Dear Carolyn: I’ve got a problem with my fiance and partner of 41/2 years.
The good: He’s brilliant, creatively resourceful, outgoing, easy to talk to, wonderful at supporting me with my health issues, and aligns with me on so many of the big-picture goals that really matter. Kids, money, sex, family, etc. The bad: He’s stubborn, opinionated yet strongly influenced by the opinions of others, and sometimes unable to empathize. I’m no doctor, but we both believe he may have a touch of narcissism.
The problem we’re having is about my name. I’m just not sure I’m comfortable assuming his name, I don’t like hyphenation, and I don’t want to lose my middle name (which holds a ton of family history) by putting my maiden name there. I’m also a feminist and don’t think I like the tradition I’d be supporting by doing this.
My understanding after several unsuccessful talks is that it matters to him because it matters to his family and society as a whole. I want to value what matters to him, but admittedly I struggle to not see that as a really stupid motivator. He is unwilling to change HIS name in any way, and refuses to even discuss alternate ways we could satisfy his needs here.
Last week we had our biggest fight yet about this. His demeanor was the embodiment of every unattractive quality within him, and none of the good. He told me that I WOULD take his name one way or another, and that he wouldn’t discuss it further. This is not the way we speak to each other.
He had a real chance of talking me into it if he’d come to me thoughtfully and lovingly and stated his case. But he went as far as to imply that he would not marry me unless I caved on this. (Note: Children are not in our future.)
His whole handling of this argument is making me think maybe this is a mistake. I mean, this is MARRIAGE we’re heading for. We’re planning a WEDDING. I’m feeling bullied and totally misunderstood and disrespected. We’ve been through some major trials, but we’ve never been so unable to communicate. This fight really scares me. Meanwhile we have appointments with caterers and photographers coming up and I don’t know if we should cancel this whole thing or what. What are your thoughts?
What’s in a Name?
A “touch of narcissism” = only somewhat impressed with oneself?
I keep starting answers that break this issue down to its component parts, like this false start: “His good traits seem to make him entertaining to know while the bad ones make him hell to live with.” Or, “This issue alone has foiled you because it’s one on which you’re both emotional and deeply invested, so you can’t fall back on having one of you (as in, you?) just care less about it than the other.” Or, “Your equivocation — ‘I’m just not sure,’ I ‘don’t think I like,’ ‘I struggle to not see that as … really stupid’ — leaves you particularly vulnerable to someone stubborn, opinionated and/or narcissistic.”
Or just, “Cancel or postpone every distraction — caterers, photographers, even the name argument — so you can bring a clear mind to the question of whether you’re making a mistake.”
But every time I start one of these answers, this thought overtakes it: You’ve got your hand on the doorknob, poised to exit a relationship with someone who behaves badly enough for the word “narcissist” to be in play. Can I in good conscience suggest anything, even a thought exercise or schedule adjustment, that might keep you inside?
You don’t need a medical degree or diagnosis here. If you’ve been fair in your depiction of what you’ve witnessed over the past five-ish years — that, for whatever reason, your fiancé is either unwilling or unable to put anyone’s interests above his own — then you know exactly what you’re signing up for with this marriage.
So is this what you want, yes or no? How people in such a marriage would answer this question, I know without knowing — but you need to come to it on your own.
Dear Carolyn: My husband invited his out-of-state family to his upcoming retirement ceremony. They have mistreated me for years, and about a year ago I ended my relationship with them.
They have declined, and as second choice I was asked to go. I can’t get away from feeling so betrayed and don’t want to be second fiddle to his family. This day was supposed to be about celebrating with his wife and kids, not his dysfunctional family. Should I go? My gut is telling me to stay home.
Wife vs. In-Laws
My gut tells me to advise you to talk to him, defenses down. You can hate what he did and still sympathize with what he felt, if he’s willing to share — and able, despite said dysfunction, which no doubt left its mark.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.