After experiencing first-hand the brain-frazzling, mind-fragmenting emotional pain and often physical suffering that repeatedly resulted from being other than monogamous, ages ago I made the decision to be a one-woman man. So far, it’s worked out pretty well. Instead of running a lot of wide-outs, I’ve been able to score by running many more deep patterns, including an occasional successful Hail Mary. (If necessary, feel free to forgive the football analogies).
The Accidental Chick Magnet
The surprising and ironic result of that decision is that my life is blessed with many more women friends than I would have ever expected. Even making myself fat and old and occasionally thoughtless is still not enough of a disguise for some women. In part I think it’s a consequence of the fact that I was raised as the lone male in a family of women. It’s perhaps also the result of the great respect and admiration I have for women and their struggle in our male-dominated culture. I’m much more likely to show up at an Indigo Girls or Girlyman concert before U-2 or Eminem. I respect and deeply resonate with all oppressed people (which often includes children, by the way. Just ask any teen). Because of that strong resonance with such groups, I sometimes consider that in my next life I’ll be coming back as a black, gay, Shiite, autistic-savant woman.
Having lots of women friends is not without its challenges, of course. I’m a reasonably decent listener and I’ve acquired a few other connecting skills along the way. I also have pretty good mirror neuron radar for discerning when someone’s in pain even when they don’t realize it. David Augsberger’s observation that “Listening is so close to being loved that most people can’t tell the difference” seems absolutely true in my experience. Loving people by listening to them though, invariably leads to varying degrees of intimacy. Deep intimacy with women friends can then sometimes begin to feel more than a little threatening to my One Woman. Sometimes the words “emotionally unfaithful” have been heard around our house.
“Emotionally unfaithful” is an interesting concept. It suggest that there’s only so much room in the brain, mind, heart and body for being present to other people in pain (which is each and every one of us at one time or another). In truth, some of the deepest intimacy I have ever experienced has been outside my primary relationship. When I sat with a sobbing ex-boxer, a husband who felt completely overwhelmed and powerless after just being released from jail, for example. He was arrested for disturbing the peace at Stanford Hospital because doctors wouldn’t give his dying wife sufficient pain medication to ease her suffering – they were small-picture, self-concerned that she might develop an addiction!
My presence with his pain – that’s intimacy.
Or how about when I took my two year old daughter to the beach and engaged in a ritual to wean her off her pacifier? Only after I bottled it up and threw it into the Pacific Ocean, did she suddenly understand the gravity and finality of what we had just done; and the joy and delight we experienced on the ride to the beach was replaced with the heartsick tears of her second betrayal. Someone she’d entrusted her whole tender heart to from Day One had just seriously broken it. (I talked about the First Betrayal last week).
Or when I put my hand on her back to try and console a woman whose heart had been torn open so violently that it seemed it would never be restored to working order after her six-year-old son had been kidnapped and burned alive by another woman in a crazy jealous rage. Little can compare to such intimate, compassionate presence and grief-stricken exchange.
Feel and Heal the Broken Heart
Research in Affective Neuroscience reveals it is the emotion in all relationships that lies at the root of and inspires profoundly healing neural connection and integration. As such, I’m afraid the planet, where too many men are already continually challenged to find safe people and places to express themselves emotionally, simply cannot be reclaimed and restored without a little emotional unfaithfulness. That master of neuroscience and brevity, E. M. Forster nailed it when he said: “Only connect.” So, rather than unfaithfulness, I think most often exactly the opposite is desperately looking to find authentic expression. It’s heart, mind, body and brain attempting to connect and expand fearlessly so as to do what it needs to in order to be fully present in any moment. Unfortunately, the process sometimes gets seriously side-tracked by genitals.
Faithfully Serving Our Deeper Desires
But at its deepest roots, emotional connection reveals a heartfelt expansion born of a desire to faithfully and compassionately serve ourselves and other human beings. And sometimes that requires faith and trust on the home front, faith that there’s sufficient love and care to go around. And when love and attention occasionally get a little out of balance at home, it’s actually possible to pull it in and course-correct. Not only are there a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground, but there are that many and even more ways to hold and help mend another human heart … and have our own be restored in the process.