At a dinner, a woman asked how my husband and I met. He says he spotted me in the campus dining hall, deliberately bumped me and spilled my drink on my tray, and used getting me a refill to ask me out. This never happened. (We met in class, and he asked me out.) What does it mean that he has such faulty recall about the entire origin of our marriage? — Disturbed
There is such a thing as “total recall,” and it’s what automakers rush to do after they sell a car that is not only self-driving but self-destructing: dropping parts like breadcrumbs as it tools down the highway.
What total recall is not is a feature of the human mind – despite the widely believed myth that memory is a form of mental videotape: faithfully preserving our experiences for playback. Ideal as this would be for spouses with prosecutorial tendencies, our minds are, in fact, hotbeds of fragmented, distorted, partial recall.
We create this mess ourselves, simply by remembering – and remembering again. “Using one’s memory shapes one’s memory,” explains psychologist Robert Bjork. Basically, the more we tell a story, the more we believe it – along with all the embellishments (aka big fat lies) we added to funny it up and otherwise impress (so social situations feel less like reenactments of being picked last for dodgeball).
And when I say “we,” I mean me. When I lived in Manhattan, I’d brag about my response to a street-corner flasher: “Looks like a penis – only smaller.” I’m now pretty sure this never happened. I did see an escaped trouser snake or, uh, five on the subway. (New Yorkers think of this as “Tuesday.”) That was probably my sourdough starter for the cleverbrag I trotted out endlessly at parties – till I was snidely informed that my “original” circa mid-’90s line appeared in the 1978 movie “Bloodbrothers.”
Consider that your husband’s memory might not be the only one that’s been, um, redecorated. Also consider (see my cleverbrag above) that we tend to “remember” events in self-serving ways. Any guy can ask a girl out after class, but in your husband’s version, he goes on a mini-quest to get a date with you. Not exactly the stuff Sir Lancelot was made of, but modern men must make do with the heroics available to them: “I won her love – after a bloody battle with a cafeteria tray and a glass of 2% milk.”
The Incredible Sulk
I hang with friends about twice weekly and also like my alone time. The guy I’m seeing not only wants to be together constantly but seems to need that. He’s upset and anxious on nights I’m not with him. The first time I said I couldn’t get together, he was annoyed. He now complains I’m “dependent on” my friends, meaning unhealthily. He claims a great relationship is two people who are always together (a la “you complete me”). I don’t want to hurt him, but I won’t give up my friends or myself for a relationship, and I don’t know how to tell him. — Conflicted
Dating sites work very hard to be inclusive in the type-of-partner options they list – “man seeking woman,” “man seeking man,” and even “man-seeking genderbeige” – yet they omit a checkbox for “man seeking hostage.”
That appears to be the model for your man’s ideal relationship (as an adult who gets “upset and anxious” on nights his boo’s away). Though he paints his longing for nonstop togetherness as the height of romance, his “You complete me!” is not so much a romantic declaration as an accidental disclosure of extreme neediness. It also makes him a poor match for any woman whose relationship goals are best summed up as: togetherness, yes; conjoined, no.
As a woman, you’re likely on the high end of the spectrum of a personality trait called “agreeableness.” On a positive note, this plays out in being “kind, considerate, likable, cooperative, (and) helpful,” reports psychologist William Graziano. On a less positive note, it often leads to prioritizing these lovely behaviors over one’s own needs.
A personality trait is not a behavioral mandate. You can shift out of auto-“pleaser” mode by pre-planning to assert yourself – “Here’s what I need!” – and then doing it, no matter how uncomfortable it feels at first. The more you do it, the more natural (and even rewarding!) it’ll feel – till your default position becomes standing up for yourself instead of rolling over for everybody else.
Guesstimate how much weekly togetherness and apartness works for you, and make it clear to men you date – starting by informing your current guy that your social world will continue to extend beyond being his human binky. In short, the sort of relationship that works for you is one in which you’re bonded but not zip-tied.