It’s the summer, which unfortunately means that modesty police are out, shaming women for their bodies and lamenting the uncontrollable minds of men. There are far more blog posts right now about how women should dress than would be reasonable or desirable to read, but I have to admit that I can’t resist clicking on a handful of links that come across my newsfeed.
This time it was this post about a woman begging for girls to keep their boobs out of her marriage.
I could write about my angst with the body-shaming or the problems with assuming that women are responsible for men’s fidelity and thoughts…but I’ve already done that and so have so many others. And ironically, I’m not upset at the body-shaming post. Rather, I feel incredible sympathy for the author.
So today, I’m not ranting about feminism and bodily autonomy. I just want to say something to Lauren, who is so upset about the bikini-riddled Internet and afraid of losing her husband to some other woman.
I get it. So much.
I don’t agree with you on any of what you said, but I feel all of your pain because once upon a time it was my pain too.
I haven’t been married that long. Five and a half years is hardly any time with someone, and certainly not enough time for me to feel that I have advice to bestow on other couples.
But I think that we have a lot in common.
Like you, I believed that other women were my enemy. I believed they were trying to steal my husband, ruin my marriage, and break my heart. I also believed that my husband was a helpless victim who would be lured away by their wiles and charms—that his mind was so photographic that he couldn’t ever—EVER—forget the things he saw.
I believed it was my responsibility to guard his heart and our marriage, which ranged anywhere from trying to be available for sex all the time to actively previewing movies so that I could cover his eyes if something came on.
I believed it because I was taught it. Every book I read, every sermon I heard, every class I attended told me that if I didn’t believe those things or act accordingly, my marriage was trashed.
I was controlling. I knew I was controlling. You probably do too.
I was insecure. I was afraid of being compared to all those (obviously) more beautiful women out there on the Internet (and sometimes in real life).
I was practically counting down the days to when my husband would cheat, and I believed it would be my fault for not being able to do enough to keep him faithful. Our goodnights were laced with interrogations about what he had seen, whether he was struggling with remembering it, what I could do to make things better.
And we were miserable.
Because there was nothing else for us to be but miserable in such a relationship. Our own love was undermined by a distrust planted so deeply that we never thought to question it, and our friendships were poisoned by the constant competition with any woman and shame around any man.
It was terrifying to start dismantling some of the teachings with which I’d been raised. Avoidance conditioning (where you teach someone to do something to prevent something bad from happening) is one of the hardest behavior patterns to break. For all I knew, when I started to dismantle those beliefs and confront the insecurities they created around my body and my relationship, I could have been throwing my marriage out the window, guaranteeing what I was most afraid of.
But what I discovered was that the opposite was true. When I let go of the control, my relationship grew stronger! Lines of communication opened up and trust deepened as we explored what it meant to be together without owning each other. The world started to look less threatening when we stopped assuming that every woman was a threat or that skin was taboo.
He had his own work to do, too. I quickly discovered that relationships weren’t one-sided, and I couldn’t be responsible for keeping us strong. But when I stopped trying to coddle him like a child, I discovered that he was more than capable of doing his own work. In fact, he dismantled his views of how he’d been taught to view women far more quickly than I dismantled mine.
We don’t have everything figured out yet. Our relationship is constantly changing and growing, which means that boundaries are constantly shifting. But that’s okay. There’s far more stability in a relationship that can morph and change as needed than with a relationship that is far too rigid to withstand summer Facebook photos.
I know now, more than I ever could have before, that he is with me because he wants to be, and the fact that he could leave at any moment makes me feel all the more secure in his love. We even share each others’ crushes, which usually end up being the same person since I’m attracted to the same kind of women as he is.
On some levels, I think being bisexual may have made it easier for me to dismantle the “other woman” teachings from modesty culture because it allowed me to see how I could be attracted to women without losing control of my mind or that I could be attracted to multiple people without losing my love for my husband. But I still think we would have arrived here eventually anyway because it’s just not healthy to live with that much fear and distrust.
I don’t know what kind of backlash you’ve gotten since you put up your post. I’m sure it hasn’t been pretty because Internet commenters tend to be the underbelly of a very ugly beast. But I hope that this can be a catalyst for you to find a way to grow stronger in yourself, question some of those fears, and open up new avenues for relationship development.
Coming from someone who has been where you’re at, you don’t have to live in fear.
P.S. Your friendships will also be far more awesome when you aren’t projecting the weaknesses of your relationship and self-esteem onto their shoulders. Just as you shouldn’t be responsible for keeping your husband faithful, they aren’t responsible for keeping you secure. If you own your own shit, you empower yourself to be able to change it.