Playing By My Own Rules (aka: Adaptability)

(This is a candid post and may contain inappropriate content for readers under the age of 18)

Here’s the part where I may disappoint you.

You see, I adapt.

Changes come, and I learn to lean into it. Ideas shift, and I shift mine, too. When needed. With each new decade, I learn to love the music (though the oldies are always near and dear, too).

When I was a married woman, and sex meant pain and discomfort and never pleasure, I found a way to adapt. Through fantasy. Harmless daydreams about some other man, in some other place. Fantasies that lifted me up, up, and away from that dreaded marriage bed where my ex-husband did his thing and got his fill while I lay there, suffering for the sake of fulfilling my “wifely duties,” as he put them. Because that was what a good Christian woman was supposed to do. Take it. Submit. Give over her body, because it belonged to him, you see.

But I didn’t have to give over my mind.

Harmless fantasies, so I thought. Until I confessed it to the ex. Because isn’t that what married couples should do? Be honest, and truthful, and share everything, and work through everything behind closed doors?

Nope.

I was punished for my honesty. Punished for my imaginary affair. He even threw out my vibrator. My tiny, self-absorbed world of sex maybe not being the worst thing ever, destroyed. (Ironically, I was punished even more when he actually began cheating with other woman — his whipping boy, as he was unable to punish himself).

So I changed the rules.

“Z,” the wonderful man I dated over a year ago, confessed in the end that I was not the only woman he had been dating from the dating app where we both met. He chose her, he told me. And then, he left.

But know what? I was not devastated to learn that he was not dating me exclusively. I had already suspected it. It was not a big surprise. I was not jealous. That isn’t my way. I was only devastated that he left.

Perhaps you wonder, what would I have done? Stayed with a man who was disloyal? Well…yes. On this condition. He would have had to agree to an open relationship. And to brutal honesty. I’d want to know every detail of every fantasy or encounter. And to safety, because I’d rather not wind up contracting an STI.

Disappointed yet?

Well too bad. These are my rules.

Here’s what I learned: my ex-husband’s infidelity led to my being punished. My fantasizing about some other man led to my being punished. My ex-sort-of-boyfriend was dating another woman, which led to him leaving — aka, my being punished.

So it only seems logical that the way for me to avoid being punished by people crossing some invisible, man-made barrier is to…remove the barrier. Ta-da! No jealousy. No fear that one’s partner may be straying or having thoughts about someone else. No worries that I, being not very good in bed, and not very into sex, would be unable to meet my partner’s sexual needs, because he is allowed to get them met elsewhere — as long as he comes back to me.

(And no, I wouldn’t want to barriers removed so that I can stray. With my low sex drive and indifference about sex, I wouldn’t need that.)

None of the bad stuff. Just absolute trust. Absolute honesty. Absolute intimacy between two people who understand each other enough to admit that perhaps it’s not enough to keep it between two people for life. Freedom for two people who love each other to figure out how to make it work in our own way, by our own rules.

I know. For many readers, this kind of thinking is way too outside the box. But I am a problem-solver. A solutions-seeker. A highly adaptable human being who dislikes pain and prefers to make as many people happy as possible. Myself included.

Anyway, this is nothing more than a thought experiment. As I have mentioned before, “Z” will forever be my last, because I love him, and met my true match in him. I don’t ever wish to be in any relationship with anyone else, whether open or closed.

That, too, is adaptability.

The Price She Paid (a poem)

With a Yes, she married him

young bride in virginal white

starry-eyed lovers, high expectations

spawned from biblical promises

then…

Honeymoon tinged with blood

dripping with cold, wet shock of disappointment

while he writhed in ecstasy, head thrown back

high on new pleasure

she shrank beneath him

cringing at the sharp pain and burn

deep shame

falling short

eyes wide open at his kiss.

“You’re beautiful,” he told her. “My sexy wife.”

His own words spurring his hunger

while her stomach turned to gravel

bile filling her mouth.

Months stretched to years, a decade come and gone

while he filled himself

and she gave, and gave, and gave

an obedient faucet

succumbing to the painful act

his touch turning riverbeds dry

green grass shriveled, trampled underfoot.

She curled alone on her side of the bed

far from his gaze and wandering hands that always sought more.

“What do you want?” he asked

eager for her to know how to fix herself

(but not willing to slow his advance).

A wife must submit.

Her body belonged to him

the Bible said so, see?

What she wanted was to make it all disappear

to give him back his ring

to admit that it was all a mistake

to stop being beautiful. Hide her sexiness in sweatshirts and

dark rooms

but the more she said no, turned away, begged

the more his insistence mounted

determined to subdue his opponent

at any cost.

The word No came with steep price tag

Insults, accusations, financial withdraw

surveillance, imprisonment at home

“You have to,” he told her. “God says so.”

“Then fuck your god,” she snarled, finding her voice

and his fists pummeled her like angry rain.

The price increased.

He strayed

seeking out other females

paying for services

blaming her, taunting her

always her fault

because she said No.

If she had known

that marriage meant she would be his marionette

dancing on short strings of lust

CONSENT tattooed in blood on her forehead

even though his touch ripped her insides

and made her feel like less than dirt

made her hate being called “beautiful”

(which also came at a cost)

Then No

would have been her first word

her loudest word

long before his knee ever dropped to the ground.

Unsinkable: Snapshots of a Failed Marriage

sinking shipThere was once a carefree little girl who spent half her time happily devouring books, and the other half watching Nickelodeon and trading Garbage Pail Kids. Then suddenly, without warning, life picked her up and threw her into adolescence – splash!

Unfortunately, no adult in her life had cared enough to give her swim lessons. But luckily, she was strong. After the initial icy shock, she managed to teach herself to swim.

Fast forward a few years

The day after her 19th birthday, at a university Christian group event, she met the man who would later become her husband. Her journal is filled with happy expressions and tiny hearts. She made a new friend. A nice guy. A Christian who is crazy about God, just like her. No, they don’t really like the same music. He doesn’t read. He’s not into sports. Only average intelligence. But who cares? He’s nice, and he’s into her, and he’s reasonably attractive. One day, he asks her to be his girlfriend. She is super excited. Her first college boyfriend!

Sometimes, her journal is filled with worry. They spent a summer working at different camps, and he didn’t write her even one letter. And afterward, she begins to realize something – they never go out on dates. Sometimes, if she really pushes, and pays his way, he will go to see a movie with her. But he does not ever initiate anything. He does not call her; she calls him. She gives, he takes. But still, he says that he loves her…

“Why do you love me?” she asks him.

“Because you love God,” he replies.

But lots of people love God, she thinks.

Four months after her 21st birthday, they are married. She wears a white gown with a long train and feels like a princess. Everyone has come to celebrate the union. They have built a big ship together – an unsinkable ship, they are convinced, and they have set sail. It is a perfect day.

They are both virgins. They are both excited about finally exploring sex together. But sex turns out to be very painful and difficult for her.

“I’m sure it will get better with practice,” she says.

It doesn’t.

One year later, she still hates sex. It is awful all the time, but he wants it all the time. She gives in, like a good wife. It hurts.

She works full time at her job, supporting him while he finishes university. She is exhausted when she returns home. The house is messy, dishes unwashed, bed unmade. He is playing computer games. She straightens up the mess and cooks dinner for the both of them. She asks him to help clean the house and wash laundry, but he doesn’t know how. She does it all, because she hates to nag a grown man. She resents it. There are holes in the ship that they did not notice before.

One day, she takes a bus to visit relatives in Seattle, and attends a job interview there. They want to hire her. Her husband says no. He doesn’t want to leave California. She considers going without him. In the end, she stays.

Two years later, they buy a house, and their first son is born, followed by their daughter, and then another son. She is so, so happy to be a mother. She stops working and becomes a homemaker, cooking, cleaning, and raising babies. She loves every moment of it. Her husband is now the one to work all day, and she takes pride in doing everything else so that he doesn’t have to. She also runs a home business, which brings in extra money to help make ends meet.

Her husband still spends every moment of his free time playing video games. But she doesn’t mind. Her time and energy is spent raising children. She still hates sex, but she tolerates it to keep the peace. They attend church as a family, go to social events, and take family trips, which she carefully plans. The holes are still there, but they patch them. Most of them. The ship still slowly fills with water, but she tries to ignore it.

When her youngest child is in grade school, she returns to work as a teacher.

“Good,” says her husband. “Now you can pay the mortgage, and I can spend my extra money on whatever I want.”

“Don’t you mean our extra money?”

“I earn it. So it’s mine.”

Despite the extra income, money seems to disappear before the bills are paid. He accuses her of overspending. She accuses him of the same thing. They fight. A lot. He accuses her of abandoning the children by going to work each day and not being there to pick them up after school.

“They are your children, too,” she reminds him.

The husband dominates the conversation. He talks on and on about the lack of sex. He wants the counselor to explain what he needs to do to make his wife have sex more. He keeps trying to get the counselor to side with him.

She quietly answers the counselor’s questions. She tries not to cry.

“There is a lack of coupleness about the two of you,” says the marriage counselor. “A failure to connect.”

She is depressed and lonely. The holes in the ship have grown too big to patch. Her husband has been hospitalized twice for psychosis caused by mental illness. She has no friends, no support network. She stops going to church.

“You don’t love me,” she tells her husband in a matter-of-fact way. “You don’t even know me.”

“Of course I know you,” he says. “I know you better than anyone.”

“Okay,” she says. “Then what’s my favorite song? One of my top five favorite bands, books, or movies? One of my top ten? Favorite sports teams? My favorite food? Favorite flower? Any of my life goals?”

He does not know any of these, even though most of the answers were on her Facebook page for anyone to see. They have been married for nearly fifteen years.

Although they have sex 2-3 times per week, he begins to seek out prostitutes. The first time he did, it was her birthday.

She is not even jealous. She is disgusted, but in a strange way, relieved. Now she has an excuse not to have sex with him anymore.

“You have to have sex with me,” he said. “It’s a biblical requirement. God says so.”

“Fuck you,” she said. “And fuck your god, too.”

He beats her for those words. He begins to punish her for her lack of interest in sex. He accosts her during random moments. He calls her names and makes false accusations. Although he is the main wage-earner, he refuses to provide money for groceries, clothes, or bills. She is forced to use credit cards to pay for the family’s necessities. The bills begin to mount.

He attacks her verbally every day. He follows her around town, certain that she is having an affair. He makes threats. She feels unsafe, and moves into their daughter’s bedroom. She hates using their children as a shield. She wants to leave, but does not know how. He forces her into positions in which she must defend herself, mentally and physically, then tells anyone who will listen – even the police, that he is her victim.

The ship has already sunk. She realizes that she has been treading water all this time, and so have the children. By staying with this man, she is putting them all at risk of drowning. It is time to become their life preserver.

Once upon a time, there was a strong, independent woman who learned to build her own ship. She put her three children in it, and they sailed away toward safety, toward a hopeful future, toward happiness. She left behind the man who was once her husband and does not miss him or their life together at all.

She returns to college to work toward a more fulfilling and lucrative career. Her children are healthy, joyful, and thriving. Although she still yearns for good friends, she realizes that, for the first time in many years, she is mostly happy and content with her life and her choices. No ship is unsinkable, she has learned. But that doesn’t mean she has to sink with it.

Sometimes You Have to Be Your Own Hero

I have wanted to write about the subject of domestic abuse for a very long time. But it is hard to do. I am mostly a humor writer, or writer of stories, poems, and lighthearted topics. However, there are some subjects that I feel need to be brought out of the darkness and into the light. Domestic abuse — physical, emotional, financial, and sexual, can happen to anyone. It happened to me. I do not have the courage to share my story in this very public way. But I would like to say to any women out there who are now where I once was, and feeling trapped and helpless, that:

You are not alone.

There is always a way out.

Sometimes you have to save yourself (and your children).

Don’t buy the lies — it is not your fault!

You are stronger than you think.

You have the right to feel safe in your relationship.

The Five Forms of Domestic Violence

Physical

Inflicting or attempting to inflict physical injury
example: grabbing, pinching, shoving, slapping, hitting, biting, arm-twisting, kicking, punching, hitting with blunt objects, stabbing, shooting

Withholding access to resources necessary to maintain health example: medication, medical care, wheelchair, food or fluids, sleep, hygienic assistance Forcing alcohol or other drug use

Sexual

Coercing or attempting to coerce any sexual contact without consent
example: marital rape, acquaintance rape, forced sex after physical beating, attacks on the sexual parts of the body, forced prostitution, fondling, sodomy, sex with others

Attempting to undermine the victim’ sexuality
example: treating him/her in a sexually derogatory manner, criticizing sexual performance and desirability, accusations of infidelity, withholding sex

Psychological

Instilling or attempting to instill fear
example: intimidation, threatening physical harm to self, victim, and/or others, threatening to harm and/or kidnap children, menacing, blackmail, harassment, destruction of pets and property, mind games, stalking

Isolating or attempting to isolate victim from friends, family, school, and/or work example: withholding access to phone and/or transportation, undermining victim’s personal relationships, harassing others, constant “checking up,” constant accompaniment, use of unfounded accusations, forced imprisonment

Emotional

Undermining or attempting to undermine victim sense of worth
example: constant criticism, belittling victim’s abilities and competency, name-calling, insults, put-downs, silent treatment, manipulating victim’s feelings and emotions to induce guilt, subverting a partner’s relationship with the children, repeatedly making and breaking promises

Economic

Making or attempting to make the victim financially dependent
example: maintaining total control over financial resources including victim’s earned income or resources received through public assistance or social security, withholding money and/or access to money, forbidding attendance at school, forbidding employment, on-the-job harassment, requiring accountability and justification for all money spent, forced welfare fraud, withholding information about family running up bills for which the victim is responsible for payment

Marital Rape | Psych Central.

Types of Domestic Abuse

Guidelines for Leaving an Abusive Relationship

Health Central: Warning Signs

Why Do Abuse Victims Stay?  (Understanding is the key to being supportive)