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“Faithful” in Marriage, & Other Odd Concepts

The great golfer Tiger Woods is being raked over the coals lately, and I’m not entirely sure why, but it has something to do with his having an active sex life and being a married man.

After a week or two of breathless disclosures, apparently fanned by some of his girlfriends looking to cash in, today we get weightier essays on the topic by The New York Times and the Washington Post, along the lines of “don’t stereotype the ladies as tarts.” I suppose there’s a certain usefulness to this, but it’s all a sordid business somehow.

The Washington Post entry warns us several times that “adultery” is heinous. Then it goes on to exploit the subject. Tiger, it says, is still a person in all this (a lost person, presumably), while the women are all classified as lowlifes, which just ain’t right!

Okay, whatever. I hope for Tiger, and the game of golf, that he’s able to reassemble his life in constructive ways. He’s a great champion, and if the worst we ever learn about him is that he has group sex fantasies with women and other athletes, he still can get to heaven if he tries.

I mean, no, I am not reading Tiger Woods’s e-mails. He didn’t send them to me and I’m not interested.

But I am curious about why the Washington Post feels a need to reiterate the old morality, that having sex outside marriage is some vicious sin. Is this dead tree worth $2 on a Sunday morning?

Of course we also have the recent example of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, of the phony Appalachian Trail hike while he was really seeing his “soul mate” the Argentine bombshell. Or somethin’. Sanford’s wife has made headlines now, so the whole world knows she’s divorcing him. He has “adulterated” their marriage.

Think about what the word means; he’s made their marriage “impure.”

He hasn’t been “faithful.” But I wonder what kind of “faith” is involved in being married to Jenny Sanford, when the woman he loves is someone else.

Where do we even get these ideas?

Perhaps they’re suggested in the Christian Bible, but they’re seldom stated there, and certainly not in the terms we’ve received. Jesus goes to a wedding in Cana, a happy occasion, one man, one woman, and gets so caught up in the spirit of joy that he turns water into wine. It’s a very nice story.

It does not state that he wouldn’t have done the same thing for Adam and Steve.

Polygamy is a fact of life in the Old Testament, so don’t blame this on the ancient Jews. “Adultery” and other sexual peccadilloes are rampant throughout, including when the great hero David sends a soldier into battle so he can steal his wife. Tiger Woods never did anything like that, so ease up.

People just get caught up in their passions; always did, always will. No, Gov. Sanford should not have lied about the Appalachian Trail, and should not have burdened the universe with every last detail on the love of his life; but he’s entitled to go berserk occasionally. It happens to practically all of us.

It does not have to mean that Jenny Sanford goes nuts and starts a big PR campaign. Her man was “unfaithful”? Get a grip, honey. Your grievance is small. Do not use this as your launching pad to run for governor yourself.

Men stray. We just do. And I write this as one who is all for monogamy now that I’m too old to be any threat.

“Adultery” and “purity” are not helpful concepts for a marriage of human beings, Gay or Straight.

Your wife/husband/lover is going to disappoint you; that’s just a fact. No one is perfect.

Making a marriage means learning to overcome all your disappointments, so that you can maintain a longterm relationship with someone who really matters.

It doesn’t mean running away the minute your loved one humiliates you from coast to coast. Hillary’s still with Bill, and it hasn’t been easy.

Marriage is about commitment, no matter what. It’s not about “faithfulness,” whatever that means, but about sticking together.

When you get married, you pledge to be there with your spouse through thick or thin. You make a promise; you recite vows. No one at the altar actually knows whether they can keep those vows, but they take it on faith that they can and you can too.

In that sense only it’s reasonable to speak about being “faithful” or un. But most couples, no matter how sexually liberated, have no idea how to “keep the faith.” It doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker if you screw up or screw around. Don’t be that shallow. Did you promise to “love, honor and cherish” as long as he is sexually limited, or in all contingencies of life?

If your only definition is sexual, it was never much of a marriage. What you promised was “no matter what.”

Of course there are consequences to messing up; not least are sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. No one has the right to expose a monogamous spouse to disease. Never.

A person who is “cheated on”—another interesting phrase—needs to consider what exactly s/he promised way back when. What does “cheating” mean?

You made a promise that you would “cleave only unto me,” and then cheated? On any given day I’m not sure I want to cleave to you at all.

Relationships are hard, and they’re not made easier by pie-in-the-sky promises vowed by 20-year-olds. And yet I believe monogamy is the single best way to make a relationship.

We don’t teach each other how to be married. We don’t teach how to find the right person; we marry any two heterosexuals who show up at City Hall.

I’d like us to teach each other how to do this right. It’s tricky—and potentially there are children involved.

It doesn’t help us to restate the old morality like the Washington Post, but to re-examine that morality, to see if it contains any truths worth living by.

I think it does, although you have to make those old truths fit you here and now today, with the sloppy human being you propose to live with.

In classical terms, people are sinners and you cannot get around that. Your spouse will invariably disappoint you. But how do you make a marriage given that fact?

I was married once; he had one healthy year and then a dozen amputations.

By the by he also refused to have sex from then on.

Ain’t no page about that in the Bible.

But I stayed “true” through thick and thin, the greatest achievement of my life.

Yes, I fucked around a lot; who wouldn’t? But there was never a time I wasn’t there for him, changing his sheets when he soiled them, carrying him to the bathroom, raging with doctors and social workers to get him the best care.

We stood in front of 40 friends in our apartment and told the priest, God and everyone else, “I will always be there for him.”

As it turned out, after seven years, he was tired of being there for me. So we separated.

And like Jenny Sanford, I suppose, or Mrs. Tiger, I was devastated. Took me years to heal from a man who was truly unfaithful, who made promises he couldn’t keep.

It didn’t have to do with his penis, it had to do with his attitude. It always does.

But since then I’ve become more convinced of the wisdom of the best of the old morality, when we teach people how to really do it; how to live together through thick or thin. Because both are coming no matter how much money you have; disease respects no one.

Here are a few principles to guide us:

1. Pick a partner you’re truly attracted to, sexually and psychologically. Physical beauty fades over time, but spiritual beauty intensifies.

2. Resolve from the very beginning that you will pour all of your sexuality into your relationship. This means you gotta talk, you have to share, you must take risks; and a corollary, whatever he’s into I’ll try to get into, if I can.

3. No group sex, no affairs, no bar-hopping, no bullshit. Keep it all at home, because that makes for the best relationship. Let yourself be known, truly and thoroughly, by one other person who loves and appreciates you. This is the hardest thing of all, because it makes you vulnerable (honest) with someone who knows the whole truth about you. If you’re not willing to reveal yourself as you truly are, don’t get married. If you’re capable of showing the whole truth and nothing but, you’ll likely have a bedmate for life.

4. Everything else, the money, the mortgage, the car, the job, the kids, the food, the bills—secondary. Yes, she worries too much; yes, he can be a jerk. But if you let yourself be truly known so that you can be truly loved, everything else is secondary. Give it time and you can work it out.

To conclude this little rant let me tell you about a marriage I know in southern Indiana. Kirk and his wife Terry were the next-door neighbors and best friends of my late brother Steve.

Kirk is an engineer with a degree from Purdue. My brother graduated from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. I’m talking instant rivalry now.

Before football and basketball games, Kirk would come over in the middle of the night and decorate Steve’s whole house in Purdue gear. Steve would wake up and say, “Oh my God, I’m gonna get him.”

Then Kirk would wake up to a house emblazoned with IU stuff.

They also competed in who had the most trash. Steve would drive around town gathering junk off the streets so he could prove… whatever it was.

Steve died some years ago, and Kirk and Terry were there to clean up after him. That’s about the greatest service one friend can ever do for another.

In recent times, Terry’s had a debilitating stroke. She’s come back 90 or 95 per cent, but she’s still got a little damage from it.

My man Kirk’s been there for her every step of the way; changing the sheets, carrying her to the john, doing the laundry, cooking the food.

He is so proud of her now for all her hard work of recovering; she’s proud of him, because she uniquely knows that he made a promise and kept it.

I know nothing about their sexual life, but he has been faithful in the only way that matters.

They’ve rewarded my brother’s judgment from the day he met them; these are people worth knowing.

It isn’t easy when you have a sick lover; I should know.

I feel about Kirk the way I feel about myself in those years with Jack: This Is A Man, a Provider, a Helpmate, a Lover. A man doesn’t make promises easily, but once he does, he keeps them.

Male sexuality is very complicated. But the supreme test is Providing for your family. Providing is never easy and involves countless sacrifices, which no one applauds, which never make the Washington Post. There isn’t a damn bit of glory in it.

Except in the eyes of the one you love; the way Terry looks at Kirk, knowing him through and through.

That man’s been faithful, and I love him for it, as well as the way he took care of my Bro.++

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