmwife blogger. And they probably don’t consider the pair really married.
      so, yes, renting an office in town, and easing off on the home decorating might make her seem less scary and agressive. Distance lends enchantment.

  40. eastcoast
    eastcoast says:

    Someone recently told me to get this book, and I’ve read excerpts of it-it’s good. You Are the One You’ve Been Waiting For, by Richard Schwartz. That said, somewhere in the earlier posts a guy named Irv sounded like he really hit the other side of the equation. Trouble is, there aren’t a lot of evolved guys like Irv hanging around. I don’t get the whole interpersonal relationship thing. Either you’re super lucky to have an Irv, or you’re struggling mightily. And it’s just so darn nice to have it come out into the open. So much stuff is going on in marriage these days.

  41. Nanna Jenssen
    Nanna Jenssen says:

    I think there is a X in every relationship. Haven´t you got an X as well? Try to get over it or else you will loose him. Relax and have a nice life and as the years go by you will see that his X (and yours) will faint away!

  42. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    The comments that resonated with me the most were from Irving Podolsky and Anne Lubner. It would be nice to “like” comments and have them numbered. :)
    Also, I think many of the hurdles you and the farmer are attempting to overcome now (including X) were evident to both of you prior to living together. It’s just that they’re harder, taking longer, and resulting in more fights,arguments, disagreements, or whatever than originally anticipated. Obviously, fighting is not working, so you need to employ different tactics. I think taking deep breaths and maintaining your own work space over the winter and beyond would be helpful.

  43. BDub
    BDub says:

    I really love your openness and the way you are diagnosing the marriage as you go along but I can’t help worrying. These are big big issues and you appeared to have just jumped in without worrying about it. I sort of love that except that you have kids. You’ve not even been married a year and things seem very tenuous. My heart hurts thinking about the kids if this marriage also fails. I’m sorry. As a divorced mom of two, I just worry.

  44. Elizabeth T.
    Elizabeth T. says:

    It is often hard for farm families not to become X’s. The business of farming is unlike any other. Many farms (unlike many family businesses) are generations-old. Many infrastructure aspects of farming (like milking and haying) haven’t changed substantially since the introduction of the milking machine and the tractor, and that lack of change is reflected in farm family relationships, too. The necessary tie to land, combined with pressure to sell it – many farmers are “land poor” – are vicious, strangling cords. Many farm families see the breakup of the family’s land, even in small parcels, as the end of the family as they know it.

    I have seen the with-us-or-against-us dynamic at work in the family of dear friends whose younger daughter married an off-farm man. Neither the family nor the daughter and husband understand the divide between them. They can’t talk about it, there is no common vocabulary, neither side understands why the other side doesn’t “get it”. The farm family is a relationship unit that is not well-defined, nor well-understood, in 21st century America.

    For your own relationship, I stand with others who’ve said that the farmer’s small lies are not a good start. But I also agree with those who are concerned that you shared something the farmer has not wanted you to share. While everyone needs a confidant, your blog readers are the world at large.

    When the farmer first contacted you (as I recall), you had your own life. Perhaps finding a way to have part of your life separate from the farm is a start toward an answer. But it’s only a start. The farmer has two serious relationships to think about – with you and with X. They cannot be thought about as a single issue.

  45. Naomi
    Naomi says:

    I think messed-up people tend to bond together, so you fell for the person with X issues, not surprised.

    My dad has serious issues with his X, because the X does not love him, and he denies this fact and tries to do everything to make it up. He’s been repeatedly abused and he thinks it’s normal, so he abuses others (my mother and I) and tries to make it look like we are the crazy ones.

    My mother refuses to leave him because she feels sorry for him. I’m afraid he’s either going to kill her one day.

    People with issues regarding their X will never, ever put you first. Their problems will only get worse unless they get help, but people with X issues will never get help. You should think about leaving him. Sorry, I’m just telling the truth.

  46. Mark
    Mark says:

    Well, your writing is really helpful. I introduced your site to a friend who found out their Asperger friend across the country was also a big fan. I was diagnosed Asperger two weeks ago. I don’t know what it is normal people are getting from your work, but obviously it is quite a bit. I’m a long term unemployed IT worker and that’s how I found you. I had never heard of Asperger until I found your site. I could never give back what you've done for me, and I know my Asperger is not like your Asperger, but for what it's worth – €“ as long as I'm doing what I'm really interested in, everyone likes me better, I'm happier and they're happier because I'm not driving them nuts as much.

    You are such a great writer and so good at this, I don't know if what you get out of it is the good you do impacting other lives, but whatever it is maybe it's not doing it anymore or maybe it's not enough anymore. I don't leave my house unless I have to, and my doctor says boredom has unhealthy consequences in Asperger. Her recommendation is to do more, schedule things, la la la – €“ but I know if I can find the thing that engrosses me, things fall back into place. Unfortunately, with Asperger, if you outgrow something, you may not easily find another something that really engrosses you.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I like this comment a lot, Mark. I’m not totally sure why. Well, for one thing, I never leave the house unless I have to. And I don’t know anyone with Aspergers who is different than this. And I do think it’s isolating. But the alternative – going places — is so incredibly overwhelming. And I see that people assume this is not true for me, because I lived in LA/NYC/flying all over the US for a year. But it’s true.


  47. mybelovedredacted
    mybelovedredacted says:

    ( scream like a 13 yr old girl at a justin beiber concert )Oh my god, that is exactly what I have been telling myself. My blog is nothing more than me non-stop complaining about my job and relationships. I mean non-stop. The point I make between complaining and bitching is simple. Complaining is just making noise and bitching is doing something about it but making sure everyone knows you are doing something. That is what I love about your blog. 1< great writing and 2< so inspiring.

  48. Liza
    Liza says:

    Relationships are all about give and take.

    Have you thought about why X is such a problem for you? Do you think it has anything to do with the relationship you had with your X? I don’t think his ‘attachment’ to X is necessarily a negative, however the laundry bit is a little more than odd.

    Because I like to solve-problems; I suggest you two take baby steps. Tell him something you don’t like that X interferes with (like laundry, or if they bring over food a lot). This way, you both need to take initiative to transfer those responsibilities to in-house (aka you get to start doing it). Once you two are able to take small steps with the little things that are a problem, you’ll find a healthy balance for his X being in your relationship (trust me, they will never be out of the picture and you need to work hard to make sure X knows the Farmer is being well taken care of – small towns are like this).

    I also don’t suggest moving furniture outside unless you both have talked about it – but that’s a whole different issue.


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