Dear Dana is a bi-weekly advice column for humans who engage in romantic relationships. Please send your dilemmas, issues, conundrums, assumptions, conflicts, anxieties, worriments, obstacles, complications, predicaments, queries, questions, and any other synonyms for “problems” to email@example.com.
My wife and I were big Hillary Clinton supporters. We went to rallies, canvassed the neighborhood to drum up other supporters, and even hosted a Hillary Wins The Presidency party on election night. Needless to say, we were both devastated when Trump won. For several weeks after the election, as though someone close to us had died, we grieved. We cried, lost sleep, felt angry and anxious and fearful for the future.
By March, I’d come to accept that Trump was the President and it was time to move on. My wife, however, is still really upset. She will not stop watching the news, screams at the TV every time she sees Trump’s face, and only wants to talk politics all the time. She seems edgy and aggressive, and blames Trump for every little thing that goes wrong in her daily life. I’m doing my best to be patient with her, but her unwillingness to move on is starting to drain me. I miss my wife. What can I do to help her move on?
Trump Stole My Wife
Dear Trump Stole My Wife,
Election night was rough for many of us. On the evening of November 8, 2016, I was seven weeks pregnant and felt awful. I was nauseated, exhausted, and incredibly nervous. My six-week ultrasound hadn’t shown a heartbeat and, while my doctor told me to relax because it was probably just too early to see a heartbeat yet, I worried. I worried about my baby, and I worried about the election, back and forth, everyday.
At my six-week ultrasound, the ultrasound tech pressed the wand into my cervix harder and harder while apologizing—she was trying to find that tiny flutter that proves that life is on its way. But she only found silence. I drove home afterward and tried to comfort myself. “It’s going to be OK,” I thought. “There’s no way that I’ll have a miscarriage AND Trump will be elected president. If one of those things happens, the other one won’t. Both absolutely will not happen.”
On November 8th I watched the election returns with my husband and then went to bed early, painfully sober, my heart racing with anxiety. I woke up the next morning to the definitive news that Trump had won the election. On November 18th I went to the restroom and noticed I had started to bleed. One day later, in the midst of a miscarriage that felt like labor, I opened my eyes and found that my husband was on the phone with 911 and I was covered with vomit I did not remember vomiting. I had passed out in front of him. I went to the hospital, and then to my doctor.
I know that my miscarriage and Trump being elected have nothing to do with each other, but these two events are pressed together in my mind. In both cases, my worst fears were realized. In both cases, I did everything I could think of to prevent the eventual outcome: No soft cheeses, put a Clinton sign in my yard, no alcohol, knock on doors for Clinton, no lunch meat, get people registered to vote, no vigorous exercise, donate money, prenatal vitamins everyday, call strangers and beg them to vote. In both cases, I prayed a lot. In both cases, I found that my efforts were for naught and I had to admit that I was small, limited, and so, so fallible. I am just one single person in an enormous country, just one pregnancy in the enormous number of pregnancies that do not end with babies.
Your wife is just one woman, too. I understand her disbelief, her quivering anxiety, her rage. For many people, this election is the first one that they participated in that also broke their hearts. You’re also upset, but you’ve managed to move on while your wife has not. The truth is, your wife has a lot more to lose with this presidency than you. Mike Pence would like it very much if I was required to have a formal funeral for my miscarriage. And, I have to tell you, when you’re soaking through an 8-hour maxi pad in 20 minutes you really don’t want the added burden of collecting what’s coming out and storing it in tupperware for your government-mandated burial.
The point is: Women have more to lose as a result of this election than men. Just as people of color have more to lose, immigrants have more to lose, Muslims have more to lose, LGBTQ+ individuals have more to lose, anyone who differs from the straight, white, male, healthy, affluent “norm” have more to lose. Which is to say, when it’s your ass being legislated, you take the shit a bit more personally.
The day after the election I was able to participate in an impromptu cry-in with a group of friends. We sat in a room, we passed around boxes of tissue, and we openly wept. We shared how we were feeling and as bad as I felt, it did not compare to the real feelings of panic I saw in friends who had more to lose—the legality of their marriage, their ability to stay in this country, the ability to feel safe walking down the street as a person of color. One woman of color, who was especially upset, shared a story with us. She had spoken to her mother that morning. Her mother had been an activist for social change for longer than all of us had been alive. My friend sobbed on the phone while her mother did not cry at all. My friend asked her mother how she could be so composed and her mother said, “Crying about this, that’s a privilege. You have to expect that things won’t go our way. This is nothing new for us. You need to wipe away those tears and fight for what you know is right.” This moment put my own anxiety into stark perspective.
Your wife needs to understand that the current administration is in no way suffering as a result of her punishing herself. Her anxiety, her rage, her constant discomfort do not bother those that she opposes even a single bit. Your wife needs to find peace while also doing things that push back against the change she fears.
So, what does that look like for her?
She can start a jar and every time she feels upset about Trump she can put money in it and donate it to a cause she believes in.
She can start calling her local representatives on a daily basis and telling them what she wants from her government—5calls.org is a great resource both for contact information and for topics.
She can join local meet-ups of people doing grassroots work to push back against the nationalist tide—https://www.indivisibleguide.com/ has links to local groups as well as a practical guide to taking local action.
Even more, she can work to move her focus. Stop watching the news and collecting information about all that she cannot control and instead focus on what she can control.
We all, each of us, have a sphere of influence. I know it feels so small as to be completely unimportant, but it’s something. It’s a place to start. Have her look at her sphere: Who does she know? Where does she go? What can she do? I run a monthly storytelling show and I started using it to raise money for local charities. Will giving money to these charities prevent the new healthcare bill from passing? Probably not. Will it help people who live near me have slightly better lives? Yes. Will it help to alleviate my anxiety? Oh, yes.
Your wife needs to shift her focus from yelling at a man who will never hear her to instead whispering kindnesses to those who will hear, and know, and be made better for it. Encourage your wife to tighten her focus to only that which she can control. Let her talk to you about her fears, but also encourage her to create agency in her life. Encourage her to create safety for others. If she feels small and vulnerable, ask her to turn to someone she knows who is even more vulnerable and do what she can to help them. Safety is a feeling we create from the inside out. I also recommend therapy because when you’ve been this upset for this long it may require some mindful practice to unknot the worry in your chest.
Here’s something she already knows: Bad things happen all the time. Here’s something she may not know: Bad things happen all the time and they aren’t about us. We can’t prevent them or do a single thing to stop them after they have begun. The world is so large, and complex, and chaotic, and we are so small. But there are so many of us small people. So very, very many. And if we each turn to our small corners and use our energy to make them better, then we can stop their worst from becoming our worst.
Today, eight months later, I cried on the day that my baby would have been due. But I also have to admit that today, eight months later, I’m happy. I’m fearful for our country’s future and I wonder if I’ll ever be able to have another child, but I work not to dwell on either concern. I force myself to focus on what is: My son loves playing in our yard with the hose, my husband rubs my feet on a regular basis, my show is raising money for causes I believe in passionately, and through the example of others I have found a resilience in myself that I did not know I had.
Your wife has a resilience in her, too. Help her find it. Help her to help others. Help all of us to do better.
Dana Norris once went on 71 internet dates, many of which you may read about here. She is the founder of Story Club and editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine. She has been featured in McSweeney’s, Role Reboot, The Rumpus, and Tampa Review and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. You may find her on Twitter at @dananorris.