Last night I participated in a reading of "The Vagina Monologues" at a local university. I didn't tell my husband what I was doing, since his politics are more conservative than mine and I just didn't want to get into it over something I had already decided was the right thing to do. (The benefits supported a local women's shelter.)
I just prefer to pick my battles and didn't want this to be one of them.
Should I bother feeling guilty about this? Should I tell him about it, after the fact? Or can I let it go without worrying that I have somehow made my marriage weaker through this small deception?
Dear Secret Monologist,
Rather than asking if you should bother feeling guilty about this, I would ask some larger, more general questions. What are the rules in your marriage? What is shared property and what is individual property? And how much room is there in your marriage for your vagina?
Maybe you diagram it out on paper. I don't mean draw vaginas. Or maybe you do. Maybe you draw a bunch of vaginas and a bunch of penises on paper.
So do this: Take out a sheet of paper and draw two intersecting circles. On one side draw a penis and on the other side draw a vagina. In the intersection put the penis and the vagina. Then also in that space write down all things that you and your husband share -- domestic life, lovemaking, family, cooking, things you do together, views of the world that you share. Then in each of the circles that is yours or his alone, write separate or solitary pursuits or beliefs -- his job, your job, his friends, your friends, his political beliefs, your political beliefs. Make them specific if possible, i.e. "The Vagina Monologues" and "Susan Sarandon" or "Monster Truck Pull," or "P.J. O'Rourke."
Then take a look at the life pursuits that are most distinctly separate, and ask if they seem to break down along gender lines. If so, then perhaps each of you is giving short shrift to the other's gender-centered identity; maybe the part of you that feels natural affinity with members of your own sex is being squeezed out of the intimate sphere.
Think about your women friends and his male friends. Is that generally a separate sphere, or does he welcome your women friends into the house, and do you welcome his male friends? Does he make you feel uncomfortable in the house with your women friends?
Here is what you might do with that diagram. Maybe on one side you have "The Vagina Monologues" and on the other side you have a performance by Carlos Mencia that he went to, or perhaps an appearance by, say, P.J. O'Rourke. So consider what they have in common. They are both performances. You buy tickets and sit in chairs and watch. Maybe there is some performance you could move from the individual sphere into the middle sphere. See what I'm getting at? If you make a map of your spheres of commonality and your spheres of privacy, maybe you will see areas where you can gradually increase the shared activities and thereby eventually increase the shared vision.
In highly sensitive subject areas, it is sometimes easier to focus on a performer you both saw, because you at least have the common experience. You hated Carlos Mencia and he loved him -- but you were both together there in the theater, so at least you shared something.
I don't think it's so important whether you tell him or don't tell him about this particular thing you did, although in a general sense, you probably ought to just face the fact that it was kind of silly to hide it from him, and it would be courageous of you to just tell him what you did, and have a laugh about it. So, come to think of it, please do tell him you did this thing. Tell him you did this thing and just see what he does. Maybe he will surprise you. If not, get out the diagram and ask him if he can find anything from his side to move toward the middle.
Now: Like most things, this is way more complicated than making a diagram. What I try to do with this column is put something fairly concrete up there at the top. I don't always succeed, but that's what I try to do. It's only fair. Some people really are looking for concrete advice. But then there's lots more usually, lots more to think about. Would you be interested in reading some more on this? If so, please feel free to read on. If not, my feelings won't be hurt. This is the kind of thing that I generally edit out of the column, but I figure, since we're not paying for the paper, why not just throw it in anyway, with this proviso: If you don't like long-winded and somewhat abstract speculations from men neither licensed nor bonded for such activity, then just stop. Don't read any more. Move on. You don't have to read it. It's like a wreck on the highway. You can turn away.
See, I think the tradition of short snappy journalism has its place but it's a manifestation of historic material considerations, i.e., paper costs; that is, it has no inherent value, shortness or longness; it's about what is required from the medium, and what you're trying to accomplish. Why couldn't a guy go on for an hour on the radio? Is it because we're always in a hurry? We're going to get out of the car and go see a man about a nonfat soy latte. Yes, I think it is about our pace. We are in a hurry. And that's about labor costs and hierarchy and social organization and no safety net. We're in a hurry because of the mortgage. We're in a hurry because of no national health insurance. I mean, maybe this spring break we could all take a day off and just blab on and on. Maybe we ought to have a blog contest for the longest blog entry. Maybe we ought to start rewarding long-windedness and stop being in such a hurry.
But anyway, this part is totally optional. You can stop reading now. There's nothing more here. If you're still reading it's just because you're relaxing in your chair while the old man prattles on. Not that there's anything wrong with prattling on, is what I'm saying! Prattling on is a lost art. We're too quick to cappuccino our iPods. In bargain terms, you're getting more words for less money. But if you think of it in terms of brevity, maybe you're just being annoyed. Like I said, just move on. Nothing to see here. And I'm doing it on purpose, too, am I not? On purpose. Like I'm annoying you on purpose, trying to get a rise out of you. Trying to push your buttons, you person in a hurry. Trying to say, Just keep following the prose, like a man standing on a pier staring out at the ocean. Just keep watching it. Look for the long line at the horizon. Keep watching. Get hypnotized.
As I was saying, about your secret performance of "The Vagina Monologues," maybe your differences break down along gender lines. And maybe they break down along lines of personality type. If your husband is extroverted and you are introverted, you may frequently feel that he is attacking you, and so you may find yourself avoiding certain topics for fear of feeling hurt by his mode of speaking about them. Extroverts are more comfortable with disagreement because they see the disagreement as external to themselves, as emerging out of the nature of the world itself as distinct from them. They don't think of such things as being personal, but introverts do. So there may be a structural and more or less permanent difference in how you process information.
Or, for all I know, it could be the reverse. You might be the extrovert and he the introvert. You might be, for instance, an ESFJ, and he an ISTJ. Just a guess. But perhaps worth looking into.
***CAUTION: YOU ARE GROWING SLEEPY*** And why do you mention cheating? Cheating is, after all, the realm of rules that we are talking about, isn't it? Sexual fidelity, that is; withholding your sexual involvement from other men so that your husband may be the exclusive partner. And we are thinking about power, are we not, because rules are always about power. There is no power without rules. "The Vagina Monologues," I suspect, is about power.
So to answer this question with any kind of honesty it is necessary to acknowledge some fairly serious and complicated realities. While as intimately entwined bodies you may achieve power equilibrium, as social actors you remain competitors. ***WHO'S PLAYING THE FILLMORE TONIGHT?*** Men have more social and economic power than women. Public celebrations of masculinity are more numerous and more socially accepted than public celebrations of femininity. ***IS THERE ANYTHING ON TIVO?*** And such public celebrations of femininity as there are -- including fashion shows -- are geared toward the masculine consumption of femininity. ***GOT ANY CORN CHIPS?*** In the social realm, celebrations of women-centered and women-consumed femininity are scarce. Being scarce, they attain value.
Anyway, this is verging on the ridiculous. ***HOW TRUE*** The point is that the reason you feel this withholding of information is significant is that it is significant, but not for the same reasons that withholding other things is significant. ***I HAVE TO GO TO WORK IN THE MORNING*** It's not like you did something behind his back. Well, in a way it is. But what I mean is that you and he are, in a material sense, in competition. Inside the walls of your house you have an arrangement. But outside the walls of your house you each face radically different opportunities and choices. And he, being the lucky one, has the larger sheaf of choices.
Such works as "The Vagina Monologues" speak for women because they address this fundamental social inequality. Marriage affords the man certain built-in privileges whose provenance is ancient. Thus "The Vagina Monologues," if discussed inside the walls of the marriage house, will evoke feelings and consciousness of that world outside the house in which the sexes are still in mortal combat. Women are still getting the shit kicked out of them night and day. So draw that diagram. ***I FORGOT ALL ABOUT THAT DIAGRAM*** Use this instance to look at how power in your marriage is shaped by gender roles and larger social forces. ***CAN WE LEAVE NOW? IS HE DONE? WHERE ARE MY KEYS?***
"Since You Asked," on sale now at Cary Tennis Books: Buy now and get an autographed first edition.
What? You want more advice?