I was reading the news from my aggregator, and stumbled upon this article on the Huffington Post, which can always be relied upon to annoy me with petty fluff the perpetuation of which I inevitably encourage by clicking and reading. It’s the old “can’t help staring at a car wreck” thing, except that I don’t stare at car wrecks. I once saw a dead body laying in the middle of the road, and it haunted me a little. Lesson learned.
I won’t make you read this article,–but here’s the gist: the by-lined author, Elloa Atkinson is “happily married” to her best friend, Nige, but there’s a caveat: “Today, my secret is this: I love my husband, but I often want to cheat”.
She found herself attracted to this man, the mysterious “K” whom she met at a dog park. Though she pledges that she wasn’t attracted to K physically, she thought about him a lot, changed her schedule to bump into him more often, and occasionally thought of him while having sex–er, “making love” with her beloved. In her mind this became a big deal, which I suppose makes it a big deal–especially since she’s confessed real, tangible betrayal in a blog entry elsewhere--and after a stranger mistook “K” for sweet, innocent perfect beautiful Nige, guilt bludgeoned her with the sort of giant hammer Wile E. Coyote wields, and she went skittering back home. To confess.
Now keep in mind: she didn’t do anything destructive except allow her imagination to roam. No torrid bodice ripping, no kissing or groping or rubbing or groaning. There would be no witnesses to report back to Nige, no whispers of innuendo, no children of questionable parentage and no need for large, quietly procured doses of antibiotics. Because NOTHING HAPPENED.
But, as I learned from Ms. Atkinson’s website profile, she is “a facilitator of truth who helps women + men navigate their internal and relationship struggles with love, honesty and a willingness to be transformed.” Indeed, after knowing Nige for four years they finally made a connection because “somehow, my honesty made way for love to enter.” Whatever the hell that means.
I fell in love with my wife because she’s cool, smart, beautiful, selfless and tough as nails–and when I hugged her one evening at the end of a platonic night out, and after knowing her for half of my life, I felt electricity sparkle like fireworks inside my spine. My first thought: huh, that’s new. My second thought: another fine friendship ruined by that intoxicating soup of testosterone and female pheromones. I haven’t seriously considered another woman as a partner since that moment, 22 years, 10 days and roughly 14 hours ago. I notice attractive women. I’m pleased when they smile at me, but I don’t require the affirmation of flirtation. My confidence is more than sufficiently buoyed by the beautiful woman who, like Nige is to Elloa, is my best friend.
I guess Ms. Atkinson does it differently, but at this point, I need to step back for a second and give her a little slack. She’s more trigger than target in my shooting gallery today, and while I’m obviously–and rather callously–sniping in her direction, I want to be clear that she’s symbolic of the conceit, and I don’t want to be petty. What I do want to do is offer an alternative take to what I believe to be a very bad example of how to stay in love.
She clearly went into her relationship with some heavy issues, and ultimately she’s got to do what she feels like she needs to do. It’s not personal, but I think her essay is silly. Of course, I didn’t like The DaVinci Code or most of the bible much, either*, so my perspective may be skewed when it comes to literary taste. I’m sure she’s really nice, and always goes back to McDonald’s when the pimply kid at the register gives her too much change, but when she confesses “…I had learned to practice radical honesty…” I can’t fully stifle the snicker chewing at the back of my throat.
It’s because I hate that precious touchy feely thready-breathed new age mystical blah blah. I’m sorry, but I do. I hate it a lot. It’s a time-tested cliche, especially in television and romance novels, for a person to do something they ought not to have done then suffer under the unbearable guilt of their actions until, in a moment of presumed (ultimately false) clarity, they realize they must be honest about whatever it is. Maybe Ashley put her tongue in Chase’s ear–or just thought about it–or maybe Kaiden is secretly a bag man for Hamas, or perhaps Zane–well, you get the idea. In this cliche, Zane knows he’s got to be honest with Delaney (before Bianca spills the beans, that bitch). You know what comes next: Delaney dumps Zane, at first, but then Bianca tries to sabotage the blueprints Delaney drew up for the new headquarters for the family’s fashion magazine that doubles as a cover for Vampires. In the end, Delaney forgives Zane. Melodrama. Yech.
In real life, “radical truth” is a real sonofabitch, cold and sharp as surgical steel, and things don’t get tied up neat and tidy in a set narrative time frame. What the hell kind of person drops that pile of shit on the person who loves them more than anyone else? On principle alone, I despise the idea of people who confess their minor, transgressions–particularly transgressions of the mind and heart, wispy and non-corporeal–transgressions of the imagination!–to unload and relieve themselves of the burden of their own guilt. So one partner slips the chains of guilt and finally sleeps free and easy, but at the cost of the other partner, who now lies awake, staring at the ceiling, wondering.
This business about working through her desire to avoid the compulsion, handed down like an old doily through generations of women in her family, to sabotage happiness, is melodramatic claptrap. As I implied above, there is a chemical element to love, but establishing a relationship and maintaining a marriage is a matter of commitment and (ask my wife) sacrifice–that’s why they call it, uh, “a commitment.” Like in the phrase, “we’re in a committed relationship.” It’s about will. I would argue that Ms. Atkinson’s “confession” and honesty has as much to do with her inclination towards sabotage as her attraction. She’s likely compelled to her admission by the deep-seeded need for validation, the desperate desire to hear her partner to tell her he loves her still, even after kicking him in the metaphorical shins. Better not to hurt the one you love to begin with. Better to carry your own weight.
Remember that other night, when I let you do that thing, and well the truth of it is that I was thinking about my secret crush the whole time. I felt really bad about it, so I thought I’d tell you, and you know what? I feel much better.
The caring, appropriate response is to take that guilt, suck it up, swallow it, then shut up and live with it. Suffer your guilt in silence–you earned it, you live with it. Unloading it on a loved one is an unforgivably selfish act akin to water boarding that person because you waded into the deep water and nearly drowned. Don’t want to feel guilty? Then follow the goddamn rules. Don’t punish your lover for your own weakness.
I should be a relationship guru–publishers, I’m open to offers.
*I liked the parts when they’re shoveling folks into furnaces and lion dens until those seven brothers who all look alike eat all the lions, drink all the water, and spit out all the water to put the fires out and–oh, wait….