I’m 28. I’m a nice person. All I have ever dreamed of is being married. I know I would make the perfect wife. I’m not jealous, I’m not a pushover, yet I would devote myself to making sure my husband is happy. Deep down, I want to feel needed. I want to be the person who fusses over my husband’s dinner, who keeps a perfect running household and still manages to look elegant and beautiful at dinnertime. I want to be taken care of, to be looked after, but more importantly to feel safe. All my friends are getting married, some of them to guys who are really, really below their league, and yet I cannot find anyone who wants to marry me. I’m constantly searching for that one person who will be my saviour. My greatest fear is that I will end up alone. I can see myself at 40, still single and living in a little flat that I bought at 28, which seemed super independent and grown-up but at 40 seems like the biggest humiliation.
This first appeared in the Observer.
This letter is so surprising in 2014 that is seems fake, but we must take you at your word. If we do that, then this is heartbreaking. The fact that you need to state ‘I’m a nice person’ right at the top, suggests that on some level you suspect, or have been told, that you are not. There is also a great deal of meekness going into the description ‘nice’, a bland word that one could apply to almost anything and that screams lack of self-worth. Interestingly, though not necessarily significantly, you degender yourself for the ‘nice person’ description, slightly surprising in a letter that is laden with gender stereotyping.
You say you have always been obsessed with being married and that you would be good at it, as if it is an occupation in itself. If you have been preparing yourself for this fantasy marriage for 28 years then one would think you would be perfect at it by now, at least in your imagination. And yet, of course, it is just that – a fantasy. The fact that you depersonalise the putative husband by focusing on the perfection of your own role as regards him very much suggests that you are not, in fact, ready for intimacy and a relationship with a real person.
You say you are not ‘a pushover’, but, in saying that you would not be jealous (of what – affairs?) and would be devoted to this fantasy man’s happiness, you strongly suggest that you would put up with anything in return for…the position of wife? The doll’s house of an imaginary marriage? You are ready for an old-fashioned little girl’s idea of marriage, but certainly not for an adult relationship with an equal. It is not quite clear what your fantasy is defending you against, but, if you cannot remember a time before your obsession began, then it sounds as if this idealised vision of the future served to protect you from some great unhappiness at home in a non-ideal reality. Unfortunately, you got stuck in that little girl’s thought process and have not allowed yourself to develop as separate from your defensive fantasy.
We do then glimpse the core of your escapist fantasy when you say you want to be feel needed. You are willing to offer up some strange behaviours (fussing over food preparation, looking elegant at dinner) in return for being taken care of, looked after and made to feel safe. This is ever so sad and gives us a real picture of a little girl who does not feel protected or loved. So, whilst you are planning to infantalise this Ladybird book husband, you also want him to infantalise you, to care for you in a paternal way and help you to feel less lost. Of course, you must realise, since you are writing to a newspaper with your problem, that there is something wrong with your thinking, that no real person could provide these things. You are already consciously aware that no real person wants what you are offering – an empty charade that infantalises and dehumanises both parties.
It is devastating that you are hoping for ‘a saviour’ who will not be ‘really, really below your league’ but that you are not being chosen. Your role is purely passive, nebulous. You might recognise that your wording is very child-like here as it is again with the idea that buying a flat at 28 is ‘super independent and grown-up’. I’m very pleased to hear that you have friends and, therefore, some support, but in real life there are no relationship league tables and 28 is an ordinary age for an adult woman to have a flat. I think you are very trapped at an early age with little girl fantasies of life. Perhaps that little girl found that real life was messy, smelly, complicated and scary and retreated into the world of saviours, elegant dinners and a pristine home.
You say your biggest fear is to be left alone and that being alone would be the greatest humiliation. And yet, you are alone. Is it terrifying or humiliating? Perhaps you find that it is, or perhaps the fears lurk in the unknown future, something so terrifying that it must be given the structure of a containing fantasy. In this case then the fantasy is actually a defence against fear of ultimate annihilation and little to do with marriage, less to do with a real, human man (who will only disappoint you unless you get some help before you begin meet one).
It is clear that you need a big cuddle and a lot of psychotherapy before you are ready for relationships with men. I can only offer some form of the latter, but you must get some proper help before you find you actually are 40 and have wasted time on a strange fantasy instead of getting out there, working, reading, riding horses (or whatever) and doing stuff that people do, including finding partners who are fun to be with, fun to sleep with and rewarding company. There are no saviours.
[PS. My own fantasy about you is that you are not quite sure about your own gender, your own role as regards being female. Perhaps you don’t feel very female, are not allowing the almost conscious truth that you are attracted to women, etc. However, there is scant evidence for this in your letter.]
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