A little something I worked up from an essay I wrote here a while back was published today in The Mindful Word. A little late for Passover but early for next year 🙂
Enjoy it here, and feel free to comment.
I learned this term today in an elephant journal article. It means “ending a romantic relationship, by cutting off all contact and ignoring the former partner’s attempts to reach out.”
Like the writer who defined the term, I am in the dark about new trends, words and expressions quite often despite having two teenage daughters. I often think how far behind the times I will fall when my contact with them is not daily–in my house. They keep me fresh and as close to hip and trendy as I will ever be (which is not very close), often with exasperated faces, slumped shoulders to punctuate the sheer agony of educating an older person.
However, rudeness is not confined to youth. I agree that ghosting is rude, excluding abusive relationships, of course. Treating people as if they are disposable plastic bags, discarded (probably on the ground) after use without a thought to future ramifications (pollution-physical and emotional) to other beings both human and animal is more than unkind, more than cruel. It is brutal.
The kindest gift is knowledge with all of its up and downsides. I may be rejected, feel bad about being rejected or even about myself, if someone dumps me face to face or in an email or text, but ice that rejection with someone’s cowardice or cruelty to keep me ignorant in the face of such dumping, well that is too much.
First, I not only wind up feeling rejected but ashamed on top of that. Once I discover the ghosting, I am bound to feel doubly embarrassed that I did not know the person I cared about was such a coward, such an unethical person. That is the part that would throw me into despair. How could I not know I was dealing with an asshole?
That realization–that I am stupid, unobservant and/or naive–kills me more than someone rejecting me for being me. I do not need validation from someone else, though it certainly feels wonderful to be appreciated. But I DO need to know who I am dealing with–for my own safety. For how do I make wiser decisions in the future if I have a defective bullshit detector?
The battle is always between the bravery and freedom to trust against cautiousness, the wisdom to discern others’ intentions and needs, and whether those fit my own. The difficulty, of course, is in achieving clarity, sorting through what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. They get conflated and confused sometimes. Is it me who wants exclusivity or am I capitulating to some unspoken or spoken desire of the person I HOPE to build a relationship with in time? It gets complicated picking through the nuances.
Knowledge is the best armor. Knowing the self and observing others is a lifelong study. I hardly ever get it right. The attempt is all I or anyone ever has, but the trick is to develop an intuition or listen to the one inborn, weak as it is, mixed in with recollection of tendencies and traits that are recognizably lethal.
I believe ghosters are detectable to those paying attention.
Barring the sociopaths, those who would do others harm smell differently, and I mean that more in a metaphoric than a literal sense. Tight listening to instincts, like wearing infrared goggles, reveal the dark hidden. If only we use the gear at our disposal: eyes, ears, heart and mind, take note of the signs, the hints, looks and words–not in suspicion but in curiosity, like an archeological exploration, seeing what the landscape bears underneath, hopeful of gems of discovery but mindful that the earth may be barren or even collapsable and dangerous.
Perhaps ghosting is more a phenomenom of youth with its inexperience, fewer notes on lived case studies. Or it should be. But even young people have inherent tools to sniff out fear, falsehood and feelings. If only they respect themselves and their abilities, without trepidation over likely mistakes.
Buddha proclaimed it way before I did. Suffering, though inevitable, is minimized in the mindful.
“I feel that the biggest benefit to having a relationship that allows for others is that you never have to worry about being everything for someone,” said Skye. “We get to love each other and be with each other, and we get to love other people who are special and important to us in other ways.”
Salon’s article “How Open Marriages Really Work” is refreshingly candid about choice and the nature of relationships–that monogamy is not for everyone. Though polyamory is tossed about quite a bit, I think that label imposes a false sheen over the article that aims to shatter the accepted notion that people who do not do monogamy fall into another label, namely polyamory.
Always one to shun labels, I felt a little compartmentalized by that term, even while the article indulged many scenarios where open marriages were either fallen into after initial monogamy or chosen at the outset. In all cases, the catchwords are honesty, openness and love. However, brave is the overall impression I get.
Yes, it takes honesty and ability to articulate jealousies, desires and needs. Some couples felt jealous of the outsiders but later located the source as something missing in the primary relationship that caused the jealousy. If they spent quality time together, either or both were okay to go off on a date with others. But speaking up and facing fears–of loss, jealousy–takes guts.
I was pleased about the mention of some open marriages that are not acknowledged but known by both parties as well as all shades in between complete openness and shadowy closeted. Having enjoyed monogamy for many years before my relationship opened up, I appreciated the nod to necessity as well as choice. Some couples cannot complete one another intimately and so rely on others to do so. And if both agree to any given arrangement, it works, for however long it works. I suspect child rearing years are different from before and after those times. Once again, fluidity.
Monogamy is tough. It is what most of us believe we want, but in truth, most of us do not, not always. I love the options open to the mature who can agree on their relationships from phase to phase, time to time. We are not static beings and neither are our relationships. But more importantly, it is rare to find someone who can be all things at all times for another. Not even the Stepford Wives worked out so well.
Now, if people could just stop being threatened by others doing it differently than they do…what a wonderful world.
What do I think about the Ashley Madison come Josh Duggar (a name I first heard yesterday) “scandal”? Not too much. Surprising coming from someone whose blog is themed on the mistress in that word’s narrowest and broadest sense. But I have written a lot on the subject of infidelity from all sides, and much boils down to the same recurring ideas:
People get hurt–are hurt–and that saddens me. Luckily, counseling resources for the infidelity-wounded exist. Some have called those hurt by infidelity, victims, like the wife of this Duggar, publicly humiliated by someone who apparently spoke out in defense of “family values.” A shame, but the story often unfolds as more complicated than good guys and bad guys, abusers and victims.
People are not honest. Relationships survive on honesty, an ongoing practice that most are not dedicated to but expect from others.
America’s hypocrisy and sexual dysfunction fosters dysfunctional relationships. It is no secret that what we say what we want is not what we want–or do. I featured this article from The Daily Beast before, but it reports the unsurprising facts and bears repeating:
As Pew reports, extramarital affairs are generally condemned worldwide but the U.S. still seems to be uniquely moralistic about them. In fact, most major developed nations in the world are more accepting of infidelity than the U.S., including Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, Spain, and Japan.
In France, a mere 47 percent of adults find extramarital affairs unacceptable, which is less an endorsement of their practice and more a reflection of a widespread refusal to think of it as “a moral issue.” In America, sex is a moral language by default; abroad, less so…
All this being said, Americans’ sexual words do match up with their sexual actions in some special cases. Fifty-seven percent of men and 65 percent of women approve of having babies outside of marriage, although CDC estimates show that only 40 percent of all births are to unmarried women. Divorce rates appear to be on their way down in the 21st century while acceptance of divorce has been steadily increasing.
But these are some of the only realistic moral attitudes in a country where sexual attitudes and sexual behavior tend to be dissonant. And although this mismatch might be mystifying in and of itself, the probable reasons behind it are not: the United States has the largest population of Christians of any country and is one of the only deeply religious wealthy nations in the world. That math—like most Americans—does itself.
Ashley Madison? Only in America.
I also don’t know if I was more bitter about the cheating or the lying. Lying makes me pretty bitter.
It’s not. Cheating is never the answer; if only because it ultimately won’t make us feel good. We’re far better off to figure it out or part ways peacefully. Of course, that’s way easier said than done sometimes and all my experience and those of others will never replace your own experience. That’s how life works.
Also, never blame the cheater. Or the other person. No blame, or blame both parties in the primary relationship. No matter how perfect one partner may seem to be, it’s a two way street. Ladies, if we hold out on giving our man the cookie, we’re asking him to cheat (eventually). Men have very few needs (primarily freedom, respect, appreciation, food, sex) to be content, but they will even put up with a lack of most of those to a large degree if they’re getting sex gratefully. Put out (happily) or put up with a cheater. I’m aware this will ruffle some feathers. I’m not saying we can never say no, but I am saying we’d be best off to not use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip. As a bonus, working out differences between the sheets is a lot more fun for both team mates.
A world without mistresses is a world that prizes honor above all else. This mistress-less world or region or culture raises children not merely to believe in themselves or to obey their parents, but to honor themselves and others.
That is not to imply all mistresses are dishonorable.
What is honor? As a verb (per google), it is to “regard with great respect” and synonymous with “esteem, respect, admire, defer to, look up to; appreciate, value, cherish, adore; reverence, revere, venerate, worship; put on a pedestal.”
It also means “pay public respect to” and is synonymous with “applaud, acclaim, praise, salute, recognize, celebrate, commemorate, commend, hail, lionize, exalt, eulogize, pay homage to, pay tribute to, sing the praises of.”
The second definition is to “fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).”
The honor that means respect, defer to and appreciate is half the meaning of the honor that eliminates the need for a mistress. For what is it to honor the self?
Honoring self means first knowing the self. Those with self esteem believe the self worthy of curiosity and thereby knowledge. Knowing thyself as the ancients and moderns recommend for a happier life–or more meaningful, anyhow–is key.
To take inventory of the self, one’s traits good and bad, is the first step. It takes honesty, something simple in concept, difficult in practice but is that which makes honor work.
Taking frank inventory is difficult because we delude ourselves, suffer under preconceptions inherited by our parents’ stories and opinions of us that we mistake as our own.
Sometimes we do not know our own voice from others’ in our heads telling us we are kind, pretty or argumentative.
My mother always told me that I needed to have the last word on everything, that I was argumentative.
Did she label me so based on my tendency to challenge or her interpretation and reaction to being questioned? Perhaps that “confrontation” was actually curiosity or clarification by a nervous, perfectionistic kid who wanted to make sure she got everything right. If she told me to do something and I asked “Why?” was I challenging her or trying to understand? Her perception, as a busy mother of 5 kids, was that I argued.
We are complex beings and require vigilant and continuous monitoring, listening and considering to understand what we do and how we do what we do: our motivations, desires and traits.
A culture that prized honor would encourage in schools, on billboards and on television, deeds of self-respect. It would teach children not merely to quietly and mindlessly obey the commands of a teacher or words of an adult, but to stay quiet in order to listen to their heartbeat and breath.
Training them young to focus on their bodies, paying attention to its sounds and sensations, would be a foundational step to knowing themselves, easiest commenced with the physical. They would learn that how they feel is manifest in the physical and certain thoughts create physical reactions. They would know, “When I am afraid, I forget to exhale.”
They would learn yoga to keep their bodies in focus and minds quiet. This preparatory practice for meditation is required daily to hear, feel and understand themselves. It takes a quiet that is deeper and stiller than mere mouth closing.
Not that yoga and meditation are the formula to acquiring knowledge or a happy society. But those “indoctrinated” (we are all indoctrinates of a time and place) in the benefits–the necessity–for what these yield–inner focus and listening to one’s authentic voice–fare better in the odds of achieving self-knowledge requisite to honoring self.
To honor self requires self knowledge and honesty. If I know truly who I am, that I am argumentative, kind, clumsy, perfectionistic, fair, foolish and the rest of the adjectives to fill up the half dozen pages or so, I can fairly represent myself to others and circumscribe or expand my life to fit those known attributes or liabilities.
Able to accurately represent myself, I can choose those with whom I enter into agreements, knowing the wisdom of doing so and understanding humans as organic beings; we change and so our needs and wants shift.
This brings me to the second part of the definition of honor, which is fulfilling agreements. All relationships are agreements and thus negotiable.
If I honor you, I come to you honestly. I tell you who I am to the best of my ability. I present myself in hopes of being accepted as that bundle of stuff at that particular moment.
I look at you and run as fair an assessment as possible of who you are and then evaluate whether we bring enough to one another to enter into a relationship at all or if so, to what extent, degree or duration.
If I know that I am a monogamous person but you are not or are not to the same degree and definition as I am, then I must not expect monogamy from you or not enter into a relationship with you if I cannot change my need or expectation for myself.
This all takes the respect to accept people, including the self, as they/we are. Easier in an ideal world that values honor, honesty, knowledge, and integrity above all else, more than money, competition, power, blind obedience, or equality.
When people enter relationships with a firm grasp of their strengths and weaknesses, they offer an other both limitations and options for growth, romantically, sexually, financially, and communally. They offer avenues of achieving goals and desires.
They also bring liabilities which limit growth and possibility.
Think about the odds of finding the ideal match for child rearing and reproducing, financial and emotional support, sexual compatibility, friendship and trust. If you could design your life and honestly acknowledge that who you are and what you want requires serial relationships or multiple relationships throughout time or at any given time to achieve that, your odds of success would be greater if you found someone(s) like minded.
So, if you lived in a society of candid communicators that believed in respecting self and others, honored them, you could have the frank discussion of who you are and what you need.
And partial honesty severely limits what I can do with you, how much I can depend on you and what barriers I have to create in order to work around you to enjoy other aspects of you. I cannot place delicate and precious things in your hands.
But when the odds are in favor of meeting likeminded open and honest people, I could be engaged with people for as long as and in as many ways as I wanted and needed. I could agree to monogamy until that was not right for either or both of us with the understanding that all relationships are negotiable. Cheating would be eliminated. All would be negotiated.
Not that feelings would be spared and misunderstandings or cheating wouldn’t occur. But the likelihood of cheating would be reduced. The mistress would go out of style if the society that honors self and others, realistically, openly communicated their needs and desires.
Capable of loving many and so consensually enter into relationships with several open, honest and communicative people at once, true polyamorous people contribute to that potential of the mistress-less world.
True polyamory, to my understanding, eliminates cheating. It takes work to live in polyamory, more work than keeping up a lie of monogamy. The former is active and constant while the latter is passive and repressive.
Honesty and communication are acts of honor. They are crucial to monogamy or polyamory or any healthy, happy relationship and are a constant practice for readiness to understanding and acceptance.
The mistress exists and has existed for many reasons. Historically, she filled gaps for royalty politically not romantically married.
Today, she fills another kind of gap, which is the monogamy gap. It appears between what we say we want and need or our society prescribes for us and what we actually do.
She also exists because some live for risk, adventure and danger afforded only by secrecy and the forbidden entwined in her.
In that ideal fantasy world of honoring self and others, where would the clandestine loving seekers go for the thrill of the forbidden?
Dinner table discussions around the holidays are always enlightening. The boisterous clashing of personalities of all who chime in on politics and religion, especially liven up any table, even if not recommended for ease of digestion.
Inevitably, when the shouts die down and civil conversation resumes, family members ask me about the latest on the blog. My preoccupation of yesterday I have to admit was the sticky issue of mistress morality, and how I may have mis-represented myself as rather heartless or conscience-less with respect to the cheated on wife. I have maintained that though I have felt guilt, sorrow and empathy for the wife of my married lover, I have not felt as if I cheated her.
She is not mine to betray, the wife of the married man I have loved. I have made no promises to her.
Yes, we all owe others the duty of non-harm. Ahimsa. I came across this term several years ago when I renewed my yoga practice, probably in a yoga journal. In my readings over the years, I have come to understand that the Vedic meaning is non-violence, though it has been modernly used as a wider term embracing all non-harm, whether in word, deed or thought. While I embrace non-harm as a measure of ethics, I confess I find the practice challenging, perplexing at times.
How far does that duty of non-harm/non–violence extend? Some say as far as the improbable. There is no Sanskrit exception to the rule. I would hope the love thy neighbor biblical axiom would likewise have no exception clause. But I am neither a Sanskrit or a biblical scholar, just an ordinary person trying to live well among others.
How far does my duty to others extend? Am I obligated to stay home when I have the sniffles in order to prevent someone I may come in contact with in the street, on the bus, or at work from contracting my cold? Or is my higher duty to go to work, the grocery store and the pharmacy in order to keep my life, and those whose lives depend upon me–children, husband, parents–from suffering damage, i.e., jeopardize my job, feed my children or medicate my father’s diabetes. Whose harm do I avoid? In this hypothetical, I would do what I could to protect others in a compromise position: keep my distance from others and protect them from my coughing and sneezing by directing my germs away from them and wash my hands frequently. But I would go out.
We always weigh our priorities, and often, we hurt others in picking one priority over others. Okay, I am not equating the possibility of spreading a cold to hurting a wife in the event she finds out her husband is cheating. I am simply stating that our choices are relative to circumstances, and we are often forced to choose the lesser of evils. I’m also concluding that there is no way to completely forego harm to others.
The mistress to a married man risks injuring his wife, that the wife will find out and the fallout from the discovery will unleash the untold misery of hurt and immeasurably blasted trust. I have suffered it. And I also have caused it. Neither end of it escapes the scarring.
There is nothing equal to the hurt that comes from betrayal. It overturns the world of belief most adhere to just to get by, feel safe and experience love and peace day to day.
My children betrayed me recently. In light of the depth and length of our relationship, betrayal is the appropriate word. I felt betrayed. The predominant emotion was hurt, not anger.
I raised my daughters under the banner of honesty is the best policy. I reminded them frequently since they were born that honesty and trust go a long way to buying freedom. As they approached teen hood, I spelled out more concretely the concept: the leash is longer if you follow the rules of checking in and answering your phone, telling me where you are when I ask. I’ve explained the consequences of lying and deceit, that it causes all parties to suffer from constant vigilance: verification of the whereabouts and alibis and lockdown when verification isn’t a possibility.
I depend a lot on trust. I relax my vigilance some in faith that they will do what’s right, that I raised them with a good guiding inner voice. I depend on their bond with me as the cradle of their freely confessing their fears, hopes and mistakes, knowing that my love overcomes disappointment or disapproval to rescue and forgive. I depend on that bond.
But they are kids. My 15 year old crawled into my bed early the other morning like she hadn’t done since she was little, complaining of a stomach ache. She slept uneasily by my side for an hour or so. I let her stay home from school, something I am loathe to do unless fevers, broken limbs or other severe maladies present. A teenager will want to stay home from school for a ripped cuticle. Concerned and questioning her symptoms and possible alleviation, I determined to let her stay home.
Later, I went off to work but came home mid-shift to pick up some lunch, something I hadn’t done before. On the way home, I called the older, my 18 year old, asking if she had seen her sister, was she okay, and did she think she was faking. She said she had seen her but didn’t know if she was faking. She seemed a bit stuttering and cagey. When I arrived home, I went up to see the infirmed one, who was nowhere to be found. Checking in with my father, I found that she went out with her sister somewhere.
Now the rule in my house is that if you are too sick to go to school, you stay home. Even if you have a miraculous recovery, you stay home to convalesce or catch up on missed school work, work ahead if you have to. So, this was not only a clear violation of rules, but a deception maybe even from the start on the part of the supposed ill daughter. However, the cover up of the older was just as if not more culpable. She defended herself by saying it wasn’t she who broke the rules; she just provided the ride. However, I found her lack of responsibility to advise her sister about the consequences and to consider the choice, to be disappointing, but to lie by omission to me was the worse of the two indiscretions.
She had broken the trust between us that she would not sever the bonds of faith built upon her good character.
My younger daughter was contrite, desperately apologetic. However, I countered to her apology and explanation that I did not know whether she was sincere or just telling me what I wanted to hear, that that is the real tragedy of deceit. It puts all actions, all words, in a new light, suspicion.
As to the older, I finally got through to her about her part in deception by offering her insight into my misgivings going forward.
My daughters are close and enjoy spending time with each other. I allow the younger to go places and do things, like concerts and late night movies, that I did not allow the older to do or go to due to safety concerns. The younger, however, is permitted to do what her sister could not at her age, when she is accompanied by her older sister.
Now, however, I explained to my older daughter, I did not feel comfortable allowing her to be the guardian of her younger sister, given that she does not have the moral compass I entrust her sister to. If she cannot be a guide to her good choices and her safety, cannot make her sister consider her actions in light of what the consequences might be at minimum with her own mother, I cannot entrust her with a minor for whom I am responsible. She got the point.
We are all on lockdown when trust is broken. The suspicion is taxing on mental space and energy. The process of verification, of having my daughters prove their whereabouts or my confirming their stories by others or checking up myself physically, is not only fatiguing physically but psychically. It’s a lot of negative energy.
So how much more is the bond of spouses severed when one person cheats and deceives the other? Similarly, the faith that each operates on daily, the one that feels like a guarantee that the other will not do injury to his or her loved one, gets shattered. He thinks: “She really does not have my back but is only out for herself.” Not only is that faith gone, permanently or temporarily, but in its place is the pain of betrayal: “I gave her my body, my secrets, my love, my all, and she gave the same to me. That was our bond, something we silently swore is what makes us, us. When she gave her body, shared intimate pleasure with another, shared her secrets, maybe, gave her heart, even for that moment of orgasm, she severed what was our bond of sole sharing. Now I cannot trust her to protect me for my safe keeping, not of my body nor of my mind and heart.”
The injury slices deeply. It is a death. One person kills trust which is the root of allowing the self to deeply connect and surrender. It is a promise between two, to love and be loved.
So when one strays, and the other finds out, trust is broken and the suspicions turn what was once sailing on the calm seas of faith in doing no harm, into the turbulent waters of where is he and what is he doing, feeling, thinking? It is the difference between the peace to pursue one’s own dreams supported by another and the anchor of watchfulness in keeping another.
Most, I suspect, opt not to keep the trust breaker after that wounding and aftermath of recovery. The one I cheated on chose not to keep me. Others learn to trust again after determining that there is a good chance that it won’t happen again and believing in time as healer. Some may also remember that there was something good enough in the first place to keep that person (their others) so close, to let him/her in that far.
When my husband told me early on in our marriage that he loved someone else, a purported friend that he had just gone camping with for a few days, I was devastated. He hadn’t had sex with this person as the friend would not engage, but I believed the love was reciprocated. No matter, the fact that my husband was in love with someone else was the hurt.
The circles of suspicion kept my mind imprisoned. It rolled back to days and months past. Was he anywhere he said he was when he was not with me? What had been said between them to make this happen? He must not love me, and here I was loving him, giving him all I had. It hurt so much that I could not stand to be near him as it felt like the Promethean stab to the liver time after time. I moved out.
I forgave him eventually. I think I did. I accepted that it happened. I also accepted that he wanted to be with me and would get over the other, the outsider. I accepted the risk that he would do it again. There was and still is no guarantee. My heart wanted him, and I accepted that too.
In the 32 years after, he did stray again. However, there were still more practical and impractical reasons to stay together than not, and not only children, despite those others who were in the woodwork, crawling about the gaps in our marriage.
Jealousy, isolation and hurt, large and small, is part of the history of our marriage. If it wasn’t another person, it was his dedication and love for other things he spent so much time and energy on to the exclusion of me: his job, his sport, his music, his friends, his family, his depression. I learned to adapt. I learned about him, and me, how I could not make him something he was not. I took inventory constantly. I weighed priorities.
As long as I could be sure that I was physically protected by my own measures in addition to assurances from him, I had to be okay with the way things were or leave.
Our marriage has morphed over the many years to adapt to the changing individuals that comprise it. As our needs have changed, so has our marriage. What was once the passion of two young people is now the mature steady support and backbone of each of our lives, which also forms the silent sturdy scaffold of many other people’s lives: his, mine, our children, our parents and siblings, our employers.
We are able to perform our life duties and pleasures by virtue of knowing there is someone in each our separate corners. Someone to defend us and pick us up when we feel no strength to get up on our own volition. Someone who will defend us even when we are not deserving, not judge us when we judge ourselves more than anyone else could, make us feel like something when we feel like nothing, love us when we cannot love ourselves and love us even as we are not loving in return. Each does that for the other. Those doings are more important to me than sexual fidelity. But for some, it is all or nothing. And that is theirs to negotiate.
When I carried on an affair with Wayne, I could have contributed to his wife’s injury, only because it would have been me and not someone else that facilitated his infidelity had she found out. And only now I realize just how much. Did I intend to harm her by being kissed that first time so unexpectedly? No. And neither did my kids when they conspired to flout the rules, nor my husband when he fell in love with another. No one declared, “Let’s hurt mom/my wife today.” Did I intend to harm her when I accepted his invitation to meet a second time knowing that it was to continue a clandestine act? No, but the probability of injury was higher. If his wife has not found out to this day, have I harmed her? No. If I had not found out about my kids’ or my husband’s actions, would I have been harmed? No, not then. And I believe that the greater responsibility for her hurt goes to the one who specifically promised not to hurt her in the very manner he would have–by loving another–whether explicitly or implicitly by the marriage contract.
Did I hurt Wayne in carrying on an affair? I did not help him to stay faithful to his wife if that was what he wanted to do. I did not help him if he suffered a bad conscience. Did I cause his suffering of bad conscience or infidelity? Indirectly, I suppose, as catalyst. Had I rejected his advances, I would have protected him from the injury of conscience he may have suffered.
With respect to his wife, I believe I did no harm–in actuality. In fact, I may have even done her a good turn as I have maintained before by causing him to stay in his marriage when all was said and done–if that is indeed a good place for her. It’s all speculation just as much as if she had found out is speculation.
But rules of conduct and the practice of non-harm only make sense as rules and practice in view of potential harm, even if ahimsa was not originally meant to address possibility. Otherwise, rules are not rules but relative applications of labels after the fact. And what of self harm? Did I cause myself injury in engaging an affair? Yes. I suffered the injury of bad conscience and dishonesty. I forewent my principles that structure how I live and how I expect others to live. I did not support monogamy or fidelity, even though I was a believer in them both at the time. In fact, I contributed in some fractional way, to the erosion of those principles.
In light of my use of ahimsa–non-harm–I did harm in engaging in affair, as did my children and my husband to me, though the degree and duration of each specific instance of suffering may differ. And just as I have taken inventory of harm, I could take inventory of the blessings I bestowed and were bestowed upon me, especially if I follow the cause and effect chain far enough. Is it a blessing to love someone and cause him to feel loved and worthy of love? Yes, and more so when he feels unworthy and unloved. Did my children’s awareness of my hurt change them for the better, gear them to be better people, and strengthen our relationship? I believe so. Did my husband’s affairs teach me about myself, make me wiser and stronger? Yes.
Some would judge me as justifying for even considering the benefits since avoidance of harm should be the first principle. Perhaps they are right. I weigh costs and benefits and assess risk in much of what I do by examining facts and the principle of cause and effect. I don’t always believe in that method but I do it, nevertheless. I also aim to behave with compassion and empathy as a general rule. It’s a practice, never finished or achieved as a constant.
Though the tendency is strong to generalize about marriage, cheating, betrayal and hurt, to pay attention to what is universal in the human condition, the specific promises each person makes to another is made upon the particular intentions of the person making the promise, the intentions of the person receiving it and the bits and pieces of their lives coming into the relationship and living their relationship together. Each bond between two minds is unique. It cannot be parsed and judged except on knowing the story of each case. My life as an attorney, teacher, wife, lover, mother, daughter, sibling, friend and citizen has taught me so.
The mistress blog contains many stories. Each who weighs in on the moral, ethical and experiential of her own or another’s story, does so to tell, teach and entertain others–to share. Judging, urgent and unconscious as it is in all of us, curtails or stifles the conversation and may snuff out someone else’s story. Who wouldn’t recoil after being labeled a cheater or having her motives or morals questioned?
While judgment is necessary to a citizenry, to curb behaviors that break down social bonds, there is a time to listen and learn without judgment. There is also a time to judge (discern?) in order to act within one’s own conscience with respect to others, i.e., I won’t date a married man because I don’t want to risk hurt to his wife and me, inevitable with a man who cannot be trusted to be faithful. But too many judge others to silence or control them, using judgment as a weapon rather than as a tool, i.e., if you date a married man, you are as bad as the cheater.
I harp on this point about judging. Without restraint, the importance of the human condition generally and particular human choices specifically do not get revealed and discussed, not only on this blog but in the market place of ideas upon which the American democracy has any chance of survival.
So let’s be scientists or possibilians with respect to stories of love and marriage and mistresses, and suspend judgment until we can definitely rule out certain possibilities. An open mind that does the work of understanding from study, listening, and paying attention, and not knee jerk reaction or bandwagon mimicry (yes, I’m judging) is crucial to preserving awe and wonderment in the world and democracy over militancy and violence in our country. It is not a plea for tolerance as much as for cogent consideration. Ahimsa.