DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Crushed in Arlington, Texas," regarding her fiance's constant complaints about her cooking, struck a note with me.
Several years ago, I, too, was involved with a man who did not like my cooking. I was shocked and hurt by his criticisms. Like "Crushed," I tried altering the recipes to correct the faults he pointed out, but he always found something else to criticize. I eventually understood that his complaints were his way of expressing dissatisfaction with ME, and he didn't have the nerve to address the real issues directly. Needless to say, I sent him on his way -- without a doggy bag.
Abby, your advice to "Crushed" missed the point. Instead of giving up or restricting an activity she loves, she should question whether her fiance's criticisms mask some deeper misgivings he has about their relationship. Perhaps he controls others through fault-finding, or cannot admit that she has talents and skills to match his own. If so, the issue must be dealt with before they marry, because it won't improve with time. She may be trying to please someone who, for some reason, can never be pleased. Abby, she needs to know that now, not later. -- STILL COOKING IN SAN FRANCISCO
DEAR STILL COOKING: I've been peppered with salty letters from readers roasting me for not reading between the lines of the letter from that frustrated young woman. And after reading your letter and the others that have come in, I've decided that perhaps my original answer could have used a "pinch" more insight. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: Your response to "Crushed in Arlington, Texas" missed the boat entirely! The man who complained about the writer's cooking is not going to change; if they marry, he'll complain about many aspects of their life. I know. I WAS that man in my younger days, and I was not placated by improvements in my wife's endeavors. This is just one of many tools in a control freak's bag of tricks.
The only reason our marriage survived was my wife's willingness to challenge me on every complaint and not suffer quietly. I would not ask any woman to go through what my wife did to reach our present 42 years of life together. It's far too long to wait for a spouse to understand his problem.
My response to "Crushed" would have been: Ask yourself, will he change? Be honest. Will you be happy living with someone who will find fault no matter how hard you try? I suggest a showdown with him if you're unwilling to end the relationship; do not enter into marriage with this unresolved. (Actually, my gut feeling is that "Crushed" should end the relationship.)
Let's face it, Abby, isn't "finding fault" just another way for those control freaks among us to maintain control over others? Does it have anything to do with how well others perform? I think not. The problem is more serious than you indicated and should be treated as such.
However, writing this letter does allow me to complain about you, so what does that say about me, Abby? -- BEEN THERE, DONE THAT, AZUSA, CALIF.
DEAR BEEN THERE, DONE THAT: It says you cared enough about the woman who wrote to write and supplement what you felt was an inadequate response. And I'm printing your letter -- so, what does that say about ME?