Cary Tennis, Salon’s resident advice columnist, answers a rather ridunculous letter in his column today. A man writes in that when they were married, his first wife always wore her hair short despite years of him asking her to grow it long, and she bit her fingernails, too, a habit he says “annoyed” him. Since divorcing her many moons ago, he’s remarried and has had several more children with his second wife. His first wife remarried, as well, and the children they had together are all grown up and remain close to both parents as well as their younger half-siblings. All sounds good, right? Well, not so much. You see, wife #1 has recently grown out her hair! AND she seems to have stopped biting her nails!
“I don’t understand why she decided to let her hair (and nails) grow after she and I broke up. I really wanted her to have long hair, but she never took my request seriously,” he writes. I mean, the TRAVESTY! “If she still had short hair I would assume that’s just her style and not think about it,” he explains, since obviously, if a woman preferred a short hair-do at once upon a time, she’d, of course, want to keep it that way forever, that’s just the natural order of things!! People aren’t supposed to change! “Should I ask her why she wouldn’t grow her hair long when we were together?” he asks.
As usual, his response is super long and convoluted, but it comes down to this:
I note that you do not propose asking her why she decided to grow her hair long, but why she wouldn’t grow it long before. Think about the difference. If you phrase it that way, it may sound like you are bringing up old grievances. Another way to put it would be to compliment her on her hair and ask her if there is any particular thing that made her finally decide to grow it long. Did her hairdresser, for instance, suggest it?
Wait, what? The guy’s been divorced from her long enough to be married to another woman for over 10 years. How is it any of his business what the hell his ex-wife does with her hair? Ah, but then Cary gets to the real meat of the question:
And you really do need to know what you want from her. Otherwise, nothing she says in reply will satisfy you. She cannot answer your real question if she does not know what it is. Maybe you want to ask her, Why didn’t you give me what I wanted when we were together? Or, What does he have that I don’t have? Or maybe your question is not even a question but a statement, like, Seeing you now, I feel this awful regret that we couldn’t get things right before.
Cary Tennis is wrong, though. Even if the man understood exactly what question he needed answered, he still wouldn’t be satisfied, because the biggest underlying question of all is: “What does YOUR hair have to do with ME?” And the likely answer is: absolutely nothing, something no narcissist ever wants to hear. And here’s a shocking concept: maybe her long hair has nothing to do with her new husband, either. MAYBE, just maybe, she didn’t grow her hair long for anyone but herself.
All of this raises another question: have you ever done something after you broke up with someone that he or she really wanted you to try when you were together? And if so, what prompted you to finally give it a go? Do you think there was a sense of liberation in breaking up that gave you the freedom to try it?