Posts Tagged ‘PostSecret’

2012 20 Nov

[postsecret] Stories of People Whose Partners Cheated

I’ve always had Strong Emotions and Serious Opinions about cheating. But it’s a complicated topic, and I try to acknowledge its complexity alongside my emotional baggage.

Lately, I’ve been featuring postcards from PostSecret, an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. Last month, I posted a bunch of PostSecret snippets about what it’s like to cheat. There were a lot of interesting comments on last month’s post, so I decided to do a followup: postcards that hint at the complex stories of folks whose partners cheated.

* * *

(Picture of a baby, then text): “I hate that one day I’ll have to tell him that fucking other women was more important to you than we were.”

At first glance, this strikes me as the archetypal narrative of a woman who was cheated on. But I have a lot of experience with polyamory — that is, open relationships — and I wonder whether there’s a different story here. Maybe this woman’s partner was faithful to a monogamous standard, but tried asking for an open relationship. Perhaps they discussed it, disagreed, and then broke up.

Either way, I have sympathy for the person who wrote this postcard. Breakups are hard. I just can’t help wondering whether they broke up over a betrayal or a disagreement.

* * *

“For a scary, intoxicating moment I thought you were telling me you’re leaving your wife. But you meant you are moving away with her.”

This, on the other hand, is the archetypal story of the “mistress.” And as I said in the previous post, I’ve always maintained that it’s almost as bad to be the “cheating facilitator” — i.e. the person who a cheater hooks up with — as to be the cheater themselves.

Yet sometimes I think that the best argument against being a cheating facilitator has nothing to do with the pain you cause other people. Sometimes I think that the best argument against being that person is the amount of pain you can open yourself up to. Especially if you want the cheater to eventually commit to you … despite the fact that they are, of course, already a cheater.

It’s also clear that, for some people, being the cheating facilitator is a painful pattern:

“Always a bridesmaid mistress, never a bride …”

* * *

Aaaand finally:

“I feel guilty for making my husband break up with his mistresses.”

I assume that this writer is female. (If the writer isn’t female, then there’s a ton of other potential stories wrapped up in the card!) The postcard talks about how she feels guilty for making her husband break up with his “mistresses,” which leads me to wonder how long she knew about the situation, and whether her guilt is due to breaking some kind of relationship agreement.

Did they basically have an open relationship for a while — where she overlooked the situation deliberately? And does she feel guilty because she suddenly rescinded that tacit permission?

This is one of the most complicated postcards I’ve seen. I can think of several other readings off the top of my head, but if you folks have thoughts, I’d rather hear them in comments.

* * *

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)

* * *

2012 24 Oct

[postsecret] What It’s Like To Cheat

I’ve always had Strong Emotions and Serious Opinions about cheating, mostly due to background info that I won’t write about today. I’ve always maintained that it’s almost as bad to be the “cheating facilitator” — i.e. the person who a cheater hooks up with — as to be the cheater themselves.

I have also always maintained that it’s entirely possible to cheat even if you’re polyamorous: cheating means breaking the relationship agreement, it’s not about the exact mechanics of the sexual act. So, for example, say that you agree with your partner that you can both have sex with other people, but not kiss them. In that case, if you kiss someone else, it’s still cheating!

With age, however, I have become less fierce about the topic. (I guess people get less fierce about everything, with age.) I am now more willing to listen to reasons that cheating might happen, and what it means to different people. I still don’t advocate cheating, and I don’t think it’s right, but I can understand it better now.

Lately, I’ve been featuring postcards from PostSecret. It’s an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I’ve been reading PostSecret for many years, and I’m uncertain when I began saving postcards, so I can’t date the following cheater-derived images ….

* * *

“I rationalized that having an affair was justified because my wife didn’t seem to trust me, whether I was faithful or not. I figured I had little to lose. I was wrong. I gave up being the guy who would never hurt her like that. Forever.”

This postcard resonates most with me, presumably because the writer seems to take the emotional harm he’s caused as seriously as I do.

* * *

“I’m sleeping with both of you so I can be both halves of who I really am: Innocent / Freak.”

Sometimes, a PostSecret card comes up that makes me wonder whether the writer is talking about cheating … or consensual non-monogamy. For example, maybe this person is being honest with all involved partners. I certainly hope so!

I have always figured that if there’s a sexual desire that can’t be met by a current relationship, then the first step should be to try and negotiate an alternative sexual outlet. For example, if this person wants some BDSM (as the image seems to imply), but has a partner who doesn’t want to do BDSM, then it’s totally legit to say “Honey, can I take on a BDSM partner outside our relationship?” — even if they’re monogamous most of the time.

I know that a lot of people don’t think that way, though. So one of the first “cheating sympathies” I ever had was this: if a person asks their partner for something they feel is important, but the conversation is shut down or ignored … or even if there’s good intentions on all sides, and many attempts have been made, but there’s no apparent compromise. I can understand why cheating happens, then.

* * *

“Because of my husband’s sexual dysfunction, I have been celibate for over a decade. I am not proud of my fidelity. I feel ashamed that I stay.”

This, right here. This seems like the perfect time for a careful conversation about sexual needs and an honest, straightforward request for an open relationship. But I understand why that would be incredibly hard, and I just feel so bad for everyone involved. No one should have to feel trapped in a sexually unfulfilling relationship, but some people are terribly hurt by the idea that their partner would sleep with someone else, and it can be so hard to talk about ….

(more…)

2012 23 Sep

[postsecret] Beauty, and the Horror Of It

Physical beauty is such a massive, overwhelming force in people’s lives — especially women’s. I’ve always felt so uncomfortable just thinking about it. Uncomfortable, yet driven. Obsessed and despairing. The anxiety of it comes out especially when I’m thinking about getting older, these days, being as I’ve made it to the ripe old age of 28. (Might as well be dead!)

I’ve been occasionally featuring postcards from PostSecret, an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I’ve been reading PostSecret for many years, and I’m uncertain when I began saving postcards, so I can’t date the following images; they could have come from any time, because I’ve always been so freaked out about this. And so has everyone else, apparently.

“I am more worried about aging than I am about dying.”

Me too, postcard. Me too.

I feel like my brain often goes through backflips, wanting to think about beauty but shying away from it too. I slammed up against this limitation a lot when I was researching and writing Confessions of a Pickup Artist Chaser — the pickup artist community is so obsessed with feminine beauty, and I felt so torn between hating that and wanting their validation. I think dealing with them made me more anxious about it, though it could also just be getting older.

I work so hard to see men’s perspective, but I can’t help resenting the way a lot of men talk about women’s beauty; for so many men, all they can see is power. So many men miss the slavery of it. A lot of men also miss the absurd schizophrenia, the way so many women trick ourselves into being unable to believe in our own beauty — because that would be vain and shallow and bitchy — so we trick ourselves into not-believing that we’re pretty. Yet we are simultaneously forced to believe we’re pretty in order to believe that we deserve to be out in public, because there is no greater crime than ugliness, for a woman.

A picture of Britney Spears, overlaid with: “I feel your pain. I was once beautiful, too.”

No greater sin than ugliness. Unless it’s being beautiful. Britney really epitomizes that. I made her the focus of an article that I wrote about men’s “visual sexuality” and women’s presentation, because she has taken so much punishment, been assigned so much blame — from both sides of the coin. Britney often comes across as bubbleheaded, but I feel like that’s how I’d come across too, if I had to balance such intense and conflicting imperatives. Sometimes, when I feel hemmed in by a man’s preconceptions about my appearance or my body or my sexuality, my only half-decent defense is to act like an airhead. Especially if I’m afraid of making him angry.

(It’s also a question I focused on in my short story “The End of An Age,” based on the ancient epic of the Ramayana: How much would the most beautiful woman in the world internalize her social punishments, believe that she deserved them?)

“I enjoyed being a beautiful woman … but it’s over and I’m glad because I feel free to be myself now.”

I’d like to believe that’s how I will feel as I get older and older: glad. They call it aging with grace, yes? Something women are expected to do, even as we are simultaneously expected to pull out all the stops to hide every advancing wrinkle. We must be beautiful, but our beauty must also be effortless and “pure.”

It would be nice to feel graceful every time there’s a change to my appearance. Breaking my neck imparted scars and a small amount of weight gain… an amazingly small amount for how much it makes me freak out over photographs on Facebook, which I shouldn’t be looking at because I’m not shallow or vain and don’t care about that stuff. Right? Right. Which is why I’ve never worn much makeup, except that now I feel like I’m behind the curve and I should learn how to do it properly, when I think about it, which I don’t because I’m not shallow. Right.

Not shallow.

I’m still scared, though.

(Shoutout to The Beheld, a smart feminist beauty blog that I follow sporadically.)

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)

2012 4 Sep

[postsecret] The Triumph Of Discovering S&M

So! I’m back from Burning Man. A Chicago publication asked me to write a “review,” which is an interesting notion. Is Burning Man such a reviewable, consumable thing? Anyway, stay tuned for whatever I come up with (I often announce such things on Twitter). In the meantime, let’s have another PostSecret entry!

PostSecret is an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. Of course, I’ve always paid special attention to the postcards coming in from BDSMers.

Like this one:

“When my boyfriend spanks me, my inner feminist weeps, but it just feels so damn good.”

I was stunned when I started searching the Internet several years ago, and realized that there were other feminists writing and thinking about S&M. I think this postcard appeared around then — maybe 2008 — when every time I saw anything about the tension between feminism and S&M, I felt thrilled.

Things have changed in the intervening years. Major feminist writers now write open, accepting, and even somewhat nuanced articles about consensual S&M. Bitch Media just ran a long series examining BDSM and feminism — from a friendly perspective. I myself had a long guest blogging stint on one of the biggest feminist blogs in the world (and of course, I just published a best-of collection called The S&M Feminist).

Within mainstream feminism, we’ve reached the point where S&M is no longer constantly on the defensive. Which feels awesome.

(more…)

2012 5 Aug

[postsecret] The Despair of Missing Orgasm

Yes! It’s another entry featuring postcards from PostSecret, an online community art project to which people send postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I’ve been reading PostSecret for a loooong time, and I’m uncertain when I began saving postcards, so I can’t date these images. I think these two are both pretty recent, though.

“It’s a sad state of affairs when the inability to orgasm leads you to consider suicide. But, that’s exactly where I am.”

I published a piece last year called A Unified Theory of Orgasm, which detailed my experiences figuring out how to orgasm. For a long time, being unable to “get there” was the most toxic secret I had, and it weighed on me. And I believe this is a depressingly common experience. I never contemplated suicide because of the orgasm thing, but I can imagine how and why someone would. It feels like a failure, and it feels like you’re missing out on what’s supposed to be a transcendent experience, and sometimes it feels like you can’t even share it with your partner for fear of making them anxious.

“I spent $10,000 on internal repairs in hopes that I’d have orgasms again … I got nothing.”

I also think some folks may underestimate the lengths to which people will go to “cure” orgasmic “dysfunction.” As I wrote in A Unified Theory of Orgasm, when I was still figuring my stuff out, my gynecologist recommended me to a place that charged literally $1,500 for an initial consultation. (The place in question has been criticized for contributing to ideas that differences in orgasm should be “medicalized” — i.e., reduced to categorizable symptoms and pills — which is arguably impossible and even harmful. Such topics are explored further in the documentary Orgasm, Inc.)

What really kills me about all this orgasm agony is something I learned only after I’d figured out how to come: orgasms aren’t my favorite part of sex. Who knows … maybe someday I’ll do some serious tantra, and experience one of those five-hour orgasms they’re always on about, and get my mind blown. But right now, all I know is that when I finally started being able to have orgasms regularly, my feeling was basically: oh … is that it? I realized that I’d already had sexual experiences that were way more mind-blowing than an orgasm — and that they came from just following what felt good; from exploring my boundaries; from reveling in the connection to my partner, rather than focusing on mechanics and goals. I understand, however, that others may have really different experience with this. As always, everyone is welcome to share experience in the comments.

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)

2012 23 Jul

[postsecret] Manliness, Relationships, and Erections

Those of you who have been reading for a while will know that I kind of love PostSecret. It’s a community art project; people send in postcards featuring a secret they’ve never told anyone. I first heard about it when an ex emailed me the URL in 2004, saying that he was certain I’d love it. Since 2004, I’ve graduated university; gone through a number of jobs; come into my S&M identity; lived in three US cities and two countries overseas; broken hearts and had my heart broken. And I still occasionally read PostSecret.

At some point I started saving the postcards I really liked to my hard drive. I’ve done it sporadically and I have no idea which year each postcard is from. But! New feature around these parts: I will be sharing PostSecret postcards occasionally, with a tiny dollop of commentary. And of course all are welcome to share thoughts in comments.

“Every time you lose an erection, I panic for our future.”

(Based on the picture, and probably also because I’m a heterosexual cisgendered lady, I am assuming that this postcard was written by someone who identifies as a woman. But that might not be true, and alternative interpretations or extra layers are welcome.)

This postcard strikes me as sad and fascinating not just for what it says about men’s gender roles, but about women’s. A man who can’t get an erection risks being seen as “unmanly” … but there’s also this terrible cultural message that men aren’t attracted to women if they lose an erection in bed with them. Also, there’s a pervasive idea that “real” sex must include a man’s erection, and that sex/eroticism doesn’t really exist without that. Stir in the fact that women often feel as though the only real way we can prove our worth or contribute to a relationship is by being sexy. And somewhere among all those threads is the woman who wrote this postcard. I imagine her feeling unwanted and desperate to prove her worth — and I also imagine her partner feeling both inadequate and guilty about how she feels.

(Please note that there are many PostSecret books available for purchase, including A Lifetime of Secrets, and Extraordinary Confessions From Ordinary Lives, and Confessions on Life, Death and God, and others.)