Don’t Let This One Go

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About Mark Sherman

Mark Sherman is editor of the Boys Initiative blog (www.theboysinitiative.wordpress.com), and also writes one for Psychology Today (Real Men Don’t Write Blogs). He received his Ph.D. in psychology at Harvard, and has taught, researched, and written on gender issues since coauthoring Afterplay: A Key to Intimacy in 1979. Having three sons and four grandsons, he is especially interested in how boys and young men are doing both in and outside of school.

Comments

  1. I love your honesty. It’s great to see a long lasting, good relationship–one where we can admit that life is not always easy. Relationships are tough but you seem to have found the right balance.

  2. Fantastic article. I was nodding my head A LOT during that last conversation you mentioned with your wife. :-)
    I think some naturally wrestle more with life and its frustrations than others but if you’re the naturally contented one in the partnership, it’s great if you can strike a balance between letting it wash over you and giving support where you can. Easier said than done sometimes!

  3. 22 and already divorced? How on earth did you not just run for the hills at that point?

    “Searching for contentment” is a fool’s errand., essentially by definition, but if you haven’t figured this out yet I’m probably not going to persuade you. The contentment lies in the search: there is no finding.

    • Mark Sherman says:

      Actually, I was just turning 24.

      • I was talking about “Mary”, not you.

        • Mark Sherman says:

          Got it, and I see what you mean. But I have to say that back then when — before the huge spike in divorce rates — when I told a young woman I was divorced, that often was the end of the relationship right there. To meet someone who was also divorced made me feel understood in a way that I hadn’t often been. To be understood (empathized with) can be a very powerful experience.

          • Joanna Schroeder says:

            Even today that is the case. I was married at 22, divorced at 24. The next man I fell in love with broke up with me when he learned I’d been divorced. He said marrying a divorced girl wasn’t in his “plan” for himself. He ended up saying he MIGHT be able to get over it. It seemed enough, I wasn’t going to marry anyone else anyway, in my mind.

            When I met my husband, 2 years later, he LOVED that I’d been divorced, only because he had too and we both didn’t imagine getting married again. We chose instead to have a baby together, then another, and then finally got married. That was 8 years ago!

  4. Booster Blake says:

    Mark,

    Thank you for your insightful and helpful reflection of your choices in life partnership. It’s very comforting and inspiring to me to hear this perspective. I can relate to your “troubled soul” characterization, and I feel I’ve been conditioned to refuse to settle for anything less than the “right” partner. But what is “right”? Is it a woman that possesses me mind, body, and soul? Someone that I can’t stop thinking about? Is that the hallmark of partner-worthiness? Or as you have discovered, is it something less flashy and more secure?

    Allow me to share a bit more…

    I’m 40, been divorced from a 10 year marriage for 5 years now, and I have two sons. When I got back into relationship, I was gunshy and decided to give open relationships a try with two amazing women. One was young, free-spirited, artistic, passionate, moody, and had that “pizzazz factor” (I called it “zing” at the time). It’s a quality of attraction that makes devotion to that person feel almost effortless (perhaps even addictive). The other was more emotionally stable, mature, self-sufficient, understanding, more like how you describe your wife now.

    After about six months into the relationship, I revealed to the older one the fact that I didn’t feel the zing with her like I did with the other woman. I expected her to leave me as a result, which I think is kinda what I wanted to happen but what she said next floored me. She said, “Ok, well is what we have good enough? It’s okay if you have different feelings for her, after all we’re different people so that makes sense. But is there enough between you and I to make it worth your time and energy to continue to see each other?” It was the most humble, considerate, understanding, supportive thing I’d ever had a partner say to me (I’ve since given her plenty of hardheaded opportunities to top it with more). I thought, there’s no way I’m going to leave a woman that can love me like that!

    I should’ve given her my heart right then. But I didn’t. I was still fixed on the notion that my partner needed to have that zing. I feared I’d be shorting my dream of romantic bliss otherwise. So, in time, as I withheld my fullest expression of love, she met someone else. Someone more ready to meet her love. A fantastic man and good friend of mine. They fell in love and now live together. They continue to have an open relationship and she still claims that I have her heart. That she still hopes to marry me someday…. But “not right now”, she says. “I’m enjoying this man and I don’t want to leave him. But I don’t want you to leave me either. I supported you while you had multiple partners and I want you to do the same for me.”

    Navigating the heart thru open relationships is a tough one and I’m learning so much about myself and how I operate. It’s been a year now and I still struggle everyday with the heartbreak of feeling like I’ve been replaced, despite her protests that I haven’t, that she loves me just as much as ever. As I sit in this place of discomfort, I wonder what I should do. Do I fight for her by sticking it out, supporting her no matter what? Hope that something will shift with her current partner and I’ll have her to myself again? Or do I accept that I’m not made for this sort of thing and move on to create another relationship elsewhere? I don’t know yet. But what I do know, what I have learned from this darling and secure woman, is what to look for in my next partner, whomever she may be. And my friend, the zing ain’t it.

    • You’re musing about your open relationship with the two different people hit home for me. I have experienced what you are going through in two different ways. The first way I was in your shoes. I had the partner with the zing and the one who was more stable. I held on for a very long time to both partners but ultimately I wanted to give monogamy a try (I am typically more of an open relationship sort of girl) and I took the zing option. Life without artistry and passion and all that just wasn’t doing it for me. In the mean time I lost the other partner. It was not fair for me to ask him to be monogamous as that wasn’t who he really was at that time and it was more fair for me to let him go to find him. He found himself in another woman who completed him. I have lost touch with him but it was a difficult time.

      I wanted it all. I wanted everyone to wait for me to come around. I learned from that experience that for me to be right an open relationship is not about waiting for anyone to come around. Navigating the open relationship isn’t about people waiting in line to be the next monogamous partner. It’s about giving completely to the partners that you have (to me at least).

      I also went through this as the girl without zing in an open relationship with a man who wanted zing and wanted stability all at the same time. He would get jealous when I found men who appreciated my lack of zing (I was zingier in my youth). He wanted 22 year old party girls and it wasn’t me. He kept trying to make me have zing. I would be perfect if changed just that after all. I was never going to be what he wanted and he couldn’t give himself to me completely. I sense he has some regrets about the end of that open relationship as he floats by every so often musing over how he just wants a kind and good hearted girl now. How he doesn’t want zing. I clearly hear the hint but I shut the door on that relationship option and moved on to others. Sometimes we drama free girls aren’t so bad afterall. lol

      I’ve always been fascinated about how I hear as often from men that women keep choosing the bad boys how many men choose the women with the absolute most drama to be with then complain about it. Maybe it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

      • Booster Blake says:

        Thanks Kat for your share. You said:

        “It’s about giving completely to the partners that you have (to me at least).”

        Let me ask you something. Do you really feel that you are able to fully give all that you are to more than one person? There’s something about the devotion we give to just one person that doesn’t feel like it gets honored when we share that special place with more than one. Is that your experience too?

  5. Yes the idea of the “spark”, the magic” is what keep us from healthy relationships; the theory of playing hard to get, is what people do. Real relationships are easy, a bit boring, and simple. I always say that men like drama queens and women like mind games; it is like an addiction that keeps us on edge.

    I don’t like the spark anymore, and when I start loosing myself over a man, I know it is not a good relationship…

  6. Mark, if I had been your wife, I would have thought you were too much drama just like those other women you dated! It’s all relative I guess. If you had called me after 8, after your son was down, I would have thought I was getting a booty call. But I do think stable, kind, generous partners are under-rated.

  7. My current boyfriend told me early in our relationship that he felt “comfortable” with me and that he didn’t feel particularly infatuated with me, compared to earlier relationshps. He meant it as a positive (he saidnhe wasn’t looking for crazy drama anymore) but I was devastated and almost broke up with him the following day. I came really close because I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in a relationship with a guy who basically felt I was incredibly nice, stable and boring. Why would a guy want that? I figured our relationship was doomed. Luckily, I stuck it out, and we are still together.

    I’ve never been the kind of woman who can manipulate men with my beauty or sexiness. I’m always the stable one, the nice girl, the boring friend, the good sport. I admit, this is something that has always affected my self esteem negatively, because men seem to like the high maintenance, sexy, exciting women, which I’m not. I don’t play games. Games make me tired. Sigh. So, it is nice to know that guys eventually wise up and see the charms of boring stability. :-) I guess I’m sort of like the Nice Guy who can’t impress the women when he’s young.

    • Valter Viglietti says:

      @Sarah: “men seem to like the high maintenance, sexy, exciting women”

      Do all women like the same kind of man? Of course not.
      So, stop thinking all men like the same kind of women. That’s just silly and shallow.

      Of course, almost everybody likes a sexy and exciting partner (hey, emotions make us feel alive!).
      But “high maintenance”,”hard to get”, etc? It all depends.
      I’d say that wise guys know that a healthy relationship is based more on a strong friendship than on hormones or “sparks”.

  8. Valter Viglietti says:

    Thank you Mark, a fine article and a honest tale about your life.

    Having had my fair share of relationships (no divorce yet, thank God), I learned the same thing you’re talking about.
    I think most people (both sexes) overestimate sexual attraction and drama, and they’re looking for a constant life of excitement – like being high all the time. I believe they confuse “falling in love” with love itself, and the two are NOT the same thing.

  9. Great story. I think it is really important to see how much friendship makes a relationship last. If you want longlasting support, you need to be friends. The spark will die out, and if there’s nothing underneath it, it ends. Though female, I identify with him, I am the moody contemplative type that used to date melodramatic people who gave me excitement, but in the end became exhausting. I am now in my longest, best relationship with a man totally opposite: steady, organised, logical, mature, stoic. Everything I used to find boring I have learned to appreciate. We rarely fight and when we do, we learn from it. It’s true that yes, I confess, sometimes I get bored. Sometimes I wish he was more adventurous. There are things I like to do he doesn’t join me for and sometimes I wish he would. At the same time, he lets me go off and have my adventures without him and isn’t jealous. He’s just honest that he doesn’t like some things I do and would rather not fake it when I have friends to do those things with instead. Those past relationships may have had less boring moments, but they also had more tears and confusion, and uncertainty about the future.

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