8 Mistakes Men Make About Women

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I just read John Hawkins’ superb column titled “7 Mistakes Women Make About Men.” I’d like to see one about mistakes men make about women.

Muddled Man in Miami

 

Dear Muddled Man,

Here it is, with a bonus eighth mistake — just because I’m a woman.

But first, a few words of introduction. I love men. I’d like to thank the Creator for coming up with the concept of men and then for following through — on what was obviously an amazingly busy week — by creating Adam. Great work! I’ve long been a fervent fan of the male gender, and couldn’t imagine the many joys of my life without them.

That said, the purpose of this column is not to nit-pick, disparage, or criticize men. My aim is to improve inter-gender understanding.  You know — like world peace?


THE TWO GENDERS ARE AS SIMILAR AS KANGAROOS AND BANANA SLUGS

 

They inhabit entirely different biological and cultural worlds, even though they may sleep in the same bed and sup at the same table. What works like a charm in Cosmos Kangaroo makes no sense at all in Banana Slug Universe.

EIGHT MISTAKES MEN MAKE ABOUT WOMEN

  1. BELIEVING THAT A WOMAN IN TEARS IS THE FUNCTIONAL EQUIVALENT OF A URANIUM-ENRICHED PORCUPINE

If you happened to be a teenager in the 1950s, you a had a rare chance to see two opposing world views — completely apart from the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I refer, of course, to two popular songs, the first of which was the immortal Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ 1962 hit “Big Girls Don’t Cry.”

Ah, but Frankie, we do cry, as you saw the following year, 1963, with Lesley Gore’s breakout hit “It’s My Party, making exactly the opposite point:

We cry in response to sadness, grief, loss, remorse, regret, agony, ecstasy, desolation, loneliness, as well as anger and frustration born of insults, injuries, slights – to name a tiny fraction of the sources of our tears.

What’s a guy to do?

SEVEN FRANKLY INVALUABLE TIPS FOR COPING WITH A WOMAN IN TEARS

A. Don’t flee the scene in terror. She’s not a radioactive porcupine. You may not have cried in years, but then you don’t have estrogen coursing through your brain, do you? Stay with the crying woman.

B. Try hugging. The expression“a shoulder to cry on” derives from this impulse, which seems to come naturally to women when they’re with anyone who cries. Hold the crying woman in a non-sexual way and let her cry.

C. Don’t suggest she “calm down,” stop crying, or “control herself.”  What you don’t understand is that she’s already controlling herself by not screaming at the top of her lungs, clawing at everything in sight, and attracting the kind of attention that leads neighbors to call the police, with the added thrill of seeing your mug shot in tomorrow’s local paper. Let the lady cry.

D. Her crying won’t go on forever and your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to hold her, not to suggest that enough is enough — before it is for her.

E. If you don’t accept this as your mission, don’t be surprised if you’re not the most welcome person in her life, her bed, or her body.

F. If she doesn’t want to be hugged, then ask, “What can I do to help?”

G.  If the answer is, “Leave me alone,” then leave her alone for a while, but not for long. She needs to know that you’re nearby and don’t consider her the equivalent of a foul-smelling, rabid hyena.

2. NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT WHEN IT COMES TO EXPRESSING OUR THOUGHTS, MEN ARE FROM HEMINGWAY AND WOMEN ARE FROM PROUST

Women’s brains are different than men’s. One way the difference expresses itself is in language. We utter more words not because there’s something wrong with us, but because our brains are wired differently than yours. Men are from Hemingway, women are from Proust.

Few have expressed this insight with greater concision than Joe Jones in his Top 40 song of 1960, “You Talk Too Much”:

EIGHT TIPS ON HOW TO TALK WITH A WOMAN

A. When a woman says, “let’s talk,” try not to react as if your manhood has just been threatened by all ten of the FBI’s TEN MOST WANTED MOHELS.

Talk is nothing to be afraid of! The answer, by the way, isn’t “About what?” with a look that oozes dread and existential angst. The answer is: “Great!” She’ll take it from there. Sound eager to talk. If she wants to talk, consider it the equivalent of your dog wanting a walk. Go with the flow.

B. If you ask a woman a question, don’t interrupt her response by saying, as you impatiently tap your fingertips on the nearest table, “Get to the point.” The point you don’t get is that our intricate narratives — interlaced as they are with our multi-layered interpretations, embroidered with the richness of our subtle observations, and enhanced by our exquisite cascades of details that might well have entirely escaped your notice, and without which your understanding of life would be the poorer — are what an answer is to us. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is.”

C. You didn’t have to ask that question, but once you have, and once the answer is flowing with the magnificent force of an aria from Carmen,

don’t interrupt or do the functional equivalent thereof, which is looking at the ceiling. Or at that squirrel unearthing an acorn from last summer outside the window.

D. Look a woman in the eyes when she’s speaking to you. Or, as Niecy Nash once memorably told Tony Shalhoub on Monk, as he ogled her not inconsiderable cleavage, “My eyes are up here.”

E. If you don’t want a full female-brained answer, try to formulate your questions so that the only possible answer is a “yes” or a “no.”

F. When a woman asks you a question, note that “fine” or “good” or “OK” are not our idea of an answer.  To a woman, any monosyllabic resply is an insult, an affront, a casus belli  (“cause of war” for those of you who slept through Caesar’s conquest of Gaul).

G. Put some verbal meat on those bones. We yearn for data and details. Who was in the room? What were they wearing? Who said what? In what tone of voice? What was the reaction of the others? Did anyone seem angry?  Take umbrage? Did long-simmering interpersonal antipathies rise to the surface and explode?  If so, what happened next?

H. When we ask, “How did the meeting go,” we are so not looking for “fine.”

3. TREATING A WOMAN LIKE A LEPER WITH HALITOSIS WHO WANTS CURES FOR BOTH CONDITIONS WHEN SHE MENTIONS THAT SHE HAS A PROBLEM SHE’D LIKE TO DISCUSS WITH YOU 

When she says she has a problem, to her that isn’t the same as looking for a game plan, a business scheme, or a cerebral analysis of her problem, with the ideal and erudite solution to it.  She doesn’t want a lecture.

She’s looking for a pair of ears. Yours. And a sympathetic expression on your face.  And some brief, quietly expressed, non-interrupting expressions of empathy such as “Jeez,” “Oh, no,” “Oh, my God,” How could he?” followed by “What a jerk.”  After you’ve patiently listened to a tearful recitation of how just one insensitive lout could have been even more exasperating than a stadium full of vuvuzela-blowing fans, what do you do next?

You don’t say, “Vuvuzelas should be legislated out of existence. I’d like to file a brief at the International Court of Justice in Den Haag to ban their manufacture and sale.” While that’s a swell solution to the vuvuzela problem, it’s not what she wants. Give a her a big, nonsexual hug, with comforting comments along the lines of “You’re so terrific, I don’t see how anyone could act like such an idiot toward you.”

4. NOT UNDERSTANDING THAT NOT EVERY OPPORTUNITY TO TOUCH A WOMAN’S BODY SHOULD IPSO FACTO TURN INTO A WILDLY PASSIONATE SEXUAL ENCOUNTER 

Women like sex. We really, really like sex. It’s one of the favorite things we’ve ever done. It’s like being happy, only better.

In all this sexual bliss, however, there’s a “but,” and here it is: when you’re hugging us while we’re crying, or hugging us after we’ve told you our latest misfortune, don’t think this is a golden opportunity to segué into hot, wild, pulsating sex.

Why not? Because we’re still really, really upset! That’s why not! Just because you’re married doesn’t mean that every single opportunity to touch your wife is the perfect time to remind her of how fond she is of Bubba Jr. down there.

This was the characteristically gross move that the great Feeler of Our Pain himself, William Jefferson Clinton, in 1994 put on Kathleen Willey, who had just tearfully informed the sitting president (who happened to be standing at the time) of her husband’s suicide. Good ol’ Bubba began with one of his patented hugs and the next thing the grief-stricken Mrs. Willey felt was the presidential paw on her newly widowed breast.

As the Washington Post reported this insensitive maneuver:

He says it was nothing more than a friendly hug, and perhaps a kiss on the forehead intended to comfort a woman in despair. She says it was a sexual advance, surprising and unwelcome: a hug that was “more than platonic,” a reach for her breast, a hand that grasped hers and placed it on his groin.

He’s America’s own Dominique Strauss-Kahn, behaving with all the grace and sophistication of a rutting chimpanzee.

Don’t try that Clintonian ploy. Your hug should remain an act of caring solidarity, unless of course, the woman herself suggests by word or deed that she has an idea of what would make her feel much better than even your kind embrace.

5. IN BED, THINKING THAT WHAT DROVE JANE INTO AN ABSOLUTE SEXUAL FRENZY OF ORGASMIC ECSTASY WILL BE A HUGE TURN-ON FOR KATE. AS DIFFICULT AS THIS MAY BE TO IMAGINE, WE’RE EACH — HOW ELSE TO PUT IT? — UNIQUE 

Think of sexual relations as a joint (ad)venture, not as a one-size-fits-all (no pun intended) activity that, if it worked great in 1962 when you lost your virginity to a not-particularly-discerning 16-year-old — who also happened to be a virgin — that’ll be the way to go for the next 50 years with nary a modification. It’s never too late to try novel approaches, even if you’ve been happily married to the same woman for decades. Just don’t try that new approach the first night you return from a business trip. Some wives might have an inkling under what circumstances you discovered your titillating new technique.

TRILLION DOLLAR BONUS TIP (PRICELESS, REALLY) FOR MEN WHO’VE READ THIS FAR: Ask a woman what she enjoys the most, even if you’ve been with her for decades, what she really enjoys, or what she’s always wanted to try. Many women won’t volunteer this precious intelligence, but if a man takes a moment to ask this simple question, the answer can go a long way to turning what could be a mundane experience into an unforgettably exquisite voyage to the windswept oceans and the highest mountains of star-filled galaxies neither the woman nor you has ever visited in your entire lives.

This is a stunning example of the truth shall set you free. You wouldn’t believe just how free until you’ve asked and acted on a woman’s reply to that one simple question.

6. YOUR WIFE ISN’T YOUR MOM.  IT’S AN EASY MISTAKE TO MAKE, THOUGH

This mistake comes about when a man assumes his wife or significant other is going to behave exactly as Mom did, not only by picking up his socks wherever they may roam, but by being a stoic, kind, him-centered woman as long as she lives.

As fondly as as you remember your mom, there aren’t too many women like her and like the impeccable June Cleaver now. And, not to put too fine point on it, you’re no longer a little boy or a teenager yourself. Try not to hold your wife to your mother’s standards, as wonderful as she may have been. Your wife is a completely different human being, with a different childhood and different parents from your mother’s who grew up in a different era and will never be exactly like your mother. It’s an unreasonable expectation for her to have to meet.

If you had a good mother, you experienced her as someone enormously devoted to you, whose major goal was to protect you and prepare you for your present life. She poured countless hours, days, nights, weeks, months, and years into concentrating on you. The best of wives will try to do something like that, but it’s never going to be quite the same again.

For one thing, your wife thinks of you as an adult, a person who doesn’t require the constant support and intense concentration your mother believed was necessary to devote to you.  You mother may have seemed to be as omnipresent and omnipotent as Alexander Portnoy’s memorably-depicted mother in Philip Roth ‘s magnificent 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint. (Note: that one brief, exquisite novel by the peerless Philip Roth has more literary brilliance and unforgettable wit than the entire opus of the late Saul Bellow.)

Portnoy’s mother was endowed by her creator with magical, gravity-defying powers that enabled her — and, as far as Portnoy knew, her alone — to suspend slices of peaches in Jell-O. This was nothing less than a miracle to Portnoy’s boyhood eyes. How did she do it? With what supernatural powers was she endowed?

Even if your wife did prepare sliced peaches in Jell-O for you, you wouldn’t have a child’s capacity to feel the same awe.

Don’t ask your wife to fill your mother’s shoes. Let her be your wife — a unique, different, separate woman from your mother, although one who’ll also take good care of you as you go through your adult lives together. At best, however, you’ll be partners, co-equals  She won’t do everything for you  just like Mommy. You’ll never be her baby or her little boy, no matter how much you’d like to recreate those halcyon days, when, as Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) wrote in “Fern Hill,” 

 …I was young and easy under the apple boughs

About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,

The night above the dingle starry,

Time let me hail and climb

Golden in the heydays of his eyes… 

It isn’t your wife’s responsibility to help you remain a five-year-old, “golden in the heydeys.”  Her task is to accompany you on a very different journey, with all the love, good counsel, shared goals, physical presence, and sexual bliss of which she is capable. Dont’ expect her to be your Mommy, too — except when you get sick.

7. THINKING GALLANTRY IS DEAD, ALTHOUGH ITS SURVIVAL DOES DEPEND ON YOU

Why not reach out and open a heavy door (even though we, too, work out), allow a lady to precede you out of an elevator, or do anything else that was once known as chivalrous?  Yes, Dave Chappelle likes to say that feminism killed chivalry. But what kind of a man wants to live in a universe ruled by the editorial board of Ms. Magazine?

Gallantry includes the heartfelt bestowing of well-deserved compliments. While there isn’t a woman who doesn’t appreciate a kind word about her appearance, it will improve your relationships with all the women in your life — both personal and professional — if you compliment them on a range of traits, abilities, and activities that have nothing to do with their looks, such as their steadfastness, courage, loyalty, morality, spunk, hard work, devotion to you and your family, kindness, energy, humor, sense of adventure, saintly patience, originality, wit, generosity, tireless diligence, vim and vigor.

Nothing is too minor when it comes to acknowledging with gratitude and deep appreciation what a woman — or a man, for that matter — contributes to your life, that of your business, and to the lives of others. With the invention of email, it takes but a few seconds to express an encouraging word.

8. MISINTERPRETING A WOMAN’S STRAIGHTFORWARD QUESTIONS ABOUT A MAN’S LIFE TO MEAN THAT HIS THOUGHTS, WORK, CONCERNS, ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, PRIVATE LIFE, HOBBIES AND CHILDREN ARE SO MUCH MORE FASCINATING THAN HERS THAT HE NEVER HAS TO ASK HER ANYTHING ABOUT HERSELF. AFTER ALL, ISN’T HE THE MOST FASCINATING PERSON AT THE TABLE FOR TWO?

This mega-mistake could be called the Sun King error — named for the French King Louis XIV (1638-1715), who was something of a narcissistic control freak, regulating all around him, even choosing his own sobriquet to suggest that like the heavenly orb at the center of the astronomical universe, he, too, was the center of the world. Which, in 17th and early 18th century France, he actually was.

It’s dangerous to make this error of mistaking a woman’s concern and interest in a man’s life for an implicit message that he’s the only one — between the two of them — who counts as an interesting human being. It can lead to the end of a marriage, a love affair, and even a long friendship.

A word to the wise should be sufficient: such relationships cannot be sustained forever.  Women, all women, tire of Sun Kings, and other self-centered men.

No one said it better than Carly Simon:

–Belladonna Rogers

How To Avoid Adultery When Temptation Is Looking You in the Eye

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I’m writing for help with adultery, which I haven’t committed yet.  I’ve spent hours discussing Exodus 20:14 with my clergyman.  Even so, I’m still tempted.

I’m a highly sexed woman married to a man with a lower sex drive than mine. I had a series of painful affairs with highly-sexed hunks who loved me and left me in my twenties.  After a decade of several of them, I was blessed to marry a great husband in every way but one: he can’t have traditional sex with me any more. I don’t want to be unfaithful.   I have a high-level job in the federal government, where I’ve worked hard for half my life, 25 of my 50 years. Among my responsibilities is to mentor a subordinate of mine, a 25-year-old married man. He wants me to become his lover. I’m sorely tempted.  We travel a great deal together for work without our spouses so the possibility is always looking me in the eye.

My 15-year marriage has blessed me with two wonderful children, as well as every satisfaction and joy I could hope for, except one. My husband has seen many physicians and the problem appears to be permanent and unresponsive to the major medications known for the dysfunction he suffers. Having tried many, I’m not comfortable using electronic devices or watching porn.  Rather than stimulate me, all that  turns me off.

My young subordinate at work oozes sex, is funny, perceptive and tells me he desires me more than any woman in his life. He pays enormous attention to me, which is hard to ignore. I know our co-workers have picked up the vibes between us.  It’s hard for me to accept that I have to give up sex at 50, especially since I’m fit and look 40.  I want to do right by my husband, but I’m not made of stone.  I feel lust for this young guy 24/7.  It’s agony. My guilt over my lust is also with me 24/7, and that, too, is agony. What should I do?  What can I do?

Worried and Willing in Washington, D.C.

 

Dear Worried and Willing:

Let’s start with your guilt and then move to the other components of the ball of wax that seems to be melting all over you. Your situation can be easily understood as long as you’re not in the middle of it — which you are.

 DON’T FEEL GUILTY FOR HAVING HUMAN YEARNINGS

You have no reason to feel guilty for being human and having human yearnings.  If you’re fit and 50 and your husband can no longer engage in traditional sex, and your 25-year-old subordinate who “oozes sex” is eager to become your lover, of course you’re going to be filled with desire. He could even be older than you: it’s not the age of the seducer that counts, it’s his sexual energy.  As Mae West liked to say, “It’s not the men in your life that matters, it’s the life in your men.”

 THE LAST TIME I CHECKED, “FRATERNIZATION” BETWEEN MARRIED COLLEAGUES, ONE OF WHOM IS THE OTHER’S SUBORDINATE, IS NOT A CAREER-ENHANCING MOVE FOR EITHER PARTY

It’s understandable that, in the throes of sexual yearning and guilt, this major factoid may have slipped your mind: I doubt your proposed affair would be consistent with your federal agency’s regulations.  If you’re a fit 50 who looks 40, and co-workers have noticed the vibes, I suggest using the authority vested in you by Uncle Sam to order a transfer for your mentee to a different department, a different supervisor and a different mentor.  The situation as it now stands adds up to trouble with a capital “T.”

I know this suggestion will sound harsh and even cruel, but arranging for him to transfer from  your department is essential.  As long as you see him every day and travel with him, you’re making life far too difficult and stressful for yourself and you’re risking everything for a man you do not know deeply — and I hope you never will.

You can arrange his departure without casting aspersions on his service, but the fact that you’re ordering his transfer may teach him a much-needed lesson about the wisdom of propositioning his supervisors in the future.

You’ve worked half your lifetime to get where you are today.  Don’t throw away your marriage, your access to your children and your career.  That seems like a lot to lose for one sexy 25-year-old — and I don’t say this because I’ve never encountered a sexy 25-year-old.  Complete the paperwork to arrange his transfer to a distant field office, preferably on a continent you never visit — Antarctica would be just the place — and then read on.

HOW YOU GOT WHERE YOU ARE

You were fortunate indeed to land in your husband’s arms after spending your twenties with highly-sexed chick magnets who seduced you and left you as road kill when they tired of their  joy rides with you.  This is the classic M.O. of highly-sexed seducers.  They reel in their women with the bait of their “oozing sex,” as you called it.  When they leave — as they always do — you end up alone, sobbing at 3 in the morning, the tears streaming down your cheeks, as you listen to Leonard Cohen singing “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.” The silent treatment is their method of choice when it comes to bidding you farewell.  That’s a chick magnet for you: all the empathy of a marble.

They think nothing of breaking the hearts and wounding the psyches of the women they seduce and abandon. Why do they do this?  Because they can. The first rule of the human jungle is this: the more highly-sexed the man, the more selfish, narcissistic, inconsiderate and uncaring he can afford to be.

It’s the law of supply and demand.  Men for whom there’s an endless supply of women never have to learn to be as careful and considerate of their prey as men in lower demand, who’ll husband their scarce resources with far greater care.

SOME PEOPLE REMEMBER PLEASURE MORE CLEARLY THAN PAIN

It’s possible that your 15 years of happy marriage to a good man may have clouded your memory of how brutal chick magnets are. At the moment, you’re living in anticipation of the pleasure you do remember.  But ask yourself whether you can tolerate the intensity of pain that will follow whatever ecstasy you envision. Even if neither you nor your subordinate were married — which you are — the anguish you’ll feel when he abandons you — which he will — is guaranteed to be excruciating.

INTRODUCING PUBLIC ENEMY NUMBER 1:

MR. CHARISMA T. ORGASM

One of the greatest novels of all time is Henry James’ A Portrait of a Lady. To summarize the 672 pages of dense Jamesian prose, the 1881 masterpiece portrays the choice that every intelligent, highly-sexed, sentient woman must make: whether to marry Mr. Charisma T. Orgasm or marry Mr. Dependability A. Kindheart.  The reader can easily foresee the train wreck ahead, even as the novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer, is blinded by a Hillary Rodham-like sense that her life will be most exciting with Mr. Orgasm.  Exciting, yes.  Stable? Hardly.

THE DILEMMA OF THE HIGHLY-SEXED, EMOTIONALLY ASTUTE WOMAN

When it comes to the choice of a husband, a woman with a high sex drive and high emotional intelligence faces a Hobson’s choice: she’s in a lose-lose situation.

If she chooses to marry a highly-sexed chick magnet whose sex drive will match her own, she’ll find herself with a husband who’s missing in action much of the time because he’s either being pursued by other women, or he’s pursuing them. When he’s home, she’ll be in seventh heaven, except for the time it’ll take him to catch up on the sleep he lost on the road. When he’s away, she often can’t reach him, as her calls to his cell phone go directly to voicemail while he satisfies one woman after another, and, of course, Numero Uno, first and foremost. Every “relationship” is all about him.

If she marries Mr. Dependability Kindheart, she can have a fine marriage and a wonderful, loving family, but she’s fated to endure an inchoate yearning for the rest of her days.  It may become submerged and remain amorphous for years, even decades, as she diligently raises her children, is a loving wife to her husband, and often cares for others, as well.

But the day will dawn when Mr. Charisma T. Orgasm will walk into her life.  The “T,” by the way, stands for Trouble — his middle name. He could be a former lover from her youth showing up out of the blue — as they’re wont to do — or a co-worker, a mentee, or any man from anywhere.  However he appears, he’s here now, and when he focuses his gaze on you, you melt.  He possesses a keen pheromone-based radar system that picks up on sex-starved married women and turns their inchoate yearnings into a specific desire for a specific man: Charisma T. Orgasm, himself.

HOW YOU’LL RECOGNIZE MR. CHARISMA T. ORGASM

 He’s tenacious, highly focused on you, his prey, charming, quick-witted, but most of all, he’s got your number.

He hones in on you like a heat-seeking missile.  That’s because he is a heat-seeking missile and the heat he’s seeking is between a married woman’s legs.

And so it is that a highly motivated, conscientious wife, mother and professional woman who’s worked half her lifetime to achieve a position of responsibility and respect is suddenly transformed into a 14-year-old with a crush on the captain of the football team.

WHY EMOTIONALLY DISCERNING WOMEN DON’T MARRY CHICK MAGNETS

Here we come to the central question in the lives of the highly sexual, emotionally intelligent woman. Should she marry Mr. Orgasm — knowing full well that if she does, she’ll likely be sharing him with countless nameless women (not literally nameless — they all have names, of course — she just won’t know what they are) who’ll come onto him or onto whom he’ll come?

Or should she marry the less charismatic, less sexually-charged man and have a good, steady marriage to a man who’ll be there for her and their children every day and every night, but who never could be (even when young) and who never will be a chick magnet?

If she wants a life of dependability and stability, and if she doesn’t want to share her husband with dozens or hundreds of other (potentially STD-infected) women during her marriage, she chooses exactly as you did, as any sane woman who wants a sane adulthood would and does.

The problem arises when an erotic snake like young Mr. Orgasm slithers into your life and, by his very presence, plus his skillful, manipulative playing on your weaknesses, reminds you of what you’ve been missing.

WHEN A PLAINTIVE SUITOR TURNS INTO A SUITED PLAINTIFF

One day, about six months from now — if you were to give in to your yearnings – you’ll have to tell your young lover that you must stay home with your husband and children one Sunday afternoon instead of going to your tryst with him.  Within 24 hour after you’ve spurned him, Mr. Orgasm can change from the charmingly panting young lover to the scorned and humiliated former lover, sitting in the general counsel’s office signing an affidavit, claiming that you seduced and sexually harassed him.

Of course, there’ll be no merit to his complaint, but after you’ve paid your lawyer half your savings to clear your good name, you’ll have lost far too much that you’ll never be able to recover.

THE DESIRE FOR ONE LAST MOMENT OF SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS

I well understand your desire for one last hurrah before you go from a fit 50 who looks 40 to a fit 70 who looks 60.

Of course you want another Charisma T. Orgasm before the sun sets — as set it will — on your days of splendor in the grass.

I don’t aspire to be a wet blanket or a killjoy, but when I see a hardworking woman, a loving wife and mother, driving 120 mph and heading straight to Heartbreak Hotel, I have an obligation to urge her to apply her right foot to the brakes as hard as she possibly can. Then go home. Read  Anna Karenina.

If you don’t have time for a magnificent 976-page Russian novel, (free download) see the 94-minute film  (but only the version with Greta Garbo), also a powerful experience.  Either way, you’ll come away with a renewed sense of gratitude for your husband and children.

You’ll always have a tug in your heart and a hot, wet, throbbing desire for your young mentee, and for all the men just like him in the decades ahead who’ll do their best – and their best will be mighty powerful – to lure you into bed with them.

Look in the mirror and practice saying, “I’m married and you’re married. If we weren’t, everything might be different, but we are and it isn’t.”  Repeat it over and over until it’s ready to be deployed whenever this and future Mr. Orgasms give you their patented come-hither looks that have worked with hundreds of women before you, and will work with hundreds of women after you.

Then watch Anna Karenina again and again and again until you get the message: no good will come of this.  It isn’t worth the fleeting pleasure for a lifetime of regret.  It isn’t.  If you’re filled with feelings of guilt now, you’ll be drowning in oceans of it as long as you live if you go forward with this affair, or any others during your marriage.

USE THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE BLIMP SHOT

Use the method that networks use to cover NFL games: the blimp shot.  From up in the blimp, every Mr. Orgasm looks like an ant.  Picture him as an ant.  A fire ant, who will ruin your house.  He’s an ant!  He’ll provide a night of pleasure in exchange for a lifetime reservation at Heartbreak Hotel.  You don’t want to live there.

As a highly-sexed woman, it’s your ineluctable fate to be both pursued by and drawn to these feckless, reckless men.  I wish I could say it isn’t, but it is.  Your duty to yourself – even more than to your husband, children and profession — is to remind yourself that the middle name of every one of these tempting, silver-tongued seducers is Trouble.

YOU ARE MORE THAN THE SUM OF YOUR EROGENOUS ZONES

Think back to those hunks of your 20s: the stress, the constant disrespect, and the insults you withstood when dealing with the Mr. Orgasms of the world.  They forced you off the road.  They are nasty pieces of work once you get to know them, so you drove off, bloodied but unbowed, and married a fine human being and not one of those wily wolves that prey on every highly-sexed woman they can sniff.

Let them sniff someone else.  You’ll find that every one of them carries a double-edged sword, a sword that wounds you deeply in your heart and soul even as it arouses your erogenous zones. Remember this: you are more than the sum of your erogenous zones. You have other zones that Mr. Orgasm will damage, and  on which he’ll wreak havoc with his own patented genius for conferring pain irresponsibly while feeling none himself.

If this description of Charisma T. Orgasm doesn’t reduce your desire for your young mentee, perhaps a few lines — 14 to be exact, since it’s a sonnet — by William Shakespeare may help.  Emphasis is added for, well, emphasis:

SONNET 129 

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had

Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so;

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

IF TALKS WITH YOUR CLERGYMAN, PLUS READING WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, HENRY JAMES, LEO TOLSTOY & THIS ADVICE COLUMN DON’T WORK, HERE’S HOW TO FIND A GOOD THERAPIST

If, after talking with your clergyman, arranging a transfer for your youthful pursuer, reading A Portrait of a Lady, Anna Karenina, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129 and thinking about this column, you feel the need to discuss the strain of living with a man you love with whom you can no longer enjoy traditional sexual intercourse, find yourself a therapist.

If at first you feel uncomfortable, try another.  It may take meeting with five or six before you find a therapist with whom you’re on the same wavelength.  One session is usually enough for you to tell if you can work together.  It isn’t that there are “rotten apples” in the field of psychotherapy: there are thousands of excellent apples with whom you can still be incompatible.  Psychotherapy involves working closely as a team with another human being.  If you don’t like your fellow team member, return to that website and find someone else.  Keep trying until you find someone with whom you can spend between a few months and a few years.  However long it takes, it’s worth it, regardless of what others say who’ve had bad luck and gave up after two or three unsatisfactory meetings.

Carly Simon finally concluded that she didn’t “have time for the pain.”  You, too, would weary of the cruel, heartless narcissism of this and every other Mr. Charisma T. Orgasm, no matter how gorgeously appealing he is right this second.

To paraphrase Barry Goldwater’s campaign slogan of 1964, in your heart, you know I’m right.

If you don’t, watch Anna Karenina again, take two aspirin and email me in the morning.

–Belladonna Rogers

The Chastened Adulterer: How an Affair Is Like a Heart Attack and The Case for Psychotherapy

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I read your last advice column, “Adultery Is Bad, Telling Your Spouse Is Worse,” and the comments it provoked. I have a question that no one raised: is it possible for a chastened adulterer to become a good — even a great — spouse?

Chastened in Chicago

 

Dear Chastened,

The answer is a resounding yes.  With serious introspection — if at all possible aided by serious psychotherapy with a licensed, qualified, and, in a best case scenario, a highly experienced therapist — yes.

Note: To avoid the awkward “his/her,” “himself/herself” phrasing, I’ll refer to “him” in this column, by which I intend to include “her.”  Whenever I refer to a “husband” and his conduct toward his wife, it applies equally to a wife’s conduct toward her husband, or any partner’s behavior toward his or her partner.

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that your post-adultery decision to make an effort to mend your wandering ways and succeed at becoming a good or great husband should not begin with confessing your adultery to your wife, unless you’re forced by circumstances to do so.

There were many comments last week to the effect that if you don’t confess, your spouse will love a person who isn’t “the real you.” My reply is that no one knows everything, even everything important, about his spouse. It’s neither helpful nor useful to make such a confession. It’s hurtful and counterproductive to the marriage.

One reader wrote that since infidelity is grounds for divorce, a secret adulterer deprives his wife of the knowledge that she has the legal basis for ending the marriage. To that I say that if the husband has ended his affair and is seeking to keep his marriage and family intact, it makes no sense whatsoever for him to inform his wife that she has grounds for a divorce.  That’s the last thing he wants or, frankly, should want.

Others emphasized that absolution requires an apology to the person you betrayed. While no Judeo-Christian-based religion condones adultery, I stand with the commenter last week.

Confessions to a member of the clergy can certainly give one a good start on the road to fidelity in marriage. For at least the past 20 years, many Catholic priests hearing confessions of adultery have recommended psychotherapy, and have even given their parishioners the names of competent therapists.

 WHY A CHASTENED ADULTERER CAN, POTENTIALLY, MAKE A BETTER SPOUSE THAN ONE WHO HAS NEVER STRAYED (NOT AN ARGUMENT IN FAVOR OF ADULTERY)

An errant husband with a deep desire to mend his ways by understanding why he’s been vulnerable to, or even open to, extramarital temptation has the potential to become an even better husband after an affair (or after decades of affairs with numerous partners) than a non-adulterous spouse.  This is not a recommendation to commit adultery. It’s just a statement of fact.

Unlike a faithful husband, an adulterer must — if only briefly — contemplate how much he’d lose if his wife learned of his extramarital conduct.

A man who has looked into the terrifying abyss of life without his partner and children is a man unlikely to take his wife for granted.  He’s come too close to losing her and he knows it.

To change his ways, the adulterous husband must examine the inner triggers that have led him into adultery, be it once or serially.

Some may sneer that the “inner triggers” require no advanced degrees to decipher. The triggers consist of nothing more complex than an appealing cleavage, a lively smile, gorgeous legs, an attractive posterior, or a suggestive come-hither gaze across a crowded room.

Wrong!

Such enticements are almost everywhere.  Why is a man prone to respond to one temptation, but not to all?

Through serious therapy, an individual can discover clues to when and why the urge to wander occurs. When is he most vulnerable? It may seem like a no-brainer that the reason the urge occurs is that temptation has suddenly reared its head, but the question remains: why was one vulnerable then?  Or, if always vulnerable, why is one constantly at risk?

HOW POST-ADULTERY THERAPY IS LIKE RECOVERING FROM A MAJOR HEART ATTACK

The conscious decision to make a fundamental change in one’s personal life is analogous to the choice to act in a way to make a second heart attack unlikely after a first one.

By and largewhen one has dodged a life-threatening bullet of any kind, one has a keener sense of gratitude for everyday reality than someone who hasn’t ever felt the soul-chilling breath of the Angel of Death hovering close, or who’s never realized how close he has come to losing his marriage.  It can be sobering and life-changing.

When you’ve dodged The Big One, you know it.

As in the period after a first heart attack, when diet and exercise and other lifestyle changes must be made to avoid a second brush with death, in the time after an affair a man who wants to become a faithful husband must make a conscious decision to change his ways.

No cardiologist or heart surgeon, no matter how brilliant or learned, can keep a cheeseburger or a slice of pizza out of the hands or mouth of a man who refuses to accept that these foods will do nothing but produce fleeting, albeit intense, pleasure while also coating the interior of his arteries with life-threatening plaque.

The choice of whether to prevent another heart attack or to prevent another adulterous affair is one that only the individual can make.  A choice to change one’s patterns of behavior requires high motivation and Herculean resolve.  A trained physician or therapist can help, but not unless the patient feels a deep need to behave differently in order to produce a different response to the same stimulus the next time.

Menus and potential lovers will never change: they’ll always offer up their ephemeral raptures. It is the individual who must change his approach to them – or else suffer a repetition of the past, over and over and over again, just like in Groundhog Day.

 THE AGING PROCESS WILL NOT MAGICALLY CHANGE ADULTEROUS BEHAVIOR 

If you think that “waiting it out” will work – that the onset of one’s sixties, seventies, eighties, or nineties will, without serious introspection and a strong desire to change, magically “solve” the problem of being a wandering spouse — think again.

The emotional impulses will remain unchanged.  All that will change is that the flesh will require greater patience and longer periods of physical stimulation to accomplish the act.

THERAPY IS NOT JUST “FOR OTHER PEOPLE”

As for psychotherapy, those who think it’s only for others are making a mistake.  Everyone can benefit from greater knowledge of his inner life.  Without the clarity of vision that the hard work of therapy entails, one is fated to make the same errors, and fall into the same traps, again and again and again, leaving untold destruction in one’s wake, and doing untold damage to oneself. One can pretend otherwise, but pretending won’t make it so.

 HOW THERAPY CAN HELP

A fine portrayal of how therapy works can be found not in a film about psychiatry — and there’ve been dozens – nor in the HBO series In Treatment, which was OK as entertainment but not as a serious portrayal of psychotherapy, but rather in the 2010 movie The King’s Speech.

It skillfully tells the story of the man who became King George VI, the father of the present queen of England, who was afflicted with an agonizing problem of stammering, leading to minutes of total silence when the BBC broadcast his early public addresses.

Through his wife’s intervention, he consulted a speech therapist who immediately sought to learn about the future monarch’s childhood. “We don’t wish you to examine his childhood.  Just fix his stammer,” his wife ordered the therapist.

As the film unfolds, however, the future king does, in fact, examine his childhood and comes to recognize the hitherto invisible links between how he felt as a small, defenseless, and abused child and his inability to speak without mortifying pauses as an adult.  He begins to connect the dots that connect his earliest years to his present impediment.

In 1939,  after years of intense introspection and resolute, hard work with Lionel Logue, his speech therapist, the king must make a historic speech on the radio to his country and the entire British Empire, informing millions of his subjects around the globe that they are now at war with Hitler’s Germany.

He succeeds brilliantly. Without the will to examine his inner life, he would have been doomed to stammer his way through six years of wartime BBC broadcasts. Instead, he became, along with his wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, an inspiring speaker to the British and the Allies throughout the long, arduous war.

 SUBSTITUTING THE CONQUEST OF INNER DEMONS FOR THE QUEST FOR EXTERNAL TRAPPINGS

With the necessary will and the necessary help, demons can be conquered. What is needed is the determination that leads to intense, deeply motivated effort. Promises and resolutions to do better in the future will inevitably be broken without doing the work to connect the dots and to understand why a person does what he does.

Yes, it takes time, and yes, it takes money.  The time will pass, anyway: it’s better spent in therapy than in bed with a lover.  On balance, psychotherapy can be enormously worthwhile, far more so than any material object – from a closetful of shoes to a powerful, flashy vehicle or a humongous-sized television screen. Many therapists offer sliding scales of fees to enable all to benefit. If you believe that a new thing (or person) will make you feel better, it or she won’t — except fleetingly. The benefits of psychotherapy will outlast anything else you can buy.

Nothing in life is more costly than the errors we make because of woeful ignorance of ourselves.

 TO CHANGE FROM CHASTENED ADULTERER TO GREAT HUSBAND OR WIFE

I will end with part of a 1644 essay by John Milton, the towering poet of Paradise Lost who also wrote an essay titled “Areopagitica (emphasis added:)

Good and evill we know in the field of this World grow up together almost inseparably; and the knowledge of good is so involv’d and interwoven with the knowledge of evill, and in so many cunning resemblances hardly to be discern’d, that those confused seeds which were impos’d on Psyche as an incessant labour to cull out, and sort asunder, were not more intermixt. It was from out the rinde of one apple tasted, that the knowledge of good and evill as two twins cleaving together leapt forth into the World. And perhaps this is that doom which Adam fell into of knowing good and evill, that is to say of knowing good by evill. As therefore the state of man now is; what wisdome can there be to choose, what continence to forbeare without the knowledge of evill? He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish, and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true wayfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloister’d vertue, unexercis’d & unbreath’d, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but slinks out of the race, where that immortall garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is triall, and triall is by what is contrary.

Each of our lives involves trial by that which “is contrary.”  To win those trials and emerge stronger and better human beings, we must subject ourselves to the arduous task of self-understanding.  Without that, all the tearful and abject apologies, all the confessions of guilt to one’s spouse and endless promises of change are just so much hot air.

To change is to work at change, not to believe that absolution or forgiveness is all it takes. It wasn’t in 1644, it isn’t now, and it never will be.

— Belladonna Rogers

Adultery Is Bad. Telling Your Spouse Is Worse

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

I love my wife but I’ve committed adultery. I know it’s wrong, morally, religiously, spiritually and in every way. Reading your column last week on apologizing, I’m writing to ask if I should apologize for my infidelity even though my wife is unaware of it. What should I do if my wife suspects and confronts me?  Should I confirm her suspicions, make a clean breast of it and apologize? I know I’d feel better.

Sinner in Salt Lake City

Dear Sinner,

Adultery is the one thing to which you should never admit unless your wife discovers you in the act. The line, “Honey, this isn’t what it looks like” will be of no avail. It is exactly what it looks like. Assuming she hasn’t found you in flagrante delicto, here’s my advice:

CONFESSING ADULTERY TO AN UNAWARE SPOUSE IS CRUEL AND UNWISE

An adulterer’s need to confess and “make a clean breast of it” is both supremely selfish and  monumentally unwise.  If the urge to “confess” is overwhelming, then make your confession to a professional — religious or secular.  With a minister, therapist, or counselor you can give free vent to your impulse to disclose your adultery and discuss your feelings about it in complete confidentiality without being brutally cruel to the person you love.

Having made one crummy decision, your two options of what to do next are similarly crummy. Bad actions beget bad options.  The lesser of the two evils that I favor involves treating your wife with kindness by omitting to tell her what you did. The one I oppose involves confessing your infidelity to her, thus inflicting needless pain while not undoing your error.  Nothing will ever undo your error, including confessing it to your wife and apologizing for it.

A confession will irreparably destroy trust, the indispensable foundation of all relationships.

Under no circumstances — no matter how drunk, how angry, how deliriously high on any substance you may be, and regardless of how sorely tempted you may feel in a moment of guilt or intimacy to reveal “everything” about yourself and “get it off your chest,” and “make a clean breast of it” — does it make sense to reveal adultery to your spouse.  Even on your deathbed, the urge to “bare all” before drawing your final breath should be suppressed: this is an unconscionably cruel way to say goodbye.

HOW CONFESSING ADULTERY ONLY MAKES A BAD SITUATION WORSE

(1) By disclosing your adultery, you’ll be hurting the one person you love more than anyone else in the world.  Your urge to confess and beg forgiveness does not outweigh your responsibility to be kind, considerate, and to avoid inflicting pain and suffering. Confessing is cruel.

(2) It will inevitably lead to your spouse telling your children, if you have any.  If they are young, this will have long-term negative effects on their behavior when they’re married.  Children learn by the example set by their parents far more than by what their parents tell them is right or what their religious training teaches them is right or wrong.

(3) Revealing your adultery, especially soon after it has occurred, will increase the chances that your wife will do the same to you, motivated by a number of impulses, including:

(A)  Reassurance: There’s nothing quite like adultery to make a person feel abandoned, unloved, unlovable, and unattractive. One way many spouses of adulterers cope with feelings of rejection is by seeking comfort — as well as confirmation that they’re still emotionally and physically appealing — with a partner outside the marriage.

(B) Retaliation: to let the errant spouse know exactly how it feels to be cheated on. To show him or her that “two can play this game.”

(C) Punishment: a powerful desire to inflict emotional pain on the spouse who cheated first, a desire that never would have existed if the originally errant spouse hadn’t blurted out, in a foolishly self-destructive moment of candor or weakness, that he or she committed adultery.

ADMITTING ADULTERY LEADS TO A SPIRAL OF MISERY

The original disclosure of adultery is thus likely to set in motion a spiral of misery that can lead to divorce even when the couple is no longer in the bloom of youth. While examples abound, here’s a recent one to contemplate as you ponder whether to confess, courtesy of The Telegraph in December 2011 (emphasis added):

99-Year-old Divorces Wife After He Discovered 1940s Affair

An Italian couple are to become the world’s oldest divorcees, after the 99-year-old husband found that his 96-year-old wife had an affair in the 1940s

The Italian man, identified by lawyers in the case only as Antonio C, was rifling through an old chest of drawers when he made the discovery a few days before Christmas. Notwithstanding the time that had elapsed since the betrayal, he was so upset that he immediately confronted his wife of 77 years, named as Rosa C, and demanded a divorce. Guilt-stricken, she reportedly confessed everything but was unable to persuade her husband to reconsider his decision. She wrote the letters to her lover during a secret affair in the 1940s, according to court papers released in Rome this week. The couple are now preparing to split, despite the ties they forged over nearly eight decades – they have five children, a dozen grandchildren and one great-grand child.

WHY THINKING YOU’LL “FEEL BETTER” AFTER CONFESSING ADULTERY TO AN UNSUSPECTING SPOUSE IS A PATHETIC, DELUSIONAL FANTASY

Like the guilt-stricken “Rosa C.,” many a cheating or formerly cheating spouse will experience guilt followed by an overwhelming impulse to “tell the truth.”

This overwhelming impulse must itself be overcome by a far more constructive resolve to understand the devastation confession will wreak, even if accompanied by tearful, abject, heartfelt apologies and a promise never to stray again. The choice of confession is nothing but a pure, unmitigated self-centered mistake. 

It’s likely that the confessing spouse will, in fact, “feel better” after baring his or her soul. But that feeling will be more fleeting than the light of a firefly.  A husband surely won’t feel better when, a week later, he receives a text from his wife saying that the dentist kept her waiting…until midnight… to fill that cavity. What cavity?  That cavity.

DEALING WITH A SUSPICIOUS SPOUSE

What if a spouse suspects and confronts the delinquent spouse?

Suspicion is part of life and therefore of marriage.  Suspicion is a subdivision of thinking. If we have minds, we think.  If we think, we wonder. Only spouses afflicted with deeply flawed thinking seize the opportunity afforded by a spouse’s inquiry to reply, “Well, you’ve pretty much guessed, anyway, so I may as well tell you that that person I work with — the one who calls here all the time? –well, he’s (or she’s) got the hots for me. One night we were the last people in the office, and the next thing we knew we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I don’t know what got into us.”

Bad idea! If the worried spouse expresses a hunch or a suspicion, the other spouse reassures. He or she does not leap at the chance to blurt out the truth. A loving husband or wife reassures rather than blurts.

Never ever, ever, ever, ever give in to the temptation to tell the truth if adultery (even once) is the truth. With adultery, once is the same as 100 times.  It’s the infidelity, the unfaithfulness, not the precise number of times or partners.  “Only” doesn’t modify “once” when it comes to adultery. Confessing to having had even a single one-night stand will cast a long, dark, irreversible shadow over all the days of your marriage.

“SHUT UP,” SHE EXPLAINED

If your infidelity is a result of an inherent problem in your marriage, or a personal problem of yours, you might find it helpful to address that problem in counseling or therapy with either a religious or secular professional. Flinging an act of infidelity at your wife is no way to deal with an intrinsic difficulty in your marriage or in yourself.

Making your spouse miserable is not an appropriate cure for your feelings of guilt.  The cure is to end the affair and to keep your error locked in your heart forever.

My advice is at odds with the mantra of the Oprah-and-Dr.-Phil-besotted, revelation-obsessed swampland in which we dwell.  Although admitting one’s intimate transgressions on national TV makes for high Nielsen ratings, such a confession does nothing to strengthen a marriage.

To paraphrase the writer Ring Lardner in his 1920 book The Young Immigrants, “‘Shut up,’ she explained.”

Discretion — not confession — is the better part of valor.

–Belladonna Rogers

Sex Addiction 101

“Sex Addiction Among Women Real and Growing”

Now that I have your attention, I’d like to say that I don’t believe that headline, which recently appeared online.  At least I don’t believe that sex addiction among any group is “growing.”  I do believe, however, that some women — and some men — are genuinely addicted to sex.

First, let’s address sexual addiction and then, I’ll end by saying why I don’t think the incidence of this addiction is “growing.”  The latter is a somewhat less intriguing topic and if I wrote it about it first, you might stop reading now.

According to one description:

“Insatiable sexual hunger is not really a desire — an act of will — but rather a desperate need, a compulsion that is experienced as a craving. The need is pursued like a drug. Although sex addicts are enslaved to sex, it is far from their goal. Rather, the pursuit of sex is in service of a different goal — to dispel feelings of inadequacy, depression, anxiety, rage or other feelings that the sex addict experiences as unbearable.

“Like a drug addict or alcoholic, the sex addict relentlessly seeks satisfaction from an external source to palliate an internal pain. Modern technology, such as the internet, provides a new external source that sex addicts use in their quest for sex partners.”

Drugs, alcohol, food, and sexual activity all stimulate the dopamine receptors in the brain — the sites of memory and, more to the point, pleasure. The problem is that these receptors are insatiable little tykes.  The more pleasure they get, the more they want.  Leave them alone for a while and they’ll calm down, but stimulate the heck out of them and their response is, “I want more, much more, and I want it now.”

This poses an obvious problem for the possessor of these dopamine receptors

To cope with depression and anxiety, we humans have our techniques: those that we consider wholesome or relatively harmless such as tennis, hiking, playing Chopin on the piano for 12 consecutive hours, or reading a multitude of books aren’t deemed addictions.  They’re called, neutrally, “coping mechanisms,” or, more positively, “hobbies,” or, even admiringly, “passions.”

WHEN COPING MECHANISMS TURN TO ADDICTIONS

By contrast, when people consume copious quantities of liquor, food, or drugs to numb their feelings of despair, fear, anxiety, and loneliness, these responses are called addictions. And for those of us who have powerful sex drives on an averageday, at times of increased despondency, there’s nothing quite as distracting as a good — or better still, a great — orgasm.

As you’ve doubtless noticed, when you’re in the throes of sexual passion, you’re unlikely to become immersed in thoughts about making that next mortgage payment, getting into college, or whether Romney or Obama will be president in 2014.  All those concerns recede into nothingness. During sex all that matters is the intensity of the exquisite ecstasy you’re feeling and giving, and the glorious burst of climax.

Alas, if you’re a sex addict, you don’t settle into a state of blissed-out exhaustion afterward.  No such luck. Edward Mendelson, literary critic and editor of W.H. Auden’s works, analyzed the post-orgasmic melancholia described in the 1847 novel, Jane Eyre, in his book, The Things That Matter: What Seven Classic Novels Have To Say About the Stages of Lifeas follows:

Charlotte Brontë understood that an unequal sexual relation between adults is necessarily an unloving one; she also seems to have sensed that sex is experienced differently—that is, produces different physical and emotional feelings—in unloving relations and loving ones. … Post coitum homo tristis —“After sex the human is sad”—is far truer about unloving relations than loving ones; if the union between two partners is limited to the sexual act, then loneliness inevitably follows it.

And that’s exactly the vortex of dejection and despair that envelop the psyche of the helpless sex addict.  No sooner satisfied than empty.  It’s the Chinese take-out syndrome of loveless sex. And sexual addiction is by definition loveless because it allows no time for love to develop.  It allows no time for anything to develop except the bare essentials necessary for sexual intercourse.

It might appear that two sex addicts together would form the ideal couple.  What could possibly go wrong? Only everything. Such erotic duos generate emotional conflagrations so intense that the Chicago fire of 1871, which killed at least 200, appears, by comparison, as trifling as the flicker of a single kitchen match. Unions of sex addicts are psychological tinderboxes destined to consume them in mutually assured destructive infernos. They’re fated to part, lest their lives descend into nothing beyond the simultaneously tantalizing and terrifying bonfires they never fail to ignite in each other, regardless of age.  Hence such titles as Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Fatal Attraction.

The chase and the conquest are part of the addiction: while the pursuit is hot, the addict is distracted from cares and woes.  But once the conquest climaxes in orgasm, the chase begins anew.  The sexual addict will attach to anyone, from the postman to the butcher to the physician, to his or her nurse, to a friend, to anyone with the necessary physical equipment.  If the answer is no  (which it rarely is, because sex addicts invariably possess a bat-like radar for identifying willing accomplices) the addict moves on to greener pastures in search of — to mix a metaphor — fresh meat.

THEY’RE NOT JUST LURKING IN DARK ALLEYWAYS AND SEAMY HOTEL LOBBIES

The sex addict, whom you may imagine cruising bars or lounging about in seamy hotel lobbies, can and will turn any environment into his or her personal boudoir, from a church service to a birthday party to the Oval Office to a tennis court to a library to a walk in the park.  Compulsive flirtation and suggestive double-entendres are always in play.

The sex addict isn’t interested in you, but in him- or herself and his or her single-minded effort not to feel the pain. You are to the sex addict what a fifth of whiskey is to an alcoholic: a means to an end.  The sex addict has no more heartless attitude toward you than does the alcoholic toward his or her bottle: yes, your feelings will be trampled, but only because you’ve failed to recognize that you were in the grips of a sex addict. One way to know is if he or she tries to maneuver you into bed immediately after first meeting you.

You may actually think that the sex addict has found the love of his or her life.  You’ll certainly be treated as if you were — that is, until the chase, the conquest, and the climax are over.  Then, dear reader, you are as meaningful to the sex addict as that overflowing condom he’s just thrown in the trash, or the toilet paper she’s just flushed away with your heart.

A SEX ADDICT’S LOT IS NOT A HAPPY ONE

But as depressing as it is to have been used and discarded by a sex addict, it’s five gazillion times more demoralizing and anxiety-producing to be one.  A sex addict’s life is one with virtually no introspection, no wish to face squarely and deal directly with the painful emotions the addiction is intended to numb — and which, by the way, all human beings feel.  It’s the agony of the long-distance addict, criss-crossing the room, the office, the party, the town, the country, and the world in pursuit of the next conquest and the ever-more-stunningly penetrating orgasm.

Why do they do it?  The large body of research tells us that a sex addict had — you know it’s coming — an emotionally distant, inattentive mother who was unable to focus on the emotional needs of her infant.  The baby was never comforted when he or she cried or felt lonely, and so never heard such soothing words as, “You’re going to be fine.”  Thus such children never learn to comfort themselves.  When stressed and depressed, they’re unable to calm themselves from within and so they turn outward to others.

If they ever marry, it’s invariably to someone whose main focus is also elsewhere: either on his or her own work, or on home and family.  Such spouses tend to be as inattentive to the real inner lives of their marital partners as were the sex addicts’ mothers, which is one reason the sex addict chose such a mate in the first place. Their spouses’ psyches operate on a different wavelength, or as we might say today, bandwidth, and they are able to live with a discreet sex addict with absolutely no awareness that they do. This arrangement can continue indefinitely until the sex addict’s compulsive behavior erupts into public scandal so serious that even an inattentive spouse is no longer able to ignore the truth (e.g., Hillary Clinton; Anne Sinclair, the wife of Dominique Strauss-Kahn; Elin Nordegren, former wife of Tiger Woods; and the late Elizabeth Edwards).

For a momentary glimpse into the mind of a sexual addict, one need only read last Thursday’s Telegraph to see Monsieur Strauss-Kahn’s latest legal defense: concerning his sexual relations with ten different call girls at a Parisian swingers’ club, his attorney now claims DSK didn’t know he was sleeping with prostitutes because “they were all naked at the time.” Excuse me?  This is a legal defense?  Only if you have DSK for a client.

Getting back to the formative years of sex addicts’ lives, as the child becomes an adolescent, he or she discovers that in the sack, he or she doesn’t have to be alone.  So that becomes the place where anxiety, depression, and loneliness are assuaged.  As long as sex is being pursued or experienced, the comfort-seeking sex addict is able to have his or her painful feelings quelled.

But the more sexual experiences they have, the more they want.  More than one lover in a day or evening are not unusual. Lunch hour becomes yet another chance for a temporarily soothing balm.

Aye, there’s the rub: every balm is temporary.  A sex addict doesn’t want a relationship, he or she wants relief from unbearable tension, anxiety, loneliness, and/or depression. Saddest of all, sex addicts don’t realize this, because they’re so absorbed, indeed so riveted by their compulsive pursuit of the ever-more-intensely rapturous orgasm beckoning, always beckoning, from just beyond the horizon.

WHY I’M DOUBTFUL THAT SEX ADDICTION IS “ON THE RISE”

As to why I’m dubious that rates of sex addiction are soaring, it’s partly because I’m leery of statements made by people with doctorates in “sexual studies” who, by an amazing coincidence, also happen to own and operate clinics for — of all people — sexual addicts. They claim, whenever interviewed by the media, that sex addiction is on the rise.

Observations that coincide with the financial interests of the speakers are less than credible for another reason:  if you’ve read anything written in any century earlier than the 21st, you’ll have noticed that the phenomena the doctors of sexology note with grave concern are not exactly what you’d call new.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616), for example, was extraordinarily insightful on this subject — and he wrote the following 14 lines without so much as a master’s degree, much less a doctorate, in sexual studies:

SONNET 129 (emphasis added)

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

Is lust in action; and till action, lust

Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,

Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoy’d no sooner but despised straight,

Past reason hunted, and no sooner had

Past reason hated, as a swallow’d bait

On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so;

Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;

A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;

Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well

To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

We human beings, not unlike the birds and the bees, are hard-wired to enjoy sex.  That’s why there are now seven billion of us.  The problem of sex addiction afflicts no more than three percent of all people, even according to the “sexologists.”

IF WHILE READING THIS, YOU’VE ASKED YOURSELF, “AM I A SEX ADDICT?”

If you’re concerned enough to take an online test of whether you are, in fact, a sexual addict, beware of the website offering the test.  If it’s one that also offers “treatment” for your “condition,” it’s highly likely that you’ll meet the self-dealing criteria and discover that — OMG! — you are a genuine sex addict. To you I say: caveat emptor. 

These self-described experts in “sexology” have a product to sell: their own services.  It’s in their interests to insist that sexual addiction is a growing menace to society, and to dream up “tests” with questions so inclusive that your five-year-old granddaughter could well qualify for their “therapy.”

Unless sex is all you crave from the moment you awaken until your last conscious thought, and unless your entire life is consumed by sexual pursuits to the exclusion of anything else except perhaps earning a living — and if even that, as well as your marriage, is in constant jeopardy because of your obsession with sex — you may not be a sex addict.  If you think about sexual activity mainly in response to a stimulus — seeing, meeting, or being with someone with whom you think fleetingly, or not so fleetingly, of bedding down — you’re probably living with a far different addiction: to oxygen.  What this means is that you’re still alive.

Sexual addiction is not the same as enjoying sex, including having sexual relations, fantasizing about having them, and taking matters into your own hands if the need arises when you’re alone.  It means being hooked on it.  If there’s only one website you can’t live without and it isn’t PJ Media, but rather a sex site, you might be a sex addict.

Sexual addiction is not based solely on what you think — unless that’s all you think — as much as on what you do and what motivates you to do it. If you think about sexual activities, but don’t compulsively act on those thoughts, you’re what’s known as human. If you’ve ever uttered the words to someone you find powerfully attractive, “You’re very appealing, but I’m happily married and I wouldn’t do that to my marriage or to my wife (or my husband),” you’re definitely not a sex addict. “No thanks” isn’t in their vocabularies.

Yes, there are sexual addicts and predators.  Just ask any woman who’s been alone in a room with Dominque Strauss-Kahn.  But by and large, not every flirt is a sex addict, and not every compliment you receive is intended as a prelude to ravishing you in the sack and then heading for the nearest exit before you can catch your breath.

Sometimes a compliment is just a compliment, a sigh is just a sigh, and, yes, a kiss is just a kiss.

–Belladonna Rogers

The Joys and Perils of Driving With a 65-Year-Old Teenager At The Wheel

Dear Belladonna Rogers,

Joe, who’s 65, and I have been happily married for 40 years.  The one subject we seriously differ on is driving.  With two vehicles, we go our separate ways everyday, and never have to bicker.

But this week is different: we’ll be taking turns driving the 650 miles from Marks, Mississippi, to Chicago to see our parents.  Our driving styles couldn’t be more different.  I’m slow and cautious, while Joe’s a confident leadfoot whose preferred speed is 80 mph. He’s never gotten a ticket or had an accident, so he can honestly claim that he’s a safe driver.  But 80 mph exceeds my comfort zone. Every year we do this, I’m in fear for my life the whole time he’s driving. Help!

Nervous Nellie in Marks, Mississippi

Dear Nervous Nellie,

Driving styles are a vivid expression of the personality of the individual at the wheel. Powerful emotions that that are often suppressed in the rest of the driver’s life emerge on the road as almost nowhere else.  For those who learned to drive as teens – other than the anomalous Manhattanites in our midst who often never learn at all – getting behind the wheel will forever remind us of our first heady whiff of freedom. For many, that adolescent rush of liberation never entirely vanishes whenever the steering wheel is in our eager hands.

The open road is the physical equivalent of the web. On both, we’re sharing time and space with complete strangers. The force of our feelings, especially the main course of exhilaration along with the side orders of anger, entitlement, and a belief in our rightness — not to mention our righteousness —  becomes ever more pronounced.

The normal constraints that require us to behave as mature adults have become as rare on interstate highways as they have in Internet comment sections.  People who are unfailingly polite to their friends, co-workers, and neighbors can become careless of the feelings of others once they’re at the wheel or the computer’s keyboard. There, the only sign of their identity is their license plate — the vehicular equivalent of an ISP address on the web.

At the wheel or online, you’re no longer Joe Jones, the kindly face of your business or neighborhood.  You’re empowered as Left Lane Passer-in-Chief or All-Powerful Put-down Master (or Mistress) of the Comments Section.

A good and loving husband (or wife) can become a different person on the road, especially an interstate highway.

Since he normally has the car to himself, Joe’s driving habits may be so ingrained, and the exhilaration he derives from driving safely at 80 mph so much a part of who he is, that he may not be able to slow down.  He may be simply unwilling, or even psychologically unable, to decelerate on stretches of interstate where he can easily do 80 where the legal limit is 75. This may be an essential part of Joe’s pleasure at the wheel.  It’s like being young again.

One way to deal with his driving is to avoid peering at the speedometer.  If you don’t stare at it, you probably can’t tell how fast the car is going, except by knowing Joe’s own preference.  Try looking out the window and enjoy the stark winter landscapes of soaring trees bereft of leaves, or the towering magnolias still evergreen in all their majesty.  Cloudscapes are glorious marvels of nature, especially illuminated by the long, slanting rays of the late afternoon sun.  Or you could close your eyes entirely and delight in the music, and in anticipation of being in the company of your loved ones.

Your round trip will involve almost 24 hours in the car together. If you can’t avoid peeking at the speedometer, which is my first line of advice, an agreement before you leave home is my second.

“Joe, I’m looking forward to the trip with you,” you could say.  “We always have fun listening to our favorite music and it’s great to visit our parents.  But this year, let’s try to agree on some ground rules so we’ll both be happy on the road together.”

Don’t criticize Joe’s driving: given his blameless record, there’s nothing objectively wrong with it. You don’t want to make the discussion about something he does that you think is “wrong.”  That will only get his back up, cause him to become defensive and dig in his heels — in this case on the gas pedal.

The issue, in fact, isn’t his driving, it’s your reaction to it.  So take responsibility for your own anxiety and say:

“I know you’re an excellent driver but I don’t like it when you go over 80 mph.  It makes me nervous.  I know you handle the car very skillfully, but since we’ll be in it together for 20 hours, would you agree to drive under 75 for my peace of mind?”

In that way, you convey to Joe that you know you’re the nervous one and you’re acknowledging that you’re asking him to do something for you that’s both difficult  and unnatural for him.  The key phrases I suggest using are “I don’t like it when” and “It [not you, but “it”] makes me nervous.”

Now the subject isn’t something that Joe does but a response of yours that you recognize as a failing (feeling anxiety in a car driven legally at 80 mph by a safe driver).

He may say that he will get you to Chicago sooner, in which case you could offer to leave earlier so that he can drive more slowly and still arrive at the same time.

The key is to try to remain reasonable and fair-minded and not get into an argument about how dangerous you think Joe’s driving is.  If he exceeds the limit anyway, you can mention, gently (not in a shrill, exasperated tone) that he’s going faster than you two agreed he would.

Then there’s a third option: the Greyhound bus fare from Clarksdale, Mississippi (the nearest Greyhound station) to Chicago is $236.34 round trip, per senior. If you have an extra $472.68, it might make sense to take the bus. Buses today are equipped with free wi-fi, electrical plugs for cell phones and DVD-players, and are far more comfortable than the long-distance buses that plied the nation’s roads in decades past.

Assuming you do choose to drive together, the slower the music that you play in the car, the more slowly Joe may drive. You could also remind him that your parents won’t be around forever, and that you’d like to look back on these trips with warmth and affection rather than with fear and trembling.  Whatever you do, may this be your happy destiny:

Belladonna Rogers