dishonesty

I wanna see you be brave

confront

“Say what you wanna say

And let the words fall out, honestly

I wanna see you be brave

– Sara Bareilles, Brave

The first time I heard that song, I was oh-so-smug.

I thought: “Now there’s something I’m really good at! Being BRAVE!

I thought about how often I’m the first to say “I love you.”

I thought about how brazenly I put myself out there in the public eye.

“Hey everybody! I’m bisexual! I’m polyamorous! I have herpes! I’m a survivor!”

I thought about all the little ways in which I make myself vulnerable in the realms of sex and romance. Brené Brown would be so proud,” I told myself.

And I gave myself an emotional pat on the back.

I thought about all the other people who really needed to hear, and heed this song. People who weren’t being honest with themselves, weren’t being honest with other people, weren’t being brave enough to confront the reality of their situation, let alone change it.

I wanted to send a benevolent, benignly supercilious singing telegram to every last one of them.

But as recent events in my personal life have proven, Sara was singing to me.

Because bravery isn’t just about telling people what you do want, it’s also about telling them what you don’t want. Or, even scarier, what you did want, but don’t anymore.

And now I’m thinking about all the ways in which I’ve failed to be brave in my relationships. Like how long it took me to be honest with that guy who was convinced I was “the one,” when I knew I wasn’t. Or how many times I said, “I love you” to that girl, knowing that I didn’t. Or how long it took me to leave my abusive first husband. Or all the times I’ve failed to speak up when I didn’t like what was happening, and then got resentful about it.

I’m thinking about all the myriad ways I’ve allowed my boundaries to be trampled, my integrity to be tarnished, my needs to go unmet.

Then again, in every case, I eventually did the right thing. The hard thing. Despite grave personal and emotional risk.

I gave that guy his ring back.

When that weeping woman asked me point-blank, “Do you love me?” I answered, “No. Not the way you need me to.”

Despite the death threats and blackmail, I left that abusive bastard for good (third time was the charm). And I’ve come clean about a lot of those harbored resentments after the fact, and done my best to make amends.

Because it’s never too late to be brave.

The longer you wait, though, the more bravery will be required.

Look, I’m willing to put money on the fact that you–yes, YOU–are not confronting some truth.

Yep, that thing you thought of just now. That’s the one.

And now you’re probably mentally listing off all the perfectly rational reasons why you’re absolutely justified in not confronting it.

But here’s the truth: that thing is screwing up your life, diminishing your joy, and sapping your resources in ways you aren’t even aware of. And you don’t have to settle for that.

So I’m lancing you an official challenge:

  • DO IT TODAY.

Not tomorrow, not next week, not after squandering another year, or ten years, of your life on living a lie.

I promise you’ll thank yourself for it. Not right away, of course. At first it’s gonna suck hairy, sweaty monkey nuts. But someday soon, you will.

  • There is never a good time to do the hard thing. The time is now. Go. Do it. Be brave.

Because nothing feels better than being true to yourself.

“Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is”

 

Fuckzoned

I’m sure you’ve all heard of The Friendzone by now.  But just in case you’ve been living under a blunt, heavy object, here’s the general narrative of The Friendzone:

Guy meets girl. Guy is into girl. Guy starts hanging out with girl, does all kinds of nice things for her, and hopes this will translate into a sexual relationship. Guy ultimately realizes that girl has no intention of sleeping with him, but rather is simply enjoying the fruits of his friendship, and goes online to angrily complain of having been “Friendzoned.”

A more specific example can be found in my post about “Nice Guys.”

I’ve dedicated a fair amount of blogspace to debunking the logic of the Friendzone and offering alternatives to the usual bitching and blaming (spoiler: she didn’t Friendzone you; you failed to effectively communicate your true desires and intentions).

But today I’m here to talk about the inverse phenomenon, bitched about primarily by straight women and gay men, and blamed upon fellas everywhere: The Fuckzone.

fuckzone

Here’s the general narrative of The Fuckzone:

Girl meets guy. Girl is into guy. Girl starts having sex with guy, and hopes this will translate into a long-term romantic relationship. Girl ultimately realizes that guy has no intention of settling down with her, but rather is simply enjoying the awesome sex, and goes online to angrily complain of having been played/used/heartbroken/betrayed, etc.

Now, these narratives don’t neatly correlate to gender. There are certainly men who feel they’ve been “Fuckzoned” by women, and women who feel they’ve been “Friendzoned” by men. Or other women. Or men by men. And so on. It’s an equal-opportunity mindfuck. But my personal example just happens to follow the girl-feels-fuckzoned-by-guy model.

Back in graduate school, there was this guy. I’ll call him Joe Schmo. Joe was a decently attractive dude who made himself more attractive by being super laid-back, to the point where if you wanted any contact with him, you had to make it happen. Even when he was teaching, he just sat in a chair, didn’t even lean forward, and spoke softly. Instead of putting the information out there and hoping they would absorb it, he made the students come to him. It was kind of a brilliant tactic and I envied him for it.

I also slept with him a few times because of it, at a time when I was mighty emotionally vulnerable (i.e. immediately following my messy divorce). The sex was pretty darn good, overall, but I was very clearly a booty call to him. We used to have these little text battles:

Joe: It’s 2 a.m. so I know you’re not busy.

Me: I’m busy sleeping.

Joe: Not anymore. 🙂 Come on over.

Me: Fuck off, Joe. I have to teach at 8 a.m.

Joe: You’re putting on your shoes, you’re getting in the car…

Me: I AM NOT.

Joe: Don’t bother getting dressed. 😉

Me: I hate you.

Joe: See you in five minutes.

At school, he would largely ignore/avoid me. Having been down that road before, I knew it could not end well. So I found a better option, stopped screwing him, and later seduced his girlfriend (a professional model/successful actress) for revenge. But this isn’t a story about me. It’s a story about a gal named… uh… Fancy.

Fancy was also in my graduate program. And she had also just gone through a divorce. AND at some point, she started sleeping with Joe. I know this because she started referring to him as her “boyfriend,” acting all giddy and love-struck, and telling all the gals she thought he was “the one.”

Now, I knew from my personal experience that this was crazy talk. But I didn’t want to come off like sour grapes by warning her against him. Instead I simply offered my services as a listening ear.

I listened to Fancy tell me how crazy she was about him. I listened to her fantasize about their future together. I listened to her tell me how convinced she was that he loved her, listened to her make excuses for all the ways in which he didn’t treat her with love, or even kindness. I listened to her complain that his “fear of intimacy” was keeping him from admitting his true feelings for her. And I listened when she came over in tears after he finally made it clear that he was just not that into her.

“How could he use me like that?” she asked me, her face streaked with mascara and tears.

I wanted to say,

“He didn’t. You used each other. You were his sex toy and he was your imagined Prince Charming.”

But I didn’t. Instead I simply pointed out that, while I was no fan of Joe Schmo, he hadn’t actually been dishonest with her. He told her she was hot and that he wanted to have sex with her. That was an accurate self-assessment.

Then I asked her if she had ever told him how she felt about him, or if she had shared any of her future plans with him.

“I couldn’t!” she protested, “It would have freaked him out!”

Right. Exactly. And why? Because he didn’t want a future with her. He wanted a present with her, and he was already getting it. She was in The Fuckzone.

And just like a guy who looks around and realizes to his horror that he has landed in The Friendzone, Fancy was quick to blame Joe for having Fuckzoned her. But in both cases, it comes down to the same failure on the part of the person who is feeling “-zoned.” They were either unclear, or simply dishonest, about their true desires and intentions in terms of the type of relationship they wanted to create with this other person. They failed to maintain their own boundaries, and then blamed the other person for crossing them. Not okay.

I know: it’s scary to be honest about what you want. And for good reason: putting yourself out there and showing interest in something you aren’t 100% sure the other person is interested in does make you more vulnerable. There is, indeed, an inverse relationship between passion and power. That, however, is not an excuse to be a coward. It is your responsibility to get your own needs met. It is up to you to decide what you will and won’t put up with.

Because, seriously, who’s going to turn down free favors? Who in their right mind is gonna be like,

“Please don’t help me move. I am not attracted to you and therefore it would be unethical of me to accept your help.”

And by the same token, what dude is gonna turn down NSA sex?

“Well, a blowjob does sound awesome, but since I’m not in love with you and don’t intend to create a life with you, I’d better pass.”

Um, no. If you’re offering, no apparent price tag attached, they have every right to accept. And you have no right to get resentful over it.

Happily, though, integrity is sexy. Once you start setting boundaries and making your needs and wants known, you may be surprised at the respect you start earning. What’s more, you’ll weed out the people who aren’t looking for what you’re looking for sooner rather than later, so you can move on to someone whose interests are in line with yours.

Better still, you can start simply enjoying friendships, and NSA sex, for what they are. Rather than feeling helpless to transform a friendship, or a fuckship, into what you really want (because, OF COURSE you are capable of creating whatever sort of relationship you want, RIGHT??), you’ll be able to relax and reap the benefits just like the other person in the equation. Because friendship is great, and sex is great, and there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t delight in them exactly as they are.

All that said, if you’re reading this, Joe Schmo (and I know you know who you are), you’re still an asshole. And I’m still not letting you in mine.

How to Cheat Chronic Cheating

CheatingHi. My name is Ava, and I’m a recovered cheat-a-holic.

Now, there are those who will tell you that I don’t exist. That cheaters will always be cheaters, and that change is but a temporary illusion.  And I’ll admit, that attitude is probably a safe, if not 100% accurate one. Because I can tell you from first-hand experience that change is really fucking hard. So hard that most fail, and ALL fail who try to change in order to please or appease someone else. 

However, I am living proof that change is possible, if (AND ONLY IF) the cheater in question genuinely wants to make a change. So for those brave few who are ready to turn over a new leaf (or rather a giant, mud-covered boulder), and all those of you who want to better understand chronic cheating, read on.

While I’m sure there are as many reasons for cheating as there are cheaters, most of those “reasons” are merely after-the-fact justifications. After much observation and self-exploration, I’m convinced that there is a single underlying reason for nearly all chronic cheating:

GUILT.

Guilt over transgressions (or even imagined transgressions) of the past creates a feedback loop of never-ending dishonesty and disloyalty by triggering the following behaviors:

Repeating the same bad behavior over and over to assert its rightness. People have a need to be right, and to feel like good and ethical people. So when they make a bad choice, it’s a very common defense mechanism to simply delude themselves into believing that the choice wasn’t so bad after all. And in order to do that, they have to keep on making it. Over and over.

Let’s say you’re going to a pot luck, and you decide to make salmon mousse. Now, you’ve never made it before, and you know that it carries a high risk of food borne illness, but you make it anyway. And sure enough, after the potluck everybody comes down with a terribly case of salmonella. You know you shouldn’t have made the mousse, and you feel guilty. But you can’t accept responsibility for making all those people sick! You had the right intentions, after all, and you aren’t some kind of sadist who likes to make people sick for fun. Right??

So when your sister asks you to make something for her wedding reception, you (subconsciously) see an opportunity for redemption, and make yet another, equally terrible, salmon mousse. The entire wedding party is hospitalized, your sister’s honeymoon is postponed, the guilt is compounded, and it becomes more and more difficult to confront the consequences of your actions. So what do you do? Make another salmon mousse, of course, to bring to your sister in the hospital!

The same thing happens with cheating.

You cheat once, it turns out badly, your Significant Other (hereafter SO) accuses you of being a terrible human being. But you know in your heart that you aren’t a terrible human being. And so, to prove this fact to yourself, and to the world, you must cheat again. And again. And again.

Ironic, bizarre, and absolutely true.

Creating justifications. After a while it isn’t enough just to rationalize to yourself and others why it was imperative, or at least not so bad, to break your romantic agreements. The guilt becomes so overwhelming that you actually have to start creating justifications for your actions. So you pick fights, or you make yourself unattractive enough to your SO that s/he stops having sex with you, or you simply stop having sex with your SO, thereby pushing him/her toward cheating on you, etc. Then when you go and screw the neighbor you can say to yourself,

“S/he drove me to this!”

– Lying. Lying and cheating go hand in hand. You break an agreement, you fear the consequences of the broken agreement, and so you withhold that information from your SO.

But it doesn’t stop there. Lies in a relationship multiply like fruit flies on a compost heap. You need lies to cover up your lies. You need lies to back up those lies. After a while you have so many lies built up that you feel like your entire relationship is built on those lies, and that if your SO ever learned the truth they would despise you.

Furthermore, because of your guilt, you begin to believe that if anyone knew the real you, they would despise you. And so you lie to everyone. You lie unnecessarily. You lie gratuitously. You lie to make yourself look better. You lie to make yourself look worse. You lie so much you don’t even remember what’s true anymore.

Your life becomes a lie.

You feel guilty about all the lies, and thus the cycle continues ad nauseum.

Encouraging others to transgress. Like an alcoholic uncle who is always trying to talk you into having a drink with him, the chronic cheater isn’t content to simply break his/her own agreements. S/he is continually pushing others to break theirs as well. To make poor choices, put themselves and/or others at risk, and to lie about it.

Again, this is behavior is directly linked to guilt. Because the cheater knows what s/he is doing is wrong, s/he needs others to take wrong actions, too, so that the relative badness of her/his own actions appears diminished. But of course, corrupting others only ends up making him/her feel more guilty, and so on.

Needing approval from others. Because guilty people question their own status as good and ethical people, they desperately need others to see them as good and ethical. They cannot stand being made out to be a villain, especially over some misunderstanding or incorrectly perceived wrongdoing or character flaw, and will go to ridiculous, often self-destructive lengths to change that perception. They are therefore dangerously easy to manipulate emotionally.

That means that even if a guilty person doesn’t particularly want to have sex, or continue to have sex, with someone, they may be so concerned with the emotional repercussions of not doing so that they capitulate in order to please, appease, or earn the approval of that person.

They are also easy to take advantage of or talk into transgressing, since they have lost their moral altitude, and thus feel that they have no right to judge the actions of others or to stop others from taking wrong actions.

All of which leads to…

Apathy about doing the right thing. When in a fairly clean environment, a dirty dish stands out, and so we feel a kind of social pressure to put the dish in the sink. But when the whole apartment is a disaster area, we feel no compunction over leaving our dish right where it is.

So it is with our conscience.

The cleaner your conscience is, the more compelled you feel to do the right thing and take responsibility for the few wrongdoings that do occur. But when your conscience is saturated with guilt, you become apathetic in regards to ethics. Knowing how much work it would take to make the place presentable, you don’t even bother to clean up after yourself anymore. You stop questioning your own actions, stop trying to make amends for wrongdoings. You just give up and declare yourself a hopeless case.

Maybe you even label yourself evil, or a super-villain, or a siren/succubus, or just plain bad.

And therefore you start…

Pushing people away. Your guilt makes you feel like a bad person and therefore dangerous to good people, and because you are, underneath it all, a good and ethical person, you want to protect good people from danger. Therefore, ironically enough, you keep the people you care about the most at an arm’s length. You destroy healthy relationships, and run screaming from anything that reeks of intimacy. Conveniently, this also serves as a justification to cheat, since you were only protecting your SO from the force of chaotic evil that is you.

***

Unless/until a chronic cheater addresses the underlying problem, their guilt, it is very likely that they will continue to cheat.

If you’re ready to address that problem, then I have an assignment for you.

It’s a deceptively simple assignment, but trust me, if done correctly it may well be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

Get yourself a notebook and a pen. Write down, by hand, every wrong action you’ve ever taken in regards to sex and relationships. Every transgression, every omission, every action you took or didn’t take that you know to be wrong. Not that someone else told you was wrong, mind you, but that YOU KNOW in your heart to be wrong. Describe each event in stark, factual terms. No justifications, no backstory, no emotionally charged language. Then describe any known consequences.

For example:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I made out with my buddy’s girlfriend in the back seat of my car. We were both pretty drunk. We kissed, I felt her up, she rubbed me through my pants. Neither of us ever told him about it.
  • Consequences: We both felt really guilty. They started fighting a lot and broke up not too long after. My buddy and I eventually had a falling out over something unrelated and haven’t spoken since.

Here’s an example of how NOT to do it:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I was drunk at a party and my buddy’s girlfriend threw herself at me. I wasn’t even all that into her but somehow we ended up making out. I stopped it before it went too far, though.
  • Consequences: None, really. He never found out and we never did it again.

This is not a trial: you are not here to defend your actions, only to describe them.

Another example of how NOT to do it:

  • Wrong action: 1996, I seduced my buddy’s drunk girlfriend. Totally took advantage of the poor girl and blatantly lied to my buddy about it.
  • Consequences: I destroyed their relationship, and our friendship too.

This is not about clobbering yourself over the head with guilt. Feeling guilty hasn’t helped you in the past, and it isn’t going to help you now.

The point is to fully confront the reality of what occurred, and to take responsibility for having caused any consequences that resulted.

If, in the process of writing this (and it will probably take you hours if not days or weeks to complete it), you discover a consequence that you could still help to fix, or in some way positively affect, do it. In the example above, you could reach out to your old buddy, come clean and apologize for making out with his girlfriend all those years ago, and if possible, try to mend the friendship.

As to the rest, simply confront. See it there and sit with it without trying to justify or explain it away. Recognize what you caused, and hopefully, at the end of it all, you will recognize that you are neither a helpless victim nor an evil villain. You are a good person who made bad choices. You are a powerful person whose actions have a powerful effect. And it isn’t too late to start choosing to have a different, more positive effect.

The final step is to show your list to another person. That’s right, you’re going to have to make yourself that vulnerable to another human being. Pick someone you trust, and ask them to read through the whole shebang. Let them know you aren’t looking for judgment, empathy, or even for help. You simply need a witness.

This does two things: 1. It unburdens you of the stress of carrying around all those secrets, and 2. It gives you an opportunity to be seen, and hopefully accepted, exactly as you are.

But truthfully, the only person whose acceptance you need is you. Because once you have that, you can start the process of becoming the person you want to be.

Take it from me: it’s never too late to be the person you know yourself to be, underneath it all.

Archives