I just had to read Lori Gottlieb’s “Mr Good Enough”. From what the press had said about it, before it was published, it sounded like a book I would loathe. In reality, I do not.
The title may sound controversial, but the book is very valuable. It has the kind of message that you may, initially, want to argue with - or, at least, I did. But then I found myself increasingly convinced and impressed by it.
Yes, there is a note of self-pity in the book, but Gottlieb incorporates a number of useful observations from relationship experts.
She notes that having common interests is far less valuable than sharing values and aspirations about the kind of life you want to create together.
What struck me most powerfully was one expert she quotes who says that the qualities, in a man, that bode well for a long and happy marriage are selflessness and humility.
Contrast selflessness and humility for a moment, if you will, with the characteristics your abusive partner brought to the table.
We both know that there was plenty of selflessness and humility in your relationship.
And we both know that it was all very one-sided; your side.
Quite possibly, like a woman I was working with today, you had not considered that selflessness and humility could be masculine qualities also.
When I mentioned to my client that masculine selflessness and humility are qualities that nurture a loving, enduring relationship, at first, she struggled to grasp that idea. Then she said, referring to my last ezine: “Like the man who went out of his way to bring his wife a latte?”
By now, you may be wondering how masculine selflessness and humility can nurture a wonderful relationship, when your selflessness and humility never managed it.
The answer has two distinct strands to it. First, Gottlieb describes a world of functional men and picky, more or less functional women.
You, and I, were decidedly less picky than we might have been. Also, we did not find a partner in that world, but in the zoo, at the edge of that world. Second, selflessness and humility do not have to indicate a lack of critical faculties, as they did in your case and mine.
I am all in favour of selflessness and humility. In fact, I am at least as much in favour of being the recipient of selflessness and humility as I am in favour of bestowing it on others. When selflessness and humility are reciprocal and spontaneous they are truly wonderful things.
And, there again, reciprocity (like spontaneity) is predictably absent from the skewed world of abusive relationships.
But how, you might ask, is it possible to be selfless and humble without turning into a doormat?
Humility and selflessness are precious gifts to bring to a relationship. They are also gifts that have to be earned; gifts that are only to be bestowed on people who have proved that they are worthy of them.
Your abusive partner proved, time and time again, that he was not worthy of the gifts you brought to the relationship. Yet, you continued to lavish them on him. And, in his hands, they turned to dross. (But then, most things turned to dross in his hands.)
Gottlieb suggests that single women in their 30s and 40s have set the bar too high. My guess is that her thesis is very much coloured by her own experience; not that it really matters here.
What I would argue is that abused women have two bars: one that you set way too high for yourself; and another that you set way too low for a partner.
The fact that you are reading this now means that you have served your time and your days of struggling with high bars are over.
You are entitled to be the recipient of selflessness and humility.
Don’t ever settle for less, again.