In the gaze of the other

"My mistress' eyes are nothing…"


Infidelity is a Biological Thing


Current studies of American couples indicate that 20 to 40% of heterosexual married men and 20 to 25% of heterosexual married women will also have an extramarital affair during their lifetime.

So states Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist, Chief Scientific Advisor for the dating site and author of five books on love, sex and relationships, in a TED talk/article entitled 10 Facts About Infidelity.

Infidelity, she asserts, is part of our ancestry as prehistoric men and women found reproductive and supportive need for it–a kind of hedging your bets strategy to insure sexual procreation and survival of infancy past the first year.

A lesser known but more intriguing fact in my mind, however, it is part of human biology. The brain, she explains, is a three-part system controlling sex drive, romantic love and “partner attachment” that makes it “possible to express deep feelings of attachment for one partner, while one feels intense romantic love for another individual, while one feels the sex drive for even more extra-dyadic partners.”

In fact, a particular gene may be responsible for infidelity, a widespread phenomenon across time and cultures:

Men carrying the 334 vasopressin allele in a specific region of the vasopressin system scored significantly lower on the Partner Bonding Scale, indicating less feelings of attachment to their spouse. Moreover, their scores were dose dependent: those carrying two of these genes showed the lowest scores, followed by those carrying only one allele. Men carrying the 334 gene also experienced more marital crisis (including threat of divorce) during the past year, and men with two copies of this gene were approximately twice as likely to have had a marital crisis than those who had inherited either one or no copies of this allele.

It is always a bit disconcerting to me to read studies that nail specific behaviors ordinarily regarded as complex, affected by so many variables of time, physiology and history, to a gene. We often indulge science a great deal, affording it unquestioned authority in our everyday absorption of internet tidbits but without the benefit of perspective found in further reading on a given subject.

This article claims a gene governs the likelihood of cheating behavior, but, of course, it does not cite competing genes or other sources that govern ethics or cultural mores that influence a specific decision in any given moment. The author discusses ten facts in a bite-sized article, but are there other facts that would color the conclusions she makes?

However, for those interested in the subject, this article does reference many sources at the end of each of the “ten facts,” and for that reason and the get-out-of-fault-for-cheating free card it offers, in essence, it is a worthwhile read–food for thought anyhow.


My Name is Witness: Ode to Kiah

My name is witness.
I am called so by all.
I watch you spinning
by my feet in haste
and watch you go by
slow in circles around
my head nodding too.
My name is patience.
A heartbeat proves it.
Fear never outpaces
for I have no worries
to chase in nighttime
tooth-losing slow-mo
nightmare of despair.
My name is yearning.
Senses cry longingly.
Your eyes miss mine
though my face sees
every move you are
each word you make
and I do wait for them
your eyes your hand
your stroke of smile
and grin of hands on
this back and neck
ears and nose and
belly and butt of tail.
I am yours though
you are not mine.
I belong to you.
You not to me.
I am dog.
I am.


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If— by Rudyard Kipling : The Poetry Foundation


If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son


Why We Do What We Do Sometimes: Compartmentalization and Fantasy


There are many reasons for infidelity, such as revenge, boredom, the thrill of sexual novelty, sexual addiction. But experts say that a large majority of the time, motivations differ by gender, with men searching for more sex or attention, and women looking to fill an emotional void…. Women tend to have an emotional connection with their lover and are more likely to have an affair because of loneliness.

I googled random words that popped into my head yesterday, only a few that I recall now that I have wandered far from my original search–crisis, conscience, fidelity, causes–and found the above webmd answer to the inquiry, “Why do women (and men) cheat?” Having researched infidelity endlessly in the last six months, I was pretty sure I knew the answers. Yet, as each new search yields slightly different results, I keep returning to the inexhaustible topic.

Paraphrasing here, despite feeling guilty and regardless of how “the other woman” compares to their wives, men cheat when emotionally dissatisfied, i.e., feeling under appreciated or unloved, according to Dr. Gary Newman’s study of 200 avowed strayers. The proposed solution: Wife, get out of yourself and pay attention.

The article teases out the commonplace and dresses it up with officialdom in a reader-friendly version of the study findings. There are few details of the subjects, questions or demographics. But do we need a study to come to the banal conclusion that marriage breeds contemptuous familiarity, human nature tends toward the unconscious and ungrateful, and daily presence and gratitude is the answer to so many of the questions?


How can I be kind to my husband and show him how much he means to me with the daily do’s grinding me into the ground: work, kids, parents and the myriad other balls I juggle to keep it all going, each taking huge chunks out of my time, patience and happiness on most days?

Simple, I remark to myself. Stop, breathe and re-set. Do the enormous work of superhuman strength to take ten minutes out of the day for a gratitude inventory: people who care deeply for my wellbeing, who would suffer horribly if I died or fell gravely ill, even if it doesn’t seem like that most days. So that when I mindlessly knee-jerk react to my husband’s insignificant screw up, I can at least apologize and salve the wound. And just maybe avoid the knife altogether next time. It takes practice.

So the next time he goes out to get 2% milk and gets nonfat instead without an inkling that his kids would never drink that, I refrain from laying into him, complaining how clueless and checked out he is. No one wants to feel dumb. No one reacts well to unkindness. I marvel at how I give strangers on the street more kindness than I give my people sometimes. Just unjust.

But kindness is not a panacea and presence is not easy. Some cheat even if they feel good about and are well-treated by their spouses–to what degree I have no idea, but articles abound with studies attesting to infidelity even among avowed happy homers. People stray for as many reasons as there are people, my weak math brain speculates, as each individual comes to a relationship with his or her own nature and nurture.


The human mind copes with conflict in unseen ways. Mindfulness–a condition for catching self-deception in action–is tricky when it comes to danger triggers and survival mechanisms. I have observed that clandestine relationships survive largely on compartmentalization, which is only one tool in the human arsenal of coping skills.

We parcelize ourselves in order to make sense of what we do. For instance, I have been known to be an overly conscientious mother and daughter but a neglectful wife, at times, and I rationalize that deficit by focusing on the surplus.

Likewise, a man in a strained or dying marriage may justify an affair by weighing his acclaimed superior fathering and provider skills against the undeniably less superior husband skills attested to by his wife and his own admission. But since he is a good father and provider, he believes he compensates for the few failings as his wife’s lover, friend or supporter. She gets her due, so he should get his.

That is just one example of guilt-alleviating separation that keeps folks moving along through their days and in their marriages until either or both terminate. But it’s not just for cheaters. Many sites I consulted on the subject such as Psychology Today and Webmd, cite professions that necessitate compartmentalization. Soldiers, for example, seal up the killing to survive the mental anguish.

Compartmentalization is often survival, no doubt, especially for those with high powered jobs widely responsible for others’ safety like police officers, doctors and lawyers. A doctor could not work without burying the constant threat of lives lost at her hands.

To a lesser or greater extent, we survive emotional infidelity by splitting ourselves into bad and good, justified and unjustified. This disassociation answers the question of how she could fuck her lover each afternoon and then spoon her husband to sleep each night. But is she aware of the division?


We all come to situations as we are. No kidding. Some of us are, and I do include myself, if not outright addicted then highly reliant upon fantasy to prop us up through hard times or as the go-to coping mechanism. I know I dealt with teenage loneliness in fantasy. It gave me the endorphin boost I was later addicted to in distance running.

If I imagined that someone to whom I was attracted also found me attractive as THE object of desire, I smoked those elaborate imagined scenarios with that special someone who found me irresistibly witty and charming, and so, so deep. I would inject the role of lover in love songs, succumbing to the bitter-sweet surrender of being someone else, somewhere else for a while. It was release.

Some people use love to obtain that high even into adulthood. While life sped up for me so much that I lost the luxury of hours mulling in my imagination–school, work, real relationships that were not so ideal and took a lot of rolled-up-sleeves ugly work–I still had spells of disappointment or a generalized ennui that was relieved by lapsing into fantasy.

Specifically, when I found myself in a restricted relationship by borders of time, emotional commitment and opportunity–mistressing, for example–fantasy played a huge part for me and my partner. It sustained the relationship and certainly heightened the sex.


There is an interesting thing about daydreaming and fantasy: Sometimes it works to manifest what you want in life, and other times it keeps you stuck in your life. What makes the difference?

The difference has to do with your intent. Are you consciously imagining what you want from a place of inner connection and joy, or are you using daydreaming and fantasy to avoid your feelings and avoid reality?

When you consciously and joyously imagine what you want, you are participating in creating what you want. However, when you use fantasy and daydreaming as a way of avoiding your feelings and avoiding the reality of a situation, you are using them addictively.

So says Margaret Paul, PhD in “Addiction to Fantasy and Daydreaming.” I agree. Intention is everything–almost. Fantasy spans the poles of medicine to poison.

When abseiling the steep slopes of rocky terrain–deep, existential loneliness or disappointed dissatisfaction in a life partner choice–unhealed lovers or spouses find respite in the life-supporting ropes of daydreams or fantasies of another’s possible meaning or potential in some improbable space and time of the imagination.

This human tendency, whether for avoidance or enhancement, as addiction or inspiration, no matter how dilatory to healing a relationship or the self, was certainly pronounced in those who made me mistress. That is one of the things all lovers had in common: being in love with feeling love and their projected ideal–in me. And I did the same for them.

My illicit loves were all drenched in rich fantasy, which has made each relationship both an irresistible draw and a resounding alarm. While I heard all I desired, all the tailored words and acts calculated to keep me–or my image–I placed a padded, porous cotton circle of safety around my heart.

Because in time I knew that I knew. Looking at myself from the outside as if in a metafictional moment, an actor slow turning away from the scene to wink at the unseen, unknown audience, I broke the fourth wall. I toggled the strutting and fretting between falling in and out of my heart’s desire in dangerous liaisons, which accounted for my enjoyment and sanity within them.

Of course, there is living in the moment and then there is all the rest. When I was with my lover–in that room or car or restaurant–looking into the eyes of the object of my reciprocated desire at that precise moment, there was only the thickness of amniotic warmth, need and desire in perfect balance.

And the other pole–fear, longing, insecurity, conscience, dissatisfaction–drifted in and out of the majority of hours spent without my lover, sometimes striking me with a punch and other times with contemplative concern.

Most times, however, I just went through my days attending to what was directly in sight. I still do. And hope that sleep, my most beloved and ardent lover of all, returns a new day with answers, insight, solution or simply more of the same as all the other yesterdays–practice.

Presence, intention and study are disciplines that enable me to dip into the copiousness of heart pumping inflow and outpouring. Some days it is easier than others to see myself and others with incisive clarity. Others, I fog over.

However, the intention is always there. Struggling with the practice, sweating the line of possibility and decency, creation and destruction, I awaken each day resolved to do the best I can even as I want to do better than that. And so I get up, falter in a slight sway, and get on with the business of another first step to somewhere.




I return this dented box, shoving it in the kitchen pantry.
It is a medium box with stains in speckles and splotches.
Both scarce longing to create irresistibly divine patisserie
and ever-ever boredom with the daily dinner grind are in it.
Each peek-in-the-pantry sighting draws a slight grimace.

This other box is stashed in the dusty dark under my bed,
cobwebbing silk and soot settled atop its large, locked-in lid.
In it, I keep tools of torture like tethers and ties, paddles too,
but I also store scented love notes and wedding souvenirs,
and a single diamond earring still missing its mate long gone.

This other box is huge and heavy, left open wide-way always.
I keep it in the entryway to the house just by an open door.
It contains letters, applications and bills; it bulges with stuff,
shoes of all kinds from cleats to slippers, and also jackets.
Another house it is of walking in head up then out the door.

Another box is buried in the backyard unknown its condition.
It’s been there since the children were very small and fragile,
attached to small furry animals that died and broke smiles,
and that is surely where the younger’s missing pacifier went
along with the “I will never grow up and leave you, Mommy.”

The final box is delicately fine, petite, and hidden up a sleeve.
It is onyx coated slick with fine rubbing fingers’ calming slide.
It weighs so little it attaches to the string around my ankle
that I hardly notice it until I reach down to feel its smoothness
atop and its soft opening lips midway that smile in emptiness.


Prayer to Persephone


Help me live true in sight-full eyes not a blunted mind.
Force my face in cold hands to peer at towering truth.
Bring blackness and death to my skin soliciting sense.
Let me taste the seeds of sweet dread of the unknown.

For only the darkest night can steer the walks in light.
And bury bones in bottom sight risen up in flesh again.
When you left the sky-day to tend the night of the lord
Against your will in fright you un-shuttered mortal bind.

But how I love a tragedy’s turn, a rape to forest virtue,
Your serving grace hosting loss to death’s uncertainty.
Transformed beauty to daunting wisdom’s cool stares
Staggers all who chase visions glancing at their backs.

You, my sweet, eat pomegranate seeds to stay awhile
And leave behind a trace despair in lingering’s icy airs
For morrow’s bring and future’s care is set upon a fate
And you, my queen, have sat a’wait, a sceptered palm.

We of daylight’s blinding glare refuse her biting touch.
Only withdraw in sunny despair of leaving ever known,
A delusion of patterned brains on rickety stacks of lies.
In truth, we suck in rotted meat and vomit chaos’ dust.

Only she may opportune a chance at confusion’s toss
And whisk away the smoke that clouds nature’s burn.
For goddess glory engraves her image etched in sigh
A night’s shadowy beam she confers to all who yearn.