Support Others Supporting Others: Infidelity Counseling Network Drive

  
Posted on Infidelity Counseling Network yesterday, Praveen Kumar’s Reasons Why Couple’s Cheat on Each Other in boldsky limitless living cites the statistic that ten percent of marriages are headed for divorce due to infidelity. Though unverified in the article, I don’t doubt that is true. Anecdotal evidence from my former practice conforms to that reality. Kumar goes on to state that most cheat before they separate and then lists the reasons for cheating in relationships: neglect, dissatisfaction and boredom, essentially. 

While these reasons are no revelation, some of the statements the author makes are rather surprising. For one, she distinguishes male from female patterns:

The cheating patterns of men tend to be a bit different than that of women. Some men would perceive cheating as just having fun outside the relationship.

And women don’t? I am curious as to the basis of the author’s conclusions. Which studies differentiate men and women’s cheating patterns on the basis of fun? Seems to me the validity of the article’s conclusions would be more compelling and interesting with some foundational support and less bias. In Kumar’s brief summation, men are presumed to be superficial weasels–of which I am sure there are plenty–and women victims. 

Some of those cheating men don’t even feel guilty unless they are cornered. When it comes to women, most of them resort to cheating when they are emotionally dissatisfied or feeling lonely in their relationships.

However, attributing dishonesty and overall bad behavior to one gender strikes me as a hasty generalization. Shortcutting the work of proof and relying on stereotypes perpetuated by cultural lore or media does no one any good. Moreover, it makes fluff of some serious consideration: the causes of infidelity and its immediate and collateral devastation to spouses and children.

One non-profit organization that focuses on those life-altering effects of infidelity is the aforementioned Infidelity Counseling Network, which is having a fundraising drive today. While I have balked at some of the articles on their website as genderist, favoring women, I have since come to realize that their services would logically benefit those who come forward to seek help from the heartbreak and trauma of cheating and resulting divorce: most prominently women. 

There is currently debate in the field of evolutionary psychology whether an innate, evolved sex difference exists between men and women in response to an act of infidelity; this is often called a “sex difference”. Those that posit a sex difference exists state that men are 60% more likely to be disturbed by an act of sexual infidelity (having one’s partner engage in sexual relations with another), whereas women are 83% more likely to be disturbed by an act of emotional infidelity (having one’s partner fall in love with another) (Buss, et al., 1992). Those against this model argue that there is no difference between men and women in their response to an act of infidelity.

This excerpt from Wikipedia citing The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests there are sound reasons to believe that women are more affected by infidelity than men, and thus, it would seem, along with socially constructed beliefs men hold about confessing emotion and weakness, women are more likely to avail themselves of counseling services for their pain.

And so, I believe there is a necessity to support nonprofits like Infidelity Counseling Network, a group of professionals that inform and support those suffering from the pain borne from betrayal, loss, and rejection, some of the profound suffering resulting from any broken relationship but especially from one irreparably or remediably damaged by cheating. 

An invaluable public service focused on healing and compassion thrives only on the support of the many who believe in spreading the wealth of giving, caring and sharing.

Here is the link for this Cinco de Mayo support drive:  Infidelity Counseling Network May 5th drive.
Peace.

Would You Watch This Documentary?

  
The divorce rate for first time marriages in the United States hovers steadily at about 50% according to the Census Bureau’s reports over the last ten years. Yet mindlessly and merrily, Americans march to the altar like lemmings to the cliff, only to free fall over the edge into the depths of that statistic. Despite the concerted efforts of great minds in many fields–psychology, law, medicine, sociology, anthropology, to name a few–there has been little progress in lowering divorce rates overall. 


Except for rate shifts with the rise and fall of the economy, most notably couples choosing not to divorce in a down economy because it is cheaper to live on separate sides of the house than pay attorneys, divorce rates fluctuate little. During some periods, marriage trends toward cohabitation over licensing.


Though there are probably as many reasons for divorce as there are married couples, common factors such as communication, religion, finances, childrearing and roles contribute to the irremediable breakdown of marriages. And while cheating is the last straw when it comes to suffering an unfulfilling relationship and often impels filing divorce papers, it is not so much the cause as the symptom of the bases for disagreement. 


Poor communication about feelings, especially about sex, is a significant cause of injury in marriage. The experts, including Esther Perelman, have written about sex as the communication trouble spot, the sensitivity surrounding sex and the expectations of couplehood, in particular: the beliefs that two people merge and thereby are able to read each other’s minds and that sexual performance critique leaves long lasting scars on marriage sex life, are problematic. 


Though male dissatisfaction is not unheard of, the complaints are more likely by or rooted in women regarding men’s inability to sexually satisfy. Reciprocity in the sexual satisfaction arena breaks down.  When one party is getting satisfied while the other is not, resentments grow and withholding sex or certain sex acts the other enjoys, often results. My evidence is anecdotal, but I am fairly certain the data validates my assumptions.


Why is sex so complicated? I suspect sedimented beliefs and inherited cultural myths about female bodies and leftover Puritanical sexual mores contribute significantly to the complexity.  


And though orgasms are not all there is to sex, they are significant, especially if only one of the couple is having them. In any event, the lack of orgasms coupled with the inability to talk about that lack not only to mates but to friends and family for the discomfort we dysfunctional Americans have in speaking about sex generally, circles the perimeter as well as forms the shadowy core of the divorce abyss. 


Perhaps learning about how women orgasm is a key to lowering the divorce rate in this country. And here to educate all of us, people of all genders, about female orgasm is a documentary by an expert:

“Our culture is obsessed with depicting and idolizing both vag-gasms and intercourse as the ultimate in sexual expression,” says Trisha Borowicz, a filmmaker/molecular biologist who studies orgasm ‘just for fun.” “Everyone acts like there is not a definition for female orgasm when there really is a pretty damn good one.”

Science, Sex and Ladies is Borowicz’s attempt at not only dispelling myths about female orgasm but also teaching how they are achieved. She attacks the accepted model of penis in vagina penetration as the “norm” for fulfilling women. By boldly and explicitly explaining how female orgasm is produced with a real vulva to diagram, she supplies important facts to expose the lies many women grow up believing in the absence of valid information.

5. Contrary to popular belief, most women don’t take “forever” to come. Most women come as quickly as easily as men, given the right stimulation. Men would also take “forever” to come if they were only being stimulated by, say, someone diligently rubbing their pubic hair.

That’s number five of four other fantastic facts needing to be known and provided courtesy of Jill Hamilton’s review of the Borowicz’s documentary in Salon.com (The simple “secret” to making a woman orgasm no one understands). A link to the documentary is provided in the article, well worth the read.

While educating the populace with vulva diagrams is not the antidote to divorce, disseminating accurate information–truths about how women work–improves the health of everyone, especially teens susceptible to the porn industry that fills the gaping hole parents leave when they do not or cannot inform their sons and daughters about the wonders of the female body–no easy task. 

I know my own daughters resist the awkward masturbation and sexual satisfaction conversation that they perceive as foisted on them. Disturbing notions of our mothers as sexual beings haunts the deep recesses of our collective subconscious for centuries, one of many deeply ingrained twists to our sexual proclivities. No wonder we’re screwed up.

Happy Anniversary!

Here’s to delightful surprises! May your lives be full of them.
 
A toast of good cheer I have made many times, sober or not, today I toast a special anniversary–mine.
 
I married my charming good friend 35 years ago. I loved him then, one of a couple of jackass kids we were back in 1980. Flippantly striding through college campus defying accepted authority and unearthing sacred ground, we were irreverently youthful. So when he asked me to marry him for a practical solution to an impractical problem of late registration and the French military, I did. After all, he was my good friend-sometimes lover. I did love him.

 

To this day I am unsure of the depth of our love–even if he loved me–to what degree or intensity. It did not matter. We galavanted through the crazy years together as a pair. And when my car blew up and my job went south, I moved in with him, only to move out nine years later and then move back in 6 years after that. 

 

To our sometimes amazement, sometimes knowing nod, we have lasted this long together, through the soaring and sinking. To our surprise, we built and destroyed things together without destroying each other. To no one’s surprise, we have tried our best to be good friends, lovers, parents, children, siblings, friends and citizens of the local and larger world we inhabit. 

 

Even more surprising than our lasting is our having met in the first place. What were the chances that we would meet at Golden West College in Mrs. Strauss’ World Literature class and start a conversation, me, who never initiated conversations with anyone, whispering that first opening line: “Where’re you from?”

 

I was an awkward, self-conscious, earth-shoe-wearing 18 year old poor student with visions of backpacking through Europe some day and a sucker for an accent, while he was a suave, self-assured, French-accented European of means with a late 70’s expensive shoulder-length haircut, collar-less shirt and American boorishness critique. We were caricatures of Romantics–righteous anger, cynical disdain and ironic amusement–back then.  

 

When I married him, I was aware his eyes turned for delicate boned petite beauties with eyes the color of the sea set in sand-polished skin while I adored tall, dark-haired brown-skinned rugged bad boys who seldom smiled. I was a tall, clunky hippy, a brown-eyed brunette with freckles who hugged her knees into her chest while conversing in wild waves of gesticulating hands. He was fair-haired, small-framed metro with polite manners and a sense of decorum. 

 

Somehow we found our meeting. Somehow we have survived the mountain of small frictions of daily living atop the chasm of disappointment, misunderstanding and alienation that one human being can produce in another. Steadiness steered us through the rocket ride up and back as it does now.  

 

We share a steadiness, a vibration like the P wave of the electrocardiogram, where the spikes are measured against the dips to tell the story of a heart’s patterns and rhythm. Call it history, maturation, transcendence, or regeneration like severed nerve endings in the brain organically reaching out and reconnecting, we share a communal past and an ongoing present. We grew up together.
 
To my daily delight, we survive days that lapse into years. We co-exist, unconsciously in each other’s often silent presence puppeteering the motions and emotions of two people conducting a marriage, a family, and a life as we wander through moments, sometimes colliding, clashing and crashing, other times melding and mooring, uplifting upon the same softly rocking sea of a cul de sac world we look out to sitting on our lawn chairs in the sunny warmth bathing our suburban front porch.
 
There is peace in constancy. I am surprised to write that, me, whose constant throughout my kick-ass twenties and thirties was the belief that contentment was a fate worse than death, a killer of creativity and therefore life. Without the itch, the striving, I thought, there was only collapse into the hum of the daily, the numbing hum of contentment. But constancy is not always contentment. 
 
The average, the mean and the median are constants, not so much as compromise but as perspective. The sum total of existence is the graph of heart palpitating thrills of victory measured against the torpor of stultifying loss. Quality of life, in retrospect, is calculated by that range of emotion, the depth of terror and rage against ecstasy and bliss. My husband-partner-mate and I have reached, stretched the limits together, and so have bonded, grown neurological tendrils of connections in the doing.
 
And we stumble over and with each other still, amazed that we awaken to yet another shared morning, that we grew two healthy, happy humans despite ourselves and manage to move through time and space as we do–mindlessly mindful of the beat that syncs us, he sometimes the high and me the low while other times he the wide and me the far. Wondrously, unexpectedly, we make it–together.
 
Happy Anniversary, to you who will not read this tribute to endurance. If you did, however, you would find in this lovely duet, a surprise akin to our own song. Cheers!

Marriage: the Conventional, the Unconventional and the Facts

  

credit: http://i2.wp.com (No, this is not my family; it’s just weirdly entertaining, kind of like my marriage)


April 19th is my wedding anniversary. In four days I will have been married 35 years–to the same man. Though we have an open marriage, enjoy physical intimacy no longer, I consider our marriage meaningful and committed. We have created and continue to raise two incredible human beings while caretaking two others safely through their twilight. Barring unforeseen calamities, including death, I see no reason for our marriage not to last.


Perhaps my years as a divorce attorney fueled the longevity of my marriage. Witness all day–so many days–to so much grief and acrimony, the willful and unwitting destruction of lives small and big, I avoided arguing when I came home at night. The running joke was always, “If we argue, I have to charge you,” while glancing down at my wrist to the non-existent watch timing billable hours. From clients to opposing attorneys, court clerks, and even my own staff, I was argued out by the time I got home and wanted conciliatory peace. And we did live peacefully in those days, most of our days, for the most part.

My marriage has not been without huge dips in the fairly steady, even road. There were times of grave disappointment and betrayal, cheating and lying, exasperatingly long periods of financial deficits and child rearing disparities. Though most of the big ticket items to tear at the seams of a marriage were little or non-issues for us–religion, in-laws and politics–there was still enough shared life to rend our lives into separate camps, feeling isolated and alone, the union itself contributing to that loneliness, for me anyhow. I confused belief in our couplehood, being on the same team, with sameness. I thought we should never be at odds to such an extent that we bring one another down.

Yes, we have laid each other low at times, blew out our ugliest selves at each other, guts a’spew, but we have also propped each other up, been the very scaffolding of each other’s lives at other times. My husband rescued me in my lowest days and shared in my greatest moments too. And I suppose that is the crux of it: we share history. The one thing that is nearly impossible to divorce is history. Observing hundreds of divorcing couples over the years, I believe that is deepest cut–slicing away the shared past. Many divorce tears shed are in mourning a communal past.

Concluding from my own marriage, those who can simply last–endure disappointment, suffer patiently and hope daily–are those who benefit most from marriage. My husband loathes change and I inherited blind optimism, which provides some of the glue of our togetherness. But apparently additional factors contribute to marital success or failure, according to Woman’s Day and its 10 Surprising Divorce Facts: parental influence, education, location, income, religion and age at marriage. 

If your parents’ marriage lasted, you’re college educated, enjoy a substantial income, are Catholic or Protestant and don’t live in Alabama, your marriage is likely to last, surprisingly. I have never lived in Alabama. My parents have been married for 61 years, which would explain my 35-year marriage but not my sisters’ three divorces between them, one of them having lasted only one year–twice. But it would explain my brother’s 29-year marriage, my one sister’s 23-year marriage before it went south, but not my still another sister’s never having been married yet in her 44th year.

So take it for what it’s worth, an “ah, that’s interesting” reading that may supply your ten minute coffee break with entertainment. This short fact list provoked in me a pondering over the definition of marriage: What makes a marriage? What makes a good marriage? Longevity certainly is not the litmus test for quality, though one might assume so. People can be unhappily married most of their lives. 

Trite as it seems, a good marriage consists of two people with realistic attitudes about the institution specifically and human beings generally. My marriage was a convenience in its inception but grew into the shapes it has taken over the years: love, family, loyalty, convention and the inverse of all of those too. Perhaps the lack of expectation going into it explains in part the “success” of my marriage. Unfulfilled expectations did not root itself in the initial contractual arrangement. Certainly they arose organically as my husband and I developed expectations over time. 

Perhaps it’s because we didn’t believe in the institution as much as we believed in each other. Marriage formulas or divorce statistics abound in the news and in the confines of counseling offices, but ultimately, the unique chemistry and conversing, the melding of two people’s lives, people harkening from separate beginnings, nature and nurture, are the core components of the mysterious making of a marriage. Each marriage rises and falls accordingly. Belaboring the obvious? Yep.

Sentimental Morning

Yesterday I read in the Huffington Post the story of A.J.’s 25 year affair with a married man, her divorce lawyer, on whom she had grown dependent for love, money and herself. Her story is familiar. She filled a space that was her, missing most probably due to the abandonment she felt in childhood, with him, but came to realize after two and a half decades that only she could fill that gaping hole.
 
The hole in my heart couldn’t be filled by anyone but me. I had to love myself more than I loved anyone else. Even him. Finally, I understood.

 

We walked out of the hotel onto Park Avenue, and without another word to him, I turned and walked away.
 
This morning I awoke from a dream the last vision of which was the face of my husband of nearly 35 years, smiling, his head leaning on someone else’s shoulders, completely content. 
 
No one has made me weep more in my dreams than he has.
 
Though we are no longer intimate, we share a connection deeper and more profound than the silence we keep about what went wrong and what is right.
 
Love is more than dependency, but its shape and character are dependent upon lovers. There is no doubt that we fall in love with love and all we imagine it to be, including that leaning, literally and figuratively, on another. Our hearts resound solitarily in our chests, but the primal urge to sync our rhythms to the beats of those hearts walking beside us is unimaginably fierce. We don’t want to be–alone.


Graham Nash — A Simple Man


I am a simple man
So I sing a simple song
Never been so much in love
And never hurt so bad at the same time.
I am a simple man
And I play a simple tune
I wish that I could see you once again
Across the room like the first time.
I just want to hold you I don’t want to hold you down
I hear what you’re saying and you’re spinning my head around
And I can’t make it alone.
The ending of the tale
Is the singing of the song
Make me proud to be your man only you can make me strong
Like the last time.
I just want to hold you I don’t want to hold you down
I hear what you’re saying and you’re spinning my head around
And I can’t make it alone.

Guest Post: Telling Everyone



credit:  http://f1.bcbits.com

The week after my husband told me he thought he was in love with someone else, I emailed a
group of close girlfriends with the news. My words must have been hysterical because the very next
night they stopped their busy-lives-kids-husbands-making-dinner-supervising-homework and told me to
meet them at a local café, which I did, where we sat and drank tea and I wept and wept and wept. And
they listened.

After that night, I decided that I simply had to tell people. Everyone. Anyone. My friends, my
family, his family, a few co-workers, the woman in front of me at the supermarket, the moms of my
daughter’s peers. I remember thinking that if I tell enough people, it won’t hurt so much. If I tell enough
people, no one will blame me. If I tell enough people, they will nod knowingly when we get divorced (or
when I kick him out, which I inevitably did, in my rage. He came back though. That’s for another blog
post).

And soon, hearing the news, friends and family began to react in ways that told me more about
them than about me and this infidelity experience. My closest girlfriends started to call, phoning to tell
me they love me, they are here for me, an invisible army out beyond the house where I can’t see them,
rows and rows of people who support me unconditionally, waiting there to hold me in my arms if I
needed holding or walk with me to happiness when I was ready to walk. My mom, in an atypical
expression of outward emotion, told me she would be there for whether we got divorced or stayed
married. A few friends, both male and female, told me they’d happily get in line to kill, maim, or
strangle my husband (one of them sounded uncomfortably serious). A couple of girlfriends admitted
they were so angry
with him that they didn’t know how they were going to work through that (they are
still struggling, I think, because their manner is different around him now). One friend never mentioned
it, not for the entire five months of the affair nor the following two years of marriage recovery; to this
date she does not bring it up or ask me how I am.

I know that my story, and my telling everyone so openly and forcefully, was terrifying to many
of our friends. “If this could happen to her, could it happen to me?” went the unstated refrain. “Would
my husband do this? Is he capable of such a choice?” No one ever spoke those words but I knew they
were there. My experience was a threat, something “other” that loomed on the edge of our nice middle
class world.

And yet. While this support was so beautiful, so unwavering, and so key to my eventual survival,
there was something missing. No one said, “Hey I’ve been there.” No one ventured, “My sister has been
through this.” I felt as if I was the only human on earth whose husband had betrayed her. Of course I’d
heard about infidelity in movies and books, with celebrities and politicians but I did not know
anyone else like me who had been through it. Anyone else like me: educated semi-suburban wife and
mom, married 20+ years, seemingly happy (though the marriage bore cracks) and basically successful.
Feeling so uniquely marked in this way was like a scarlet “I” (for infidelity) worn, invisibly, on my
forehead for an entire year. It was only later, once we began to rebuild our relationship and I started
sharing with people too about that effort, that three girlfriends came to me with their own infidelity
stories. Suddenly I was not alone.

Cross-posted on http://betrayedwivesclub.blogspot.com/, http://counselingwithcaroline.com/blog/, and
http://eldamlopez.com/category/blog/

Laura S.
Executive Director
Infidelity Counseling Network
www.infidelitycounselingnetwork.org 

Mere Mortals We Cheaters Be



Of course, Anna Jorgensen’s 4 Stages of Cheating & When it’s Warranted in elephant journal grabbed my attention, but, after reading it, I feel a bit betrayed myself. First, the title is terribly misleading:  “when it’s warranted”, according to Jorgensen, is never…unless your life warrants it. In other words, it’s complicated, not surprisingly.

Second, the 4 stages of cheating she outlines are pretty obvious. No, the most interesting insights of this article are found in her off-the-cuff wisdom culled from personal experience. Mentioning her three observational points of view, conspirator, cheatee and cheater, she confesses the following about being cheated on (the cheatee):

I also don’t know if I was more bitter about the cheating or the lying. Lying makes me pretty bitter.


Lying makes most people crazy. Social brainwashing and the human tendency toward compartmentalization are partially to blame for that toss up, deciding which is more insanity-inducing. One may eventually understand the cheating, sexual urges and all (media reporting cheating is a fact of life), but the lying is almost always interpreted as conscious, decisive and lacerating. Lying is a knife in the heart of trust and often taken as a sign of a deeply flawed character. 

An insane world is one where truth and falsity are in constant flux, making for a meaningless existence. When the lying is revealed, it not only induces shame and blame, punched-in pride and cries of victimhood, none of which help to expedite healing, but turns the world upside down, leaving the “victim” paranoid about her own failure of instinct and understanding. She often becomes defensive and mistrusting. 

In truth, cheating IS lying–to self and others.


Jorgensen avers cheating is never warranted and argues an either-or fallacy:  fix it or forget it.
When Cheating is Warranted

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.

Strikes me as a rational imperative: work on the relationship or get out of it if it cannot be worked out. And yes, easier said than done, especially when children are involved. Balancing the needs of two people is incredibly challenging. Three, four or more components to the equation is far more difficult. Now add some children or parents with all-consuming special needs or a spouse with a congenital, contracted illness ten or twenty years into the relationship and see how the formula of fix it or forget it comes out. Jorgensen acknowledges the fallacy and backtracks from her hard stance to a more philosophical one.

If the issue were black and white, the conversation about cheating would be over.

The Blame Game: We Lose

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.


Again, I like her homespun advice imbued with personal experience. My head nods when I read this excerpt, but my knee-jerk doubt scoffs at such an assurance of life operating in neat little stereotypes. If it is that easy to appease men, then there wouldn’t be much to write on cheating. Psychologists would go broke. 

Though, I have been told by many men that this is what wives must do to avoid infidelity: be an avid sex participant. However, each man defines “avid” and “participant” vastly differently: once a day? a week? smiling?  Most men, I suspect, are more complicated than “just feed, bathe and sex me.” 

Some men have emotional cheats that remain purely emotional. Others may have been drawn initially by the emotional support, recognition and respect perceived as missing from their relationship, appreciation for which they later translate into physical contact. Or some men are drawn to outsiders because they are outsiders, plain and simple. 

There are innumerable sources to the cheating complex just as there is an unlimited spectrum of flavors of men and women, combining in infinite ways. Hyperbole, maybe, but so is reducing men to primates.

Some humans are excellent comparmentalizers. They see the world in boxes and parcelize people into um-teen utile categories. The impossibility of the composite picture, of the ideal fed to a population, is culprit, in part, to infidelity. 

Think of June Cleaver with her clean white apron, Laura Ashley styled cotton dress, string of pearls and freshly swept up-do. She stays home all day scrubbing floors and baking cookies for the Beav, but keeps herself on-the-ready attractive with her pearls and dress for her husband’s whims and desires. She is saint and sinner. She is a symbol of the impossible ideal of an era. 

We aim too high, are fed too many fairy tales and told too many lies from birth. Thus, I say the aggregate behavior of a culture is partially to blame for cheating. We are inculcated to it. 

It is complicated. I have been beaten down from my high horse long ago. Personal responsibility, determination and justice used to be the cure-all in my mind. Judgments flew from great heights. But there is nothing like life to equalize: nothing like getting my ass kicked up and down the halls inside and outside of courthouses, by attorneys, judges, clients, business associates, trusted friends, lovers, brother, sisters, children, strangers, parents, spouse, and nature at one time or another to afford me humble perspective.  

The conversation is critical. Keep talking, observing, listening and starting anew, I silently affirm daily. Be flexibly firm, empathic and self-doubting while amused, I often think. Aspire to be the acme–saint June Cleaver–knowing the inevitable shortfall. It is all anyone can do in the face of the mystery and misfortune of mere mortality.  

Feminism Does Not Ruin Anything; Fairy tales do.


Emer O’Toole’s Ten Things Feminism Has Ruined for Me in the Guardian is a well-written satiric yet sincere read on what feminism has spoiled–mostly fun–for this writer from her cat to Catholicism to marriage and monogamy. While humorous, she raises some insightful conundrums in compromising that space of the political to enter the more relaxed place of “Hey, it ain’t correct, but it feels good, so I’ll just shut my mind off.”  
More than the insights and complaints, I love how she works through her queries in writing, watching the process of working through each dilemma. Here is just one example:
You’re a feminist. You’re questioning the gender-related norms in the world around you, trying to figure out which ones are oppressive (eg, sexual objectification; domestic violence; workplace discrimination) and which ones are OK (lipstick). And you begin to feel that a social system in which people claim rights of sexual ownership over each other’s bodies, and get very angry when these exclusive rights are violated, is a system so deeply imbued with patriarchal capitalist ideology as to make gender equality impossible.
So she recognizes the inherent intransigence of an institution, monogamous marriage, so deeply embedded in the larger socio-economic practice and mindset of a country that values possessions including others’ bodies, which is rife for abuse of women in a patriarchal society.  Men still run things around here. Marriage based on ownership filters down to men owning women and children, which was literally true only about a hundred years ago. Women were chattel as Kate Chopin’s ‘”Story of an Hour” reminds us.
Though, I do not doubt that two people can agree that they each have equal “ownership” rights over each other’s body and enjoy those rights, even with jealousy and possession as the basis of policing that arrangement. Two individuals cognizant of their needs and boundaries and respectful of the same in the other certainly can make monogamy work within the patriarchy of capitalism and monogamy. Like everything, it depends on the people entering into and honoring the agreements they make with continuing communication and monitoring about their arrangement when it is not working.
You take your head out of the theoretical clouds and look at the grounded reality of monogamy. You see lying, cheating, shame, even violence, and you think: is this because of love? Or is it because of the idea that we own the sexual function of the people we love? Love should make us happy (I’m looking at you, Anna Karenina). Yet jealousy, so often an excuse for abuse, is romanticised by the logic of monogamy, while love is vilified. Surely, with compassion, commitment and communication, we can find the courage to love differently. Polyamory is the future!
I do not know that romanticizing jealousy correlates to vilifying love, unless she means generally monogamy leads to jealousy and people focus on the keeping possession of bodies rather than the love that binds each to such an arrangement in the first place. Unless she means that love that someone can give to others is curtailed by having it wrapped up in only one other being. There are so many people one comes across in life, many lovable people, and yet many bargain away their love in an exclusivity contract, which seems rather unnatural and doomed as insurmountably contrived and unnatural.  
Polyamory, she applauds as the solution, though too quickly. The same kind of honesty and open communication, continual monitoring and negotiation that works for monogamy pertains even more so, even more than doubly so, to polyamory where there are more moving parts to consider. More people means more agreements, which inevitably means more of everything good and bad.  Polyamory is not for the lazy or the self-deluded. It is not an excuse to go fuck anyone you want as some do parading under the banner of polyamory. You know who you are. 
Compassion, commitment and communication are a lot of bloody work, though. Primary partners, secondary partners: all replete with complex emotions. Sometimes, at 1am on Friday night, when you just want to be out dancing with your friends but are, instead, “processing” with a partner new to poly, you wonder, ‘When did life become one long conversation about everyone’s feelings?’ You remember being 21, and trying to stop your boyfriend from punching a bloke who asked for your number while he was in the jacks. Brutal, yes, but alluringly simple.
Right. Sometimes you want to just fall back into easy patterns, even ones designed, implemented and perpetuated by patriarchy. The familiarity of it is enticing and the noble notion of chivalry is romanticism we have been fed since birth. 
Conscious choice to engage in agreed to relationship roles is what it is all about. A feminist is someone who believes in entering into relationships of any form or context, personal, career or academic, armed with information and analytical skills to see through the sedimented, unthinking practices of our culture. That practice does not have to be a battle within the self so much as a vigilance, an intellectual awareness directed to many aspects of life, not just spotting abuse. We are not dupes to advertising when we know what advertisers are up to, and yet we submit and purchase what’s for sale knowingly and willingly.  
Relationships of any kind are no different. I may submit my body to my partner’s jealous possession knowing all the implications and consequences thereof, and still sleep at night. The problem is not so much monogamy as much as it is about fairytales’ forever after. Humans want to nail down something for life:  this is the way it’s going to be so that I don’t ever have to think about that again.  It’s an insecurity thing. Again, it takes honesty and constant checking in with the self to see if the same old patterns are actively and consciously working or just mindless habits. That practice of checking in is a constant of good living. That is feminism in practice.

Happy Mistress Day

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credit: rlv.zcache.com.au/

Tomorrow is February 13th, unofficially titled “Mistress Day,” the day ‘the other woman’ gets her recognition since Valentine’s Day is obviously off limits.

Infidelity Examiner, Ruth Houston, reports that “Cheating Valentines” are planning their Mistress Day events with purchases of flowers, romantic lunches or dinners, expensive gifts and hotel rooms. The beneficiary industries to this “holiday” could not be happier, except for Hallmark, whose marketing teams, I would imagine, are still struggling to figure out how to navigate around the delicate nature of a card for such an occasion: “Happy Mistress Day–hope your wife doesn’t find out…Love, you know who…” I don’t see a cheerful poem for this card, but it does not surprise me that there are sites that offer such a ‘holiday’ greeting.

Apparently Houston, an “infidelity expert,” intends this article as a warning for married women, who she refers to as “unsuspecting victims,” to beware on February 13th of their husbands’ long absences or significant dip in finances. In preparation for the 12th Annual Valentine’s Day Infidelity Awareness Campaign, she provides a link to this event in her February 10th article “Cheating Valentines already making plans for Mistress Day.

Happy (or Unhappy, as the case may be) Mistress Day! Shhhh..

“An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband’s New Girlfriend”

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A refreshingly mature, well-composed letter that reads like a how-to manual in its full cognizance of the nuanced trials that await complex family dynamics post-divorce with children, Tina Plantamura’s open letter to the newcomer to her expanding family (she is remarried) is sensible, sensitive and rational. One passage stands out as particularly the hallmark of all three aforementioned adjectives:

This might sound weird, but I’m so excited about you. My sons will see a side of their father that they don’t even know they missed. They’ll witness the kind of happiness that blooms from the excitement, joy and mystery that comes with a new relationship. They’ll see their father beaming with hope. They’ll hear him laugh (too much and too loud, as they’ve reported to us) and speak with a new charm in his voice. And because they love and admire him, all of these things will make them happier, too.

A healthier response about relationship healing and moving on I have never seen in over twenty years of divorces I’ve navigated; although, I did not often get to see the aftermath, the farther down the road recovery phase of my clients. Most divorces with new significant others, especially those who were part of the divorce causes–and there are always multiple causes–were complicated by yet another person’s agenda and sensibilities to consider. Generally, the path from conclusion to fresh start was far more difficult with outsiders to the divorcing family.

While Plantamura is optimistic about the relationship her sons will develop with the addressee of this letter and attempts to reassure her that the connection she and her ex (the new boyfriend) have is solely the children, both of those emotional and potentially volatile components of the newly emerging “family” are often insurmountably difficult to surrender.

Most mothers jealously guard their possessory interests in their children, emotional, behavioral, and instructional, interests that could easily be threatened by an outsider/insider mothering figure. For instance, being their father’s girlfriend, she inevitably will require, may even demand, a modicum of respect from her lover’s children. She may imagine a future with this family and want to establish and ensure her place as adult and potential permanent roommate. If she lives with him even part time, that demand may be even more insistent. And the longer the relationship persists, the likelier the intrusion on the mother’s coveted role as advisor, consoler, and role model. Disagreements are likely to surface.

Also, the connection two people have with respect to their children is unique, something the girlfriend will never have regarding those children who affect her life, individually and with her husband. Jealousy and friction are foreseeable no matter how warm the welcome and sincere the assurance and encouragement by an ex.

All in all, skepticism aside, I enjoyed the idyllic embrace of this letter and even if only a stated intention of good will and hope, it serves as inspiration for those willing to accept responsibility for raising healthy children as well as for their own happiness.