My friend Bethany kept falling in lust with men at her office, which would’ve been fine except that she was in a seventeen-year marriage with two teenaged daughters. She was never physically unfaithful to her husband Doug, but the cost in integrity was devastating.
Finally the inevitable happened. She fell in love with one of her co-workers. Again, there was no physical infidelity, but hearts were involved. She decided she’d rather end her marriage than have an affair.
This is one of the things I love about Bethany, no equivocation, but in this instance I thought she was being rash. Couldn’t she tell Doug what was happening? That the survival of their marriage was at DefCon 5? I was shocked to discover she’d been honest with Doug and he’d remained passive.
When Bethany divorced Doug you’d have thought she was divorcing me. We’ve known each other since our Study of Women and Men In Society class in Bovard Auditorium at USC circa 1986 and bonded over our shared experience of being children of divorce. How could she consider leaving a marriage to, as she fully admitted, a funny, kind, committed man?
“Doug and I don’t have sex,” she said.
“What does that mean you and Doug don’t have sex? You mean, like, you have it once a month or so?”
“I mean, like, we haven’t had sex in two years.”
“Holy shit! I had no idea!”
“It’s not really something people advertise. And the last time we did it we had to get drunk and watch porn.”
“But why?” I asked, “Why don’t you have sex?”
“Because I’ve become his mother. We have an Oedipal relationship. Just minus the sex.”
Bethany explained that over the years she’d taken up more and more real estate in the marriage or Doug simply did less and less so she had to. She managed their family schedule, she had the bigger job, she planned all their vacations, she made all major decisions about their finances and their children.
“Is this because you’re controlling and bossy?” I asked. She is controlling and bossy and I can say that because so am I.
“Maybe,” she said. ”But, I don’t always want to be the boss, sometimes I really want him to take over.”
There certainly was one place where Doug was the boss and that was in the bedroom. He could control Bethany by withholding. My assessment, not hers.
When you’re a married person, other people’s divorces – from marriages that seemed solid and strong – can be threatening. If it happened to them it could happen to you. I have a propensity to be the boss in my home and Bethany’s story was a wake-up call that always getting my way in my marriage could end up being a pyrrhic victory. Fortunately, my husband Henry is willing to tell me when I need to “crawl out of his ass.”
Over time I came to understand that in divorcing Doug, Bethany did something incredibly brave. She took all the hits for breaking up her family, from her parents, her siblings, her children and her friends, myself included, in order to seek a fuller, more integrated life.
In the midst of the divorce, when Bethany had lost twenty pounds and couldn’t sleep and doubted herself, she clung to one simple truth, “I can’t live the rest of my life without passion.”
A passionless life. Not just sexless, but passionless. We all need to have a passion. Whether it’s passion for our partner or spouse, our work, our children, our hobbies. The lack of sex in Bethany’s marriage had eroded the passion of her spirit. She was living a rote, predictable, stagnant life.
It took time for me to see her situation objectively — divorce is always a personal trigger for me — and to realize I didn’t have the moral right to sentence her to a passionless life.
That was two years ago. I look at Bethany’s life today. It’s not perfect. The man she fell in love with is no longer in her life and she’s not in a hurry to meet someone new. She wants to better understand herself and not bring her daughters into a situation that won’t last. She and Doug are incredibly amiable and excellent parents to their now almost grown daughters.
Funnily enough, Bethany’s life is sexless again, but this time it’s by choice. Which leaves room for passion and possibility.