Friday, April 4, 2008

Married People--A Free Tip

A comment in "Ladies--A Free Tip" got me thinking about all the different ways men and women try to understand each other, and the things I've tried in my own marriage. In particular, it reminded me of something I read once and found really impressive. It's a series of short articles by one Julia Grey describing her time as a "frigid wife." The thing that really struck me about Grey's account and her analysis was how even-handed it was. Obviously there are parts of it that any man is going to find insulting--see the post titled "Disgust" for advice on whether you should bathe and brush your teeth daily. But for the most part, Grey really seemed to have put a lot of thought into what her husband thought and felt. Putting myself in someone else's shoes is kind of a specialty of mine, but the closer you are to the issue, the harder it is to see the other side, and it doesn't get much more emotional than love and rejection between a husband and wife.

Here's her introduction. As I sadly noted in comments, my wife wasn't interested in reading this, so maybe it wasn't as good as I thought. But on the other hand, maybe it can help someone else, since we're apparently not the only ones trying to figure this out:

I used to be a "frigid" wife.

I knew even before I got married that I wouldn't be able to keep up the "schedule" of sex my husband and I had established during our courtship, and once I even warned him that it was going to have to slow down. But I think that went in one ear and out the other at supersonic speed, touching nothing in between.

Sure enough, not long after we got married sex became a battleground for us, and we struggled with the problem like two fish flopping around next to each other in the bottom of an open boat: gasping for a natural breath and injuring ourselves with every pointless, ineffectual spasm.

To me it seemed simple: he wanted me to be his sexual appliance, a handy-dandy love machine that could be switched on and off at his command. I felt no desire, and I didn't want to "submit" to being handled and penetrated when I wasn't in the mood. If he really loved me, this sex thing, this "merely physical" part of our lives, wouldn't be such a big freakin' deal. And his pissy, furious responses to my refusals only made me more sure that he didn't really love me. He just wanted to use my vagina.

To him it seemed simple, too. If I loved him -- as I consistently claimed -- why didn't I want to make love?

Notice that neither point of view is necessarily completely reasonable--her assessment of her feelings is basically an assertion about his feelings, and when she assesses his feelings, she flatly contradicts what she said about him at first. He can't be both the semi-rapist she was depicting in her own mind at the time and the poor bewildered guy who just wants to express his love a few lines later. She's telling us what she thought at the time, and what she now believes he was thinking at the time. She's not promising that either point of view is necessarily true.