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:

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99 replies
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  1. Susan
    Susan says:

    Dear Penelope-

    I’ve been thinking it would be a for you to review your posts since you’ve moved into the farm and realize the number of major changes you have made since you moved in. You are making huge changes all the time (a lot of them without discussing with him first – like the office couch thing) and this has to be very discomfiting for the farmer. You’re trying to make a place for yourself, but maybe you should try to go more with him. You both have to learn to work as a team. Right now he probably feels like Hurricane Penelope is rearranging everything. Also, learn to deal with X. Let her do his laundry and be glad of the help. It is not a competition and your insisting he doesn’t care about you as much because he’s close to X (unless x is actively turning him against you) is self defeating and will only make him resent you.
    Get another hobby beside turning the farm and farmer inside out before you drive both of you crazy. You don’t have enough to do.

  2. Anna
    Anna says:

    The best part about this post is the black cat.

    And this: “INTJs inherently trust their insights, and with their task-orientation will work intensely to make their visions into realities.”

    Which explains why I catch on to quite a bit that I don’t have expertise on.

  3. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    Penelope…..come into the shop & we’ll find a nice quiet corner for you that you can use whenever you want. (And if she wants to do his laundry for him, who cares…that only means he doesn’t want to do it & you don’t have to take care of it either.)

  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    Thank you for the honesty of stating that you are not getting off the train. You have made your choice, you are sitting down and staying on the train. Amen.

  5. MyWifeThinksImADonkey
    MyWifeThinksImADonkey says:

    In learning about you, your interactions with others, and Aspergers through your blog, I’ve experienced some deja vu moments. Then one day recently, a light bulb came on and the thought ‘does she have Aspergers or is she just being Jewish?” popped into my head. My deja vu feelings were a pattern recognition of unpleasant interactions I have had over my life with some people of the Jewish faith. Now, before you go ape-shit and label me anti-semetic, let me omit for bevity’s sake a long winded defense just say that I’m not. I have had some wonderful interactions and relationships with many Jews.

    However, I have also had some not so pleasant interactions and those experiences had in common were what I considered to be abrasive personality characteristics in the other person. Oddly enough, there also seemed to be a lot of similarities in the way the people I had trouble getting along with behaved. They didn’t just all get under my skin, they got under my skin in the same ways. It was odd that not all Jewish people behaved like this, but there seemed to be a subset of Jewish people that to me had a common abrasive behavior. Anyway, in reading about you and Aspergers, I started seeing that the behaviors you were attributing to Aspergers were what I was finding abrasive in the Jews I didn’t get along with.

    So, I Googled “Asperger Jew” and discovered that I wasn’t the only one to draw this connection. Perhaps you were already aware of a potential Jewish genetic link with Aspergers, but it was new information to me and it possibly confirms my own experiences/pattern recognition.

    • Naomi
      Naomi says:

      According to your logic, I’m forced to conclude that Chinese people also carry lots of asperger genes – because we, too, are abrasive, neurotic, and generally fail at communications even when it comes to that with our own mothers.

      It’s culture, stupid! Not genetics.

  6. DANA
    DANA says:

    i just wanted you to know that in an other side of the planet there is a girl ,who is a very close friend of mine ,who has the same personality as you have( and Asperger syndrome ).Her boyfriend is exactly (and i mean exactly) like your farmer, and they have the same problems as you have!The only difference is that she hasn’t persouaded him to marry her yet!(she is working on this ,currently)
    So THIS your pattern and not the type of arguments you have but the type of men ,girls like you find.
    i like you very much ,you are great

  7. Josephine Hanan
    Josephine Hanan says:

    I think that the fact that you spent so much time getting this all down on paper is a testament to how much you value your relationship and are not willing to take the easy way out and just “get off the train” when you seem to be on different tracks, so to speak.

    Remember that if you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. He’s x and you’re y and the problem will be the same problem 5 to 10 years from now given nothing changes in how either of you are being with other (in face of your default personality habits). The good news is you distinguished what they are so you can take responsibility for them. IT would be interesting to see if your farmer also perceives you the same way you perceive yourself.

    Here’s something crazy to try…what if you don’t attempt to fix the problem at all and just talk about what the perfect relationship would look like from both your perspectives? There is such a thing as being real and authentic without being insensitive:)

    You are a strong, wonderful person and I commend you for not giving up on love:)

  8. Estelle
    Estelle says:

    First of all I want to say I love what you did with the porch – I can imagine how restful it must be to sit there and gaze out the window, thinking your thoughts and watching the seasons go by while you write.

    And so I hesitate to carry on the torrent of considered and thoughtful advice you have received already in relation to X, but I just wanted to say that whether you are living on a farm, in the city or on the moon, a woman needs to know that she is absolutely number one with the man she loves. She needs to assert this categorically and not budge on this point.

    If the man cannot emotionally commit 100% to his woman, he does not deserve to have her – I’m sorry, but there it is. This does not imply that he should become a doormat to her, he should still be his own man or lose her respect. Point is, if a man has not psychologically separated from X, and he is in a committed relationship, what on earth is he doing? I’ll tell you – €“ the path of least resistance. He has more history and emotional bondage with X and so often letting his woman believe that she has the problem, he is wimping out of cutting those strong X ties. He is avoiding making the decision to choose, and this is also because she is letting him. I can say this because I was doing what so many women do – 15 years of marriage and all the BS attendant upon his loyalty to X. After all those years of telling myself it didn’t matter so much, I was shocked to discover all I had to do was merely point out that he should make a decision (a grown-up one) about who he wants to give his loyalty to. And this did not mean cutting ties with X, far from it. It meant giving his emotional loyalty to me. Funny thing is, once I did this, my marriage, the relationship with X, and my sleepless nights improved out of sight. So five years later I can honestly say I am content. I also think he was relieved – €“ he really did think he did not have to choose.

    Do you really want to know the truth – €“ assert yourself and ask him. Or you could go on living on a rollercoaster, wondering if your existence and that of your children at the farm is dependent on the goodwill of X. Or not – and I do mean this with respect. It is your life and the great thing is that you get to choose how to live, regardless of what others think or say. And you seem like a brave and loving woman to me.

    • MyWifeThinksImADonkey
      MyWifeThinksImADonkey says:

      It’s interesting though that if you reverse the roles and it’s the wife who wants to maintain a close relationship with her mother (talks with often, confides to, asks advice from, etc.) and the husband demands 100% loyalty then he would likely be branded by other women as a controlling monster that the wife should leave. Don’t you think?

      • Estelle
        Estelle says:

        Hey MyWifeThinksImADonkey (btw, does she really?)- good point. I do think each partner needs to give 100% to the relationship, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t have other close relationships, family or otherwise. But the number 1 relationship has to be the partner. There is a biological reason why this is especially true for women to feel they are number 1, and that is if she cannot trust her mate to be there emotionally for her 100%, it is life or death for her (and her children). It could be argued that our choice of mate no longer means our survival. And yet if he is dividing his loyalty between X and her, she will not feel the level of certainty she needs to feel safe – there will always be a level of unease. This can be entirely unconscious on the woman’s part. And a man has to be careful about being demanding with his partner – it is a fine line between aggression/domination and commanding presence – he could indeed be seen as a ‘controlling monster’.

        A good test as to where the balance of emotional power lies is for the partner who has the ‘troublesome’ X to show their partner more than usual affection in the presence of said X. If they are able to do this, then you have your answer – if they are unable to do this then ditto.

        I think in Penelope’s case she has uprooted herself and her kids to be with a man she has emotionally committed to 100% – I am guessing she would like to know by his emotional commitment to her that she has chosen well.

        Life and marriage ain’t easy, to be sure. And yet if you can tweak just a thing or two within the relationship it can improve it by an order of magnitude.

  9. Dave
    Dave says:

    Your office seems like a fine choice now but if you’re still using it in February I predict your posts will be much shorter because you’ll be freezing to death while writing. ;-)


  10. Don
    Don says:

    The question is are you love with what someone is or what someone could be, or both? You only learn by listening, but you can love completely what is, what could be and whatever will be. May your love grow strong and your life be rich. What is the significance of letting the couch go to the fire? Is it that the courtship burns in the memory as the love moves forward?

  11. Amy
    Amy says:

    X is the problem in many marriages/relationships. So, here is some advice that was given to me by a very wise woman (okay, therapist…) at some point that changed my life.

    When you marry someone…you agree to get into a boat together and set off on your life’s journey. The thing is, in the course of your travels…some other people (X) may try to get in the boat, rock the boat, or flip the boat. THERE CAN ONLY BE TWO PEOPLE IN THE BOAT. So, anyone who loves either one of you, or both, should understand that there is only room for two people in the boat. That doesn’t mean that everyone else is excluded from your lives, but there are boundaries. Nobody else in the boat. So now, when I am having an issue with my husband about something he is doing that I’m uncomfortable with for one reason or another — and I can’t necessarily articulate it, I simply say ‘I don’t think it’s good for the boat’. And he gets it. And we both feel better…. Hope this helps. Amy Parmenter

  12. ash
    ash says:

    wow with so many comments I don`t even know if you will read mine but I had to give it a shot. I see from your pic you`re a mum yourself. Why does it have to be a choice between X or you? Why cant he be close to both of you? And hello ANY guy would evade a sensitive issue by simply choosing not to tell his wife if he thought she would get upset about it!! I read some of the other comments as well. Honey do yourself a favour and forget this rubbish about absolute honesty in relationships blah blah. It will only lead to a speedy divorce and loneliness in the long run. Sure, you probably feel you deserve perfect happiness, so do we all, so do cancer patients and victims of terrorist attacks. Thats not what life is about. We`re dealt certain cards in life its up to you how you choose to play them. After all are you trying to empathize with your husband over his feelings for his mum? Being a wife and mother myself I realize each day just how much my mum in law loves her son. About as much as I love my baby boy and as much as MY mum loves my brother. Don`t be so insecure. Life is never going to be a little boat with the two of you happily rocking away in it!! Time passes so swiftly. Make a genuine effort to get to know his X. It will only strengthen his feelings for you. And for God`s sake don`t listen to comments urging you to basically bat him over the head and leave him. He obviously loves you but sounds like a non confrontational type. Cant push that sort too far they resent you for it! Take a deep breath and a chill pill and do not let your insecurities spoil a perfectly good marriage. Best of luck!!

  13. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Still amazed at how endlessly people will discuss the nuances of relationships! Doesn’t this just get boring after a while? How many times can you revisit the same issue? Sorry – can’t do that. Figure out what’s negotiable and what’s not (and that has all to do about you and not about others), spend a reasonable amount of time to figure out if the balance with another person tilts in favor of a long term relationship, accept what you can’t change as just being part of life and move on. If you end it, no point in rehashing the past (as long as you understand yourself and why you did what you did) – if you stay in it, why endlessly dwell on negatives?

  14. Sarah R.
    Sarah R. says:

    I love your blog–even though you offend people right and left. I love it because you say tons of things that I am thinking. Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think you have a fantastic eye for design. The pics of the farmhouse look awesome. If you are ever tired of blogging and don’t know what to say why not through us a post or two touring the house? I’d love it!

  15. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    I lost track of this effort years ago but have need to geocode thousands of addresses nightly. I must use the very accurate database sitting on the machine, installed when the Nuvi map update –

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