The woman I love is dying. She's in a hospital bed, victim of the worst kind of sick irony. And I want to nestle beside her, hoping that death will carry me off too when it comes to her. After all, she's my best friend, she and her husband. I am probably nothing to her. After all, she loves her husband with a luminous purity, a sentiment equaled only by his love for her. And I'm just the buddy, the guy they eat pizza with once a month.
My grief at her imminent death is as strong as my guilt. How can I, a decent honest fellow, covet another man's wife at the very moment that he is going to lose her forever? But then grief gets the upper hand: When my mother died, the company of my family and the sympathy of my friends kept me sane. When this woman dies, no one will comfort me, and I cannot ask for support. And then guilt rallies: It was bad enough that I imagined countless accidents that would leave my friend quickly and painlessly dead, so I could step in and comfort his mourning wife, slowly making her love me, as she so obviously loves, loved, him.
How can I be there for my friend in the days after he buries his wife? How can I comfort him in good conscience, while I'm wishing he was the one who'd died?
Pour yourself a glass of cold water and toss it in your face. Someone is dying here. Your guilt and shame and your hateful, adolescent thoughts about your friend are not the issue here. The issue is how to rise to this occasion and acknowledge the meaning of her life, and in doing so perhaps to give some meaning to your own life. What is meaning? Meaning is shape, pattern, harmony, coherence: not chaos, not apathy, cowardice or carelessness.
What could be worse than to recognize when you are older that you loved someone deeply and you had the chance to convey that to her before she died but because you were careless or apathetic or fearful, or because you didn't realize how precious and rare love is and how it must take precedence over pride and fear and selfishness, because you put the wrong things first, you never conveyed that to her and let her die without knowing what place she held in your heart? What could be worse than to discover later in life that your love for her was your one greatest, purest love, and you wasted it because you were afraid how it might look? I'm not saying violate your friend's trust or commit adultery; do not climb into her hospital bed with her. But show her somehow in her last days that you recognize the miraculous in her, that thing in her that no one else recognizes: Show her that you see her as she dreams of being seen.
And then be there for her while she's dying. Don't get between them, but don't abandon her either. And after she's gone, be there for your friend. How do you "be there" for the grieving? You literally, physically, be there. Show up. Bring food. Pick up his laundry. Make runs to the store. Talk to the undertaker if need be. Help visiting family members. Make yourself useful and available.
As to your own grief and guilt: Share it with somebody you trust who doesn't know this couple. And don't beat yourself up about having had some awful thoughts. We all have awful thoughts. It's what we do about them that counts. Handle this with dignity and the rest of your life will be better as a result.
I am a 38-year-old professional woman, divorced for 10 years with a 15-year-old son. Needless to say, I've been involved in several relationships in that time. Three times I thought I'd found "the one." Twice I was the ditchee, and once I was the ditcher. Neither role was a lot of fun.
Along comes a single guy, my own age, with no kids and one ex-wife long in the past. He is a high school coach, so he is comfortable with kids my son's age. Unfortunately, he is drop-dead gorgeous with a body to die for, and a smile that makes me go all limp and goofy. I asked him out within minutes of our meeting, feeling that there was no place for pride with so much to lose. He honored me with that breathtaking smile and happily accepted.
OK, it's been two months, and I've seen him exactly five times. Each date has been of my making. He calls me regularly, but he's not good on the phone; however, in person, he exhilarates me. We've been intimate twice, and the sex restores my faith in goodness, and pleasure, and the alignment of the planets. However, he seems perfectly content to continue at this level indefinitely, seeing me once or twice a month with occasional mind-numbing sex. I am not naive; complacency at this stage of the game is bad news. He is a former professional athlete, and my only other relationship with a similar fellow resulted in big heartbreak on my part that has never completely healed. I wonder, are these types of men simply conditioned to put themselves first, and think of women as distractions? I believe he lied to me this weekend (a long weekend) to play golf. I know I deserve better, and the end of this relationship is probably a foregone conclusion, but I would very much appreciate your insight into the male psyche. What gives?
P.S. My son thinks he's the greatest, and is making it clear that he does not want this man out of our lives.
Been There, Done That
Dear Been There,
You're probably right about this guy. People sometimes change when their behavior doesn't get them what they want anymore, but usually not before. He's probably getting what he wants just the way things are. It sounds like you've had a good fling and I wouldn't push for more. You're not likely to get it. He can just move on to another woman who'll give him what he wants and not complain.
Now, if all the women in the world just got together and demonstrated how unfair that is ... oh, that's right, they did that, didn't they?
Just kidding. I'm as self-involved, pampered, obtuse and egotistical as the next guy, but the feminist movement -- that political thing that was also uncomfortably personal -- changed my life for the better. While changing was difficult for everyone, it was quite a bit easier for men of an intellectual and artistic bent. Making the leap from the abstract to the concrete and back -- this whole "the personal is political" business -- is our stock in trade. For people of imagination, the suffering of others becomes our suffering with relative ease; ideas and concepts can trouble us deeply and make us change. But for a person whose life is one of physical action and sensual pleasure, the notion that concepts of social justice are being symbolically enacted in the interpersonal struggles over power and ethics between a man and a woman just sort of lacks the persuasive punch of, say, a blazing cross-court backhand. If he suddenly couldn't get laid, he might change rather quickly. But as long as he's doing all right with women and sports, I wouldn't expect any big changes.
I'm 32 and I've been living with my girlfriend for about a year and a half, and for the most part everything is great. We have the same tastes, we laugh at the same jokes, we think alike in terms of having a family someday. Everyone I know thinks she's great and of course the questions are now being asked. So when are you guys getting married? I really love this girl, but the thought of spending the rest of my life with her is a huge concern. The problem? Our sex life is, for lack of a better word, boring.
Perhaps it's because I'm a bit more experienced in my past liaisons than she is that I'm feeling this way, but it's becoming a real issue. We only have sex a few times in a good week and it's usually the same old way. The biggest problem however is that she refuses to give me oral sex. The entire time I have been with her I have yet to receive a blow job from start to finish, yet I have brought her to orgasm many times with my tongue. She's teased me a few times by taking me in her mouth but she has never officially finished the "job." In my previous relationship, my girlfriend of four years would go down on me constantly. She would wake me up with one, give them to me in the car, sneak one in a closet at parties and so on.
I realize this may be a bit above average and I'm not asking my current lover to match my ex's enthusiasm for giving oral sex. I do wish, however, that she would unselfishly think of me once in a while. All in all, the thought of spending the next 30-plus years with her and never getting another blow job for the rest of my life is driving me crazy. I've never cheated on her or anyone else I've dated, and I don't intend to start now. I want to remain faithful and possibly marry her, but the lack of sex is killing me.
I've also found myself looking more and more at other women. I've tried to talk to her about my need for a more physical side to our relationship, but it usually ends up with her crying and getting very upset. I would marry this woman tomorrow if I knew that our sex life would improve, but I'm seriously thinking of ending it because of my need for more physical intimacy. Is there a way I can persuade her to become more interested in sex or do I need to accept her for who she is and just be glad that everything else about her is perfect? I've heard other people say that relationships are about compromise, so is this the part of mine that I need to compromise on?
Out of My Head
Dear Out of Your Head
It sounds like you're not just out of your head, but out of head period.
Listen, you don't get everything you want. You lucked out with that one girl, but if it had been perfect, you'd still be with her, right? It's always something. If you wanted a girl that you could get along with and raise a family with, now you've got her. So what do you want to do?
Can you raise a family without frequent blow jobs? I think so. It's been done before.
You can't just mold women to perform sexually as you would wish; they're not blow-up dolls. It would be nice if they were blow-up dolls, actually. Except blow-up dolls don't laugh at the right times. Which is such a turn-off. And you have to keep blowing them up. It would be nice to have a wife and a blow-up doll -- or a wife who would inflate the blow-up doll for you! It would be nice to have a blow-up doll who could inflate herself, actually, and also could give blow jobs. It would be nice to be a sultan and lie around all day getting blow jobs from belly dancers. It would be nice if someone else would raise the kids, too.
It's not like I don't sympathize with you, I do; and if your girlfriend really wants to make you happy maybe she'll try to learn to do some of these things. But don't count on it. Sex is in the ROM. If you're not happy with it, you've got some decisions to make.
Is it possible for a recovering alcoholic -- or a person who is trying not to become one -- to live with a drinker?
For my husband and our circle of friends, socializing=drinking. We go to the same two or three bars about five to six nights a week and drink at least six or seven drinks each night.
These people are all successful. All have responsible positions. (My husband included. In every other area of life, he is a good husband and worker. We're both around 40, no kids.) None black out. None miss work or deadlines because of drinking. For this reason, none would consider themselves alcoholics. They actually sit around and mock the self-tests to determine whether one is drinking too much, scoffing, "Why, by that definition I'm an alcoholic!"
The few times I've dared suggest to my husband that perhaps we drink too much, he has gotten uncharacteristically angry and defensive, leading me to drop the subject.
Nevertheless, I have also begun to drop the drinking. I've cut back to going out two or three nights a week, and trying to cut back the amount I drink when I do go out. When I do go out with him it's not uncommon for us to end up out until 3 a.m. -- on work nights. But we both get up and go to work the next day and function, so there's supposedly "no problem."
I know that, although he denies it, my husband doesn't like the fact that I'm staying in more (he still goes out nearly every night to our "local," and to be honest, I don't know what I'd do with him if he did stay in, since nothing but drinking entertains him). He feels betrayed that I no longer participate as much -- I see it in his face. He makes excuses why I have to go to the bar to see so-and-so who's back in town, or leaving town, or to meet some other so-and-so about some potential freelance work. Often, he just hints around and around, not wanting to ask me to go out but obviously hoping I'll say I'd like to go out tonight. Drinking was the main thing we did together socially for the 10 years we've been married, and now I'm staying home and he's doing it more or less alone.
I have said casually that one of the reasons I am not going out as much is because I am cutting down on my drinking, a comment that he literally doesn't respond to. I haven't come out and said that I think he's drinking too much because I know when I do I will be hit with a barrage of my own faults and sins, which are legion, as a defense mechanism, as well as a lot of hostility -- and who wants to go through that?
I am deeply unhappy for the first time in our marriage and find myself fantasizing about being single again and not having to cope with the pressure of cutting way back on drinking while being pressured to drink. Is it possible for me to steer clear of alcohol -- which I simply knew was not good for me at my former consumption rate -- while being married to a dedicated imbiber?
Dear Cutting Back,
Yes, it is possible to do that, and many people have done it, but it's tough to do on your own if the drinking crowd is your core social group. While you're doing it for health reasons, it's not like cutting back on red meat. Nobody says "Gee, I don't see you anymore" when you cut back on red meat. But when you cut back on booze it disrupts your social life, and it's no fun sitting at home while your husband is out drinking.
So you need to seek the company of other nondrinkers or moderate drinkers and find things to do that don't involve drinking. When you're a drinker it seems like the whole world drinks. But in fact there's a whole other world that doesn't drink; there's a whole world of people who do other things with their time.
It's going to be tough on you and your husband, but if you're firm, consistent and nonjudgmental you can get through it. After a while he might cut back too, or he might not. Some people can drink heavily for years without ill effects, and maybe he's one of them. But it's not surprising that he's not taking it well, because it probably sounds to him like you're saying the party's over.
As you may know, I tried to cut back on my drinking some years ago, and eventually quit altogether. Along the way I became acquainted with Al-Anon, which is a group for people whose lives are affected by someone else's drinking. I didn't join Al-Anon -- that would be like a con man joining the Police Benevolent Association, if you get my drift -- but I came to respect and understand what they do, and I think they might be helpful to you. You can deal with your husband's drinking on your own if you like, but like learning French or tennis, learning to deal with other people's drinking is more effective in the company of other experienced, knowledgeable and supportive people.
They're in the phone book.