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.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why I am no longer a brain-dead extremist: Finding my middle way

Listening to playwright David Mamet talk about the transformation of his politics on the radio yesterday made me consider the (I think Darwinian) tendency for people to react to the heartbreaks and disillusionments of life by growing more frightened and closed minded. It makes sense that in a survival-of-the-fittest world we're programmed to learn to identify what seems harmful or painful, to judge as instantaneously as possible if it is a potential threat, and to destroy it or push it away if so.

And it makes sense that it's more efficient (and more likely to keep us from getting eaten) to compare current experiences to past experiences in that evaluation process. So that we don't think "Hm, what is this thing bounding toward me? It's large, it's brown, it has a mane and big teeth and looks like that lion that ate my brother. I wonder what it is?" but instead think, "that looks like the thing that ate my brother so I'm going to run!"

Rapid, almost unconscious categorization of possible threats is useful in many, many situations. But in some, it becomes an obstacle to seeing what is really there.

Because this can be the path to a "men will hurt you, never trust them" response, rendering impossible the individual evaluation of different people and relationships, and the potential for someone to be more trustworthy than people you've encountered in the past. That certainly keeps you safe, but it also assures that you won't meet trustworthy men because untrustworthy has become part of your definition of man. Fine if it doesn't diminish the quality of your life (and that's a judgment one can only make for oneself.) For me the thought that I might never have a deeply intimate partnership again leaves me feeling like I'll be missing out on the fullest experience of life, and I don't want to be resigned to that sacrifice.

In my case, this Darwinian evaluation of Husband, based on experience, looks like "Husband will hurt me." To create an opening for a different possibility between us, my thinking needs to be along the lines of "Husband of 2007 without the therapy, recovery, self-awareness and tools he has today hurt me, but Husband of 2011 may be different and requires separate evaluation."

Mamet's evolution / devolution made me realize that it takes conscious effort to remain open and unbridled by the fear and pain one inevitably knows intimately, having lived a number of years as a human being.

The same applies to my relationship with Husband. It will likely require a conscious effort on my part to remain open and courageous in the face of the fear and pain I associate with him. The betrayal was so profound, it may never be second nature to be vulnerable with him. But if I want an intimate, satisfying experience in our relationship, vulnerability is required (albeit with boundaries and a better understanding of our humanity and flaws.)

Since I have chosen to stay and work on working things out, I must choose Husband, not just be with him, not just stay with him. I must wake up and choose him each and every day, (or have the courage to choose something else if that what needs to be done,) or suffer the regret, sadness, and dissatisfaction of a wasted life.

I need to read this daily, or stick a Post-It to my head.

1 comment:

L said...

Love this analogy!