Self-absorbed, Actually (sorry, It's A Long One!)My wife and I have an ongoing dialogue about what we perceive as selfishness in the other. Well, I should say she considers me a selfish person while she herself is selfless. I counter that she has done many things, to me at least, that I would consider selfish. And every time I bring one of those things up, she always has an excuse for the behavior, or a reason why it shouldn’t be considered selfishness – a loophole or special dispensation if you will. My wife would have made an excellent lawyer.
She’s not a bad person, in fact she is kind to a fault to others, and always sees the best in everyone. So why the seeming disconnect with what I consider to be selfish behavior? In doing some research, I’ve come to the conclusion that she is not selfish, per se, but rather self-absorbed. There is a distinction between the two:
In general, self absorbed should be used to describe people who are consistently preoccupied (for whatever reason) with their own thoughts, interests, etc.and selfish should be used to label people who care only for themselves and their interests, benefits, welfare etc and behave in a calculated way.
My wife is constantly claiming that the selfish acts she performs do not have any ill-intent at their root, therefore, they are not selfish. I’m now willing to grant her this point, as it helps clarify some of her behavior, if not towards me, then certainly towards others at times.
Self absorbed people who you wouldn’t call “selfish” are simply those that are preoccupied (A LOT) with what they’ve got going on in their brains and hearts in relation to any given situation. These people generally cannot override the impulse to think intensely about themselves, and are generally the type of people who are prone to heavy introspection and self analysis.
Some small examples of this: I will try to get my wife’s attention while she is deeply engrossed in a TV show. She will not even give me the courtesy of an acknowledgement. I’m not saying she needs to engage me in a dialogue right now, but a simple “Can it wait until this is over?” or even a curt “Not now, can’t you see I’m watching this?” would be preferable to the silence and zombie-like stare at the TV screen I am instead treated to. One time we were visiting our nephew after he had just gotten his tonsils removed. We went to her brother’s house an hour away from us, after work & a quick dinner on a Friday night. The plan was not to stay much later than 7 PM. When it comes to visiting with her family members, I should have known not to trust her to stick to an agreed-upon time. As the hour approached 9:00 I was rapidly slipping out of consciousness. She again had her zombie-like stare fixed on the TV screen, deeply engrossed in an hour-long Whitney Houston tribute. I said “Hon, it’s getting late, you think we should get going?” No response. A few minutes later I asked her again. Silence. I looked over at her brother & sister-in-law , shrugged my shoulders & stated “It’s like I’m not even in the room!” Her sister-in-law shrugged back, while her brother said “runs in the family, what can I say?” On the third attempt I get up and wave my hands in front of her face, & say “Earth to Maria!” That finally spurred her to action, but once we got in the car she proceeded to ream me out for 20 minutes about how rude & obnoxious I was. I explained that I was trying in vain to get her attention for 20 minutes, complained to her brother & sister-in-law about it, and they responded to my complaint, all loud enough for her to hear yet got no reaction. She said it was childlike & immature of me to complain & get all demonstrative & act like a baby because she wasn’t paying attention to me. Again, it’s not about engaging me & lavishing attention on me, it’s just about acknowledging that you hear what I’m saying & I’m not just talking to the walls!
Just this past weekend we took our nephew to a play. The theatre was rather tiny, and our seats were on the aisle – the only aisle our row was accessible from. No less than four times during the play did she sit with her knees pressed against the seat in front of her intently staring at her iPhone reading her email or texting, oblivious to the fact that people needed to get past her to get to their seats. I had to gently remind her, and she obliged the other patrons, blushing slightly as if embarrassed by her behavior (though not embarrassed enough not to repeat the same behavior three more times).
A few weeks ago she stopped at a mini-mart on her way home from work and bought two pints of ice cream. One was strawberry, which is her favorite flavor, and which she knows I do not like at all. The other was “moose tracks” which, both of us being peanut butter & chocolate lovers, we both enjoy. Now, if you’re really intending to bring a treat home to your husband, and you’ve got one pint of ice cream you both love, and on which you love and he hates, what do you do? Do you A) eat the strawberry & give him the moose tracks, hoping he will be gracious enough to give you a taste of it as a thanks for buying it for him in the first place; B) Tear into the moose tracks until there’s maybe 4 spoonfuls left, then give it to him and save the strawberry for yourself tomorrow; or C) avoid any controversy and hurt feelings by buying a third pint of ice cream that is for him and him alone?
Would you be at all surprised to hear that she chose B? And when I ate my meager four spoonfuls and called her on the carpet for selfishly hogging the rest to herself, she defended her actions on the ground that A) she realized what she was doing in time to give me at least some of it; and B) since she had no ill-intentions on her part, the resulting behavior could not be considered selfish. Furthermore, she carries the attitude that suggests that I should be thankful that she caught her error in time to give me my meager taste of ice cream.
Then, the following night after dinner she curls up on the couch with her pint of strawberry ice cream, while I have nothing. I make a show of my displeasure. She asks “are you mad at me?” (as if there was a chance the answer would be no?). And when I say yes because “you have a whole pint of ice cream to yourself while I have nothing” she flies off the handle at me because there are cookies in the house and I can help myself to those. And again defends her behavior on the grounds that she had no ill intentions, therefore she wasn't being selfish. Not once simply owning up to the fact that what she did was rude, selfish, and inconsiderate. Now I am painted as the bad guy, when it was her lack of consideration for my wants/needs/feelings that caused the whole situation in the first place. As a postsc
Last summer we spent Memorial Day weekend at our cottage in northern Wisconsin with her parents, Brother & his family, and sister in law’s recently divorced friend & her two kids. One night the girls decided to go into town to see a movie & probably stop at a bar on the way back. Around 11:00 I see no sign of them coming home any time soon, so I go to bed alone, as does my brother-in-law. Within 10 minutes both our cell phones ring asking us to come pick them up as they are too drunk to drive home. Brother in law gets dressed, I just throw on my sandals, still in my pajamas. We get to the bar, they’re still inside so he goes in to fetch them. I wait a good 15 minutes before they come out (apparently they wanted us to come & have drinks with them – also they ordered a pizza & were waiting for that). I’m quite miffed about the pizza as it’s tiny by my standards (12 inches), so there’s no reason for me to expect that they will share it with me. But to my regret I don’t mention anything about it to my wife. We get home, mom’s still waiting up for us, they begin to dig into the pizza. My wife holds up a tiny scrap & asks me if I want some (so for those of you keeping score, they actually expected to share a 12 inch pizza among six adults. Five actually, as her brother is watching his diet and declines anyway). Rather than say what I really feel (which is, since there’s no way for me to have enough to satisfy a pizza craving, I’d rather do without ,since you were too selfish to make sure there’d be enough for me to have as much as I want, especially after waking me out of bed to come pick your drunk ***** up in the middle of the night), I just reply with a curt “no” (and cut myself off before the words “I wouldn’t DREAM of expecting a share of YOUR pizza”, dripping with sarcasm, can escape my lips). But when we go to bed I lay into her, asking what gives with the tiny ******* pizza and why didn’t you make sure to get enough for me to have as much as I’d want? She said “we just wanted a snack and that was the biggest size we could get because the oven was turned off and they only had one of those little round pizza cookers”, and I figured you weren't drinking anyway so you wouldn't be hungry!" To which I snapped “Then you should have gotten two!” and stormed off to sleep on the couch. I firmly believe they were hoping the pizza would be ready & they’d have scarfed it down before her brother & I showed up & it took too long, so now they had to share as best they could. I still say they should have made sure there was enough to adequately share.
A little over a year ago, my wife lost her job just a few weeks before Christmas. I immediately took charge &
made cuts to our household budget & contingency plans to make our money last as long as possible. Strict austerity measures were called for, which meant no extra spending.
Well, we have a gym membership that we weren’t using for over a year, and I wanted to cut the $90 a month we were throwing down the drain, stating we had plenty videos & whatnot at home we could use for exercising. She insisted she needed to keep the membership and signed up for water aerobics, which necessitated a new bathing suit. I reluctantly agreed to both expenditures. I get home from work to find a Lands End bag on the table with a bathing suit, and a pair of ski pants. I ask what’s with these? She replies “Those are my snow pants, I got those for when I do the snow blowing so I don’t get all soaking wet”. Sixty dollars that we don’t have. Which she justifies by saying “Those originally cost $300 it was just too great a deal to pass up and they actually had them in my size”. Now aside from spending extra money we’d just agreed not to spend, the fact is that I usually do most of the snow blowing, and I know for a fact that the first time she does it she’ll wind up complaining of back pain, and I also know that she loves to sleep in until 8 or 9, so good luck getting her up at 6 am to clear off the driveway so I can get to work. I know the responsibility will default back to me sooner rather than later, and I DON’T HAVE ANY SNOW PANTS OF MY OWN. I guess it’s ok for me to have frozen wet legs & pants that I can’t wear the rest of the day, right? Once again, no thought to my needs, it’s all about her, making sure that her comfort is seen to. No thought to what I had just said about saving money, she has to spend it. Selfishness on multiple levels.
According to her, that wasn’t selfish behavior, because she wasn’t thinking about my needs because she was so excited to find them in her size. So in her words, it’s not selfishness, it’s thoughtlessness, and that somehow makes it OK? She then says “they didn’t have them in your size.” To which I reply “A) I don’t believe for a second that you even looked for some for me; and B) If you did look & didn’t find any, why the **** didn’t you go to another store to find some? What, Lands End is the only store near us? Not like you were so ******* busy that day, I mean it’s not like you had a job to get to or anything!”
The snow pants incident was a landmark because it was the first time I’d ever stood up for myself in the face of her selfish acts. Normally I’d let it slide because I hated the eventual arguments, which would of course be one sided in her favor, all about how much of an ******* I was being, and how much her behavior was justified. There was a prior incident of a similar bent (her thinking only of her own comfort and mine taking a back seat) that I had decided was the last straw, and since I’d let too much time pass without confronting her about it, I felt that the statute of limitations had expired, and so I bided my time until the snow pants incident happened, and I let her know that such behavior would no longer be tolerated, and that this was not the first time she had done something like this, it’s just the first time I decided to speak up for myself.
The previous incident was one I’ve written about elsewhere, and that I’ve gotten enough feedback on to feel confident that I was right and her behavior was definitely selfish , which was one of the reasons why I never confronted her…I got enough feedback from enough total strangers on the internet to believe that I was right. To make a long story short it was a late summer evening and we were headed out to a party at some friends’ house. It was a muggy, stormy day, but at that moment the rain had subsided. I was going to our front hall closet to retrieve appropriate rain gear, but she admonished me that we were running late and had to leave NOW. By the time we get there, we have to park about half a block away, when there’s a huge thunderclap and a drenching rain starts falling. My wife asks me “do you want to get the umbrella for me?” I KNOW I should have asked to clarify what she meant by “for me” (do you mean do I want to get the umbrella for you to use while I get soaked, or do you mean do I want to get the umbrella for us to share?) but instead I head out into the downpour to retrieve her too-small “stick” umbrella, which is supposed to be big enough to share, but we’re both large sized people. I come over to her door & hold the umbrella over her while she exits the car, then put my arm around her & hold her tight to me so we can each have half the umbrella. She first complains about having to walk on the wet grass, but I don’t know how I could have rectified that. Then, about halfway to the house, without a word she yanks the umbrella from my hand so she can hog the lion’s share, and walks really slow so I can get even wetter with every step. When we get to the front door, they have no awning or other kind of shelter. Now what would you do if you were her? Would you A) allow your soaking wet husband to get out of the rain ahead of you; B)Pass the umbrella over to him so you can enter the house first; or C) Walk in ahead of him, turn around to block him from getting out of the downpour while closing the umbrella with a flourish? If you answered A or B, I’ll be looking you up to see if you’re single once my divorce decree is finalized. If you answered C, you are my wife. I elbow my way around her to get out of the downpour, and she is aghast and asks why I am being so rude? “Because I’m getting ******* soaked!” I reply, to which her response is “Well that’s what a gentleman is supposed to do for his sweetie!” (Bullshit) When we leave the party, it’s still raining but not nearly as bad as before so I head off to the car. She follows, umbrella up, not even offering me a share. I’m really not getting that wet at all, but I still feel the need to let her know what a selfish **** she’s acting like, so I shout “Well I guess since you’re not going to share with me I’d better hurry up and get to the car!” Once again, the pattern of her apparently completely tuning me out rears its head, as she just says “Can you pull the car around so I don’t have to walk on the grass?” Jesus Tapdancing Christ, you don’t give a **** about me getting all wet, now it’s too much of a hardship for you to walk on grass for five seconds? Again I bite my tongue, and just drive home silently steaming.
She doesn’t mention the incident at all, but when we get home she throws herself at me. Sex was the last thing on my mind, but now I’m aroused so we go at it. This really ***** things up for me, because now, every time I have the opportunity to confront her on the incident and how selfish I feel she was that night, my **** gets hard, and I either have to have sex with her if she’s there, or jerk off if she’s not, so I can get some release. So I carried this anger around with me for months, because it became an inadvertent aphrodisiac.
I realize I’m working backwards and I’m not sure why. I am noticing that the older the incident chronologically, the more anger I have/had built up towards her. I guess that’s because I only recently (like, in the last couple of days) came to the realization that her behavior comes from a place of self-absorbedness, rather than pure selfishness. I don’t know what I’m looking for here, other than maybe validation of my feelings. Acknowledgement that she’s done me wrong. I mean, looking back I can see that she performs little gestures that seem like they might be apologies, but I’d rather she just come right out and say “I was wrong, I’m sorry”, instead of constantly flipping it on me and making me the one who has to apologize when I’m the aggrieved one. I just want to live in a household where the two spouses are equal partners, who give & receive fair & equitable treatment at all times; as opposed to what we apparently have, which is a series of contests that have to have definite winners and losers, and in which my wife always has to come out the winner. I can never win an argument with her, because when she decides we’re not going to talk about it anymore, that’s it, and regardless of whether I’m ahead on points (hard to tell, as she never concedes any points to me), she winds up winning by default, by virtue of getting in the last word. It seems she’s always got the upper hand. And I sometimes feel like I want to have it at least once in a while. But really what I want is for there not to have to be an upper hand, I just want an equal partnership. I just want to not be treated like I don’t exist. Is that so much to ask for?