Breaking the loop

This weekend, I bought some ribeyes for the grill. MC started the grill as usual and cooked the steaks. Not wanting to pierce the meat with a thermometer, I have suggested on many occasions that he use the touch test. He refused to do it, insisting that he could tell in his own way (monitoring time). And, yes, sometimes his way works and we have a beautifully cooked steak. But, so often it doesn’t and the steak ends-up over or under cooked. I’ve asked for him to do, or allow me to do, the touch test, but he always resisted this suggestion. Well, it happened again, and the steaks were rare, when medium is our goal. When the steak was done, rested and on my plate, I did the touch test and could tell it was rare. He cut into his and saw, to his surprise, the steak was rare. He put them back on for a few minutes. No big deal. The steak itself is not the real issue here. The issue is that he gets stuck in these loops: first A, then B, then C. These loops cannot be changed or interupted. Even when he finds, time and again, that there is a better way, he cannot break the loop. There are so many examples, but rehashing those is not the point.  The real point is that such loops have permeated many areas of his life. His ability to recognize and break the loop has been very difficult for him. But, this time, he saw it, he really saw it. And, we had a very good conversation about it and I feel it actually brought us closer.

After dinner we played a new (for us) game with our kids. It’s called Ticket-to-Ride. It was a lot of fun and I can see it will be a new family favorite. Then, today, we all went to a local beach, each with our books. We spent the day swimming, reading, and having a lovely (though not very healthy) lunch.

MC is playing Dungeons and Dragons with our kids now. They enjoy doing this activity so much together. As I watch them together, I see them sharing a common interest and enjoyment and it is wonderful to see. This has just been one of those weekends that feels close, that feels good, you know what I mean?

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Plan Zed

My best friend in high school and I are no longer friends. She was angry at me for not being who she wanted me to be. She envisioned me as a CEO or professor at a prestigious university and was angry and disappointed in me that I did not become one of those things. And, while, I agree that I professionally could have done so much more with my life, I still feel that she had no right to be angry with me over the choices I made for my own life, that really have nothing to do with her. She couldn’t love me for who I am and that is not a healthy friendship.

I’ve been thinking about this more and realize that MC and my best friend from high school share so much in common in how they approach life. Something is gnawing at me that I am trying to explain to MC, but he just doesn’t seem to get it.

He spent many years quietly seething with anger at me for my not being a virgin upon marriage, or at least for not having significantly less sexual partners than he had prior to marriage. He secretly and illicitly kept searching for the “perfect woman” all the while having me for comfort, friendship and an emotional safety net. I was simply Plan Zed.

He now will tell me that he realizes that no “perfect” woman exists. But, surely there are women out there with far less pre-marital sexual experience, with far fewer partners than he had as a single person. Telling himself that such a woman does not exist, is not really helpful and, in fact, does little to conquer the feeling that I would still be Plan Zed if such a woman ever walked into his life.

He has replied that I am misunderstanding his words and intentions on the above. He explained that every day he chooses love, that he is no longer making comparisons and that he understands that love means to choose to love your partner anyway, in spite of their imperfections.

But, I cannot help but feel, “So, this is the best he can do, be disappointed in my past, but choose to love me anyway.”

Are these two things the same:

1) I am disappointed in your past choices, but I choose to love you anyway.
2) I was wrong to judge your past choices that have nothing to do with me. I love who you are without reservation, without wishing to change a thing about the choices you made that were yours alone to make.

Seeing your partner is not perfect and choosing to love them anyway is applicable and appropriate for those choices that have to do with your life together. But, that is not what MC is doing, or not all that he is doing. It feels too much like what my high school friend did.

Am I expecting too much?

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part Two

I’ll continue with my responses to relevant study questions in Atteberry’s book. What good advice had you rejected, and what happened? Growing up, my father often told me to count my blessings. I didn’t give it much thought until recently. I was not grateful for my secondary or even college education. I failed to study, work hard, and learn. I was not grateful for my wife. I failed to support and care for her as a friend, and I ended up destroying our relationship.   

The second major piece of advice I failed to take was the advice to go to law school instead of going straight into the workforce. Now I’m forced to reinvent myself at age 50 because I don’t have a profession to earn a living now that my job is coming to an end. The third piece of advice I should have taken was a counsel I ignored on two separate occasions: to serve at headquarters rather than taking a third and then a fourth consecutive assignment abroad. The third assignment abroad put me in dangerously close proximity to marriage-destroying temptations. The fourth assignment continued that risky trend. It also put me in a position of responsibility with limited preparation and no support. It did not set me up for a fifth assignment with adequate support and mentoring.

What makes you stubborn? I’ve never thought about this. Am I stubborn? I’m sure my wife would say so. Let me count the ways. It might be easiest to explore this in reverse chronological order. I was stubbornly pessimistic when my wife was telling me to stop being so negative about the future. Why? Fear. I’m truly afraid of the future. I use pessimism to mitigate disappointment, and to remind myself to be vigilant.

Sometimes I have been stubborn when I thought I knew something, even when I did not. For example, I could’ve sworn there was no office supply store in a particular neighborhood once. My wife insisted otherwise. She was right, and I was wrong. I don’t know why I was stubborn about that. I sincerely believed I was right, until proved wrong. Perhaps sometimes I am overconfident about my knowledge. I think I spent much of life assuming I knew more than other people. I habitually underestimated others. I wonder whether perhaps my mother spent too much time telling me I was special, and I spent too much time believing that. Perhaps I then formed the bad habit of overestimating myself and underestimating others.

Perhaps I stubbornly stick to routines too automatically, and perhaps am relatively inflexible. I hate to change my sleeping, eating and exercise patterns. I’m very set in my ways. The routines comfort me. When I must stray from them, I start to doubt myself more than usual.

How did I suddenly change my desire for illicit sex?

And, what’s to stop me from suddenly changing my mind again and figuring that I do want illicit sex? We discuss these questions often. I really have little or no idea how to answer them. Here are my best efforts. For 42 years, I consciously desired illicit sex. I thought it would make me feel I was getting experiences I had unfairly missed earlier in life, that it would be a fair way to give myself physical pleasure as long as no one knew, and that the experiences would make me feel more confident as an adult, to counter the nagging feeling that I was a naïve, inadequate, undesirable child.   

My betrayal and selfishness was exposed on D-Day, an experience I found to be shocking and frightening. I faced the serious possibility of losing my marriage, as well as everything else I thought I had in life. All those things I had foolishly failed to appreciate for 42 years were suddenly very real and current to me. I don’t know why. But, it is simply a fact of life that the possibility of losing everything suddenly shocked me into appreciating everything.

It was a life-changing moment of my own making. I suppose it was sudden. What was not sudden was the years of work I then undertook to rebuild my marriage and family, and to build mental health. I won’t go down a laundry list now. I’ve written it all before, in these pages.

So, why would I not just suddenly decide – maybe tomorrow, or maybe 15 years from tomorrow—that I’d really rather have the illicit sex than the marriage, family, and mental health? This is an even tougher question. I simply know in my heart that I do not wish to make such a negative decision. Can I prove that to you? No. Can I explain it to you? Perhaps not. Can I prove it or explain it to myself? I don’t know.

I know I prefer my life and myself today over the double-life I led and the unhappy self I was six years ago. Six years ago I was unhappy about me, exhausted, ungrateful, and self-defeating. Today I am happier about me, more rested and healthier, grateful for what I have, and thoughtful about my decisions. I prefer now to then.

I don’t want to return to then. It’s not worth a fuck, a blow job, a new female body, or a new sexual experience. I don’t want to throw away my current contentment for a one-off, stupid fuck. I don’t. I can’t prove that to you nor to myself. I simply know it.

How do I know it? You tell me. I really don’t know the answer to that question.

Samson Syndrome Discussion Questions for Personal Reflection, Part One

Atteberry’s book offers questions for further study. I’ll pick out those that seem relevant to me, paraphrase them, and answer them. In some cases, I will take a few extra liberties with paraphrasing the following questions to thoroughly de-Christianize them so they can also apply to progressive or non-Christian people. 

What are your personal boundaries, why, and how well do they work? I do not masturbate, and have not done so for nearly six years. Masturbation was a dangerous link to porn and adulterous fantasies. This boundary helps keep my mental focus from drifting into self-defeating areas. I do not use porn, and have not done so for six years. The reasons are the same as for not masturbating, as are the successful outcomes. To avoid temptation toward porn, I also have to remember to limit my time alone on the Internet, and to limit myself to sites free from salacious advertising.

I try to avoid women, except for the most limited, necessary, professional interactions, all of which should occur in plain sight of other people. I try to avoid sitting or standing near women. The reason is to limit possibilities that being near a woman will lead to conversation that could make someone question my attitude toward marital fidelity. I must remind myself, at least daily, to report to my wife any interaction with a woman that might make someone question my attitude as a husband, even if I consider the interaction to be innocent. This boundary is to prevent sliding down a slippery slope. I must remember to call my wife every time I begin my evening commute home, so we both know I am not tempted to stop on route for an adulterous liaison. I must remember to report to my wife every penny I spend, the same day I spend it, so we both know I am not tempted to spend it on an adulterous activity.

Are there any fences you have neglected, and how can you repair them? I don’t believe I am neglecting any fences now. Many, or all, of the fences or personal boundaries I have built have been responses to previous self-defeating, selfish, or unloving behavior of mine.

Have you ever sought greener grass on the other side of the fence, and found it disappointing? Every act of adultery I committed was an example of me seeking greener grass. Every one was disappointing. I cheated on my wife with women who were stupider, more selfish, less sensual, more flat-chested, more irritating, crazier, less educated, less wise, less spiritual, less logical, and less accomplished. And, of course, they had less integrity.

When is sexual desire excessive? This is a good question. I don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s different for different individuals or for different couples. Clearly, it’s excessive if it leads to adultery or making one’s partner feel sexual desire has crowded out other aspects of the relationship. In my case it’s excessive if it leads to covert use of porn or masturbation or adulterous thoughts.

How can parents of young children equip their kids with the knowledge to make healthy and realistic choices about sex? Here’s another good question about which I am not certain. It might be gender-specific too. Is there anything my parents could have done to deter me from a path toward excessive focus on sex? My first thought is of the fact that as a teenager and twenty-something I judged my worth, happiness, and success on my sexual experience and lack thereof. Perhaps my parents and I could have done more to give me alternative measures of worth, happiness, and success—measures such as youth group leadership, sport, extracurricular activities, academic endeavors, and religion. In my case, I wonder whether things such as scouting, a mild dose of structured religious activity, parental enthusiasm about my extracurricular activities, a gentle suggestion in the face of my ambivalence about joining a team, mild encouragement toward any sport, and meaningful consequences for neglecting my academic work may have helped me put all those things and sex in their more healthy perspective rather than allowing all those endeavors to become overshadowed in my mind by thoughts of sex.

Looking back, I recall putting disproportionate time and energy into pursuit of sex and alcohol and correspondingly insufficient investment in other pursuits. Could it have helped had my parents encouraged, or at least not discouraged, interest in girls and dating? Could it have helped had they not treated alcohol and coffee as taboo? I wonder whether depicting those things as forbidden fruits made me focus more on them than I otherwise would have.

On St. Augustine

Intrigued by a reader’s comment, I dug up a Wikipedia article on the early Christian philosopher. Yes, do break beyond the Bible and read from philosophers, be they Christians, Rabbis like Maimonides, Muslims like Ibn Kaldun, ancient Greeks, or others. Here’s an overview of St. Augustine on sexuality:

“For Augustine, the evil of sexual immorality was not in the sexual act itself, but rather in the emotions that typically accompany it. In On Christian Doctrine Augustine contrasts love, which is enjoyment on account of God, and lust, which is not on account of God.[152]Augustine claims that, following the Fall, sexual passion has become necessary for copulation (as required to stimulate male erection), sexual passion is an evil result of the Fall, and therefore, evil must inevitably accompany sexual intercourse (On marriage and concupiscence 1.19). Therefore, following the Fall, even marital sex carried out merely to procreate the species inevitably perpetuates evil (On marriage and concupiscence 1.27; A Treatise against Two Letters of the Pelagians 2.27). For Augustine, proper love exercises a denial of selfish pleasure and the subjugation of corporeal desire to God. The only way to avoid evil caused by sexual intercourse is to take the “better” way (Confessions 8.2) and abstain from marriage (On marriage and concupiscence 1.31). Sex within marriage is not, however, for Augustine a sin, although necessarily producing the evil of sexual passion. Based on the same logic, Augustine also declared the pious virgins raped during the sack of Rome to be innocent because they did not intend to sin nor enjoy the act.[153][154]

Before the Fall, Augustine believed that sex was a passionless affair, “just like many a laborious work accomplished by the compliant operation of our other limbs, without any lascivious heat”; the penis would have been engorged for sexual intercourse “simply by the direction of the will, not excited by the ardour of concupiscence” (On marriage and concupiscence 2.29; cf. City of God 14.23). After the Fall, by contrast, the penis cannot be controlled by mere will, subject instead to both unwanted impotence and involuntary erections: “Sometimes the urge arises unwanted; sometimes, on the other hand, it forsakes the eager lover, and desire grows cold in the body while burning in the mind… It arouses the mind, but it does not follow through what it has begun and arouse the body also” (City of God 14.16).

Augustine believed that Adam and Eve had both already chosen in their hearts to disobey God’s command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge before Eve took the fruit, ate it, and gave it to Adam.[155][156] Accordingly, Augustine did not believe that Adam was any less guilty of sin.[155][157] “

In addition to being Jewish and believing in God, I also believe in science. As such, the Fall could not have happened literally as described in Genesis. That must be a myth. Instead, the Fall must have been the gradual development of intelligence and emotions as our distant ancestors evolved into Homo sapiens. Does an animal will its penis erect? Or, does it get an erection due to an instinct that makes blood flow there when it sees a female at the right time? Do I will myself to have an erection? Or, does the sight, smell, and touch of a woman under specific conditions trigger an instinct that makes blood flow to my penis? When that happens, am I excited? When that happens to an animal, is the animal excited?

So, I don’t know what I think about St. Augustine’s views. I do, at least, find it a helpful reminder that lust is not love. When I committed adultery, I was too stupid and ignorant to realize the difference. That is what makes me certain that TL is the first and only woman I have ever loved.

Samson Syndrome

I have been reading The Samson Syndrome, by Mark Atteberry. It’s the most relevant and helpful book for unfaithful husbands I have ever read. I recommend it to cheaters so they can use it as a guide for preventing future infidelity and for understanding the true nature and origins of their past infidelity. I recommend it for betrayed wives because it may shed light on questions about their husbands such as: “How could you be so stupid?” “Why would you take such obviously stupid risks?” “How did you not learn those lessons long ago?”

The book is sometimes distracting for non-Christians because it is so intertwined with a Christian world view. As a Jew, I had to mentally replace the noun “Christian” with the word “mensch” every time I encountered it, and use the word “spiritual” in place of the adjective “Christian.”  Otherwise, the book would have been useless to me. I also had to mentally tune-out – not difficult – each reference to the Christian New Testament.

After mentally de-Christianizing the book, I found it very useful. It talks about failings that are common for men: lust, repeating mistakes, dumb risks, ego, ignoring advice, difficulty with intimacy, breaking rules, ignoring boundaries, overestimating one’s own cleverness, employing anger, taking things for granted, and losing sight of the big picture.

Atteberry very briefly says that some people may be addicted to sex. But, overwhelmingly, he talks about how infidelity and other sins flow mostly from men’s own bad choices, choices that too often flow from one or more of the twelve failings described in the book. For each of the twelve failings, Atteberry describes how they dogged Samson, gives examples of how they often challenge ordinary guys all the time, and gives a few suggestions on how to avoid following these failings into bad or disastrous decisions.

Next, I might take a closer look at some of the study questions in the back of Atteberry’s book, and then move on to other books. I will perhaps be even more selective about what I read in the future, now that I know it is possible to find books that go beyond sex addict dogma for infidelity.

Jesus pushers

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I am so sick and tired of Jesus pushers. Jesus is not the only way. I am not doomed to failure and hell if I don’t accept Jesus. I am not dooming my children to failure and hell for teaching them that Jesus was just a man, perhaps a Rabbi, and nothing more.

And, the more you press it with me, the more I despise being around you. So, why do you bother? What is the fucking point of trying to convert someone who clearly has no interest in converting?

And, as I recently said, this whole “Jesus is the only way” crap reminds me so much of why I am so damn uncomfortable with SA and 12-step. Because far too many within that community insist it is the best way, it is the only way, and anyone who seeks something different is in denial and doomed to fail. It just reminds me too much of replacement theologists who try to convert us to Christianity. Except instead of SA and 12-step, it is Jesus – Jesus is the best way, the only way and you are in denial and doomed to hell if you don’t convert. It is just too similar of a message and I find it fucking creepy and its own form of arrogance.

Love a rock, worship a rock, believe in a rock for all I care, just stop throwing your damn rock at others.

Ok, sorry, just needed to get that off my chest!

 

Acceptance

I read a post from Elle over at Betrayed Wive’s Club regarding acceptance. My first reaction was to believe that I have reached acceptance in my mind, but not my heart. But, then, I really put some deeper thought into that question and realized something. I have accepted the past in heart and mind. I will never like it, as Elle explained so beautifully, we never can and never will “like it.”  I have, however, accepted it happened, it cannot be changed, and finally, I no longer waste my time with the “would’ve, should’ve, could’ve and if onlys” of the past. Acceptance of the past is not my problem.

My problem is acceptance of the present and future. I accept MC wants to be a better man, husband, father and friend. I accept MC is learning to count his blessings in a way he never did prior to d-day. I accept MC is digging and learning about the sources of his self-pity and entitlement complex and learning to rewire his thought processes away from such negativity and toward gratefulness and humility. But, I am afraid to accept that I am in a safer place now. I am afraid to accept that I will be better able to see those red flags if they ever do occur again. I am afraid to accept the risk of bringing down the wall I have built to protect myself.

I am framing this in terms of acceptance, but perhaps what I am really speaking of is fear. Fear of being fooled again by anyone. Fear of being knocked down again by anything or anyone. And, I know I cannot continue to live my life in fear. I feel it eating away at me, but I do not know how to overcome it. For the life of me, I don’t know how to overcome it.

Perhaps, it is about acceptance after all. Acceptance of fear, of the risk that life has no guarantees, that I will be hurt again by someone and/or something. Perhaps it is not about overcoming these fears, but rather not allowing myself to be paralyzed by them. Perhaps, I need to stop trying to overcome them and make them disappear, but instead learn to accept these fears as a part of me and my life and learn to  live, laugh and love in spite of them. I really don’t know.

Larry the Lobster

When I was young, I was traumatized by a memory of a skit on SNL regarding Larry the Lobster. I was sure I remembered the memory of the skit correctly. I recently looked it up and had it all wrong. It was Eddie Murphy, not Andy Kaufman. The viewers voted to save Larry’s life, not kill him. I had a memory of Larry boiling on live tv. It didn’t happen. I had a memory of a montage regarding Larry’s family. I find no indication that such montage existed. In the end, Larry’s life did end. During the following week’s show, Eddie  Murphy presented an already boiled lobster, supposedly Larry, for he and the Weekend Update cast to eat. But, only after and in response to an exceptionally racist letter regarding the skit.

So, why does this matter at all? Because the realization that even my own memories are untrustworthy has blindsided me. I don’t know why it should be such a surprise, this was a memory from over 35 years ago. Of course, our memories from that long ago might not be wholly accurate. Somehow, the realization that I have no trustworthy source of memories has me feeling uneasy. My parents are dead. My brother has blocked out most of our childhood. My memories apparently aren’t as clear as I believed them to be. My entire married life and memories were lies. I don’t know where I’m going with this. I’ve been really sick with a bad cold this week and in a medicine haze, so maybe that is influencing my mindset in some really outlandish way.

Expectations 

I’m reading Fighting for Your Marriage, by Markman, Stanley, and Blumberg. It has a lot of good advice about communication, such as using the speaker-listener technique. It also has a thought-provoking—for me – discussion about expectations. A set of exercises asks me to think about several specific topics, listed below, to identify my expectations, be sure we have discussed them as a couple, and evaluate how realistic they are. While I’m at it, I’m sure I can identify some that are different now compared to the early part of our marriage. When evaluating how realistic each expectation seems, I will – per the instructions—rate them parenthetically on a scale of one to 10, with one meaning very unrealistic and 10 meaning very realistic. 

Longevity of relationship. I expect this marriage to last forever. That is realistic. (9)

Sexual fidelity. I expect complete fidelity from both of us, meaning no extramarital physical contact or non-physical flirting. This should have been realistic. (9) However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect fidelity from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual fidelity from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Love. I expect complete and never-ending love from both of us. However, given my own hurtful history of infidelity, I have discussed with TL that I can no longer justifiably expect love from her. Yes, I did expect complete mutual love from day one. This should have been realistic. (9) However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself. Also, I began our marriage with what I now consider to be an inaccurate definition of “love.” Now I understand love as a conscious decision to love the other person and seek the best for them. Before, I thought love was an innate aspect or set of aspects of the other person that makes me happy or satisfies my needs or desires.

Sexual relationship. Frequency, practices, and taboos. I don’t know what to expect on this topic now, for two reasons. First, I came into the marriage with unstated, unlimited, and unrealistic expectations on frequency and nature of sex. I expected sex on demand, daily or more often, with little or no foreplay, and including oral sex. That was unrealistic. (2) It did not match TL’s expectations. Second, following my long history of repeated corrupt decisions to be unfaithful, I’m not sure what I should realistically expect.

Romance. I have, and had, no expectation of romance. Regardless of my past and present behavior, I know TL expects romance, and expects me to figure out what that means at any given time.

Children. We, as far as I can tell, are both happy with our two children. We did begin our marriage with different expectations about children, but we gradually resolved those differences to our mutual satisfaction, in my view.

Work, career, and income. I expect that I will be allowed to find a way to work – even just a little bit – until the day I die. It gives me personal satisfaction. I think that is a realistic expectation. (8) I would like TL to work – even just a little bit – as long as she is willing and able. It appears to me that she is mentally healthier when she works. That also seems a realistic expectation. (8) I do not have particular expectations about whose career should get priority or who should earn more.

Emotional dependency. I expect us each to be responsible for our own emotional health, but each to desire to help support the other emotionally when possible. I believe that is a realistic expectation. (8) I believe I began the marriage with the unrealistic expectation that TL – or even marriage itself—would resolve my emotional problems for me. (1)

Approach to life, loyalty, communication and problems., power, and control. I expect us to be a team, totally loyal to each other, and making significant decisions together. I expect open, honest, and early communication, as needed. I expect us to share power and control of everything equally. That is realistic. (9) Yes, I did expect that from day one. However, I then made a series of repeated conscious corrupt decisions to betray not only her expectations of me, but also my own expectations of myself.

Household tasks. I expect TL to load the dishwasher. I expect to unload the dishwasher. I expect to take out the garbage and replace empty toilet paper dispensers. I otherwise expect us each to do what we can when we can to keep the house, dishes, and clothes clean and tidy, and keep on top of various errands and responsibilities related to the household, including pets, cars, children, and other things. That is realistic. (9)

Religious beliefs and observances. We have similar, compatible, realistic expectations about this that have evolved over time with mutually-satisfying discussion. (9)

Time together. I think I began our marriage with the unrealistic and unstated expectation that we would spend every possible moment together. (3) I was possessive, jealous, and threatened at the thought of her spending time with friends, others, or even herself. I didn’t have healthy practices for organizing my own time. Gradually, I over-corrected, spending less and less time with TL and more and more time on adultery and other selfish pursuits. I think that was my childish way of pouting about my incorrect belief that TL owed me more sex and flattery. Now, in contrast, I do try to spend every possible moment with TL. But, I am no longer jealous or threatened when TL chooses to spend time without me. I think now I have a more realistic, but perhaps unstated, expectation that we can each have a little time each day to work on personal tasks. (7)

Sharing feelings. I expect us to want to share our feelings with each other, and to be safe and supportive of each other in that regard. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of intentional deceit and emotional distance, I think this is a realistic expectation. (7)

Friendship. I expect us to be true friends, forever. Notwithstanding my regrettable long years of not being a friend to TL, I think this is a realistic expectation. (8)

Little things. I can’t think of any expectations in this category.

Forgiveness. I expect us to forgive each other. This may not be a realistic expectation. (5) I did not forgive TL for not being perfect in the first part of our marriage. Though she had done nothing that should require forgiveness, I was unforgiving. Also, it may not be possible for TL to forgive me for my years of adultery, deceit, and betrayal.

Other relationships. As an unfaithful spouse, some or all of what I say on this topic may sound unbelievable or hypocritical. I began the marriage expecting we would both leave all previous relationships in the past. That was probably realistic and reasonable. (7) I also had the unrealistic, one-sided, unreasonable expectation that she would never again communicate with a previous lover, even openly and platonically, and that she would magically make all my feelings of inferiority to her previous lovers disappear. (1) I had the unrealistic, one-sided, and unreasonable expectation that she would end relationships with girlfriends simply because I felt threatened by any reminders of her social life before me. (1) Now, after learning my lesson the hard way, I have rid myself of those unrealistic, unfair, and unreasonable expectations.

As a crappy husband with a history of serial cheating, I had a bad record of being uncaring, not recognizing TL, breaking my commitment, lacking integrity, and not accepting TL. Regardless, and especially now, I do expect we will both care for each other, recognize each other, honor our commitments, accept each other, and behave with integrity. I think that is realistic. (9)

Chicken or egg?

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I’ve started and stopped many times on writing a new blog post. I think I have something to say, only to find I really don’t, or at least not anything that is relevant or interesting. So, perhaps that is not a bad thing. I don’t know. So, sorry, it seems I only write when processing something I am unable to process on my own.

We recently went on vacation. It was nice. We were in a new city, with big beautiful everything, lots of new experiences for us as a family. During this all, we had an incident where youngest son was lost for a brief time. We were on our way to one of these experiences, our tickets reserved ahead for a set time. It was located in a large crowded place. The boys needed to use the bathroom. So, I waited at the entrance of our next experience, while MC took the boys to search for a bathroom. Our youngest finished before MC and our oldest son. MC told him to walk back to me by himself. The bathroom was not in visual distance of me. Our son got lost. When MC and our oldest returned to me our youngest was not present. I was scared to death. Our 10 year old son was lost in a crowded place, in a city where he knew nothing and nobody. We found him. All was ok. He asked people for help and they gave it to him. But, I couldn’t help but feel like there is a lack of judgement within MC. He has this instinct to put time and schedules above all else, even the safety of our children. And, in the end, it took MORE time searching for our lost son than if he had remained in MC’s presence the entire time, instead of being sent ahead.

Here’s the thing, I have a habit of asking myself, “What is the worst that could happen?” This little question has encouraged me to not worry so much about some things and to determine it is not worth the risk about other things. Clearly, before d-day, MC never asked himself this question. And, sadly, even after d-day, he still struggles to ask himself this question. Is he capable of knowing what is safe and what is unsafe?

For MC’s whole life, even today, his mom constantly asks “is it safe?” about everything, even minuscule things that are clearly safe, but also those things that are not clearly safe. Is he unable to ask this question of himself because of her constant badgering about “is it safe?” OR does she constantly badger about this because she knows he has no concept of what is safe and what is not. I really don’t know anymore.

Capurnican psychology

I think I noticed something about people. As infants, we think we are the center of the universe. When do we learn that we are distinct from other people or other creatures? I’m not sure. But, at first, when we see ourselves as distinct, we typically initially judge ourselves to be more important than everyone else and everything else. At least, I believe that was my initial view when I was a young child. Are there people who some degree of neglect or abuse convinces they are not the most important thing in the universe? I don’t know.   

In my case, my parents gave me plenty of attention, reinforcing my initial belief that I was the most important thing. For people like me in this regard, some may continue to believe, for the rest of their lives, that the universe revolves around them. That is a subconscious belief, I think, impervious to rational, conscious learning about physics, biology, society, politics, workplaces, schools, families, morality, and God.

Others may eventually experience a lesson, or series of lessons, that humbles them, making them finally question their belief that they are the center of the universe. For some, maybe they experience that in military boot camp, addiction recovery, or sudden and catastrophic loss of financial or emotional support. For me, I experienced it through destroying my marriage, almost losing it, and knowing that it was all my own fault.

Now when I look at people at work or in the grocery store, I am constantly reminded that if I die or move away, if I am happy or sad, if I succeed or fail, their lives will go on, largely unaffected. If there are people stronger or weaker than me, smarter or stupider, more or less attractive, more or less experienced, bigger or smaller, better or worse at giving sexual arousal or sexual pleasure, who cares? They’ll get a new co-worker or see another stranger in the grocery store. One hundred years from now, a few people will infrequently recall that I existed. A million years from now, if there are any people here, they will likely not think often about my society. And, there will come a time when my species and my planet will cease to exist.

In that context, what should some stranger, neighbor, colleague, or even my spouse have to do to ensure that I am happy and that I do not mourn some real or imagined injustice? Nothing. Not a damned thing. The only person who really has to worry about my happiness and my sense of justice is me. And, I can even choose not to worry about those things. I don’t have to be happy. Life doesn’t have to treat me fairly. I can choose what I want to do, think, and even feel, and just get on with it. I’m not the center of the universe. That frees me from worrying about what people think of me. It also frees them, unless they choose otherwise, from thinking about me.

Negative perceptions

Here’s how I thought about my wife before D-day. If she loved me she would give me sex. (We did have sex. I just did not appreciate it, and would always want more.) If she was attracted to me she would give me sex. If she loved me she would be attracted to me. I was emotionally needy, needing assurance that I was attractive and lovable.   

If I am happy with my body, mind, and moral self, perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I am attractive or loved. I don’t need any substitutes for being happy with my body, mind, and moral self. What do you think?

What went wrong with me?

Let’s figuratively take out a blank sheet of paper and a fresh pencil and write down some simple thoughts. I’ve spent six years now trying to figure out what to think, write, read, say, and do about the fact that I was a serial adulterer and liar. Though I’ve made some progress, I want to check my bearings by starting over, at the beginning. What went wrong with me? Why was I a bad father to my sons, a bad husband to my wife, a bad boyfriend to my college girlfriend, a bad son to my parents, and a bad custodian of myself?

My first thought on this is that, unlike today, I was not happy with my body, my mind, and my moral self. For my first two decades, I bemoaned my physical inadequacy without taking responsibility nor action, without accepting what I could not change and acting on what I could change. For all my education and supposed intelligence, for my first four decades I took my mind for granted. I didn’t appreciate how much personal satisfaction and self-confidence I could experience from enjoying mental and academic pursuits for their own sake. For my first four decades and more, I didn’t even think about having a moral self. I didn’t even think to ask myself whether I might be able to generate some confidence and peace by choosing some values such as responsibility, compassion, integrity, and courage.

What were the ill effects of failing to invest daily in my body, mind, and moral self? I was a coward. I was petty. I was jealous. I struggled against people for no coherent reason. I tilted at windmills with no thought as to why. I focused on self-destructive objectives such as sex, alcohol, tobacco, experimenting with drugs (briefly, prior to marriage), and porn for their own sake. Not feeling confidence about my body, mind, and moral self, I hoped to feel it by pursuing sex and substances. Now I see that sex and substances are fats and condiments while body, mind, and moral self are the meat and potatoes of life. Sex and substances are lawn gnomes and wind chimes while body, mind, and moral self are the foundation, pillars, and roof.

Now what? Now, I think, I just need to give daily attention to nurturing my moral self, the same way I give my body and mind daily care and use.

Seeking others’ pity to be happy

Here’s a passage from the book Making Peace with Your Parents that made me think. 

Quote:

“For anyone who grew up with a martyr parent, it is essential to recognize that guilt is self-punishment you don’t deserve. In truth, Julie had neither caused nor could remedy her mother’s emotional distress. To illustrate how guilt operates and to help Julie stop blaming herself for her mother’s self-critical and self-destructive habits, I stood up in the middle of one of our sessions and walked to the window. “Now, if I jumped out this window head-first and splattered myself on the pavement below, killing or crippling myself, would it be your fault?” Julie laughed and said, “Of course not.”

“But what if I left behind a note that described how Julie looked at me the wrong way, that Julie only thinks about herself, or that Julie wasn’t living up to my expectations of progress in psychotherapy? Then would it be your fault?”

Julie hesitated for a moment before she replied, “No, it would still be ridiculous. I’m not the one who made you jump.”

End quote.

Why did the foregoing passage give me pause? I think the idea of trying to make others feel responsible for my happiness is familiar. I’ve done that; tried to make my wife, girlfriend, peers, family, and even strangers feel as sorry for me as I felt for myself. I thought, or hoped, that upon seeing my misery – self-created or otherwise—they would be moved to give me liberties, flattery, sexual attention, or service. When did I start doing that? I seem to recall sitting alone in my room as a child or adolescent, hoping my parents would feel sorry for me and that they would then remove some unseen barrier that kept me from socializing with peers.

As an aside, perhaps, I can now look back on my lonely youth with a new perspective. The new perspective comes from being a parent of a teenager myself. As a teenager, was it really just that my parents kept me from going out and socializing? Perhaps there was more to it. Perhaps I didn’t socialize much with some peers because we didn’t have enough common interests. On the other hand, there was the question of how and where would I socialize with peers. I didn’t want to talk to them on the phone because I feared my parents were eavesdropping, prying, and commenting on everything. I didn’t want to invite peers to my house for similar reasons. Were my parents socially isolating me, or was I doing it to myself?

And, where might I have learned that habit of trying to make others pity me so I could turn their pity to my advantage? I think my mother modeled that type of thinking, with her lifelong, constant refrains of, “Why doesn’t anyone do something for my family?” Perhaps I then continued the unhealthy strategy well beyond my elementary school years because I saw it as easier than taking responsibility for my own happiness.

List of resentments

I am now reading a book called Making Peace with Your Parents: The Key to Enriching Your Life and All Your Relationships. One of its first exercises says to make a list of all your resentments toward your parents. Here’s mine. 

1. I resent that you did not let me do things for myself, even simple things like getting lights and doors.

2. I resent that you sent me to the church, but that you did not participate. Incidentally, I recall now that you did not drive me there. Grandpa drove me there.

3. I resent that you did not let me listen to radio stations or watch television shows my peers experienced.

4. I resent that you did not allow me to choose my clothes as an adolescent.

5. I resent that we did not interact with other people very much. I think it contributed to me feeling scared and awkward around people.

6. I resent that you did not give me chores or responsibilities. I think it made me take things for granted and be ungrateful.

7. I resent you, mother, for basically teasing me about being a teenager, making me feel it was some reason to feel ashamed or estranged.

8. Mother, I resent you for frequently criticizing every girl I ever dated, making me feel I had to hide my relationships.

9. Mother, I resent you constantly criticizing my wife and doing things to make her seem separate from me.

10. Mother, I resent your frequent, intense, desperate harassment to make me accept my father chaperoning my wife and me across the country.

As I attempted to make this list, I found that some of my regrets were not resentments directed at my parents. Rather, I resented my fate, my own inaction, and myself. The following list covers approximately the first two decades of my life. I have written previously about other regrets from the second part of my life.

1. I regret not just shaving off that damned facial hair on my upper lip that always invited teasing when I was in grade school.

2. I regret not disciplining myself to become better at running and swimming.

3. I regret being so scared and shy.

4. I regret not asking for help with wetting my pants.

5. I regret teasing people until they retaliated.

6. I regret believing in Santa Claus longer than my peers did due to my fear of hurting my parents’ feelings.

7. I regret not finding piano songs I enjoyed.

8. I regret that I did not do my homework.

9. I regret that I feared my parents’ expectations about the spelling bee.

10. I regret that I did not try the wrestling team.

11. I regret not learning about fitness and nutrition sooner.

I’m only at the beginning of this book. I don’t know whether it will address the fact that I inadvertently came up with as many resentments not related to my parents as resentments regarding my parents.

What does that tell us? I’m not sure. I think it says that my problems with insecurity and jealousy were not really about my parents. Rather, they were about my relationship with myself.

Owing versus loving

I’ve been very sad recently as a thought keeps gnawing at me.

Everything MC has done has been out of a sense of “making it up to me” and a sense of “obligation.” Basically, any romance he gives is based on owing me, any gifts he gives is based on owing me, any love he gives me is based on owing me.

He did things for and with affair partners in attempt to “seduce” them. He didn’t do it because he “owed” them something. He did it because he wanted them. And, he did it easily, freely, on his own accord. Not from a sense of guilt, not because he was asked to, not because some counselor suggested he should do so, but simply because he decided.

I don’t know if this makes any sense to anyone but me. But, here I am.

Practicing empathy 

I wrote recently about another stupid thing I did. Some woman sat next to me on a plane. I went to great effort to avoid looking at her or speaking with her. She was uninteresting physically and mentally. She started small talk. I kept it professional. She gave me her card. I stupidly forgot to tell TL about it.   

A few days later, I e-mailed the woman to give her my contact information. I had promised I would do so, and I had stupidly thought the potential connection would be useful to my family. I again stupidly forgot to tell TL.

Fortunately, the woman never replied. Unfortunately, TL saw that I had failed to tell her about the incident. It was wrong of me to forget. But, I did forget.

I did not lie, nor act deceitfully. Nonetheless, I failed TL, leaving her frightened and worried.

I asked my counselor how to not forget things like this. One suggestion was to improve my empathy with how TL would see such incidents. I have been working on empathy. I have a long way to go.

I just read “The Empathy Workout,” by Martha Beck. She talks about listening. I’m working on that. I have room to improve, but I have come a long way. She offers a technique she calls reverse engineering, mirroring someone’s expressions (in private) to try to feel what they felt when they spoke. She suggests something she calls shape-shifting, mentally transforming into the other person (also in private) to understand how they feel as they do what they do. Finally, she suggests what she calls meta-tation, privately, regularly meditating on thoughts of goodwill toward the other person.

Maybe I should start there, with Beck’s suggestions. I welcome other suggestions.

Read Chump Lady’s book

Taking the advice of one of our readers, I just read Tracy Shorn’s Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: Chump Lady’s Survival Guide, front to cover. TL and I have long talked about Chump Lady, her blog, and her philosophy. I’m glad I finally read the whole thing. 

I’m not going to critique it. Why? I really could not find anything with which I disagree in the whole book. It’s well written, with an readable style, and I was not distracted by its grammatical imperfections or bombastic language.

Read it. If you’re a chump, to use her terminology, read it to help yourself. If you’re a cheater like me, again from her terminology, read it to see the chump’s perspective better.

I hope I’m the unicorn Chump Lady calls the remorseful cheater. I love TL, and I did not love her before I learned how to love. I hate what I did to her. Every act of infidelity on my part was a conscious decision. Every lie was a conscious decision. Now, I have consciously decided to try to be loving, honest, empathetic, and wise. I fail at those things often. But, I consciously try to improve. I don’t know how to improve, but I read, research, talk to my counselor, and think about it a lot, every day.

I do love TL, and I am sorry I cheated and lied.

So, Chump Lady says TL should divorce me. I am trying to be her unicorn. I don’t want to lose TL. I also don’t want TL to be frightened and unhappy.

Sick

TL just spent hours caring for me at the hospital and at home. Sadly, it reminded us of when I dropped her off at the emergency room on my way to work instead of taking the day off. She’s a much better spouse than I am, and a much better person. 

Give me something to read

I need some new material for my work on becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve written, I’ve read, I’ve surfed the Internet. But, much of what I see now I’ve already seen. What’s new on the topic of how to help my wife after my infidelity?

Enmeshed parent?

I’m not sure what direction to take now with my work at becoming a safer husband for TL. I’ve read and written about honesty, empathy, transparency, friendship, and overcoming misogyny. All I can think to do on those topics is to remain vigilant and to train daily –like an athlete training for a game or a student training for a test – to become more adept at those skills. I’ve also thought, read, and written about puritanical upbringing, self-esteem, and proper definitions of love, with an aim to understand the origins of my selfish decisions. 

Meanwhile, we had a recent experience with my parents that may be informative. As I’ve discussed before, I think my mother prevented me from growing up. In her own way, she thought she loved me, I suppose. She wanted to protect me, from everything, always. But, she didn’t realize – or possibly didn’t care – that what would truly be better for me – and therefore truly more loving—would be to encourage me to grow up. Perhaps this is relevant because my immaturity made me view gender, sex, and marriage selfishly. Perhaps my mother also incorrectly modeled love. To her, love was possession rather than caring.

I am reminded of this by a recent event in which my parents demonstrated that they cannot stop disrespecting my decision to marry, my choice of wife, and my decision to have children. For some biologically paradoxical reason, my parents seem to have wanted me to remain a child and to die unmarried and childless. Why would any parent want such things? If I died childless, their bloodline would also die.

I suspect racism is one part of the answer. One reason my parents won’t accept TL and my sons is that TL is not of their preferred ethnicity. But, I don’t think that’s the only reason. My parents also did not seem to want me to grow up or to marry at all.

In this most recent situation, my parents managed two simultaneous modes of disrespecting my family. First, they sent a note saying “Merry Christmas.” I’m sure some of our friends and readers are Christian. Please understand that every single year, for 24 years, I’ve politely told my parents, “We don’t celebrate Christmas,” “We don’t celebrate Easter,” “We don’t eat pork,” “and “We don’t eat shellfish.” And, every single year, for 24 years, my mother has tried to play ignorant, asking, “Can’t you just eat some pork loin?” “Oh, really, you don’t celebrate Christmas?” “Don’t the kids want some Easter candy?” and “Why won’t you eat shrimp?” How hard can it be for my mother to get it? It’s been 24 years.

Second, my parents sent me two toys for my birthday, which falls in December. They sent nothing for my sons, who typically receive Chanukah gifts from other relatives in the same timeframe. This angered me because grandparents ought to be focused on grandchildren, not obsessing on their adult son while trying to pretend his children don’t exist.

This is the same mother who once made a big scene of purchasing four funeral plots: one for her, one for my father, one for me, and one for my brother. This was years after TL and I married.

My parents also obsessively talk about all the crap – and it is just crap – that I might supposedly inherit when they die. Once when my mother was listing such crap to TL, my wife mentioned something about our children. My mother shot back with, “No, these things are not for your kids. They’re for my son.” What? Am I supposed to be buried with my mother’s knick-knacks and bric-à-brac that she wills me – like some pharaoh—rather than will them, in turn, to my own sons? If I’m so damned important to my mother, why are my sons not important to me? Is it just the racism? Or, is it that she is primarily focused on controlling me, not on loving me?

In any case, I think it’s relevant here because that’s what I did to TL for 18 years: I focused on controlling her rather than loving her. In general, I am training to become less focused on control.

What now?

It’s been over five years since TL discovered my 18-year history of lying and cheating. We’ve filled the recent years with polygraph tests, counseling, studying, and blogging. TL is understandably still traumatized, afraid of being hurt or deceived again, afraid of details of our history she does not know, and angry at the betrayal and injustice I caused. I am working to stop answering with thoughtless, panicked untruths when she confronts me with questions, and to start seeing everything I do through her eyes and changing my behavior accordingly.    

She still questions me about details of the affairs and reasons for my behavior. My sincere responses that “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” make her blood boil. Despite my efforts, I still do thoughtless things and fail to do helpful things. Most recently, I mindlessly failed to brief her on a woman who sat next to me on a plane, and again when I e-mailed the woman with my contact information, in what I thought was a routine work-related encounter but what must have appeared to TL as an attempt on my part to establish an illicit relationship. Before that, I let my insecure and jealous demons speak for me when TL trusted me enough to discuss a violation that had occurred before we met. I jumped to victim blaming instead of empathy and support.

I have identified why I cheated and lied, and how to prevent recidivism. My puritanical upbringing left me insecure and resentful in the face of the modern world. Insecurities about my body, and a badly-distorted perspective on the roles of sex and gender in our lives contributed to my sense of entitlement and jealousy. Prevention means being grateful for everything and everyone in my life; being humble; being empathetic, compassionate, and loving; and keeping sex and gender roles in a healthy perspective.

So, now what? When does she decide that staying with me is no longer necessary nor worth it? How, specifically, can I make myself more attentive to her and less instinctively self-protective or self indulgent?

How to stop lying to yourself and to your partner

I read an article by this name by Bella Rayne at lovepanky.com. Here’s the one suggestion it offered that seems promising. 

“Don’t answer too fast. It’s alright to take time to think. Compulsive liars don’t think before they talk. Lies just flow out even before they make up their mind about whether they want to lie or tell the truth.”

It also offered one possible explanation for my habit of lying that makes sense to me.

“Why do you lie so much? In most cases, it could be childhood experiences or a life altering experience that convinced your mind to start lying. In my case, it was my angry, ill tempered father who always had an opinion about everything I did.

When I was a child, he would always yell at me every time I told the truth that I had forgotten something or overlooked something else. I learnt that it was just easier to lie than look like an idiot in front of him. And that stuck in my mind. A perfect lie could get me away from all my troubles with the slightest effort.”

In my case, it was my mother rather than my father, who was controlling and critical.

Where are we? I don’t know.

Where are we? I don’t know.

He admits he has a problem with lying when he feels panic.

While he promises me honesty, he cannot promise me that he will not instinctively lie when in a panic. I respond, then how in the world is it you are promising me honesty?

He says he promises to learn to identify his panic mode, and to own up to any lie immediately when he realizes what he’s done. He promises to work on eliminating this instinct. But, in wanting to be honest with me, he cannot promise it will never happen again as he learns to extinguish this behavior.

He promises to never keep things from me. But, cannot promise he will not “forget” ever again. He promises to take some very specific steps to make it unlikely he will forget. But, again, he cannot promise he will not “forget” ever again.

When he discusses his steps to remembering me, I cannot help but feel that he has to include me on his “to-do” list to not forget me. And, that leaves me feeling like he does not love and respect me enough to think about me, unless forced to do so or reminded by some “to do” list to do so.

So, where are we? I don’t know.

 

Why did I tell affair partners that I had cheated before, on numerous occasions?

My second affair partner (AP2) once asked me whether I had cheated on my wife before. I said that I had. I think I recall her then asking whether I had cheated once or more than once. I think I recall responding that I had cheated many times, which was true in view of my first affair and my history with prostitutes. A similar conversation played out with my third and final affair partner (AP3). 

Why did I tell them that?

I don’t know. I welcome your ideas.

My theory was that I told those APs I had cheated before because I wanted to hear myself say it. Perhaps I wanted to believe I was a desirable man, and hoped very briefly that saying I had been with several women would make me think that. I don’t know if that makes sense. If that was what I intended, it only worked for about one second, the amount of time it would take to recall that most of my sexual experiences had just been purchased from prostitutes. So, perhaps the theory that I wanted to make myself feel sexually experienced doesn’t work.

Did I tell them I had cheated often so as to demonstrate great disrespect for TL? No. That was not my intent. I get, however, that it was the effect. When I think about it, maybe I was trying to say the following to the APs: “I cheat often, and have no moral qualms about it. So, you, AP, should also have no moral qualms about our adulterous relationship. Please, AP, don’t suddenly grow a conscience and stop giving me sex.”

In fact, the relationship with my first affair partner (AP1) did gradually peter out with signs that she was struggling with her last vestiges of a conscience. I suspect she eventually realized that she did not want to invest more time and energy into me when all she got from me was covert sex, and that what she really wanted was a normal relationship that did not have to be covert. Perhaps that shaped my behavior with AP2 and AP3, with me trying to convince the APs that there was nothing wrong with our adulterous relationships.

When I told the APs I had cheated before, was this a signal from me to APs that I did not respect TL and that I wanted them to also disrespect her? I can see that’s how it appears to TL. It likely appeared that way to the APs as well. Though it is not what I actively intended, I see how that is probably the message I unthinkingly conveyed. I understand that from TL’s view my acts of sex with other women were small potatoes next to my lies and next to those disrespectful messages about her I conveyed, intentionally and actively or not.

TL, I think I see that fidelity is not just a question of sex, but also a question of loyally telling you everything honestly as well as of promoting and defending your honor and dignity and the value of our relationship through my words as well as my nonverbal signals. When I apologize for cheating on you, please know that I’m not just apologizing for adulterous sex, but also for disloyal, deceptive, and treacherous behavior.

A stumbling block or a systemic problem?

As you all know MC’s work involves travel and the majority of his cheating occurred when either he was away or the kids and I were away. Not all, but the majority! So, travel is a particularly big trigger for me. One in which I have come a long way, so that I no longer freak-out every time he is away. However, that doesn’t mean he gets to slack off in his diligence, especially in regard to actions in the moment and in regard to informing me of such actions.

Mindless was away for a week. He was seated next to a woman on his flight. She struck up a conversation. She apparently has the ability to issue our family an invite to something we have been wanting to do, but needing an invite in order to do (sorry this is so cryptic, but again with the trying to maintain anonymity).   So, she gave Mindless her business card. He was out of business cards to exchange, so when he returned to work he sent her his work contact information.

Do you know how I found out about this all? I have not looked at his work e-mail in a very long time, I think only two other times since our move here over a year ago. But, kids were at school and Mindless had a day off, so I decided I would look. And, I found the e-mail where he was sending his contact info to a woman he had never told me about. He explained the event and the reason for exchanging information.

He, then, attempted to tell me he was certain he had told me about it. He hadn’t. Then he tells me, he must have mentioned it to a co-worker because he remembers telling somebody about it. I, then, asked him why he would share that he was exchanging information with a woman he met on the airplane to his co-worker and not to me? Was he wanting to brag about meeting some woman? He quickly changed his tack, saying “no, maybe I didn’t tell my co-worker.”

He tells me he panicked and he couldn’t remember exactly what happened and who he told, he was struggling with remembering the truth. I explained (AGAIN), that’s the thing about truth, it is easy to remember when not trying to “make shit up.” We proceeded to have a discussion about “making shit up.” I need a husband who does NOT EVER make-up shit for any reason!!!! That is the coward’s way out. If he wants to truly be a “man,” in my view, it means not being a coward and NEVER “making shit up.” For G-d’s sakes, just be honest with me, just be honest. His “truth” now is that he intended to tell me, but forgot.

He remembered to e-mail her, so basically he “forgot” twice, once right after it happened and again when he sent the e-mail. Now, he is telling me, “sorry” and “I know it was wrong.” “There was no malicious intent.” “I wish I had told you as it happened, I really intended to do so.” “I should have cc’d you on the e-mail, I just didn’t think of it.”

All of you know how I struggle with wanting all the pre d-day details and MC assuring me he has told me everything he can remember. At the minimum, this just further points out to me how little effort he puts in to “remembering” details that he may think of as trivial, but I would find not so trivial. It, also, reaffirms to me that transparency is only as good as he decides to make it. And, at the worst, there was nefarious intent and he is gas-lighting me again.

And, again, I find myself asking is this “a stumbling block” in his “work” from which he can learn and improve, or a systemic problem that he is unable or unwilling to change?

His solution, to bcc me on every damn work e-mail that involves a woman. Sorry, the last thing I want is my in-box flooded with his work e-mails. Why is this so fucking hard? Clearly he can see the difference between the woman on the airplane e-mail and back-and-forth e-mails about clearly work-related issues?!

I find myself wondering, maybe he really does not want me to find peace, maybe he doesn’t really care if I feel safe. After all, this would have been such an easy “win” for him, to tell me about the woman on the plane and cc me on the e-mail. What an opportunity to build trust! Why are such opportunities so trivial to him, unless there is more to this story he is not sharing?

Why was I so nice to that affair partner?

Here’s a question I still can’t answer, after more than five years of actively trying to understand. Maybe you can help me.

Maybe I’v even written about it before. I can’t remember.

When TL caught me cheating, I e-mailed that third and final affair partner a message telling her the affair was over. I then showed TL the e-mail.

Here’s what I think the e-mailed should have said: “M, this affair is over. Stop all communication with me immediately and forever. I told my wife the truth, that I love her and only her, and that my relationship with you was a shamefully wrong choice on my part. You are nothing to me, and my wife is the center of my world.”

Instead, it said something like the following. My memory is not so keen, so I will paraphrase: M, I’m sorry, but it’s over. I now know I made the right decision by returning to my family. I hope you will also return to your family.”

So, here’s my question. Why was I so nice to that affair partner (AP) in that e-mail?

I really don’t know.

Did I wish to avoid hurting the AP’s feelings because I cared for her? No. Every time I tell TL that I did not give a damn about that AP’s feelings, TL does not believe me. I’m not lying to TL. Am I lying to myself?

Was I afraid the AP would get angry and try to do something vengeful? I don’t know. Maybe. I’m really not sure.

Did I want the AP to carry away the thought that she almost tempted me away from TL? I don’t think so. I really don’t think so.

Is there some other point or possibility that I’m missing here? I’d really welcome your thoughts.

Meditations

When trying to eat healthy, I find it more useful to focus on positive habits instead of focusing on eliminating negative things. Though I clearly want to cut carbohydrates, fats, and calories, I don’t worry too much about telling myself not to eat certain things. Instead, I focus on healthy things I do want to eat. I find, for example, that if I work actively to drink enough water and eat enough produce and healthy protein sources, there’s little or no room left in my belly for cookies, cakes, and other garbage. The good things crowd out the bad things to a point where I don’t even want the bad things.

A similar strategy helps me with using time wisely. I focus on putting enough time each day into family, mental and moral health (for lack of a better term), work, volunteer activities, and fitness – in roughly that order of priority. I then have little or no time left for idleness, self-pity, temptation, or other self-defeating things. The good activities crowd out the bad, to a point where doing good things becomes a habit and a virtuous cycle.

I really think a similar strategy helps me prevent bad thoughts. If I think enough good thoughts, they should crowd out bad thoughts. So, what are these good thoughts? Here my ideas:

Focus on my mate as a friend, not as a possession nor as a means of meeting my needs.

Grow up and accept what I am and what I am not.

Balance aspects of myself: profession or career, God, family responsibility, fitness, intellect and mental pursuits, creativity, friendship, integrity, accomplishments, hobbies, pastimes, things that make me happy.

Re-dedicate myself to balance, friendship, and maturity each day.

Accepting physical limitations and putting them in perspective

TL recently worried that I am too negative about my physical self and that it constitutes dangerous self-pity. My reply was that my recent study in “10 Days to Self-Esteem” taught me at least two ways to deal with feeling inadequate First, I can take a look at my assumptions and be sure they are not resulting from distorted thinking. Second, in cases where I do find myself lacking in some way, I can just accept it instead of wishing it were different. 

I tried listing the negative and positive aspects of myself, physically and sexually. I then listed other positive attributes I have. In both cases, I think I erred by listing my attributes in terms of comparisons to other men. So, I tried again, this time listings attributes as absolute rather than relative. See below.

In that self-esteem book, the author actually suggested assigning numerical values to such lists, to quantify how much significance I assign each item.

Self-assessment of my physical and sexual attributes

Negative things about me physically:

Small (10)

Weak(10)

Small penis (10)

Uncoordinated (10)

Soft features (10)

Not skillful in bed (10)

Total (60)

Positive things about me physically:

Healthy (10)

Fit (10)

Acceptable physique (10)

No awkward features or deformities (10)

Total (40)

Using the numerical values I assigned each item on the list, I arrive at 40 points for my positive attributes and 60 for my negative. So, what if I throw in non-physical and non-sexual attributes?

Other positive attributes I have:

Smart (5)

Wise (5)

Good at speaking and writing (5)

Good at skiing (5)

Educated (5)

Experienced with the world (5)

Attentive parent (5)

Acceptable at swimming (5)

Total (40)

If I add my other positive attributes to my list of positive physical and sexual attributes, I arrive at 80 points. In that case, the combined positive attributes outweigh my negative attributes by a value of 80 points compared to 60.

What’s the point of this exercise? I think it helps me keep my view of my negative physical and sexual attributes in perspective, so I don’t focus on them exclusively or obsessively. Perhaps it helps me accept unpleasant realities without letting them become all-consuming, depressing, or a source of self-pity or despair. Perhaps it will help me to revisit this list whenever I feel troubled by self-doubt regarding my physical attributes.

I want. . .I don’t know

I want to feel alive. I want to feel the butterflies of a first kiss. I am not an Esther Perel fan, in that she too readily excuses lying. Yet, I want all the things Esther Perel uses to justify cheating by cheaters, butterflies from a new relationship, feeling alive, etc. I want to experience these things one more time before I die.

I don’t want to be a cheating liar. I don’t want to be with someone else, who themselves are willing to be a cheating liar. I will never lie to Mindless. I don’t want to be with someone else who would lie to their spouse. I will not hide anything from Mindless. I will not take part in lies to another. However, I cannot promise faithfulness to Mindless.

I want to feel the freedom of being with someone without the mind movies and pain blocking my ability to be at ease, and just be in the moment freely. I want to feel desired by someone who is both honest and confident. I want to feel desired by someone with whom I can feel safe and not worry about being judged for previous experiences, rather just being in that one moment in time together.

When I married Mindless, I accepted he would be my last first kiss, he would be the last person for whom I ever felt  butterflies from a new relationship. I accepted that as part of making the commitment of marriage, knowing he too was doing the same. Well, that is no longer part of the equation.

If I ever act upon these feelings, it will be to allow myself to feel something I haven’t felt in over 20 years.

Sometimes, I think, perhaps it doesn’t have to be about sex. Perhaps, it could just be about experiencing something new and exciting on my own. Almost everything I’ve ever done has been with Mindless. Almost every new and exciting experience has been with Mindless. It is such a habit for me to tell myself I cannot do something without Mindless, if I know it is something he too would enjoy. We all know he cannot say the same! Why am I like this? I think his pre d-day pouting and jealousy of my pre-marital life, which was not anything all that great, created a fear within me, a fear I still struggle to overcome.

Before kids, we were apart for three months due to his job. I stayed behind and continued on with normal life, while I waited for permission to join him (certainly nothing new and exciting or from my own desire). In our first overseas country, I went on a ladies trip to some absolutely gorgeous, and these days completely unaccessible, scenery (the one new and exciting experience in my marriage that did not include Mindless). When I was pregnant with our youngest, I traveled to a neighboring country for a medical check-up. Finally, when a younger cousin married, I went for three days (two were travel days, one full day on the ground for the wedding). And, that is it in the last 24 years, those are the only experiences “on my own” without Mindless and/or kids with me.

Sigh, I don’t know. I don’t know.

Response from Mom

In my last post I shared a hypothetical letter to my mother that my counselor recommended I write. Here’s the hypothetical response I wish she would write: 

Dear MC,

I am sorry I held you back, not allowing you to make decisions and learn independence like normal boys. I did want an eternal child about whom I could boast, not a living, breathing son with his own mind and his own wants and needs. Perhaps you treated your wife as a possession because you learned from me treating you as a possession. I should have wanted to see you learn to choose your own clothes, food, friends, girlfriends, spouse, and activities. Instead, I took those choices from you. It was unfair to you.

You know I was not sure how to deal with the Church. I tried to give you choices in that matter. I really do prefer the lifestyle the Church promotes, and I wanted that for you. I’m sorry that my anger at the Church and so many of it’s members made you think I opposed the Church’s teachings. I do share the Church’s views on sex and morality.

I never knew how to help you build confidence in sports and activities without discouraging you. I’m sorry I got that balance wrong too.

I’m also sorry I burdened you with my attempts to live my life through you. I was unhappy with myself and my life, and I hoped I could change that by getting recognition for your accomplishments. I’m sorry that I put unfair pressure on you.

Though I am very uncomfortable with the topic of sex, I’m sorry I passed my disappointment and unhappiness with that topic to you. Again, I should have made it clear that I believe in the Church’s view of sex and morality. I see, however, that by pushing you to leave our hometown, I was driving you to a life that was not compatible with the Church’s views on those topics.

You could have been more and been more happy had I not held you back. I am sorry.

Love,

Mom

Letter to Mom

My counselor suggested I write a letter to my mother – possibly a letter I will never send – expressing my feelings of injustice about my upbringing. I haven’t had a chance to discuss it with my counselor since I wrote it. I wonder what you think of it. I’m not sure what to think about it. Here it is: 

Dear Mom,

I’m sure it will come as no surprise that there are some things about my upbringing that disappointed me. I think they really led to a lot of jealousy and insecurity on my part. I’ll list them, by way of review. First, since before kindergarten, I long recall thinking I had more restrictions than my peers, whether they be neighbors, classmates, or cousins. I felt overly restricted in my ability to go outside and play, to watch shows and movies that kids my age were watching, to do things for myself rather than have parents do them for me, to associate with peers of my own choosing, to choose my own clothes, and, later, to talk and act freely regarding interest in girls.

This left me with a strong feeling of jealousy, first of elementary school boys my age and, later, of adolescent peers who I assumed had more experience with sex than I did. The jealously led to insecurity. I was certain my peers were better than me at sports and games, more worldly, and more sexually active because I was cloistered and they were not. I figured that made them better, more desirable, or more successful than me. As an adult, I drew on that jealousy and insecurity to justify marital infidelity, cruel judgmentalism, bitterness, pettiness, and disproportionate anger about perceived sleights, regardless of how small or inconsequential.

Of course, I had free will. I could have and should have not chosen to obsess on those feelings of insecurity and jealousy. At this point there is not much to be done about it. I’m not sure what I want now in regards to this topic. Perhaps I want acknowledgement that your over mothering did delay my development and put me at a disadvantage vis-à-vis my peers. I suspect you’ll say you just wanted me to be safe. I’d like to hear anyone other than myself agree with me that you went too far. Safety is not an end, it is a means. I could be one hundred percent safe, but have zero reason to exist. Your focus on safety was extreme and debilitating.

Second, I was troubled by the mixed messages you gave me regarding the Church. I understand that your own experience with the Church made you dislike it and discourage it. But, I was unhappy that you encouraged me to adopt the Church’s values regardless, sending me to Sunday school alone until I was eight, and also teaching me, both through your words and your example, to adopt the Church’s puritanical views of sex and gender roles. I wish you would have just made a decision to raise me as a Mormon or not, rather than trying to be all things to all people. I learned to be uncomfortable and dissatisfied associating with puritanical-minded peers whose life experiences were similar to my own. I also learned to feel insecure and awkward around peers who did not share my puritanical background. I thus felt at home nowhere, alone in every crowd, and too different to fit in. As an adult, I chose a mate who attracted me with her progressive thinking and experiences. I then tormented her with unfair judgments drawn from my puritanical subconscious mind.

I think I do blame you for teaching me two conflicting sets of values and desires. I feel like you set me up to be unhappy. Whichever choice I made – a progressive, modern peer group or a conservative, puritanical peer group—one part of me would be unsatisfied. I say “peer group” instead of wife or mate because, when I think about it, clearly your vision for me was that I would never marry. You wanted me to remain single and childless. You wanted me to remain an eternal child. That’s so self-defeating; not even wanting grandchildren. It’s cruel; like keeping an eagle in a small cage all its life. I can’t think of a reason to address this now, nor a solution to it. Maybe I just want someone to agree with me that this internal conflict you bequeathed me was unhelpful and predisposed me to unhappiness.

Third, I felt you ultimately failed to teach me the importance of fitness or sport. Yes, I resisted. But, I do wish you would have encouraged me more to stick with swimming or martial arts or to try something more versatile such as running. I got the message that it’s okay to not try. I want you to admit that you didn’t place enough value on physical education in my childhood, and that it was not a good way to raise a boy.

Fourth, I got the sense that my accomplishments or lack thereof were about you, not me. For example, when I missed a word at the spelling bee, I recall being more worried about you being upset than about my own view of the situation. Even now I do not feel good talking about my successes, especially the relatively small day-to-day ones, with you because I fear you will overplay them and use them for your own bragging, making you look foolish and making me feel foolish. I also do not feel good about sharing my failures or worries with you. You appropriate those too, moaning about injustice when in fact, the problem is either a normal part of life or the result of some legitimate failing on my part. You going on and on about life being unfair makes me feel you are bemoaning the fact that your son disappointed you, not that you are at all concerned about the effect the situation will have on me.

As a parent, I have to actively remember not to live through my children. Their successes and failures are theirs, not mine. If my son is treated poorly by people or by fate, I don’t want to bitch and whine about people or fate. Instead, I want to hear what he is thinking and feeling and be available to discuss solutions if, and only if, he wants that. For you and I, Mom, please just stop hunting for reasons to brag about me, and stop complaining about injustice when I mention something disappointing.

Fifth, I think I learned from you that sex and romantic attraction are so bad they can’t even be mentioned. When they were mentioned, usually only by someone on television, I recall you sighing, mumbling, turning the television off, and pretending nothing happened. I think I got the idea that sex is truly a deviant topic, and that anyone versed in it is a bad person. I don’t know what to say or do with this issue now. I don’t need you to suddenly change your views on this topic. Maybe it would help if we both acknowledge that your puritanical views on sex were passed down to me, and that they did not prepare me to live in the modern world.

So, now what? Hopefully it will help me to have simply expressed my feelings about these aspects of my upbringing. I don’t know.

Love,

MC

Chasing Amy from Where?

Why did I have Chasing Amy Syndrome, the obsession with female chastity that led me to compete for sexual experience as a symbol of adulthood, masculinity, and self-esteem, and to feel intimidated by any woman who is not a virginal, two-dimensional, eternally innocent, Disney princess? I think I understand how I developed such wrong thinking. When I recognize it inside me, I know how to swat it away. I struggle, however, to excise is from my subconscious, so it does not covertly drive me to say or do things that are judgmental or unloving.

Here, I believe, is how it began. As an only child for the first five years of life, and having overprotective parents who did not have many social connections with friends or their own families, I was uncomfortable with other people, especially girls. My parents sheltered me, and I was resentful about it.

I was timid and physically small. I wished to have more confidence with sports, but did not put much effort into it. I was told sports are not important, and I did not learn perseverance and resiliency.

As a racial minority in a small, almost entirely white town, I wished very much to be treated as “normal,” something many whites, including well-intentioned adults, were almost incapable of doing. Even my mother, in my view, focused too much on differences with other people rather than similarities.

The majority of people in the town, including all of my extended family on one side, were of the same Church. My mother angrily rejected the Church while simultaneously teaching me that all of its views on sex and gender were “normal” and “good.” I think this planted misogyny in my subconscious while leaving progressive views in my conscious mind.

I was teased by peers for my relatively late puberty and late interest in girls. My first serious girlfriend refused to have sex with me. A short time later, she announced that she had sex with someone else and told me she was ready for sex with me. I was silently angry.

My second serious girlfriend similarly refused sex with me and then got pregnant with someone else. Chasing Amy Syndrome gradually dominated my life when I was with another serious girlfriend in college. I was irrationally jealous of her previous experiences. She and I had sex often. Looking back on it, I wonder whether it could be described as compulsive sex. Then, finally, Chasing Amy Syndrome reared its ugly head in my marriage.

So, that’s how it started. If I know the roots of my bad thinking, then what? How do I remove my biases about women and sex? I have removed it from my conscious mind. But, I fear it is still stuck in my subconscious.

Mermaid versus swim partner

The other day when TL and I were scuba diving, the sight of fins made me think of mermaids. It reminded me that in Hans Christian Anderson’s tale the mermaid ultimately changed who she was in order to become a wife. That’s what I inflicted on TL. I forced her to be more like my image of her and less like herself. Now, in trying to repair the damage I caused, I’m trying to swim in the sea with her instead of forcing her to be something she is not. 

Some correlation between serial infidelity and ultra-conservative upbringing?

The following article caught my eye.

https://sexualhealthalliance.com/sexysparkblog/2016/12/19/aasect-rejects-the-concept-of-sex-addiction

In particular, this phrase leapt off the page at me.

“Multiple other studies now reveal conclusively that sex addiction is a label rendered overwhelmingly on males (90-95% of sex addicts are males), and half of those males are white, heterosexual, religious (most often Christian and very high rates of Mormon) married males who are middle to upper class in income.

The author goes on to argue that religious-based therapists may over diagnose sexual addiction. Separate from my agreement with the author that sex addiction is probably an over-used term, I also am reminded of my belief that the obsession with sex, experience, keeping up, proving manhood, and expecting a virginal bride that I experienced is noticeably correlated with growing up in a highly conservative—often Christian or Muslim – family or community.

I’ve written about this before. I believe that my Mormon upbringing did at least three things to set the conditions for my unhealthy attitudes about women and sex. First, hiding from my parents my natural pubescent interest in girls and natural desire to become independent from my parents led to a double-life: a visible life as a parent-focused, helpless, neuter child, and a hidden life as an independent-minded, self-focused, male adolescent. Second, it really firmly emphasized a preference for female chastity and male dominance.

Third, when I physically moved away from that conservative little community, I experienced culture shock, accompanied by feelings of inadequacy when I compared myself to new peers who were more at ease with premarital sex, mixed-gender activities, and males and females doing things that break stereotypes of gender roles in traditional societies. The feelings of inadequacy led to anger, jealousy, defensiveness, self-pity, and an unhealthy desire to “catch up” to my new peers who had not been held back by traditional upbringings.

I’m not sure what to do with this thought now. I wonder whether others have noticed this correlation between selfish sexual behavior and traditional upbringings.

I wonder whether I might feel more compassion for myself if I admit to myself freely that I grew up Mormon rather than try to avoid thinking of myself that way. Let me try it now. As a child, I was culturally Mormon. That partially explains why my earliest experiences with girls and sex were different from those of my current peers. I used to be ashamed and angry about my Mormon upbringing. Instead, perhaps I should forgive God for the fact of my birth into that community. Perhaps I should forgive myself for coming to the wider world from that little Mormon background.

Perhaps I should stop trying to be, or pretend to be, something I am not. I was not raised in the urban, modern, liberal family or community to which I aspire, which I somehow idolize and envy. I was raised in a conservative family and community full of sexism, ignorance, and insecurity. I came from there. It’s not where I want to be. But, I, in fact, came from there.

I’m not sure where to go from here on this topic. I know I need to think of my wife as a friend, not a possession. I thought I was succeeding in that. But, the recent example of me not supporting her properly when she wanted to talk about a guy who had used her years ago suggests that I was not successful. I had thought I had mastered my misogyny and insecurity. To my unpleasant surprise, they popped up when I had not expected them. I wonder whether behavioral conditioning can eliminate misogynistic feelings, jealousy, and insecurity.

Now that’s possibly an addiction. You know I believe sex addiction is, at least ninety-nine percent of the time, a phony label to explain away something more conscious and more intentional. But, this case of misogynistic beliefs and sexual insecurity I have seems to affect me on both a conscious and a subconscious level. On the conscious level, I know my feelings are hurtful to TL, I want to change that, and most of the time I can control it. On the subconscious level, how can I fully excise the instinct to judge women differently from men? How can I excise the instinct to see sex as a competition?

Food for thought

Comparing ourselves to others is a fool’s errand. I know MC struggled with this and allowed it to fuel a poisonous self-pity that ruled his heart and mind for too many years. I found after d-day, after so much heart-ache in my life, I struggle with this and with not allowing self-pity to overtake my heart and mind. I hate that feeling, it is not who I want to be. On the other hand, I’ve not found a way to understand and frame all of that pain in a way that allows me to harness it into the tools I need to make a better life going forward. This article really gives me something to think about. Not sure if it is the right framing or not, but simply something I think I need to sit with for a while.

Actors on the Stage of Life by the Schmuz.com

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

-William Shakespeare

Life brings many questions: Why do some people have such difficult lives, while others have it so easy? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why are there so many tragic deaths?

To make sense out life, we need understanding, to gain understanding we need perspective.  Let’s begin with a parable:

A famous actor receives a call from his agent.

Listen, Jack we just got a great offer. Tons of money, an all cash deal, you get the star role, playing next to the greatest co -stars in the industry. But the best part of it is the plot, it’s great. The story line really clicks, it’s a guaranteed Oscar. I’m sending the script over this morning. Tell me what you think.”

After reading the script Jack calls his agent back.

Listen Bob, forget it, no deal”.

“What do mean?”

“I mean it’s no way, no deal. I won’t do it.”

“Jack what is it? Is it the script?”

“No, the script is fine?

“Is it the other actors?”

“No, they’re fine too.”

“So Jack, what is it?”

“What is it? Bob, don’t you get it? The guy that you want me to play is penniless and not too bright either. More than that, he’s a jerk! I can’t stand anyone seeing me that way.

“But Jack, that’s only the part you are playing, it’s not you.”

“Bob, forget it, doing this production means everyone, I mean millions of people are going to see me as a creep, and a down and out. I can’t stand the embarrassment. Don’t even ask me again, I’m not doing it.” And he hangs up.

Obviously, this conversation never took place. Because any actor, as well as any person going to the theater, understands that those people up there on the stage are there playing their parts. They aren’t judged by how wealthy or poor they are in the play.  They aren’t judged by whether their role portrays a life of success or failure. There is one criterion for judging an actor: how well did he play his part. If his role is to play the part of an Idiot Savant, and he does it convincingly, he will win awards for his performance. If his role is to be the most successful man in the world and he isn’t real, the critics will rip him to shreds. He is there for only one purpose—to play his role. The characters has this type of personality, is from this type of background, has this level of intelligence—now go out there and play the part.

This is a parable to life. Each of us was given an exact set of circumstances, and a specific set of criteria. The backdrop is laid out and we are given the task of playing the role. Born into a particular time period, to a specific family, given an exact set of parameters – you will be so tall, so intelligent, have so much of this talent and so much of this one. Now, go out there and do it!  Live your life, ford those streams, cross those rivers, and sail those seas! Live up to your potential. At the end of your days you will be judged- but not you compared to me—nor me compared to you: you will be judged by a far more demanding yardstick, you will be measured by how close you came to accomplishing all that you were capable of.

The Vilna Gaon, tells us that the most painful moment in a person’s life is after you leave this earth; when you stand before the heavenly tribunal, and they hold up a picture for you to look at; a picture of a truly exceptional individual—a  person of sterling character traits, who shows intelligence, kindliness, and humility – a person of true greatness. And they say, why didn’t you do what he did?

Me?! Little me? What do you want from me? Was I some kind of genius? Was I some kind of powerful leader of men? How could I have done those things?

And they answer the most telling and most troubling line a person will ever hear: that picture is you. Not you, as you stand here now. Not you as you have lived your life. But, that is you had you accomplished what you were put on this earth to do. That is you, had you become what you were destined to be.

They don’t ask how much money you made. How attractive you were. How popular. Those are the stage settings of life—hand chosen by HASHEM as the perfect environment to allow you to reach your potential. Whether you were smarter, or richer, or more talented then the next person is irrelevant, the only issue is: How much did you accomplish compared to—you, compared to what you were capable of.

Understanding life

Most of the serious life questions we ask come from the assumption that this life we now lead is the end all and be all of existence. As if my station now in this world is the reason for creation.

From that perspective very little in life makes sense. Certainly not pain, suffering, or the inequitable distribution of talent and opportunity.  However, once a person widens their perspective, to understand that we were created, to grow, to accomplish, and in the end we will be rewarded – judged by only one criterion: how much I grew, in relation to my potential—then life begins to make sense.

HASHEM custom designed a set of circumstances for each individual to give him the ultimate setting for his growth and perfection.  Not every situation is pleasant – but they are needed to shape us, or give us the opportunity to grow. Once we understand this point, life itself takes on a very different meaning and a person can focus on the purpose of life: fulfilling our mission and purpose in existence.

“Me too”

Many friends are posting “me too” on their timelines. I hesitate. Recent conversations regarding my FOO, made me really look at “It was not my fault.”

I was thinking of an incident in college. For years, I did think it was my fault. But, with recent conversations regarding my FOO, and all the “me too” postings, I started to realize how I had completely let this boy off-the-hook, telling myself it was my fault.

There was a boy, he was the best friend of my friend’s boyfriend. We had driven across our home state several times together. We argued from time-to-time, in a flirty, playful kind of way. He once challenged me to solve a quadratic equation, after a debate about girls and math abilities. I easily solved it. He was humbled and admitted it. One night, we were out drinking with friends. He came back with me to my downtown studio apartment, into my bed, we made out. Clothes did not come off. We slept. I woke-up with my shirt pulled up and him on top of me. . .

I told the story to MC many years ago. I was clear that it was not consensual. It was clear he didn’t want to hear about it. I never brought it up again. Until last night. MC is safe now, right? I brought the story up because I wanted to share a revelation that occurred to me just that day. I was simply trying to share with him that I had realized that, “it was not my fault.” I did not consent. It was not ok.

MC started questioning me about the incident, wanting me to rehash it moment-by-moment. Telling me, I should not have put myself in that position. He then told me he had always viewed that incident as consensual. His pre d-day self was angry at me, not at the boy.

Last night, I simply wanted to share the revelation with him. He kept questioning. He would give platitudes, followed by “but, . . . “. He would backtrack, give more platitudes, then turn to me and say, “I know this will likely make it worse, but you should’ve. . .”. You know what, I simply wanted to share a revelation, not rehash and defend myself over the incident to my husband.

I asked him if he ever climbed on top of an AP or prostitute in the middle of the night, while they were asleep, to fuck their breasts? He replied, “no, I would never do that.” I asked him more about why he would never do that, if it is ok for anyone to do that. He replied it was not ok.  I, then, asked him to apply those same standards to me, his wife.  I pointed out, it appears he is showing more compassion to a prostitute who was paid to be used, then his own wife. Why is that?

He apologized, but is that only because I was so upset with his previous responses? He is trying to tell me that he is still working to conquer his misogynistic views of the world, that this pointed out to him how much more he has to overcome. But, if a paid prostitute should expect to not be treated like that, then why shouldn’t I? I’m scared. I thought he was safe. It wasn’t meant to be a test, but it kind of turned out to be. . .

Then, I find myself wondering, “if my learning to deal with my issues is a long-term process, should I not give MC the same grace?” Then I wonder, “are these thoughts of giving him some grace simply my old pattern of putting on rose-colored glasses, when I need to allow myself to see reality in front of me?” Why does he only apply his sick misogynistic views to me?

Mom

My mother was an addict. She was addicted to prescription opiates, before it was so widely talked about. She kept a shoebox full of other prescription drugs as well. In addition to her opiate based painkillers she took ever increasing doses of Elavil. Different doctors, different pills. At 12 years old, I knew more drug names than any 12-year old should know.

My mom’s addiction overtook her body and mind. The addiction escalated requiring more and more drugs to achieve her desired affect. In the mornings, she would follow me around as I got ready for school, non-stop talking at me. By the time I got home from school, she was groggy and slurring her words. She seemed to go back and forth between those two states. There were times she attempted to manage the addiction. She would reduce dosage, gain some clarity, and pull me in with hope that it would now be better. It never lasted long and the drugs were back.

Her mind and body rotted before our eyes. When I would question her use of these drugs, she claimed she was sick and that I just didn’t understand her sickness, that she needed those drugs. She would go to Canada whenever she could, so she could stock-up,  as they sold Tylenol with Codeine over-the-counter. I was called selfish and uncaring for not “understanding” her sickness.

She used fake suicide attempts to gain sympathy and attention, to manipulate our sympathies. We moved to another state for a few years. When I was in jr. high school, she swallowed some pills and told me I needed to call an ambulance. I didn’t believe her. We had been down that road too many times before. She called the ambulance for herself. They pumped her stomach, they found nothing, but my Dad could have her observed overnight if he chose. We had no health insurance. She begged him not to let them keep her for observation, he acquiesced. We moved back “home” not long after. I remember when I was 20 years old, a junior in college in my hometown, she did it again. She ended up in the hospital. I went to visit her, at my Aunt and Grandpa’s request, and her doctor mentioned the situation as being her first suicide attempt. I was floored, what?

Her father and sister (my Grandpa and Aunt who I love dearly) protected mom from the consequences of her actions. They knew better, but let her create her own narrative. I explained her past to the doctor. He told me he would have her put in a facility to help her. I was so happy, she was finally going to get help. She threw a fit. My Grandpa stepped in. It so happens that my Grandma’s brother was a highly respected attorney and founding partner of the most distinguished firm in town. Grandpa dropped his name and threatened to sue. My mom was not sent to the facility. I was so disappointed. Her doctor suggested I learn about how to set boundaries with her and my family to protect myself emotionally and referred me to my college counseling clinic. I went.

Eventually, I came to understand that I could not save her. Though, I think until the day she died, I held a tiny piece of hope that she would eventually come to save herself. Of course, it never happened. After years of escalating drug use, my mom died at 65 years old from heart failure.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a very long time. Not sure why? I know it is part of who I am and how I relate to my world. I know it. I lost my mom to addiction, long before she ever died, I lost my mom to addiction. Deep breath.

 

Recidivism due to stress?

I had some stressful days recently. The days that come to mind were stressful in quite different ways, making me wonder what it means when people say that stress could cause a betrayer to reoffend. The first day was very busy, at work and at home. The pace was high and the rhythm of events, activities, interruptions, deadlines, and evolving daily priorities changed frequently throughout the day. It wasn’t a particularly bad, nor good, day. It was just busy. I didn’t feel bad. In some ways, I actually felt good; possibly enjoying the adrenaline and endorphins. But, I think I can say I was stressed.

At the end of that day, I had momentum. I was physically charged – perhaps too physically charged to immediately switch to a completely passive activity such as sleep. In the bad old days I could have channeled that excess energy into adultery, porn and masturbation, or even self-centered sexual approaches to my wife in a way that was inappropriately focused on physical gratification rather than on showing her affection. It was not the adrenaline-laden stress that caused me to choose inappropriate responses. Long before that, I had made conscious decisions to allow myself to choose such selfish, hurtful, and deceitful activities when the opportunity arose.

Now, after consciously choosing to not be selfish, hurtful, and deceitful, I seek more appropriate ways to transition my physical and mental energy from a stressful busy day to a restful night. I might choose a book, a walk, a brief television program with family, a single nightcap, or a single dessert. In any case, it’s not the stress that determines whether I choose something selfish and hurtful or something more benign. It is separate internal discussions with myself about what choices are acceptable and what are not.

Then there was a different type of stressful day. For whatever reason, that day, I worried about the unknown. How will my next job search go? What will my boss say about my next report? Will some bad driver cut me off in traffic? Will I fall behind schedule tomorrow? Both now and in the bad old days, that kind of stress did not lead me directly to selfish, hurtful choices. It did, however, in the bad old days , open up the possibility of self-pity. I would think things like: nothing goes my way, life is unfair, I deserve better, and the like. When I dwelled on such self-pity, I translated it to entitlement, thinking: I deserve adultery as a selfish pleasure, or I deserve seeking flattery or imagined flattery. Now, I believe it is not stress that determines whether I choose selfish, hurtful behavior, but that the self-pity and entitlement led me to the bad decisions. To prevent it, I strive to address this kind of stress with acceptance rather than with self-pity and entitlement.

Here’s what I mean by acceptance. If I worry about my next job search, I am better served by accepting that the only thing I can do about it is implement my job search strategy and accept whatever comes of it. It works the same with my next report to my boss or the next deadline I strive to meet. And, if some guy cuts me off in traffic, so what? I could not have prevented it, I can’t change it or remedy it after it happens, and unless I obsess on it, it really makes no difference to the rest of my day. Planning, execution, and humble acceptance are the remedies to this kind of stress.

Then there’s the stress surrounding unmet needs. I’m hungry, thirsty, hot, tired, or groggy. My head hurts. I want sexual release. This is stressful too. At the right time and place, I can have food, water, air conditioning, sleep, caffeine, pain reliever, and even sex. But, to have a fulfilling life, I have to balance these things against other concerns. If I want to work, study, spend time with family or friends, worship, introspect, or even read and write, I can’t constantly eat, drink, sit in the coolest rooms, sleep, drink coffee, take medication, or pursue sex. Given my own goals and values, as well as the need to treat others—such as my wife – respectfully, I can only respond to this kind of stress by focusing on balance.

The fourth kind of stress is worrying about other irrational things. Does that colleague think I’m stupid? Am I a loser because I was nerdy in high school? Do I look dorky or scrawny? It need not be a particularly busy day. I need not feel adrenaline. But, sometimes I just have these thoughts, and they are stressful. It’s a different kind of stress. Neither now nor in the bad old days do these thoughts lead directly to selfish, hurtful choices. I think, however, that in the bad old days I might have obsessed on self-pity, thinking, for example: I fear or hate that guy who possibly thinks I’m stupid. I’m angry at God because I am physically small. I’m angry at my parents because they did not allow me to experience the world. These examples of self-pity also contributed to entitlement, as I told myself I deserved selfish behavior.

The solution now, I think, is to address this stress in a more healthy way, before transferring it to self-pity and entitlement. The answer may lie in prevention. Prevent this self-doubt by focusing on healthy priorities such as family, integrity, and responsibility. Inoculate myself against self-pity by building healthy self-confidence and values. And, short-circuit this self-pity by learning to like myself even if I am short, skinny, and uncoordinated, and even if I do feel my sexual history or life experience is or was inadequate or subnormal.

In sum, it’s not stress that makes me choose selfish, hurtful behavior. Rather, what makes the difference is how I choose to respond to that stress.

Overseas connections

You know, MC and I were talking about the unique situation living overseas, moving every few years to a new country, brings to this shit storm. We are far from friends, families, and roots. In some locals, we have great access to mental health care. In other locals, very little exist. And, the type of care available is different depending upon the country. And, we move a lot, never really developing deep roots. We make great friends, for a short time, then move on. We may also feel compelled to not risk those friendships by revealing TMI about our marriage, either in fear of friends not wanting to get involved with drama, or fear of becoming the focus of gossip in our small expat community. Also, the opportunities and availability of “things” is often much more “in your face,” whether it be prostitution or locals who want to snag themselves an American (insert any developed nation) man; some (meaning me) might even refer to them as unpaid prostitutes.

This is not to say I don’t love many things about the expatriate experience. I really do love it on many levels. It is to say that it adds a unique twist to an already gut-wrenching situation. And, I think, perhaps we need to find a way to reach other people like us (expats dealing with infidelity) to support one another. I know having discussions with others, in general, has been helpful. But, the identifying with others (like LAA, E and SBE) adds a level of understanding that is so helpful!

Compassion

Sharing again.

Source: Compassion

We talk of how MC suffers from SOB syndrome. Yes, partially it is making fun, but it is also reality. He was a Selfish Oppressive Bastard and we have a very specific description of what that means that is foundational to his recovery. We talk of how MC was truly sick. Not a sickness as in a disease, but sick because he was spiritually unsound and morally corrupt. He was a morally corrupt coward. This was his reality. Some may say that I lack compassion for discussing his reality in this way. I say that facing reality is a necessary part of recovery. Coddling MC, hiding from these truths, simply would enable a continued ignorance of these core problems, these core realities. These discussions are not weapons to hurt MC. In fact, these discussions are based on his descriptions of his motivating factors and fears throughout his life. We openly discuss these factors and fears, for him and for me. We are learning to walk by each other’s side through each of our pain, but ultimately each of us is responsible for healing our own pain within. And, I think this is the difference between compassion and enabling.

A compassionate person is neither a martyr, nor a messiah. Compassion walks with another in their pain, if and when they are ready to take that walk, but understands that they are not capable of fixing that pain for the other.  Compassion does not push, pull, or carry another into walking into their pain, but rather offers to walk by their side if they are willing to do so. Compassion does not allow the other to avoid natural consequences of not wanting to take that walk. Compassion does not sacrifice one’s own mental, emotional, spiritual and/or physical health and well being to do any of this.

Loving with an open hand by Ruth Sanford

A compassionate person, seeing a butterfly struggling to free itself from its cocoon, and wanting to help, very gently loosened the filaments to form an opening. The butterfly was freed, emerged from the cocoon, and fluttered about — but could not fly. What the compassionate person did not know was that only through the birth struggle can the wings grow strong enough for flight. Its shortened life was spent on the ground; it never knew freedom, never really lived.

I call it learning to love with an open hand. It is a learning which has come slowly to me and has been wrought in the fires of pain and in the waters of patience. I am learning that I must free one I love, for if I clutch or cling, try to control, I lose what I try to hold.

If I try to change someone I love because I feel I know how that person should be, I rob him or her of a precious right, the right to take responsibility for one’s own life and choices and way of being. Whenever I impose my wish or want or try to exert power over another, I rob him or her of the full realisation of growth and maturation; I limit and thwart by my act of possession, no matter how kind my intention.

I can limit and injure by the kindest acts of protecting – and protection or concern over-extended can say to the other person more eloquently than words, ‘You are unable to care for yourself; I must take care of you because you are mine. I am responsible for you’.

As I learn and practise more and more, I can say to one I love, ‘I love you, I value you, I respect you and I trust that you have or can develop the strength to become all that it is possible for you to become — if I don’t get in your way. I love you so much that I can set you free to walk beside me in joy and sadness’.

I will share your tears but I will not ask you not to cry. I will respond to your need, I will care and comfort you but I will not hold you up when you can walk alone. I will stand ready to be with you in your grief and loneliness but I will not take it away from you. I will strive to listen to your meaning as well as your words but I shall not always agree.

Sometimes I will be angry and when I am, I will try to tell you openly so that I need not resent our differences or feel estranged. I cannot always be with you or hear what you say for there are times when I must listen to myself and care for myself, and when that happens I will be as honest with you as I can be.

I am learning to say this, whether it be in words or in my way of being with others and myself, to those I love and for whom I care. And this I call loving with an open hand.  I cannot always keep my hands off the cocoon, but I am getting better at it!

I have absolutely no respect for the MC that I now know existed prior to d-day, that is true. But, I have an immense amount of respect for the person, for the man, he is working to become now. But, it is his work to do. And, when I really think through why I sometimes want to gently help the cocoon along, I can see that it may have more to do with my wanting a sense of control in the chaos, a sense of control over the future. It is hard to embrace uncertainty. But, in the end, keeping my hands off that cocoon is healthier for us both. I work hard to remember that, though admittedly sometimes it is easier said than done!

Growing up, in darkness

Mom seemed absolutely traumatized, even morally outraged, at the idea that I might become an adolescent, and then an adult. So, I tried to protect her from that truth. I hid that fact from the light. Peter Pan, many classic Disney tales, and the entire Santa Claus industry do make most middle class developed world families hold back a tear when children start to grow beyond the emotional boundaries of the hundred acre woods.

But, most families hold back that tear, and let – or even encourage – their children to grow up. And, often the tear is more joyful than sorrowful. I got the impression it was different with my mother. She seemed truly distressed – sometimes scornful and angry —when I showed interest in things, people, activities, interests, and concepts that lived outside the nursery room. Having children was somehow important to her. Having those children grow up represented a loss to her.

So, I endeavored to lead a double-life: pretending to remain an eternal child when near my mother, and secretly struggling to appear mature when with peers. I became interested in girls, secretly. My body developed and my interests diversified, secretly. I learned to hide my relationships. I associated with friends and with girls, covertly. I tried alcohol and tobacco, covertly. I viewed porn, covertly.

I can’t help but wonder whether the double-life of adultery, porn, and lies that nearly destroyed us actually began in elementary school or even earlier.

As a parent, I don’t want my sons to be afraid or ashamed to talk to us about growing up: about girls, beer, smoking, drugs, safe sex, porn, desires, fears, and indecision. I don’t want them to be ashamed or afraid to disagree with us. I don’t want to push them to be a particular thing nor discourage them from being some other thing. I want them to be themselves in front of me, just as they are in front of peers, teachers, girls, grandparents, bosses, friends, enemies, and total strangers.

Dogmatically Anti-Dogmatic

I try so hard to keep elements of our non-recovery life out of the blog. Something happened at the beginning of the year and I told myself it was unrelated, but I’m beginning to see just how related it may be.

When we arrived to our new home a year ago, we met a family that took us under their wing. They showed us where all the best groceries stores were located, took us to a couple of the local expat clubs, invited us over for drinks, really made us feel welcome. I thought, wow, we are really finding some nice friends here.

A few comments here and there sparked my attention. The first occurred a few months down the line when it was casually mentioned that they founded and ran a youth ministry when they lived back in the US and missed it very much. She would talk about it from time-to-time and it always sounded like just some positive youth group experience to which she and her husband were devoted.

One night we joined them for drinks. They asked what Judaism means to our family. I have no problem with that at all. Clearly, they had very little exposure to Jewish people and were curious. We explained how it is an important part of our identity, how we try to do a little more each year to honor our Jewish heritage and identity (keep mitzvah), but that we don’t see G-d as some corporeal being in the sky granting special wishes. Somewhere in the conversation they explained to us that Jesus is their Lord and Savior and path to redemption. There was also a comment in there about the earth being less than 10,000 years old and, yes, I was in a bit of shock over that statement. But, I didn’t see any of that as a deal-breaker. I’ve always been the type of person who does not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me.

Then, I got an e-mail from her, saying she was studying scripture from Romans, and she would love to hear my thoughts on what she was reading. This was someone I considered a friend. So, you know what, I read it and made a very considered, studied, respectful, while staying authentic to my own beliefs, response. I spent hours on it. She responded with, “I really love your response and cherish our friendship! Looking forward to spending more time together with our families throughout the next year!!” Ok, phew, got through that sticky situation. We can just go back to focusing on our similarities. But, then she sent another reading from her study of Romans. WTF? It went over the exact same ideas, with repeating the same “evidence” as the previous thing sent. I’m all for two-way academic discussions, but this felt very different. There was no conversation. She just sent “readings” from her studies. It seemed like she just wanted me to read Romans, not really exchange thoughts, ideas and understandings. I did not respond. I just ignored it.

Things went downhill from there. Her kids, who had been so friendly to ours, started asking them why they don’t believe in Jesus? My oldest would answer and they would ask again, as if they had not heard a word he said. During this time, the family started another “youth ministry” here. I looked into who they were and what they believed. It really confirmed my fears, they were using friendship as a way to build trust with our family, so then they could walk us down “Romans Road.”

While I am proud of myself for seeing “red flags” sooner than I would have in the past. For understanding I needed to disengage sooner than I would have in the past, I was still upset.

And, it reminds me of the black and white thinking, the dogmatic thinking we have encountered on our recovery journey. And, if anything, I feel more dogmatically anti-dogmatic than I ever have before. In my view, there is NO book that is inerrant. Life is evolving, literally and figuratively. There is more than one right path.

It is ok if you don’t agree. I do not need you to believe everything I believe, as long as you are willing to do the same for me. I, however, must also admit to myself that if both cannot work from that premise, then it will result in an emotionally unsafe relationship. I’m learning. I just wish I didn’t have to keep learning the hard way. Because it really hurt.

WOW!

I watched this video today. The trauma experienced by this woman and her ability to forgive are mind-blowing. All I can say is “wow.” I always hear, “Forgiveness is more for the forgiver than the forgiven,” but I never saw what that looks like in practice. Though in theory it sounds nice, I never understood how that could be true in anything beyond theory. This video has certainly given me food-for-thought.

I survived the Holocaust

Unforgivable

What if I grabbed your infant out of your arms, tortured him, mutilated him, and then dashed his brains against the ground while you were forced to watch helplessly? What if I threw acid in your face, leaving you blinded and scarred for life? What if after years of apparently close friendship I sold you out to the nazi regime? 

What if I later said I was really sorry, I had changed, and I understood how you felt? Would you believe me? Would it matter if you did?

I altered the course of your life, terribly and irreversibly.

I get that. Though it probably doesn’t change anything, I do get it.

My loyal spouse, I beg your forgiveness. I do not expect forgiveness. I must beg for it nonetheless.

The villain in disguise

Movies often have a scene where it becomes shockingly clear that a seemingly good character has in fact been a bad guy all along. Chancellor Palpatine, the theatrically-minor character who leads the Republic, turns out to be Darth Sidious. Grandma seems really hungry for Red Riding Hood’s baked goods. But, wait. Why does Grandma have a long snout today? A teacher or coach seems like a great mentor for youth, until you read that he was arrested for child abuse.

I was Darth Sidious, the Big Bad Wolf, and the deceitful abuser. TL was the victim. It’s not just that I treated her with contempt. Any criminal, bully, bureaucrat, or bad driver does that, regularly. It’s that I did it with stealth and deception. I was supposed to be her champion, her greatest hero, protector, promoter, fan, friend, lover, family member, and confidant. I was Delilah and she was Samson. I was the wolf in the fold.

There’s neither excuse nor remedy for what I’ve done. Even having to live with the knowledge of what I’ve done is insignificant compared to the pain with which TL must live.

I’m not even sure what I want readers to do with this story. Maybe I want other victims to see that some betrayers can understand, on some level, the pain they caused.

Maybe I want other betrayers to be inspired to share their stories. Stop hiding behind shame, sex addiction, childhood problems, or victim blaming, and share the hurtful things you did and the hurtful reasons you did them. I wonder whether I’m alone in discussing these things.

I became my mother

I never felt emotionally safe with my mother, and still do not. Even when she seems to be having a rather normal conversation with me, I always worry that anything I say might sharply and surprisingly set off some criticism, judgement, or hard feelings. As a child, and even now, it was not clear to me that she wants a relationship with me. She wants me in her life and near her. But, she does not want a relationship with me. She wants to brag about me to other people. She is disappointed when I don’t give her fantastic fodder for bragging to her family and acquaintances about her son. She wanted to control my every choice and action: who I chose as friends or acquaintances, what I pursued for education and career, what I thought, who I married, whether I had children, and what I said and did. She did not want me to grow up and learn independence. She did not want a real son. She wanted an image of a son. She wanted a thing she could take off the shelf and display to any neighbor or third-degree relative, and then put back on the shelf to stay quiet and predictable. I wanted nothing more than to get away from my mother. 

Then I started seeing TL, and soon married her. I sought to control with whom she associated, her preferences and opinions, and her aptitudes and interests. I wanted to control how she viewed sex, me, the past, and the present. When she showed an aptitude or interest that intimidated me, whether in the bedroom or in the garage, I reacted with childish jealousy, insecurity, and defensiveness, rather than with respect, gratitude, and support. In short, I constantly tried to replace the real TL with the image I had of the perfect wife. I was angry with TL for not being the image.

I became my mother. I made TL fear me in the same way I feared my mother. I denied TL freedom and individuality, the same way my mother denied me freedom and individuality.

The image, by the way, is unobtainable. There is no such person in real life, nor should there be. The image is a two-dimensional caricature of a woman. An image can’t be a friend. But, then, until D-day I didn’t want to be a friend. I only wanted the image to make me feel better about myself and about life.

Now I’m focused on friendship in our marriage. It is a work in progress.