Emotional vs. Physical Infidelity?

ImageMy friends and I have an ongoing debate about the relative weight that we place on emotional versus physical infidelity. The central question goes something like this: if you were to discover that your partner was having many intense, deep and searching conversations with someone else, sharing their innermost thoughts and yet honestly hadn’t ever considered sleeping with that person, would you feel more or less betrayed than if you discovered they had a one-time only sexual encounter with that person and were genuinely not interested in repeating it?

For me, hands down the emotional infidelity would be a deal-breaker. I’m not sure there would even be anything to discuss. Sexual infidelity would also be a bitter pill for sure, but I think the nature of sexual attraction is such that I could understand (though not condone) an intense physical, momentary connection with someone else. Now what would concern me more about physical infidelity would be what it implies about my partner’s honesty, or their ability to forego sexual gratification in favor of something else (i.e., the emotional relationship with me) that they value more. 

Many of my friends are preoccupied with the actual act itself, the idea of their loved one touching and being touched by someone else. I wouldn’t want to picture that, certainly, but I think it troubles me far less than the average person. In my writing, I explore jealousy and infidelity in all its forms quite a bit, working out through my characters what that concept means to different people. I was first alerted to my apparently uncharacteristic lack of jealousy when I shared with a friend that an ex-boyfriend had gone to a strip club with friends. She was aghast and thought it was incredibly permissive (not to mention naive) of me to have “allowed him to get away with” such a thing – looking at another woman with lust, etc, etc. I explained to her that I thought men who went to strip clubs were being had – being sold an image of sexual wantonness by women who were more likely thinking about their dry-cleaning and despising the very men who gave them money. Still, she insisted strip clubs are like a gateway drug to physical infidelity and I should manufacture some disapproval even if I did not honestly feel it, the next time he suggested he and his friends were planning to spend their evening in that way.

Well, that boyfriend didn’t last for other reasons, but it got me thinking: are there gateways to emotional as well as physical infidelity that we should close off just to guard our relationships? Some women forbid their husbands or boyfriends from having female friends. Others don’t permit them to go on vacations alone or “with the boys’. For me, that all seems like a little too much work and in the final analysis, futile.

Emotional and physical infidelity are sometimes the consequence of opportunity and recklessly exposing oneself to temptation, but I think more often they are a symptom of something being broken to begin with. The question always, will be whether it’s worth the trouble to fix.

In ‘Commitment‘ I explore the relative weight placed on different kinds of infidelity, but also strongly encourage you to see this little known movie, ‘Last Night’ with Keira Knightley and Sam Worthington (also Eva Mendes and Griffin Dunne). Amazing treatment of this subject, well-acted and far too probing to have been a theatrical success, as all good films are these days.

And then I’d love to hear what you think. Emotional vs. Physical infidelity? Which is worse?

Laws of Attraction

Painting by Cheri Reichers, available at CheriArt.com

I don’t believe that we have one soul-mate in this life. While I love the idea that we might all have someone out there who is our bashert, and would be delighted to be proven wrong, I tend to think its a romantic, fanciful notion. What I do believe is that as we journey through this life, we meet many souls that connect with our own. In my own life, I have had at least two such encounters and neither was with someone who was either sexually or romantically interesting to me. The first time I experienced that connection, it was to a friend who within a week seemed more like a sister, with whom I shared thoughts, experiences, fears and dreams that I had never before shared with another human being. Over time, our lives took different paths and we saw each other less, but across continents, marriages, deaths and births our connection has remained exactly the same. We no longer speak everyday, or have the luxury of falling asleep in each other’s beds because we could not bear to voluntarily end the conversation, but even now, almost twenty years later, when we do talk it is effortless. Our connection seems to transcend the mundane details of our lives. We just fit.

My second experience with that kind of connection happened very recently with someone who is so different from me in so many ways that it’s a wonder we can even sustain a conversation. And yet from the moment we met, it was instant, electric attraction. What made it most interesting to me was that while it was not at all physical, we had a stereotypical moment of eyes meeting across a crowded room and feeling a sense of recognition. When finally we spoke, it seemed strange that we were introducing ourselves when I was sure I knew him in some elemental way. It felt foolish because I was very clear that we had never before met.

A few minutes into our conversation, completely unexpectedly, he told me that he felt like he knew me and that I was someone special to him though he knew we had never met before. It was rather unsettling, to say the least, not only because he’d voiced his feelings so frankly and so soon, but because his feelings were a mirror image of my own. On the occasion of our meeting, we weren’t given much of an opportunity to talk at length but before we parted he made me promise not to leave without telling him how to get in touch. I broke my promise and told myself it was inadvertent – things had just gotten too hectic before I left. But in reality, I broke my promise maybe because I had no category into which I could put this person or this unusual experience.

Several months later, out of the blue, I thought of him again and wondered how he was and had dim regrets that I hadn’t kept in touch. I felt as though I had lost a friend, but chided myself. This was no friend, this was a charismatic stranger and nothing more. My conscious mind told me I was being silly. The very next day, I got an unexpected message. A mutual acquaintance of ours reached out to me to let me know that this ‘stranger’ had been searching for me, and asked whether it was okay to provide my contact information. I said that it was, and he reached out to me immediately and expressed such uninhibited joy to be reunited. And almost instantly, I felt as though something I had lost was finally found.

I don’t know what the laws of attraction are, and how it is that some people touch something in us and we simultaneously touch something in them. I don’t understand why I sometimes meet someone who is, objectively speaking, quite attractive physically, and yet something about them repels me. And I don’t know what the formula is for making a relationship grow and flourish, rather than sour and die. Examining these questions is on my short list of obsessions, studying the many dimensions of human relationships: turning them over and over in my mind. After years engaging in this curious pursuit, working through it in my writing, I’ve decided that in all likelihood, there are no laws of attraction. There are only souls reaching out into a vast universe of other souls, finding another who for a time meets a need. But occasionally, there are those souls that connect in a way that does more than that, they are the ‘mates’ of your soul who help you become your complete and best self. I am so grateful to have met mine.

Snarky: When Good Critiques Go Bad

Click image to read the full review.

In my limited time blogging, I haven’t been shy about saying what I don’t like about a certain popular trilogy.  In fact, I’m rarely shy about anything, even admitting when I’m wrong. Yesterday, I grabbed a link from somewhere that led to a particularly lengthy takedown of the series, the characters, the editors, the readers and finally, the author. It was easily a 2,000 word tome, this “review”.  And I use the word review loosely because the writer/reviewer seemed to have spent as much time grabbing movie clips online as she did critiquing the content of the books. She freely admitted to having hated the first one from the very first sentence, and nevertheless being inexplicably drawn to read the second and third installments. And at some point, what began as amusing and creative became a cesspool of pure, unadulterated snark. Meanness of the worst kind, bordering on cruelty.

Now there is no doubt that writers voluntarily put themselves out there when they put pen to paper and publish their work. Generally speaking, we want to hear what people think and keep our fingers crossed that there is some segment of the reading public who will like what we’ve done.  And with this particular series, there is no doubt that a significant percentage of the public liked what this initially self-published author did. So much so that not only publishing houses, but Hollywood came calling and she landed a seven-figure deal for the film adaptation of her work.  Now, say what we will, this is every self-pubbed author’s dream scenario. We can pretend that we would be equally satisfied if we had no public support but plenty of critical acclaim, but I don’t buy it. Ideally, we would have both, but my guess is that if forced to choose, a majority of us would take the cash.

That’s likely what’s behind a lot of the snark about this series. The awareness that with negligible talent, this writer was able to pull off something that happens to one lucky author once every decade, if that. She has become the Kim Kardashian of the literary world – someone who is viewed as famous with very little natural ability to justify that fame, and the wealth that’s come along with it. I don’t even have to imagine how much that’s pissed off the literati, all I have to do is Google the name of the books and the word ‘review’ and a flood of snark will come cascading my way, some of it well-meaning and much of it funny, but most of it just plain nasty.

I had the series recommended to me by a family member who said she loved it. I told her I’d heard about the hype and would read it, so I did. I admit that by the time I finished the first few chapters of book one, I felt somewhat like a hostage to my impulse to finish all reading material that I start. And by the end of the trilogy, I was downright resentful at the series’ success. That feeling lasted for about a week.  And then common-sense returned. And following that, empathy.

Here’s the thing folks: it takes extraordinary bravery to share what you write. Few of us who do feel completely confident about what we have committed to the page. And fewer of us still will write something and go on to share our work despite our insecurity about how it may be received. Even praise doesn’t banish our uncertainty. One bad review can negate all the good ones, no matter how numerous they are. Hence all the jokes about book critics with that novel hidden in the bottom of their locked desk drawer. And let me tell you, when you read some of the reviews of this popular trilogy, almost all have flourishes that reek of  “frustrated-unpublished-novelist.”

I think the writer of this trilogy, however technically flawed her product, spoke to something that women are feeling today.  I for one am intrigued about what that might be and what it says about us. So lately I’ve begun to focus more on that question, and less on the millions of dollars this author is earning, some say unjustifiably. I’ve also decided to focus on the guts it took to put herself out there, knowing that legions of armchair critics would be polishing their swords, ready to eviscerate her for having the temerity to think she had something to write worth reading.

I say more power to her.  And to those purveyors of snark, go ahead, let’s see some of your work. I dare you.

Sexing it Up

Okay, so the title of this post is a shameless attempt to reel you in. But lately, I have in fact been considering two questions: what value do sex scenes add to my work? And, how much is too much? 

Sex scenes serve several valuable purposes in novels in my view. For one thing, they can reveal very intimate things about characters that they might not say in dialogue, for instance their capacity for intimacy, whether or not they’re comfortable with themselves, the relationship they have with the other character, and the power dynamic in their relationship. And let’s face it, if done well, sex can help maintain reader interest. But the harder question for a writer is how do you do sex scenes well and without overdoing it?

In the Fifty Shades trilogy, there was a lot of sex. Almost every encounter between the main protagonists resulted in intercourse. It was incredibly titillating to be sure, and no doubt played a huge role in the series’ success. And as a device to explore the shifting power dynamic between the characters, it was at times essential: in the beginning of the series, it appeared that Christian held all the power and later, it became clear that Ana was also powerful (and perhaps more so) because his desire for her was something she could wield over him to change his behavior and move him toward the kind of relationship she needed to have. That to me, was incredibly interesting. I was not particularly impressed by the writing, but thought the writer was genius at understanding that element of relationships, one that transcends the BDSM world.

When I read ‘Fifty Shades’ and the other two installments, I was hooked by that element  – the assumption that he was dominant was challenged when it became apparent that while Ana was able to change him in fundamental ways, she remained largely the same person she had always been, though she grew more self-confident. Her self-confidence grew as she realized the power she had over him, and that her feelings of powerlessness at the onset of their relationship were illusory.

So that’s what was good about the sex. Now what was not-so-good.

At one point, I felt as I read the books that the sex was distracting me from the more compelling underlying themes. I actually skipped past the sex scenes at one point; they grew tiresome to read not only because they were so numerous, but because they grew increasingly graphic and devoid of meaning. Here’s one example of  what I mean: toward the end of the first installment of the trilogy, Ana and Christian have intercourse while she is menstruating after he removes her tampon. He asks whether it bothers her that she is bleeding when they have sex, and she responds that it does not. However, in the final installment of the trilogy, she is unwilling to pee with him standing several feet away but in the same room. Huh? That inconsistency was hard to reconcile with the prevailing theme of the trilogy, which was her realizing the inherent power her body has over him and becoming more confident and self-assured because of that realization.

At that point, I decided that the author may have become so engrossed in creating more and more sex scenes that pushed the envelope further each time that she was inattentive to what the sex was telling her reader. She became overly attentive to the shock-and-awe aspect of the sex her characters were having to the detriment of its other messages. Now you may argue that in erotica, all bets are off and the more sex the better. I would disagree. The line between erotica and pornography, I think, is just that. Knowing where the line is and toeing but never stepping over it.

This taught me something very valuable as a writer. I write neither porn nor erotica, but the ‘Fifty Shades’ series clarified for me that sex in novel-crafting should be like sex in real life: sometimes you should do it just because it feels good, but sometimes you should do it because it means something. And since novelists must be economical in our use of words, I would err on the side of doing it more often when it means something. As for real life, well, we each have to make our own call on that one.

Happy Reading!

And if you’ve a mind to, please check out my books ‘Commitment’ and ‘The Seduction of Dylan Acosta’ on Amazon.com. And leave me a review! I want to hear what you think!

Imperfect Beginnings

I’m a sucker for a good love story. And I think most of us are. The difference may be that some of us like our love stories unvarnished and unadulterated, and others like it wrapped in painstaking detail about a different time, a different place, or with interesting background circumstances and a swirl of other goings-on.

I like love stories with unconventional beginnings, beginnings that are imperfect. I think that’s usually how real life love stories begin, especially today, and especially with modern, liberated women like ourselves. Sometimes our love stories begin with us sleeping with a man sooner than is advisable; or we fall for someone who is inaccessible because he’s married, or dating someone else, or lives on another continent, or is emotionally closed, or unwilling to change.  So in my stories, there is almost always a love story at the core, but what surrounds it is different.

Right now I’m experimenting with writing love stories where the conflict isn’t whether the man loves the woman, or loves her enough; it isn’t whether she loves him, or loves him in the way he needs to be loved. Rather, the conflict comes from almost entirely external forces.

Fame is one that I’m finding really intriguing right now. Over the summer, my friends and I have had frequent conversations about an interesting social phenomenon embodied in reality shows like ‘Basketball Wives’ or ‘Mob Wives’ and I think there was a ‘Football Wives’ and ‘Hip-Hop Wives’ show at one point. So I began to wonder what it must be like to be defined almost solely by who you’re married to; and not even who specifically, but in terms of what he does for a living, and whether its something high-profile.

From everything I’ve seen of these shows, I was horrified by how constrained and how small the worlds of these women are. They are locked in these prisons of their husbands’ or partners’ public identity and as a result make a tempest in the tiny teapots that are their lives. And that got me wondering: what would it be like for a woman who had her own strong and defined identity to enter that world? What challenges would she face adjusting to becoming just the “wife” of a famous person, and less so, her own person? And more than that, how might it be for a man who has seen other wives fit into that small world come to realize that his wife will not, and cannot do so? How might he react?

I imagined he would be threatened by it, but aroused by it and maybe even proud of her for it. I imagined that he might be conflicted because if her independence was what made her attractive to him, he also wouldn’t want to squelch that spirit, even if it befuddled him and frustrated him and made him crazy with jealousy.

And from that thought process, my novel, ‘Commitment’ was born.

I wanted to explore how a couple like the kind I’ve just described would navigate this new territory for them both, and I wanted to watch their relationship organically unfold as I wrote. So for that reason, I wrote ‘Commitment’ without an outline and let the characters themselves determine where they would go. So what they say, and what they do in the book was not predetermined by me, it was a function of what that ‘person’ would do in that given situation. (As any novelist will tell you, what most people would call their ‘characters’ become very real . . . they are people, just as certainly as you or I.)

So anyway, that’s a little of my thought process that I thought I would share.

I’ll close with my opening theme: imperfect beginnings. As an overlay to the theme of fame and relationships, I also worked in the notion that a great love story can begin imperfectly. The main characters in ‘Commitment’ sleep together the very night they meet (and there are other circumstances that make that a particularly bad idea, but I won’t ruin it for you). I think most of us would agree that that generally doesn’t lay the foundation for a durable and profound connection. But I believe that despite that beginning, such a connection could develop, and so I wanted to explore how that might happen.

Read ‘Commitment’ and tell me what you thought  . . .