Is Love Always Conditional?

The weekend went well, and the remodel is finally starting to come together. I was actually able to take 2 baths in the new tub, and J seemed so happy that I was pleased with the shape the bathroom is taking. I know that he views it as a makeup gift to me, and I appreciate how hard he is trying and how much work he is putting into it. I took Friday off, so we had three days to work together, and I actually did part of the remodeling work, as well cooking and straightening. The upside is that I was able to clean all of the pine trim, and scrape, sand and paint the doors and facings, so we should soon have door into and out of the house again. The downside is that I spent three days doing mindless work, which meant that my hands were busy with one task while my mind was busy on its own tasks, sifting and sorting. I wish I could find my own emotional balance and equilibrium. He swears that he is happier than he has ever been, and wants so badly for me to feel the same way. I actually have many many moments of happiness, but I still have sudden crashes.

One of the things that came together while I was working, involved J’s refusal to talk about why he was unhappy with me before the disaster – questions about who he thought I was or what he felt about me always led to evasion, anger, or a sudden shift in the conversation. He really has been trying to be upfront, so this has still been a niggling concern, especially as he still occasionally falls back into treating me like I am incompetent. Sanding away, I suddenly felt a sense of recognition for some of the things I read in the Morgan vs. Morgan blog, when she wrote about her pre-affair sense of drifting and dissatisfaction with her life and marriage, especially with her husband’s weight and his unwillingness to do anything about it, which really bothered her. Unlike Morgan, who stressed repeatedly that she had maintained her her high school size 2 figure, J has not maintained his 20s figure. He has developed a bulging middle and has not been working on it.

When we got up on Sunday morning, he could tell that I was upset, and wandered away. Unlike previous times, however, he did come back and present an opening for an honest discussion, so I was able to talk to him about my feelings and the pieces I had put together. There was a long pause, and then he did admit that a part of his dissatisfaction in our relationship pre-affair was my weight. He seems to feel that part of it was “grumpy man”, part of it was his unhappiness with his own physical condition (signs of aging, weight, inability to do the things he had done before) and part of it was my health – he really resented that I have some chronic illnesses, and didn’t always feel that great, a lot which created a barrier in his mind to intimacy. He felt that my lack of concern with my weight was an indication of my lack of care for myself, our relationship, or his feelings.

We were definitely on a hamster wheel. He says that he really believes that as the rest of his life became more and more chaotic with events and demands that he couldn’t control, his angst became focused on me. He wanted to have a plentiful and exciting sex life but didn’t find me attractive and was mad at me for not “improving” myself so that sex with me would be worth the effort. He thinks that the attitude came from fear – he was so afraid of losing me that he started to push me away. I picked up enough vibes to know that he was dissatisfied with me, especially as we moved out of summer and in to fall, but my weight had not changed in fifteen years, and it had not impacted our sex life before, so it just didn’t make sense to me. He never expressed the negative feelings he had with me, but I picked up enough vibes that I didn’t want him to see me naked.

By September ’09, in the month prior to the disaster, I was so tired of feeling awful. The scar from my cancer surgery was healing well, but it was still a large scar and I had concerns about the effect the surgery was going to have on my breast. The removal of a 6cm x 7cm x 7cm section seemed like it should have had a significant impact on its size and shape, but it had not yet. I was still so tired from all of the illnesses in August, and was still having trouble making it from the parking lot to the elevator without resting. I resented that he wouldn’t show any affection or make any time for me and then would angrily push for sex.

By the end of September, I admit I really was avoiding situations where it might be an issue. He said that he really had started to believe that I was no longer interested in sex, and that his sex life was never going to improve. So there we were – he was mad that his wife was physically unattractive and not working to change it.  I wasn’t sure how I felt about the type of love that is conditional — based on someone’s physical appearance, especially since I was almost 50, with the physical changes that accompany aging, as well as scars from 4 surgeries. Did we share any of this information – no. We just grew more and more distant.

Through the affair experience, J appears to have had a revelation of another sort. He broke his marriage vows and had sex with another woman because he had a fantasy based on how beautiful and sexy she seemed to be. After our latest discussion about my own lack of attractiveness, this fact is even more hurtful but it finally makes a little more sense.  If he has been at all honest about his experience, he seems to feel that his lover did not live up to his expectations. Instead of a sexy temptress who belonged on the pages of Middle Age Playboy Bunnies, he got a beautiful but insecure 53 year old woman with saggy breasts who worried about what her butt looked like and insisted on turning off the lights before the clothes came off and keeping the lights off during sex. In addition, looking beautiful and polished at any age takes a considerable amount of time, but a woman who is using clothes, makeup and hair to mask the signs of aging needs even more time, first for the initial presentation, and then for repeated “freshening”. J still seems baffled about why anyone would disappear into the bathroom every twenty or thirty minutes.

This experience seems to have cleared his head  and helped him come to terms with some basic biological facts. The naked bodies of most 50 year old women are just not the same as the bodies of 20 or even 30 year olds. They can be attractive – thin or not – but still show the impact of five decades of life unless there is surgical (or maybe magical) intervention. Even when the woman is thin and puts significant effort into her appearance, important places sag, flab, or have cellulite. Avoiding such a horrid fate takes oodles of work and focus, which leaves the woman even more prone to body images insecurities and obsessions. The choices open to him are to chose a lover in her twenties or to make peace with the changing nature of the aging female body. He appears to have chosen the latter, and has made an effort to reassure me, even before the fat discussion, that we are both in our 50s, aging and not perfect and that he doesn’t expect that, only that we work together to be “healthy” – which I think means with flatter stomachs and less flab. I am willing to work on this, even if it means MUCH less sugar and much more SWEATING.

So – what have we learned? I have always known that Jeff is a visual person – a visual thinker, a visual learner – but I didn’t extend that to sex. For a smart person, I can be sort of stupid. Because our sex life was physically satisfying for me, and he assured me that it was satisfying to him too, just not frequent enough, I didn’t realize how dissatisfied he really became. I am more tactile than visual – I really care more about the way things and people feel than about how they look. His skin, his hair, and his touch felt so good that I didn’t care if there were physical flaws. I just didn’t understand how much he needs visual stimulation as a part of his sex life. While I am currently more active than I have been in a long time, I have not lost weight. We are putting together a plan for exercising and changing our diet together, which will make it a lot easier, so I am going to work on it in a way that I have not before. I have also learned to be emotionally flexible enough to share the parts of me that Jeff does find attractive, and to be adventurous enough to showcase the rest of me in as flattering a way as possible. Lingerie can disguise a multitude of sins.

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