2013-04-17

In The Wake Of Our Illusions

I confess that I have positively never considered what family life must be like for Will and Jada Pinkett Smith and their children. For one thing, I didn't really enjoy Will Smith's transition from campy one-hit-wonder to actor, so why keep up with his personal life? For another thing, I'm not really into the Whore Culture of American aristocracy.

Still, when a public figure takes to a public forum to make public statements about her private life, I confess, I pay attention if the report happens to catch my eye. This afternoon, one such report indeed did so.

I have no context in which to place these remarks. I know only that rumors may have existed (among whom, I'm not sure) that the Smiths have an "open relationship," which is generally understood to mean that one or more of the spouses carries on extra-marital affairs with the full knowledge and consent of the other spouse. According to the LA Times report linked above, Ms. Smith opted to deny these rumors in a chat hosted by the Huffington Post website. Then, according to the Times, she clarified as follows:

But after floating a couple more queries, Jada brought it home with an answer, referring to the early April statement that she'd "always told Will, you can do whatever you want as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be OK." 
"Here is how I will change my statement...," she wrote Sunday. "Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship ... this means we have a GROWN one."
 Read between the lines, and the truth is right in front of you. Anyone who thinks Ms. Smith left room for any question in the matter is some combination of naive and dense. But determining whether the Smiths have active multiple partners is not fodder for Stationary Waves.

Exploring the illusions used to justify such behavior, on the other hand...

***

In the wind-up to delivering her unequivocal answer to the Very Important Question On Everyone's Mind, Ms. Smith delivered a litany of rhetorical questions:
Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should "behave"? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions, and underlying threats of "you better act right or else" keep one honest and true? Do we believe that we can have meaningful relationships with people who have not defined nor live by the integrity of his or her higher self? What of unconditional love? Or does love look like, feel like, and operate as enslavement? Do we believe that the more control we put on someone the safer we are? What of TRUST and LOVE?
Should we be married to individuals who can not be responsible for themselves and their families within their freedom? Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE...for us???
The assumption appears to be that any question beginning with "Do" or "Should" is to be answered in the negative. The reason (or so it seems) happens to be however one chooses to answer the remaining questions. That is, the answer to the question "Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should 'behave'?" is "No, because of how I answered the question 'What of TRUST and LOVE?'"

Since Ms. Smith is inviting the public to answer those questions (rhetorically, in their own minds), I will accept the challenge. Trust and love are important concepts.

Regarding trust, I wonder what it means to Jada Pinkett-Smith. To me, "trust" is a characteristic of fidelity. For example, if I trust my groundskeeper, I am confident that he or she will perform the services I have hired him or her to perform without damaging my property or violating our contract. I have faith that the contract will be honored. In many ways, (including the formal legal sense) marriage is a contract, too. I wonder what the nature of the Smiths' marriage contract is.

I wonder what it means to trust someone when you know that they are getting some of their marital obligations met outside the actual marriage. What exactly do people in an open relationship trust each other to do? Or not to do?

Which brings us to love, and this is perhaps the answer to my question. I would conjecture that Ms. Smith trusts Mr. Smith to do as he pleases, so long as he does not fall out of love with her, and in return, she will do the same.

Marriages always occur between best friends. When marriages end, it is the loss of the friendship, not the marriage, that cuts the deepest. This may be because the friendship was the foundation of the marriage in the first place. It may be because the friendship came with its own rules about love and trust.

When long, committed relationships come to an end, they leave in their wake a wasteland of mental confusion, and the former partners find themselves playing events back in their minds, trying to disentangle which aspects of the relationship belonged to the friendship and which belonged to the romantic bond. It is seldom easy to know this in advance.

Simply stated, it is a hard thing to come to terms with the fact that when someone violates the terms of the romantic bond, they are also violating the rules of the friendship that underwrote it. This is why few marriages end on good terms, and when they do, it is typically because one of the parties has incredibly low self-esteem.

***

So there is an illusion involved here. The illusion is that a romance based on friendship can be supported by that friendship when the romance is violated, abused, or otherwise damaged. Marriage is a special kind of friendship that involves more than love and trust. Marriage involves a level of kindness, compassion, and preferential treatment that goes far beyond what friendship is capable of delivering.

The wife obeys the husband and the husband obeys the wife. This is so, not because marriage demands obedience, but because the heightened sense of empathy and respect we feel for our spouse moves us to comply with her wishes for no other reason than that it makes her a happier person. Period, full stop.

I suppose it is possible to feel such a profound sense of this empathy and respect that one would be moved to endure absolutely any wish a husband had, regardless of how outlandish it might be. In such a case, when the world's eyes turn toward you in pity, your response may be to proclaim that your freedom is equal to that of your spouse.

But if your spouse feels no similar degree of empathy and respect, if your spouse is moved to keep piling on ever-increasingly outlandish demands, you have to come to terms with a startling and ugly truth that will pull your heart out and leave you feeling empty for a very long time.

That truth is this: There has to be two people in a marriage. Any more and any less, and you may call it whatever you please; but it is not a marriage in any logical application of the term.

And I don't mean that coldly, either. I dedicate this blog post - and my heart and compassion goes out - to all those who have been forced to suffer this reality.