Every day, clients bring their lives and their challenges into my life. This is one I want to share with you. The names are obviously different but the situation is very real. Even more important is these aren’t the first people that I have run across with this issue.
When they first met, Lisa’s dad thought that Simon was a small guy, 5’8” tall and not exactly the strapping son-in-law that he imagined his lovely daughter bringing home. On the other hand, he looked steady, had a fabulous job on a partner track at his firm, and was really well educated. Being an old school dad, the youngest of eight kids of WWII veterans, he followed the old salt of “marry your son when you will, but your daughter when you can.” He gave Simon his approval (with unspoken reservations) for the marriage and accepted into his home the classic “not quite enough” husband and son-in-law.
At first Lisa was thrilled with married life, having a fabulous new home, and making new shared friends; it was all good. Over time though, things began to change. Subtle changes at first, but soon she began to wonder if the style of her present life was really the dream she had so long hoped for.
Almost as in Madam Bovary, the more devoted to Lisa Simon became, the less respect she had for him. It reached the point of disdain. As with a child suitor, she would belittle his efforts towards romance; small kisses and deep with equal disinterest. Before they got married, she imagined herself in love. Now, without the specific kind of happiness she dreamed of, she now imagined that she was mistaken in her choice. She starts to wonder what really is meant when authors and commentators use words like passion, ecstasy, or even marital bliss. It had all looked so good on TV, in books, and in the reflections of lives she saw on Facebook. Why not hers?
So when you get down to it, what Lisa is disappointed about is that Simon simply isn’t everything she now imagines—and probably always did—that a man should be. He isn’t her dad or brothers; he doesn’t go hunting like the men in her family; he can’t fix his car he calls a tow truck; he doesn’t like those Montana summer vacations, and worst of all, he doesn’t ski. He doesn’t even like the snow. She assumes that as a “man,” he should be all of those things, and maybe more. He should be able to teach her about passion in all its glory, he should understand life in all its grace and horror and be able to introduce her to mysteries she has never imagined. In the case of Simon though, imagines he has nothing to teach, knows nothing, wants little more than what he has. He’s happy.
In a nutshell, Lisa is pissed that she can’t look up to Simon as she does her dad and brothers. The biggest and most prodigious thing, the thing that drives her to distraction, is that he “thought she was happy.” Now she hates him for his serenity, his placid acceptance of their life together, for feeling that very happiness that her presence brings to his life. Her dangerous reasoning goes like this:
If she is fabulous enough to make him this happy, she imagines, then he can’t be “all that.”
You know the reasoning… any club that would want me is no club at all…
So what does she do? She turns to romantic fantasies in the way that men turn to porn in an effort to satisfy cravings for things unrealistic, if not completely impossible. At least impossible without both parties working together.
Lisa fuels her imagination with novels, with her favorite themes being about love and lovers, women in distress tied up in beds, carriages and riders, boats rowed in lakes at midnight, groves of cedars and night birds singing, men brave as tigers, and as gentle as mourning doves. Of course, they are always well…very well dressed, with their passions dangerously close to the surface for her to enjoy. She looked at their modern home and wondered why it couldn’t be an English or perhaps southern Manor House. She grew to an almost worshipful interest in memorable or ill-fated women of the world. It didn’t even have to be Europe.
The imagery is familiar to anyone who has watched a bonnet movie or read a romance novel. All the elements are plainly there.
Contemporary romance writers are charged with detailed guidelines from the various publishing houses to create a warm and exciting love story. To do this, the writer must include the following in the plot:
- Get them together
- Keep them together
- Make their passions burn
- Place serious obstacles in their way
- Resolve the issues ending on a high note filled with passion and future
The heroine simply must be provided for by a man who is masterful, virile, and attractive. Did you ever notice that he is complex and compassionate too? In some cases, he isn’t required to be rich, but he has to be really successful at whatever he does in life. Get it?
The books are designed to provide an escape, an alternate to their reality, a fantasy for each reader. The reader can now be guided to imagine him or herself into a world where men are tender, powerful, loving, and available. Lisa can now drift away to her imaginary world, free from the concerns of daily life, a husband and a job; all the better for her vacation into her private fantasy.
Do you see it? In Lisa’s case, rather than having a temporary respite from her monotony, the books only serve to reinforce it. Like a drug given to manage a dangerous addiction, like methadone for a heroin addict, Lisa is now using romance as a drug to change her consciousness. For some people, romance can be a kind of narcotic and Lisa was the personification of a person whose life can be ruined by too great a dependency on a fantasy life.
In the case of Lisa and Simon, Lisa’s addiction to fantasy was fatal to their marriage. Yes, I referred them to a really good therapist but to no avail. The aftershocks of that romantic tradition, that imagined life, are things that people carry forward with them. It took Simon several years of counseling to get over what he had lived through. Lisa still looks for her romantic hero on his charger.
The images about love that we drag along with us from our earliest years, marriage, and romance, live with us long into our adult lives. Sometimes the earliest stories we hear or read remain with us the longest, and become the most powerful whether they are from classic authors or Disney.
So in closing, I want to let you know that I am a big one for romance being an active part of real lives of real couples. But in some lives, romance writes out checks that our reality can’t cash.