Talked on the phone with my friend Molly last night. Molly is also the ex-wife of a homosexual man. We talked about the risks and anxieties of re-entering the dating world after our experiences, which are so similar as to be uncanny: married young to sons of Protestant/evangelical pastors; the marital dynamic mirrors one another's, and we both feel we were lucky to escape with our sanity more or less intact.
At the moment, for Molly, it feels decidedly less. She's dating a man she met in Church, and as they spend more time together and she becomes better acquainted with him, sees more of his personality and his character, she suddenly doubts her ability to discern.
After such experiences as ours, which common sense tells us any normal or rational person would surely have seen through and avoided early on, we doubt ourselves to a sad degree. We don't quite trust our own judgment, have to analyze data and experience to a molecular level.
The recurring theme in our conversation last night was what is normal masculine behavior, and where does it cross the line into trouble? Having spent so much time in such close, exclusive proximity to decidedly abnormal male behavior, we distrust our ability to recognize and to discern what is healthy and what is not.
Case in point: I married a seriously pathological drunk, second time around - was so blinded by the overwhelming relief that he was, at least, straight, that I didn't have all my mental gears operating normally to be able to recognize that he was simply oozing with spiritual sickness, was a chronic and elaborate (and rather gifted) liar, that he was looking for someone to take care of him rather than a genuine life partner, that he was mean as a snake and about as trustworthy as one.
Both Molly and I were married to gay men who transferred the full responsibility for the failure of our marriages to us. We were too needy, we had unrealistic expectations, unreasonable and idiotic ideals... We couldn't help internalizing the condemnation heaped on us, and so now we are afraid to love and to trust.
"He said so-and-so. Is that okay?" We've got our radar up for warning signs of misogyny, deceit, and more serious psychological disturbances. Where does his need for affirmation end and his egotistical disregard for our needs begin? Where does his anger at his former wife end and a more over-reaching contempt for women in general begin? Is he eager for me to know his mind, or is he demonstrating a chronic need always to be right? Am I expecting too much???" These are some of the questions that haunt our waking moments, and often even our dreams.
The really infuriating thing that I come across from time to time is the realization, the reminder, that our exhusbands do not care about the damage they have inflicted on us. Somehow, they rationalize and justify it so as to make us to blame even for the abuse. My ex-husband continues to insist to our daughters that our divorce had nothing whatsoever to do with his being gay, and that I was solely to blame for his decision to move out of the marital home.
Both Molly and I wonder whether we've been so damaged that we'll never be able to enter into a truly spiritually healthy relationship with a good man.