The Beginning of Something Else

On June 1, 2007 I found out my husband and partner of almost two decades had been unfaithful to me since before our marriage, and had been having intercourse with prostitutes for 3 1/2 years. This is what happened next.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Getting my ass kicked by opportunity (AFGO)

I'd had a long day yesterday and was pretty exhausted by the time we went out with a group of friends to dinner and a movie. The movie was an action comedy, and I really loved it. But sitting beside Husband watching the awkward teen sex scenes that were supposed to be funny made be a little uncomfortable. The crazy part of my brain couldn't help but wonder if he was finding those scenes hot or arousing. While they may be funny, I don't find sex scenes between people who could be my children sexually arousing. It feels inappropriate, not sexy. But I think Husband's animal brain still responds to this kind of visual stimulation and switches his other faculties to their low-function setting. And of course seared in my memory is his description of one of the prostitutes he had sex with (written for the prostitute review site he frequented) as having the ass of an 18 year old soccer player. Creepy factor aside, not the easiest thing for a 40-something year old woman who's always had body image issues to come to terms with.

As we were walking back to the car after the movie, I glanced across the street and noticed a tall, Jessica Simpson-type blond in a short skirt crossing the street. And I noticed Husband noticing her, too. I see attractive men out in the world every day, but I don't have the automatic response that I think husband has to attractive women. I'm sure there are plenty of biological explanations for this. But when it comes down to it, what I perceive (true or not) pushes my self-doubt buttons.

Now, Husband is a mid-40s, overweight, bespectacled, unemployed guy with thinning hair. Under a certain amount of bravado, he's shy and self-conscious. It's not like he's got hot young women trailing after him waiting to pounce the instant I look the other way. So why does husband's response to other women fill me with dread? Because it confirms my fears that I'm not sufficient. The nagging, absolutist rule I have in my head is that if Husband was satisfied with me, if I was good enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, funny enough, talented enough - if I was enough, no other woman could turn his head, no matter how much cleavage she was baring, or how young and hot she looked.

Why do I care if Husband thinks I'm good enough? I don't think it's him that I'm worried about. I think I'm afraid I'll confirm definitively that, as I've suspected all along, I'm not good enough. Not just not-good-enough for Husband, but Not Good Enough, period. Like a fact, a truth, an indisputable law of nature.

I don't measure up and when the real opportunity for something better comes along I'll be discarded.

As a matter of fact, when I was raking through this muck this morning, I was actually wondering (again) if Husband had settled for me because he got me. If he so lacked the confidence to go out and get what he really wanted (a hot blond) that he settled for me because I fell in love with and idolized him. Husband's college girlfriend, who he described the other day to a friend as "really beautiful" was blond. So were a lot of the prostitutes (though not all) that he picked, Chinese menu style, from that prostitute review and booking site.

It's a yukky place to go to, this corner of my mind. But sometimes I find myself here anyway.

This morning I went onto Husband's computer to Google something and, shovel in hand, still digging in this ditch, ended up looking at his web history. I found that he'd looked at about 10 pictures from the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue this month.

What the fuck?! What business does he have looking at these basically naked, very young women splayed out and pouting, offering the promise of their bodies to all the drooling Sports Illustrated slobs? What other purpose could there be aside from satisfying that insatiable, uncontrollable part of himself that can't help but feel entitled to gorge himself on this kind of pathetic shit?

My own animal brain kicked in: I have to confront him. Demand to know why he's done this. Find out if he discussed the incident with his sponsor. But most important of all, I have to be prepared. Prepared to surgically cut him out and move on.

I could feel my insides going into lockdown, things slamming shut and hardening. It felt good, because it felt empowering. I want to protect myself. I want to be invincible. I want to kill before I get killed.

But for some reason, when I go into this mode now, the cost never escapes me. I could feel myself going places I know I don't want to go.

It was a good time to take a few deep breaths, and try to look evenly at the facts.

It was an isolated incident. He looked at only a small selection of the 45 photos that were available. He didn't go from there to any other gawking at women. He hadn't spent the day, or even any significant amount of time looking at these pictures. And he hadn't looked at any other pictures of women online (at least on this computer) this month or last. This incident was clearly a different pattern from what he'd done in the past when he was deeply involved in his addiction.

I want Husband to be perfect, and and he's not. But he's far from what he used to be regarding his compulsive sexual behavior: Completely lacking self-awareness, deluded, full of himself, resentful, angry, sarcastic and in denial.

I still feel my anger churning now. But I can see it's because of the things that are here for me to be with, to learn, to absorb: Most things that can kill me (literally and figuratively) are beyond my control. My self-worth is still so defined by how much I think others value me. I have a long way to go in learning how to value myself. I am full of self-loathing and doubt that are easily triggered. And I'm afraid, afraid, afraid - afraid that because I'm not good enough I'll cease to matter to people I trust and love. (I can see how crazy and inaccurate this is with my logical mind, but I think that's as close as I can come to identifying the feeling I have right now.) Feeling like a consolation prize is very frightening for me. I think because I feel so vulnerable, so out of control, because my own internalization of my value is so weak. Being tied to the capricious valuations of others is pretty terrifying. I don't think about this consciously, ever, but upon examination it feels like the undercurrent of what's going on when I get mired in this kind of thinking.

I'm going to stay on my side of the street with this. I'm going to assume Husband dealt with his actions appropriately. And I'm going to focus on myself. On who I am and who want to be in the world. I want to look at myself with God's eyes, and see all that God would see, the way that I look at my son and see all his magnificence.

It's easy to lose this thread of relationship to self in the dense fabric that is daily life. The temptation to get pulled into the urgency of the unimportant is strong and consistent.

So perhaps this is why Higher Power gives me teen sex scenes, hot blonds on the street, and those unwelcome invasive thoughts. They are all opportunities. Opportunities for me to lean into the dissonance and chaos of life and know again that I can be fully alive and present to both the ecstasy and rawest pain of a human life, and not be overcome.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No bathing twice in the same river…

I met Husband during an amazing and formative time in my mid-20s. Life was late nights doing theater and hanging out at the bar or diner across the street in the wee hours of the morning. We were young and creative and following our passions.

On a recent visit to that city, I returned to our old haunts. The building that housed our theater was completely gone, replaced by a glossy new high-rise. The diner had been raised and replaced by a Bed, Bath and Beyond. And there was a For Lease sign in the window of the bar.

The places where I’d had some of the most formative experiences of my life no longer existed. They had literally disappeared. Had I imagined that life?

It made me sad.

I had a similar experience when I learned that my grandparents’ house where I’d spent my teens had been bought and demolished by the next-door neighbor so he could expand his family compound.

The living room where I’d posed for pictures in my prom dress, the dock where my best friend and I would lie out in the sun and talk about boys and make-up and dieting and other things that girls of our age talked about; the deck and cupola that my uncle, now deceased, had designed and built so carefully with expert craftsmanship. And so much more. All gone. So many of my memories of teen-hood no longer had an anchor in this world.

It was strange, and realizing I could never go back I felt wistful.

Today I happened to walk by the hospital where Son was born. They are remodeling, and I could see that the part of the hospital where I’d spent the first 4 days of his life, staring with wonder and glee at my burrito-sized boy (he was 4 weeks early,) was being torn down. Soon there’d be nothing left of the place I’d spent those wonderful, amazing days but air. Or some new structure where the cycle of birth, life and death would continue with nothing to mark how special that little bit of space had been to me.

It made me sad.

I hold that time in my life so close to my heart. It was before I knew anything about Husband’s addiction, and life felt truly blissful. Husband was a great partner, and so happy to be a father. He wrapped and changed and held and rocked our little son while I recovered from a c-section.

Looking at that building always reminded me of that time. Of course I was actually blissfully ignorant. But I guess what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you until you know it.

A block away from that hospital is another building I pass by frequently of late. The “Asian Massage” parlor where Husband got his first hand job. That was the event that accelerated his sex addiction. He’d spend the first 13 years of our relationship content with porn magazines, online porn, and (unbeknownst to me) visits to peep shows and strip clubs. Within months after that “massage” he started using ads in the back of the Weekly to find women to give him hand jobs, and going to “massage” parlors. Within another couple of years he was having sex with prostitutes at massage parlors, and then ramping up to more frequent meetings with high priced prostitutes at hotels.

But that building has changed, too.

It’s recently become a “day spa.” The dark, one-way windows and “Oriental Massage” signs have been replaced by see-through glass and signs with pictures of women on them advertising skin care treatments.

It made me happy to see that building had evolved beyond its sad use as a thinly veiled venue for buying sex. I have often wondered how many women passed by that storefront with a shudder or a pit in their stomach.

Holding both the sadness of seeing the hospital and the good feeling of seeing the former massage parlor, it reminded me that this is what life is about.

Things change. That’s the one thing we can count on. The good changes. The bad changes. The highs become lows and then highs again. We change. We get fatter, thinner, more conservative, more adventurous, older, greyer - sometimes wiser. But every day, in some way we are different and life is different.

Something that remains a challenge for me is to leave room for the idea that Husband can change. Even after almost 3 years of recovery work, I don’t think I go a day without being reminded in some way of his betrayal.

But part of my work in this lifetime is to surrender to the fact that things change, and that much of life is beyond my control, no matter how hard I work, how nice I am, how smart I am, what class I take, what plans I make, or how much salt I throw over my shoulder. Husband is a different person today. He certainly isn’t perfect, but he’s done a lot of work and he is definitely a better partner for me than he was before. And I’m a better partner for him. And a much better partner for myself.

Like all things, I too can change.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How about a NEW sexual revolution?

As I read about Tiki Barber and the guy in China who is sparking discussion about sex parties as a personal freedom issue, it strikes me that we need a new sexual revolution.

I'm all for free speech, and prohibition doesn't seem to work well, but the impact of "casual" sex, multiple sex partners and the full menu of sex-related things available via the internet needs to be part of a big, frank public conversation: Not the morality of it, but the individual and social impact of it, the mental state of the people who participate in it, etc.

We need to be talking about the truth of things like casual sex, anonymous sex, multiple sex partners, cybersex and pornography: That they're fantasy, that healthy sexuality is connected with intimacy, that while we have biological urges we also have brains evolved enough to act responsibly, and that images that turn human beings into sexual objects create damage by teaching people that it's just fine to decouple intimacy from sex. I think, at least in the US, this is more of a health issue for society than a personal freedom issue.

So maybe the next question is, what's the new movement going to be called? T-shirts that say "PORN SUCKS" would certainly start conversation, but on the other hand, I don't want my kid asking me what porn is. So I need to think of a more child-friendly name for this new movement.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Can't you hear what I'm THINKING???!

Husband is hard to talk to. He gets defensive, and I have to choose my words very carefully or we get off track as he tries to invalidate some aspect of what I'm saying. (I think I do the same to him when I get defensive, so I have compassion for his use of this frustrating tactic.)

I'd decided that I wanted to tell him that I'd felt kind of pissed off that he was a jerk to me about not being able to get an iPad. That would be something new for me, because in my head I had a thousand reasons why that conversation didn't need to happen. I saw an opportunity for contrary action and took it.

During the course of the conversation he told me that one of the things that had triggered the depressed feelings he was having this weekend was saying what he wanted (the iPad) and me saying I didn't think he should get it. He said this was part of his attempt to set boundaries and express what he wants.

But I was confused about what getting an iPad had to do with boundaries, and I tried to ask him about this. We went back and forth. As he's done so often over the course of our relationship, he accused me of not letting him have his feelings. (I have to admit that's been true in many cases - I was raised in a family where any expression of upset was met with attempts to fix or "helpfully" invalidate it.) But I was getting flustered and he was getting pissed, and things were getting a little ugly. Not really bad for two people who avoid Confrontation, but we were doing Confrontation pretty clumsily.

Finally I said, "I'm not saying it's inappropriate for you to want an iPad or to be upset if you can't get one, but something inappropriate is going on here. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but something's not right for me, and I'm not going to back away from this because you're getting upset and telling me that I never let you have your feelings. There are lots of things that I want that I can't have right now, but I don't get upset about it because that's just the way it is at the moment. We can't afford it. I don't get upset about it. And I think that's a healthy, adult response. When we're in such a bad financial position it's inappropriate for you to feel okay about being pissy toward me about not being able to get an iPad. And I don't understand what getting an iPad has to do with setting boundaries!"

He considered for a moment. I could see he was struggling with feeling righteous, resentful and pissed off on one hand, and trying to really consider what I was saying on the other hand.

Then he told me that he has in his mind that I think a lot of things he wants are silly. And I've no doubt I've contributed to that feeling by questioning and being skeptical about a lot of the expensive gadgets he's interested in purchasing. If we had the money, I wouldn't care. But when we don't have the money, I think I have the right as a partner in our financial life to express my doubts and concerns. (There've been many times over the course of our relationship where I should have questioned him and didn't because I have in my head that he's right about me being silly to question expensive purchases.) And as an expert absolutist I'm sure I have the "end-of-discussion" tone without realizing it.

For any flies on the wall, his entitlement banging up against my absolutism must be a thing to behold.

I think part of the problem is that he's so disempowered himself in some aspects of our relationship that if I question or push back he takes it as a "no," disengages from discussion and just sinks into resentment. I didn't realize this until today.

A bit of history: Husband plays pickup basketball every weekend. He'd asked if it was okay if he went out to play on Easter Sunday. He typically goes from 9am - noon-ish, and we had a lot of plans for that day, so I said I thought it might be better if he spent the day with the family, or at least asked Son if it was okay with him. He chuckled and said, "Oh, Son's already let me know it's not okay with him!"

On Easter day, he was feeling down. Son had already gotten his basket of candy and done a little egg hunt, and it was still a few hours before we had to leave for other events of the day, so I told Husband he should go play basketball at least for a little while if he wanted to, and he did. (Although once he got there, locks and fences kept him from getting in the game so he didn't actually get to play.)

So today, as we continued our conversation about the iPad issue he said to me, "I'm not good at saying what I want." He went on to say that it was only because I've been so kind and supportive of his request to play basketball every weekend that he's been able to carve out that time. He was trying to give me credit, but I told him that I didn't want that credit. I wanted him to take responsibility for having made that happen. I was really surprised how entirely he credited me with "letting" him do that. It's weird. I don't look at our relationship that way at all.

I think there's still a lot that I don't know about that goes on in his head. And I guess that's probably true of most of us. I know I'm continuously surprised by the insecurities and self doubts of people I have great respect for, who seem so confident and sure to me. And I know all the unexpressed craziness that goes on in my own head!

So today I re-learn this lesson: Dialogue will always result in better communication than a silent monologue in my head.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Oh that's're still a narcissistic asshole

Lightbulb! Lest I forget that recovery is a journey not a destination, Husband's occasionally stunning sense of entitlement rears its head.

We were on our way home after a lovely evening out, and talking about the assignment that Husband's therapist had given him: Find something within the family to set boundaries about, something where you say "this is how it's going to be for me."

He asked for me to help him think about what that might look like, and the first thing that popped into my head was that he needs a computer that is his. Right now, he's using my mom's laptop (she's essentially given it to him, though she'll use it from time to time.) The desktop computer that we bought for him has become a family computer. He's really been longing for a computer that nobody else touches but him. (I have a laptop that I use for work that's pretty much mine, although it's serving as the family DVD player right at this moment.)

So I suggested a computer. He grinned and told me that there's an Apple iPad on reserve for him until 3pm tomorrow. News to me, but fine.

He's really been pining for an iPad, but I'm not really a proponent of being early adopters only because we are pretty much broke. But I'd been thinking that maybe we should get one eventually since he's been wanting one so badly.

Reviews for the iPad came out today, and @pogue said that the iPad is great for consuming but not great for creating. Husband is a writer, and he uses his computers primarily for writing, Lexulous and Facebook. But writing is the main purpose.

We were in the kitchen, his arms around me, and he rested his cheek on mine and said, "I really do want a computer."

"I think you should get a computer," I said, "but not an iPad."

"Why?" he asked as he drew back.

I was surprised by his irritation.

"Well...because they're brand new..." He looked disgusted. "And because David Pogue said they're great for consuming stuff but not so great for creating stuff."

The conversation ended pretty quickly and he huffed off to bed.

I was pissed off. He's been unemployed 15 months. We wonder every month if/how we're going to pay our mortgage. We owe over $15K in back taxes because of the year he somehow thought he filed taxes but didn't. (That year he also spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes.) The IRS put a hold on ALL the money in our bank account this week. And he's ticked off that I don't think he should get an iPad right now.

ENTITLEMENT: Belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges.

Yes, I am married to a narcissist. That will never change.

What will change is his level of self awareness, his ability to perceive his impact on others, and how he responds to his own behavior. And those things have changed. A lot. Through a lot of courage, hard work and willingness on his part, he is a different person in many regards. But, like my absolutism, his sense of entitlement isn't something that can be cured.

That's what I think.

And now, here's how I feel:

Ugh. I really hate that aspect of his personality. Really. It's stupid! I mean, how can a person in such a dire financial position logically harbor a notion that he should be among the first people in the WORLD to own an iPad? Is this thought process what a fucking Ivy League education buys? And why do I have to catch attitude for such stupid thinking? Why do I have to be subject to your infantile tantrums? I have ENOUGH to deal with. Fucking evolve, won't you???!!!!

Phew! What a relief to vent and get that off my chest!

I'm not sure how to handle with this. I can see it for what it is (Husband's narcissism surfacing,) and Husband probably will too over the next few days. But I'm also really irritated, and my inclination is to withdraw. My thought process is that I don't want to deal with stupid asshole behavior so I won't. I'll tune it and him out until it stops. But I know that's not really healthy either. Because there are things going unspoken (but not unexpressed - which is key. I come from a lineage of expert PASSIVE aggressors.) But I know he's not at his best, so I don't want to argue with him about something that he'll probably acknowledge as assholic before long. So I feel like I don't want to say anything. But that's patronizing and also gives into my penchant for deciding unilaterally that I will just deal with something on my own rather than confront someone.

I'm confused. I'm in the middle of this, and I can't see the forest for the trees. I really don't know how to respond to this in a healthy way.

So I'm going to sleep on it.

I'll be the one in bed next to the asshole.