In Aristophanes’ play, Lysistrata enlisted the women of ancient Greece to abstain from sex until their husbands end the Peloponnesian War. Like them, was I manipulating Jesse?
October 1, 2006
I’m pissed at Jesse. I just asked him, for the umpteenth time, to do something about the sexism on his website. He said he can’t because.… His reasons might have been good, but it still sounded to me like he was avoiding the issue.
He said if the page is really a problem, someone besides me will mention it.
I said why couldn’t he tell me he thinks I have a good argument, he’ll do what he can about it, and he doesn’t feel he can do anything about it right now.
He said he can’t say that because he doesn’t feel like putting any energy into it.
I got mad. “Well, I don’t feel like putting any energy into you.” I walked away, and slammed the door.
Before this happened, we were about to make love. I sure don’t feel like it now.
I feel like punishing him, I feel like forcing him to put more energy into our relationship. I know neither of those feelings is going to do me any good.
I also feel like I put too much energy into the relationship, trying to make it work, and he doesn’t put enough in; he relies on me to be caretaker.
I even made food for him yesterday when he had made himself late for a meeting (as usual). I should have been working on this book.
Changes and obstacles
From putting as much energy as I have, single-handed, into the relationship, from making changes in myself, painfully, alone… I think I’ve changed the balance of our dance. Has that influenced him to change? He has actually become a little more aware of me, of what I go through. He said I was more pro-active than anyone else he knew with health problems like mine. He said my spiritual practice has made me strong.
But I want to feel energy coming from him: nurturing me, comforting me, cherishing me, reaching out to connect with me. He brings me movies to watch; he even finds ones that will satisfy my demanding criteria. That’s good! He eats dinner with me; it was his idea, he suggested it. (I could hardly believe it.) (Almost always it means eating in front of the TV, watching some video, if not a whole movie. But somehow the ritual still feels good, and sometimes we even talk about what we watch.)
Any other way he’s reached out? When I’m sick, the way he nurses me is abusive, but he’s beginning to witness it. [And in 2014 it’s much kinder.] He has cut down his spending, and checks with me about expenditures; part of that is wanting me to tell him it’s okay to spend, but I think part is also wanting to support my efforts to serve the family finances. He thanks/praises me for supporting his little startup business, for doing our finances.
But the idea of pleasing me is problematic for him. He tells me he feels stymied, that I’ll be displeased no matter what he does. He remembers his dad’s shaping his life around pleasing his mom, and his dad’s telling him that was no way to be happy. More recently, that would be called co-dependent (though I will be happy to see a better term arise).
Jesse tells me to ask for what I want, then habitually responds “no” just “to jerk my chain.” He thinks this is funny, or “good for me.” While it’s true I’ve learned to make pain a good teacher, I don’t think that’s an excuse for his inflicting pain. It does damage before it does any good, and the damage is not all reparable.
Working with it
Anyway, here I am struggling with all this, saying metta1 for Jesse in order to clean up my attitude, and metta for myself to heal the pain, trying to be present with my feelings, witnessing them compassionately, without identifying with them. Not trying to change any of that, just to be with it.
I feel the familiar impulse to weep. In some situations crying may discharge distress, may heal the pain — but I have a habit of identifying with my grief, of getting lost in it, staying stuck in whatever mental programming started the episode. That’s a dead end. So I witness the impulse, let it go.
Trying to be as objective as I can, I return to the dilemma of limits. How to decide what is appropriate — for me, for him, for all beings — not just reify my desires and let them lead me. Then what to do about that, without manipulating him to satisfy my wishes or needs or even my best judgment of what’s appropriate. Trying to bear witness to the whole of this dilemma is wrenching: staying with the awareness of it is all I can do; I have no hope of solving this koan.
The time comes when we had planned to do necessary errands together. On the way out to the car, Jesse asks for a hug. I start to shy away, but he asks again. It starts to penetrate my pain that he is reaching out! “I’m going to be nice to you,” he says.
“Good!” I mutter curmudgeonly, not trusting myself yet to act with kindness and still set appropriate limits.
As we get under way, he tells me he understands my concern — the subject we were arguing about — and would like to do what he can about it. I tell him that’s all I was asking for, and thank him. We hold hands, allies once again, and he talks in some detail about the pressure on him at work right now. He is opening up, reaching out, telling me more about his feelings than he usually does!
How did we manage to get here? I marvel. In years past, this kind of face-off never ended so quickly or positively. It dragged on, exhausting me with depression and grief. (And what did it do to him?)
At the end of the day, when I go to bed, I thank him for reaching out to me: for giving attention to my concern, for being friendly. He says when he saw me march out of the room in anger, he thought about the fact that he had a choice how to react. If he got carried away with negativity too, it wasn’t going to help anything.
I got what I wanted. Did I, like Lysistrata, manipulate him? I sure wanted to, and I sure tried not to, by instead meditating on it. At the same time, I didn’t take the initiative as I usually do, as think I do too much. Instead of forcing myself to reach out, to make up, I got away, avoided dealing with him while I was struggling with my negativity, and tried to be responsible for myself.
Apparently this gave him the space to act. But I need to be clearer to him, when I’m getting away, that I’m doing it in order to deal with my own shit.
1 Metta is a Buddhist meditation that looks much like blessing. The purpose is not only to send to recipients good energy, but to establish a positive relationship with them.