Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An affair to forget

"Time was I'd be as good as gone
But last night I didn't want to run."

I was tickled to be offered a free advance reading copy of Glennon Doyle Melton's memoir Love Warrior, due for release on Sept. 6. Melton writes the popular blog, Momastery.

The book arrived with a request that I post an early review on Goodreads and share my thoughts about the book on social media, with the #LoveWarrior hashtag. An Amazon review on the publication date was also suggested.

I'm sure this was completely coincidental and unrelated to the fact that I'd pre-ordered an autographed, premium, limited-edition copy of the book, along with 35,000 other members of Melton's fan base.

Then again, for no good reason that I know of, some time ago Melton sent me a complementary copy of her previous book, New Yotk Times bestseller Carry On, Warrior. I have to admit, I had not yet read it.

I'm a very casual fan of Melton, or "G" as she often calls herself. In this post I will call her Glennon, because I will also talk about her husband Craig, and obviously I can't call them both Melton.

I basically like Glennon's message about being authentic and telling the truth. I respect her crusade, as a recovering bulimic, alcoholic and drug abuser, to promote what she calls "the power of embracing our messy, beautiful lives". I admire the good work she does, with her love flash mobs, philanthropic causes and social conscience. I have a little trouble with the theological and faith-based aspects of her approach, but she's interesting, and the good she does makes her evangelism worth overlooking.

However, I have never commented on any of Glennon's blog posts or shared any of her Facebook messages. I have only read her blog sporadically. I've never been moved to make any effort to hear her speak. I don't consider myself a "Monkey" which is Glennon's name for her community of women, the "monks" of her Momastery, if you will. Not that I have a problem with the concept. It's hard to argue with any of it, although it is a bit cyber-touchy-feely.
The first rule of Monkeedom is that everyone is invited. If you want to be a Monkee, you are a Monkee. Everybody’s in, baby.

The second rule of Monkeedom is that you never have to agree with me. Or anyone else here. You do have to practice disagreeing with respect and love.

Monkees have no common beliefs except for these:

Here, we treat others how we want to be treated .. we believe that love and restraint can overcome differences, fear, mistrust and competition. Here, politics and business die. Feel free to revive them as soon as you leave this place. Here, we agree with Mother Teresa, that "when we judge people, we have no time to love them."

The third rule of Momastery is that we are not just mothers, we are Mothers, with a capital M. ... Here we remind each other that we are ALL family.
Love Warrior is the story of Glennon's marriage, of the underlying issues that had been painted with a broad brush on her blog, of the confession by her husband that he'd been unfaithful from the outset. It's the story of how Glennon was ultimately led to work with her husband to heal the breach and reach a place of love that was, possibly for the first time, honest and genuine.

The story is well told. I read it over the course of two days. I cried. I like books and movies that make me cry.

As Glennon backtracked and told her story from the beginning, I was curious about her first book, which I assumed would have covered some of the same ground. Turns out it's a collection of essays, including her blog posts. There's even an abbreviated version on the Love Warrior tale.

Glennon starts Love Warrior with her 10-year-old self, the chubby child who hated feeling different, and learned to binge and purge from a television movie. Desperate for love and acceptance, she gave a years-long academy-award-quality performance of being someone else, someone thin and confident and popluar. Part of the price of popularity included impersonal sex with the right boys. Part of the price of impersonal sex was shutting down her own sexuality.

Anesthetizing her fears with food and later, sex, alcohol and drugs, she stayed numb for more than 15 years. Life was a daily cycle of getting wasted, staying wasted and recovering from being wasted, then doing it all over again. Until a day when she found herself on the bathroom floor, sick, scared and holding a positive pregnancy test.

Glennon had an epiphany, right there on that bathroom floor, and made a decision. She interpreted the pregancy as an invitation to motherhood, an invitation that entailed finding sobriety and vanquishing bulimia to nourish her body and her baby. She decided to accept the invitation and, one day at a time, she learned how to live without her opiates. She married Craig, stayed sober and had a son and two daughters with him.

The one thing that Glennon wasn't able to overcome was the learned suppression of her sexuality. Sex was a duty. Her honesty about this struck me as rare and brave. I suspect many women, for various reasons, do not experience the Hollywood version of lovemaking, all desire and ecstacy, never messy, painful or frustrating. No one talks about it though.

Early in the marriage, Craig tried introducing pornography into their sex life, but Glennon felt horrified and ashamed, and exacted a promise that Craig remove it from the home permanently. But she could do nothing about the detachment between them, her resentment of his need for sex to express and receive love and his inability to meet her need for an intellectual and emotional conncection to express and receive love.

It was during this time that Glennon started her blog, began telling the truth about her addiction and recovery. Her truth-telling went viral, her Monkey ministry was born, a book contract followed. She bared the dirty little secrets of her soul and was met with an outpouring of love and validation.

And then one day she found porn on the family computer. She confronted Craig, who admitted he had a problem and committed to seek help. In therapy he began to wonder if he could be as honest as Glennon, disclose his philandering, let her see him for who he really was, and still be loved. Eventually this prompted him to tell her about his infidelity.

The revelation of the betrayal was unbearable to Glennon, although of course at times we all are called to bear that which is unbearable. Glennon and Craig separated while she tried to keep breathing and evaluate options for her future.

And this is where the story became ineffably beautiful and poignant for me. Craig stood his ground. He committed to stay, to learn, to grow, to repair whatever he could repair. He essentially drew his line in the sand, and his line was that, whether or not Glennon would ever forgive him, he was never going to stop showing up, trying to make amends and working to win her back.

It took time, and as Glennon likes to say, time takes time. In the end she decided, rather than to throw away everything, the man and the family they'd built together, instead to peel back all the layers, to take the foundation of the marriage back to the studs, to "unbecome" until she could start to become again, from the beginning, from scratch.

Glennon and Craig both learned how to communicate with each other in a common language. Craig moved back into the house after a few weeks but it was many more months before the marriage was reconsummated, or perhaps consummated properly for the first time. You will have to read the book if you want to understand the process. I'd have to rewrite it here in its entirety to do it justice.

Fairy tale endings are wonderful, but there is only one real ending in life and many more pages to fill and potential books to write before the final curtain falls. All we can do is hope that, for Glennon and Craig, the happily will be ever after.

One of the things that struck me most strongly though is how lucky Glennon was to have choices. I know the choices felt like a rock and a hard place to her. Divorce, hurt your children, share your children, go forward as a single parent with all the burden that that entails, while wondering how you will ever trust a man again. Or reconcile with someone who was unfaithful to you, who broke his vows and promises to you, who serially used other women's bodies while living with you and sleeping with you, who lied to you by omission.

I compare her story with another blogger I sporadically follow, Jennifer Ball, the Happy Hausfrau. Jennifer was a stay-at-home mother of four whose husband had an affair and then vascilated for a year about leaving or staying before he left. Adding insult to injury, he told Jennifer he would reconcile with her if she'd have her tubes tied. She did, and while she was recovering from the procedure, he told her he wasn't coming back. He want on to marry and have two more kids with the other woman. Jennifer did not get to make a choice.

I've never been in this precise situation myself, but I know there are many women, mothers often of young children, who are deeply hurt by a husbands transgressions, but who are not only willing to forgive but desperate to win the tosser back. Whether they truly love him or are afraid of change, afraid to be alone, they are ready to bury the hatchets, knives, cleavers and other figurative sharp implements and put the pieces of Humpty Dumpty back together. Yet for the men, that train has left the station. They are out, baby.

My daughter's husband was unfaithful while she was pregnant with their son. She found out, forgave him, and told no one, because she didn't want anyone judging her for staying with him, or judging him, as long as he was going to stay and be recommitted to their marriage. It lasted until their baby was 5 months old, when she found inappropriate text messages on his phone. She confronted him, asked him if he was in or out, and he packed his bags.

I'm sure even then he could have come back. If he had shown remorse and made promises, she would have invited him to come home. She may have done that anyway, may have bargained and negotiated and rationalized. No one wants to throw in the towel when there's an infant to care for. I can't imagine the hurt, I can only lionize the strength she demonstrated as she picked up the shards of her broken dreams and kept right on living.

I'm glad my daughter didn't have a choice. I would have been sorry to see her reconcile with him. Maybe if he had been someone who accepted accountability, someone who honestly admitted and repented his mistakes, someone fully committed to doing whatever it took to repair the relationship, I would have felt different. But he wasn't that person. If he had come back, I believe he would not have stayed.

I'm glad that Glennon had a choice. And I'm sincerely glad that Glennon's husband kept showing up, kept doing the work, kept fighting for their marriage.

In my book, he is the epitome of a Love Warrior.

Who knows where faith comes from
But last night I put my ring back on
'Cause here with you is where I belong
Last night I put my ring back on

No life's without uncertainty
We both know how hard this love can be
It's just this hurting inside of me
That threw it down, down down down

We can't speak like lovers we used to be
We can't change ancient history
And love wounds with such simplicity
And I threw it down, down down down, down

Your heart is all I want to see
Your hand reaching out to me
And your kiss remembers the mystery

Time was I'd be as good as gone
But last night I didn't want to run
'Cause here with you is where I belong
Last night I put my ring back on

Last night I put my ring back on.

(Mary Chapin Carpenter. Yes, again.)

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