On Love, Part Three

In my last post, I pointed out that loving turns a spotlight on us.

My marriage to TFP was a desert, emotionally. Sometimes I would try to contort myself into odd configurations to try to get his attention and make him take me seriously.  Sometimes I just fought him. All the things I was told a Christian marriage was supposed to be simply were not there for us, and I was resentful of his scorn and derision of those ideals, as well as of me.

When I was dating my second husband, a bad alcoholic and probably an undiagnosed bipolar, there were a lot of good things going on. What TFP had criticized and ridiculed about me, H2 found cheerful and welcoming and enjoyable.  When I cooked a meal, H2 appreciated it and told me so (and he ate with a hearty appetite).  When I re-arranged the furniture, he said it looked nice — not, “Why did you do that?”  There was a neglected, wounded domestic side to my nature, and H2 seemed to enjoy the fruits of my efforts in that direction, which flattered my feminine ego. The rest of my personality. . .  I was convinced (by TFP, in part) that my complexity was at least partially to blame for my inability to be happy; I was ready to narrow my life down, I thought, in order not to be alone.

But human nature won’t be narrowed down. H2 and I weren’t “equally yoked.”  H2 was straight, he thought I was bright and funny, he told me I was beautiful and he made me laugh and we had a lot of fun together — fishing, camping, and so on.  But I was better educated than he was, and after we were married, the flattery changed to complaining about the “junk” that marked some of the things I like best about myself:  my books, music, art.  He had bragged on how smart I was, before we were married, but afterward he found that threatening — he resented the clutter of my library and writing, in a temper would talk about backing a truck up to the back door and hauling off “all that junk.”  He decided he disliked my friends, even my blue-collar friends like himself, friends I’d had since high school; he only wanted to socialize with his family and friends. He was very demanding in that regard, and I lost touch with people whose company I had enjoyed, before. We had different religious and political values — again, revealed only after we were married.

So — you see, although I had a sort of love for H2, it wasn’t a mature or healthy sort of love for marriage. It was more along the lines of what C.S. Lewis, in The Four Loves, refers to as storge — an affection given to one’s family, or to a dependent or inferior.  It is, he said, the sort of affection a dog might have for the cat doing figure-8s around its legs, “although no self-respecting dog would ever confess to it.”  — or something along those lines; I don’t have the book in front of me.  It’s not at all the sort of respect-based love a woman ought to have for her husband.

Which brings me back to loving, and to what loving DF has taught me about the nature of love — and about myself. Love devoid of respect and esteem might do in some passing and mediocre, inessential relationships, but not in our most intimate, our deepest friendships. Let the romantic element of love be unrequited or unfelt in life’s various challenges; the respect and esteem can still stand strong and vigorous and healthy in the face of all things.

This is important. After the demoralizing experience of having been married to a man who couldn’t appreciate our femininity, who scorned us for being women — after trying to adapt to the impossible in hopes of becoming lovable in his sight — we need the experience of loving, and even more than of being loved, in order to be healed.  Loving wakes us up. It makes us whole. It reveals to us what is real and important about ourselves.  It shows us our dignity, our strength, our beauty, and our worth. It affirms our authenticity while leaving us free to discover just who we are.

After the destructiveness of past self-denial, loving gives us back to ourselves.

 

On Love, Part Two

Life was so much easier, back in the day when the only thing that mattered about a boy was that he be cute and like horses!  But we are women, now, and love isn’t about an infatuation-attraction.

“Love is blind,” the old saying goes. Well, no, it’s not. Love turns a spotlight on the character of our Beloved. And on ourselves.

On the one hand, we have what Dr. Alice von Hildebrand called the “Tabor Vision,” seeing our Beloved in the divine light of who he was created to be at his best. This isn’t the sort of false vision that marks infatuation and emotional need; need tends to manufacture this idea of good and virtue, and, furthermore, build on it to create almost a character in a story we want to live out — something quite unrelated to reality.

But on the other hand, Love also shows us how our Beloved’s humanity plays itself out – in real time:  what his flaws and weaknesses are, his temptations, his Achilles’ heel. And love won’t let us hide from these failings, nor pretend they aren’t there.

Seeing a person as he really is, and not as we want him to be, takes time. DF and I have been friends for more than twelve years. Twelve years is brief in retrospect, but seems interminable in anticipation.  I had no hope, when we met, that we’d be friends now; I thought he was just one more person I was chatting with online who’d fade into the interweb echo chamber as we moved on from that web site and were occupied with the conversations of other people. As real life dominated.  I didn’t know he’d become part of the fabric of my real life. And, because I wasn’t “In-ter-est-ed” (in my best Bugs Bunny as Madge The Beautician voice while I bat my eyelashes) the friendship developed on its own timetable, in its own way, with its own integrity.

There’s a reason I speak of liking DF, of my respect, admiration, and esteem for him:  those were there first.

Love is a powerful force:  it is concerned with our investment in the good of the Beloved. Even our serving that good (not a popular concept in a world that insists we demand our own rights and deserts!) — which involves some varying degree of self-denial.

But it also, at the same time, builds us and strengthens us, so that if we must stand alone, walk in solitude, we can do it. Love of the Beloved teaches us our greater strength and worth.

 

On Love

I am almost afraid to write this one.  I’m afraid of overplaying my hand, of jinxing myself. Of looking stupid.  I also have a strong reticence about publicly discussing something very private and even more holy to me.

I did not expect this, not at this time of life, and not! with this man (DF).  My first reaction, when I realized, when the recognition burst upon me like the brilliant lights of an elaborate fireworks display — “No. Oh, no. No, no, no, NO WAY!” because he’s my friend, and that was the start and finish of it, and  because he is warm and comfortable and funny and so remarkably safe, and I don’t want that disrupted.

When I became friends with DF, it was with absolutely zero interest in love. This was important because, I now realize, I had been too quick, following my divorce from TFP (The Fairie Prince) to imagine virtue and character in a man before it was really demonstrated. I’d also been slow to admit grave defects of character of a couple of the men I’d dated.

I’d come into the acquaintance with  DF with a whole stack of chips on my shoulder, because of those other relationships, and because he is better educated than I, and because I was defensive about that, and about being (seen as) a subordinate, defiant against a presumed dependency  . . .  yes, an entire stack of chips! and those gradually, with his good humor and patience, gingerly laid down . . . It was years in coming;  I didn’t want any of it upset.  And it all seemed so impossible —

The experiences of an abusive marriage (and marriage to a gay man is abusive) make it difficult to trust.  It’s not just that it’s hard to trust someone not to be playing me false, pretending to be someone they’re not. A man will pretend to love us in order to use us for easy sex, for instance. That one is pretty easy to suss, actually.  Or maybe he’s a Peter Pan looking for a surrogate mother to take care of him while he’s an overgrown child — a bit harder to recognize when boyishness is so endearing and normal (to a point) at any age.

It’s hard to trust someone to be authentic with me. To be honest and consistent about who he is and what he’s willing to bring to a relationship. To be able and willing to stand toe to toe with me, as an equal. I’m an “alpha female;” few men can stand with me as my equal, much less my “lord and master.”

Nor am I willing to be treated as a remodeling project — for the life of our marriage, more than a decade, TFP persisted in telling me I’d be great if only I’d alter this or that (usually my domestic failings), which was never enough — Or found fault with and punished for trivial disputes or failings.  It takes a lot of proving to reach a trust that someone will be loyal and won’t abandon me, not even when I am not all sweetness and light. When self-doubt blankets me. When I’m not good enough. Even when one knows the criticisms and punishments are a deflection from the real issue, and the abandonment was the other’s great flaw, there’s the nagging worry:  what if he (TFP) was right? and there is all this stuff wrong with me? There is no peace in trying to contort oneself into being “good enough” to “earn” someone’s love. But one tries, none the less.

So this friend, dear DF, has patiently earned my trust, and, what’s more, my respect and esteem . . . this man whom I admire so greatly, is far dearer to me than I ever expected him to be.

By not looking for, in fact by immediately and very decidedly ruling out, all the “interesting” stuff, I actually served myself well by allowing the friendship with DF — with the trust, respect, and esteem that give foundation to that friendship — to find its own level. To grow into its own time and sphere, without being forced or manufactured, or manipulated by wishful thinking. And I think that is important: we have to learn the patience and we have to find the peace with ourselves to allow every relationship to find its proper level in our lives.

There is no compensating for the losses of our youth, or the wounds that come from our failed marriages. Yet we are so often driven to try, come hell or high water. DF is not a replacement for TFP; he is his own man, with his own integrity; at the same time, because we do not exist in stasis, I am not the same woman I was in the early years of my friendship with DF, much less the early period after the divorce from TFP. Consequently, my esteem for DF and the friendship we share have an integrity and a dynamic – almost a life – of their own.

Again and again, I am left in awe after a conversation in which DF has made it very clear that he has no agenda to remodel me, that what he wants for me is that I be faithful to myself, that I live with integrity and strive to be my best in all that I do, in every sphere of my life. He makes me want to stand a bit taller, be stronger and better . . . but he leaves it to me to determine just what that means.

This is unexpected freedom.

 

My Affirmation

I have said it before:  The suffering we experience, being married to a gay man, does not define us. It does not limit us.  It does not reflect who we are, or our worth.

I have said, and I repeat:  there is nothing that can happen to us that God can’t use for our greater good and for His greater glory.

It is not God’s will that we suffer these abusive relationships, but part of the manifestation of His love for us, and His power, is that he uses them — defies them! turns them inside out and upside down! — to open doors of beauty and goodness that surpass our greatest imaginings. Our lives, our world, become bigger, and more filled with beauty, than we could anticipate, even before our sorrows.

A friendly reminder:

Being the “beard” does not define who we really are.
This experience does not negate our value.
The abuses we lived with do not determine our future.
We are NOT condemned to mediocrity or failure or a life of loneliness.
This does not limit what we can achieve or who we can become.

God can, and will! bring enormous good from your sufferings.

How do we find ourselves again?

I can only tell you how it happened to me:
First, I was in college when DH and I separated and divorced. It was the first time I’d realized I am intelligent; it was my first major success.  He tried to sabotage it, but I knew that leaving school to follow him, when he announced his intention to leave, would have catastrophic effects on me. Deciding to stay where I was and to let him move out alone was one of the best decisions I ever made.  Brutally difficult (remember, I didn’t know at that point that he was gay), but worth it.

A few years later, during the course of my job, I came across a wonderful pamphlet, “Do You Love Me?” a reproduction of a talk by John Barger, founder of Sophia Institute Press. As Barger detailed the story of the death and rebirth of his own marriage, and the death of his much-loved wife, I found that the ideals I’d always held of marriage, of intimacy, were not, as DH had insisted, “unrealistic, naive, and irrational,” but were legitimate. And, in fact, were the teachings on the nature of marriage by the Catholic Church. This one event was huge.  It validated my deepest instincts and intuitive understanding, which DH had repeatedly ridiculed.

In the fall of 2005 I took the advice of some friends and auditioned for, and was accepted into, a large regional chorus. This activity placed me in the company of some very fine men and women, some of whom shared my ideals, values, and faith; all of whom were intelligent and accomplished people.  The camaraderie I experienced there gave me an increased sense of fitting in among good people, something I’d not pursued since I’d graduated from college, after the divorce.

A group of us would go out for a late supper after rehearsals, and the conversations around the restaurant table moved me to shake off the residue of the attitudes I’d put on in order to try to “get along” with a man who simply would not, could not, be gotten along with.  I found myself beginning to turn again to values and ideals I’d thought I’d “outgrown,” but in reality had only stepped away from in order to accommodate a difficult person and situation.  As I returned to them, I found more clearly who I am, in my own integrity.

I learned through reading, studying, and simply observing what matters to me, what I find strong and enduring, and what is fleeting, artificial, and unsubstantial. I jettisoned the latter bit by bit, and reinforced my understanding and love of the former.

One lovely thing that happened was not of my choosing, but the happy “accident” of biology, I think. One morning, in my late 40s, heading into menopause, I woke up one morning thinking, I have spent my entire life being told I have to be careful not to upset or worry or offend other people.  Well, it’s time for those other people to start worrying about not upsetting me!

I distanced myself from people who revealed that their acceptance of me was conditional upon my altering myself to satisfy them.  I’m not talking about holding a moral line — goodness knows, those are easy enough to cross. And too often, people who are critical of some things are astonishingly tolerant of immorality (so long as it doesn’t inconvenience them) — I mean, rather, that if I didn’t alter my personality, or my temperament, or my Faith, or my interests/tastes, etc. then those things were subject to criticism.  Sometimes we can’t physically distance ourselves — it’s a relief when we can – but we can mentally and emotionally draw some lines in the sand and withdraw from that point.  And we can do so with dignity, calm, and clarity.  It may take some practice, but it can be done.

Everything we encounter becomes an invitation to affirm our true nature:  we either bend with the prevailing wind at that moment in order to try to get along, or we stand in the growing certainty of what is right. This might be a subjective right — discovering one’s proper work, for instance; I have worked as a shipping clerk and as a secretary, responsible positions that my practical family and friends greatly approved of, and I did my work well enough, but I was very unhappy with the bad fit of what I was doing and the disuse of my real gifts and abilities.  Or it might be an objective moral right — the defense of marriage, of the vulnerable and defenseless among us, and so on.

There is great strength in solitude. A younger woman with children to care for might find this very difficult. A bit of quiet each day is barely enough to keep the inner batteries charged for facing the day’s challenges, much less to find solid grounding and healing. We use what we have and must trust God to provide the rest.  I didn’t have money for a vacation when DH and I divorced, nor for many years after. When it came, it was like the old-fashioned “rest cure.”

The trick, however, is to embrace the solitude and its temporary discomforts, and not to try to hide from it/them with noise and activity.

 

 

 

 

Time for ourselves

In my previous post, I talked about how relationships and sex can become a distraction and an anaesthetic against the pain of discovering our husbands are gay.  I want to pursue that train of thought a bit further, please.

We are created by God, we women, with a deep desire for someone to love, and to be loved. Frankly, I’m not sure that the need to have someone to love isn’t the greater of the two. So it’s very natural that we should not like to be alone, that we should want to immerse ourselves in loving someone as soon as we can, after our marriage ends.

We also have a distorted need, because of the twisted dynamic of being married to a man with same-sex attraction (and probably sex addictions involving pornography, now), to make up for the time we lost in our bad marriage, or the desire to compensate for that loss — maybe even the desire to erase the nightmare from our conscious minds.

But the same distortions that made our marriages so bad also shaped us — our efforts to accommodate our husband’s disordered inclinations have bent our expectations, our sense of ourselves, our reactions to conflict and challenges, etc. This is a hard reality:  we have been warped and bent and bruised and wounded by our husband’s homosexuality.  

We must take time to get well.

Rushing into a new relationship only compounds our wounds. We can mistake different for better. I’ve joked about my alcoholic Peter Pan second husband, “. . . but he was straight!” but that, too, was a bad marriage that ended in divorce and left me feeling used and dirty.

We need to give ourselves time, frightening as it is, as condemned to it as it might appear, to recover from the disordered, narcissistic expectations and pronouncements of our gay husbands. After twisting ourselves into emotional pretzels to try to accommodate a disorder we didn’t know we were living in, we need to learn how to untwist, to stand up straight. We have to know who we are, in our own integrity — what is important to us, what are our strengths and weaknesses, what motivates us (beyond panic and the desire to have someone to love and to be loved). . . .  Truly, discovering who we are, out of the toxic and manipulative environment of the mixed marriage, is an exciting adventure.

Don’t deprive yourself of this.

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