“Do you think you’re a sociopath?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, not having to think hard.
And it’s true. In all of my deepest, darkest, most dishonest years, it was vital to me that I believe the lie I told myself – that my sexual peregrinations were, at least in part, in service of my wife, my marriage. This isn’t because, as a sociopathic former friend of mine once said about his own misdeeds, “I couldn’t bear to be the kind of person who would do those things to people I supposedly loved.” It’s because, genuinely, I couldn’t bear to do those things to people I loved, to believe that I was doing them, and that in doing them, I was harming those I loved. Worst of all – that, perhaps, I was doing them at least in part to harm those I loved.
The latest woman to crush me, to crush my heart, my soul – she did so seemingly blissfully oblivious to, indifferent to, or even seeking? the consequences of her actions and inactions on me.
And me? I kept going back for more. When it was clear that what she wanted from me she had – my desire, my ardor, my words, my image – I persisted in hoping that she might change her mind, decide that she wanted the one or two things she hadn’t yet collected. It pained my wife no end to watch – “self-destructive,” she called me, as I went back to the well of rejection seeking more, but hoping for different.
I offered an ear, a shoulder, a strong arm, a hard cock. Turns out, what she wanted was the offer, not the items on offer.
Sure, there’s a story she could tell – about how things are complicated, this is a complicated moment, not the right time, etc. And all of it would be believable, true.
Except for the part where that has anything to do with how she toyed with me. Repeatedly, cheerfully, sadistically.
She answered my e-mails and texts selectively. Most painfully? The one saying, “Meet me for breakfast tomorrow, at 9:45.” Her reply? “Good morning. I’m scrambling to pack before the car gets here to take me uptown. I’ll be in touch in a bit. (:”
Sure, I’m whining, but I’m aggrieved. By this time, by this point, didn’t she owe me a more forthright reply? There seemed to be three answers – “Yes,” “No,” or “I won’t know for sure until x:00.”
I resisted my impulse to reply – healthily, to say, “Fuck you.” Less healthily, to say, “For Christ’s sake, say yes or no,” to say, “That’s a passive aggressive, sadistic reply.”
Before the day ended, I made alternate plans (still having not heard, hours and hours later). I texted her as much.
Finally, eight or nine hours after the “…be in touch in a bit” message, she e-mailed. Explanations – how busy she’d been (out til 4:30 am last night, she said), how distracted she’d been.
And I saw my sociopath former friend in what she wrote – the excessive concern with the maintenance of the defensibility of her position, the insistence that her behavior had been reasonable, fair, by reciting a litany of facts, the studious inattention to, disregard for, my actual feelings. As if, when someone has a feeling, what matters is the context in which someone else’s behavior arose, rather than the feelings themselves.
We don’t have a relationship. She doesn’t/didn’t owe me anything. And though I had hoped for something – a fuck, a fuck with a fun connection, basic kindness and sympathy – I didn’t particularly hope for a deep, engaged, empathetic relationship to my feelings. She surely didn’t owe me that – we hardly knew one another, and I’m not, don’t want to be, the kind of clingy guy who in the middle of a simple “fucking” relationship becomes needy. But I was needy. I did need something basic, something fundamental. Something that wasn’t available to me with her.
In all of this, what interests me most isn’t her: she is who she is, a beautiful, compelling, seductive, complex woman, going through a difficult time, and leaving some wreckage in her path, of which wreckage I’m a tiny, minor part.
No, what interests me is that part of me that my wife so accurately diagnosed: why was I so pathetically drawn to her? Why didn’t I run in the opposite direction? Why did it take me so long to see that her needs would only result in my pain? And then, even long after having seen that – that her needs and mine had little to do with one another – why did I not turn away without obtaining a couple of final, painful lashings?