Tuesday, January 18, 2005

shutting up

I read around a lot of different sites. It's my main source of entertainment these days. Some days I comment all over the place, some days I just read.

In one particular forum, lately, I find myself writing up something, and then, quite consciously, navigating away from the page without ever hitting the "submit" button. Ever had the feeling of beating your head against a brick wall? Remember how good it felt to stop?

It has come to the point over there that whatever I say, one of a small crowd will post immediately after me with the specific intent of rebutting my points. It has become tedious beyond belief.

An issue came up today, a married woman posted about being attracted to another man and how she was struggling with the situation. The man has professed to being attracted to her, as well, so there is the sense that this "situation" has been simmering for at least a little while. I have no idea of the circumstances of these two people's lives, and I don't really care, but what was interesting to me was the reaction of everyone else in the forum.

They were all sympathetic to her "plight," and encouraged her, saying that they were all there to support her. Several advised her to be "true to herself" and to "follow her heart."

Me, I'm completely lacking in sympathy. In a previous life, I was in exactly the same situation, but even then I realized why: I was in that "predicament" because I wanted to be.

I reject the idea that things like this "just happen." A physical attraction doesn't deepen to the point where it's threatening a marriage unless the participants push it to that point. There are a million different ways to advance a flirtation, to explore mutual interests, to deepen a relationship. There are appropriate ways to conduct platonic friendships, and these methods are well known to every socially capable adult.

Every exchange will signal "yes" or "no," and it's up to you to make sure your signals are not being misinterpreted.

"Follow your heart" usually means do what feels good to you, and is generally lousy advice. It ignores the longer term consequences for you and everyone else in your life who will be affected by your actions. Being "true to yourself" is all well and good if the "self" in question is an honorable person. All too often these days, though, "self" is just the first syllable of "selfish." It all seems to come down to short-term gratification.

It's true that we can't control our feelings. Surely nearly every moderately social adult has had that electrified feeling of being attractive, and being attracted to, a new person. It's wonderful to feel newly alive, being seen by new eyes, exploring a new person's mind. It feels so good that it's only natural that we would want to perpetuate it.

But there are times in our lives when it's appropriate to seek to deepen these exciting new relationships, and times in our lives when it's not. If you're single, go for it. If you're married, think again. Sparks flying during a cocktail party are one thing, meeting again alone to see if the sparks were real is quite another.

I have no idea what's going on with the woman and her husband, or between her and the object of her current affection. I do know that a line has been crossed that should not have been, because the mutual attraction has been declared. What are these people thinking?

My advice to the woman would be (what I wish I had done sooner in my own past, and what I eventually came to): Take responsibility for what you're doing, what you've done already. Admit that something's wrong with your marriage somewhere, why else would you be in this situation? Do you want to fix your marriage, do you think you can? If so, you need to walk away from the new guy, cut off contact completely, and get to work on your problems at home. If your marriage is dead already, why are you hanging around in it? Get out, get settled on your own, and then go looking for the next Mr. Right.

The woman wasn't seeking advice, though, just explaining her sudden reticence; offering advice would be really rude. So I won't. I just hope she doesn't feel so "supported" by her online friends' advice to "follow her heart" that she doesn't get into an even bigger mess. Feelings are one thing, actions quite another.

Actions have consequences.

1 comment:

Sheik Yerbootie said...

You go girl! What a great post!

Liz and I have been married for 30 years following much the path you describe. It's kept us much closer. I have several female friends and she has several male friends - it has never gone beyond friendship and never will. In fact, we've hooked up several our friends who are now married and long term to boot.

Tell you what - point me at these idiots and I'll go lay the lumber to 'em.

Damn what a great post..