Earlier this year, I encouraged my significant other to quit his dream job.
Being a full-time teacher has been my boyfriend’s goal as long as he can remember, and after years of good old-fashioned hard work, he achieved it. When he told me he couldn’t have done it without my support, I cried. This past January, he walked into his classroom as the youngest teacher his school had ever hired, holding the decorations I bought with him.
It didn’t last.
The dream job we prayed for together turned out to be a nightmare. His students threatened his life and destroyed his classroom, and subsequent referrals to the principal went ignored. His administration micromanaged him without giving a single piece of positive feedback (he’s still waiting on his observation report from March). Even substitute teachers verbally abused him in the presence of students and administrators who, once again, did nothing. He started binge-eating and having panic attacks and suicidal thoughts, and his once happy, goofy demeanor disappeared.
Convincing him to resign was a war. Even with his friends and family on my side, he refused to prioritize his health. In his mind, resigning would make him a failure and a bad person, even if staying ended his life. If I had a dollar for every time I heard the phrase “I can’t quit,” I’d be writing this piece from a yacht.
Thankfully, I’m just as stubborn as he is, and with time and persistence, he made the very difficult decision to put himself first. When he handed in his resignation, he told me, “I can physically feel the poison draining from my body.” He started talk therapy, was put on an effective anxiety medication, and returned to college.
He isn’t sure whether he’ll return to the teaching field, but he has all the time in the world to make that decision. What matters now is that I finally have my favorite person back.
I couldn’t help but think of him as I watched last Tuesday’s senatorial debate.
READ MORE — Leslie Sattler: Growing up in a post-9/11 world
“Watched” is a strong word — my secondhand embarrassment got the best of me, and I turned my TV off after five minutes. My most paranoid concerns about John Fetterman’s health were validated: the man is completely incomprehensible. Those five minutes played like a bad SNL sketch. If Christopher Walken had strutted in and demanded more cowbell, I wouldn’t have blinked.
Bad public speakers, let alone inarticulate people, are less likely to achieve their policy goals. Recognizing this doesn’t mean we’re ableist, it means we give a damn about our future. Not only did Fetterman prove he is unfit to advocate for Pennsylvania on a national stage, he publicly humiliated himself, his party, his state, and his family.
Here’s the most frustrating part: Fetterman suffered his stroke way back in May. He had months to drop out of the race, let a healthier Democrat replace him, and rehabilitate his health without the demands of a statewide campaign. If he and his campaign really cared about Pennsylvania — and, frankly, his own recovery — he would have done just that.
It’s hard not to think of Gisele.
They say behind every great man is an even greater woman, but I question the judgment of anyone who’d say John Fetterman’s brilliant, ambitious wife is behind him. Even before John’s stroke, Gisele Fetterman was the face of Fetterman for Senate. Many of his campaign emails are signed with her name. You could easily swap his Twitter account with her personal one. The Washington Post calls her passionate, the Pittsburgh City Paper calls her John’s secret weapon.
She’s his biggest champion, and now, in the face of his ailing health, his biggest enabler.
When I imagine Gisele Fetterman drafting campaign emails, I imagine myself choosing my boyfriend’s classroom decorations — both of us smiling, daydreaming about the future we’ll enjoy when our man starts his new job.
Then I remember losing my partner to a situation that destroyed his health, and I wonder how Gisele in good conscience can push John to continue on the way he is. It’s not that Gisele is solely responsible for John’s decision to keep on keepin’ on. She’s likely been one of many voices in his ear urging him to stay in the race. But Gisele isn’t any voice. She’s John’s wife and the mother of his children, and if she’s really as influential as his campaign implies, her persistent intervention could have yielded a very different debate outcome.
I am in no way saying Gisele Fetterman doesn’t love the father of her children. Until I marry and have kids of my own, I’ll never understand the extent of that kind of love. I’m also not accusing Gisele of purposely sabotaging her husband’s recovery. I’m sure she believes that encouraging him to see his campaign to Nov. 8 makes her a supportive partner. However, as last Tuesday’s debate proved, that belief is completely misguided.
If I could send a message to Giselle Barreto Fetterman, it would be this: Convincing my significant other to throw in the towel for his health’s sake was one of the more difficult battles I’ve chosen, but the results were worth it. Resigning didn’t make him a failure, and it didn’t make him selfish. It made him smart. It made him brave. And it gave him the chance at an even brighter future.
As any woman who’s ever loved a stubborn man knows, there’s a time to listen to Tammy Wynette, and there’s a time to turn her off.
Leslie Sattler is an editor and Gen Z columnist. She has a degree from NYU. @LeslieASattler