Controlling passion

This blog post is complete but is also part of a larger article. Your reactions in the comments will decide how quickly I move on to part 2.

Also, I’m still looking for user submissions for the creative part of this blog. Message me with a real story from your life as brief or as full as you’d like, and I’ll make a fiction story out of it.


Look into your lovers eyes, those great orbs in whose depths passion has stirred and whose force has partaken in the greatest moments of your life. Her life is crumbling: run your fingers through her hair and tell her it will be alright. She’s put on weight, and her fear of her mother’s harsh criticism has driven her hysterical: call to her lightly, put your hand on her stomach, and tell her that your opinion is the one that matters and that she looks good to you. Look into those eyes and lie. We convince ourselves of the necessity: sometimes such lies are necessary, sometimes little white lies help instead of hurt.
A girl looked at me once, halfway a woman but not quite and me not yet a man, she looked deep into my eyes, placed her hand on mine in the darkness of her Chevy Malibu, and requested of me, “Promise me you’ll never make me cry.” That’s one of those opportunities we men see at the start of nearly every relationship. You listen to her cry about lost loves and what bastards they all were, and then she turns to you and asks you not to treat her like they treated her, to love her where they failed. You don’t know yet whether you can succeed in this task or not—the relationship is young, unformed, and you are inexperienced with her quirks and she with yours. All you know is that you can make her happy if you agree to this demand, and she may leave you if you refuse.

For better or worse, I refused. I told her that I don’t make promises I can’t keep. Thus started the next three torrential years of my life with Christina, artsy Christina, parasitic flower whose maintenance killed me and whose beauty would made me glad to die in such service.

Perhaps six months went by before she asked me her next favor. Christina and I were driving around doing errands in that little blue Chevy of hers when she asked me to promise that I would never cheat on her. Promise me, nineteen year old boy, that for the rest of your life (for I thought our relationship might just last that long) you will never love a woman other than me. She didn’t even make the promise specifically carnal; she asked me to never love another woman.

We know what to do in this situation. We know that the aesthetically correct response is to blindly say, “Yes, honey. You’re my girlfriend, I love you, and I would never cheat on you.” But I’m a man of principle, and I had already refused her once on the grounds that I don’t make promises I can’t make in good faith. I knew that I could not fulfill this one, and I declined; I said I would not promise it, and I didn’t.

I’m not asking today why Christina asked for such a token: I’ve heard her request from multiple sources and have answered it the same way every time. My response is the issue at hand. I’ve also heard the enough responses to my argument to call some standard or cliché. Let me deal with a few superstitions:

1) Fidelity is not a matter assumed virtue can resist. While traveling, I once found myself surrounded by four muggers. I wrestled in high school and trained lightly in several martial arts throughout my life; perhaps I could have fought back. But in a strange country, I let the mugging occur without resistance; I put my hands up in the air and let them slide my wallet out of my back pocket. Several friends, especially those currently in the armed forces, have said that they would have fought back. Others said I acted rightly by potentially negotiating my wallet for my life; perhaps one of them had a knife, or maybe four to one is a bad enough ratio for a deadly beating. Either out of fear or self-knowledge, I knew that I didn’t possess the ability to fight off my attackers. Others assure themselves in the abstract that they have the means at their disposal to resist such wrongs. Only fortune may provide them with an opportunity to back up their boasts.

2) Sexual acts are not always motivated by desire. Just as with any other human action—in fact, sex is rather notorious for this particular aspect, but people seem to forget its complexity when talking about infidelity—sex involves multiple and often warring emotions, including but not limited to confusion, daring, fear, and repression. When I got out of an asexual relationship last November, I traveled and found an opportunity to have sex with someone I didn’t desire at all, one of my sister’s close friends, and we did. Even in hindsight I can’t really say why; some have said that alcohol was a factor, others that sexual frustration from the prior relationship surely played a part, but neither correctly constitute my frame of mind in that moment. My sister was sleeping in the next room; perhaps voyeurism was the feather that broke my hesitation.Perhaps not; a confusing mist obscures the whole situation. I remember thinking as the scene was building, “I can stop this.” The scene was so fragile that just making an impolite or awkward comment, or perhaps just the no when she asked if she could climb into my bed so politely, would’ve made her retreat. But I didn’t, and we did, and there’s no clear-cut issue at hand except that desire itself had little to do with my part in the story.

3) I am not weak-willed. Friends and girlfriends often ask in relation to this refusal of mine whether I can imagine a situation in which I would cheat on them. Though I’m a fairly creative person, I cannot, never can. Just as much as any middle-class American, I hold fidelity as one of my primary values and assumptions in a relationship, especially once the relationship is official. Just as I can act on the principle of refusing to make promises I can’t keep in the face of adversity, I must suppose that I could hold to the principle of fidelity in the face of desire.

Point three, of course, goes back to the two previous superstitions: A situation wouldn’t necessarily spawn from my desire, and even though I feel confident at a distance saying that I wouldn’t act when confronted with my own passion, I know neither what pressures will appear during the confrontation of another’s passion nor how I might react. I do know, however, a great many men choose infidelity when given the chance and then are at a loss for how to explain their choice. I’m also aware that these other men’s decisions are not a matter of financial or political class; infidelity occurs in middle and lower class alike, in Republican and Democrat alike. This information gives me pause, and I wonder how anyone goes along with the promise in the face of such widespread and misunderstood failure except by ignoring the question and simply responding “Yes” because we know that’s the right answer.

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Author: Greg Freed

6 thoughts on “Controlling passion

  1. I really enjoyed this essay. I think that you have a deep grasp on fidelity and the complexity of human sexuality. This sort of writing comes from a blending of compassion and reason. It is my favorite sort.

    I never thought that Christina was a life giving artist. Do you have any sort of contact with her?

    I am taking my first graduate class in writing. I have several short pieces of memoir that I would like you to read.

  2. Aaron: Christina friended me on FB a few months ago from Japan, but she either subsequently blocked me or deleted her FB account. I wouldn’t know how to contact her anymore except through Prachi.

    Jenn: There was once a woman who so loved her children that she praised them above all the gods. In recompense, the gods killed off her children one by one, driving her insane due to the sheer iniquity of life. The majority of promises of fidelity, even marital fidelity, share the same quality of ignorant boast; the saving grace is that the gods rarely take advantage of such harsh recourse.

  3. Greg,

    Forget Christina. Believe me, you’re better off. I’m inclined to believe that you’re sole reason for feeling the way you did with her is that you hadn’t been dumped, yet. Or at least you weren’t done being interested by her by the time you got dumped.

    As for the whole “promise me you’ll never make me cry”. I’m convinced that I would dump/leave/walk away from the next girl that says that to me. People that ask questions like that are plagued by insecurities and selfishness. They are not people you are I need to associate with. Overall it is a worthless question.

    If you’re truly in love, you’ll cry. Your partner is going to get you mad. Your partner is going to hurt you. They’re actions hurt worst than others, so it is without doubt that you’ll make any girl you truly care for cry. We’re imperfect and we’re bound to screw up, or say the wrong thing. Not that we want to, but it will happen.

    “Don’t ever make me cry” “no guy is worth crying for and the one that is won’t make you cry” “I need a new XXXXXXL tampon because I’m super bitchy today”, all worthless statements. I urge you, no, I beg you to walk away and cut ties from anyone that ever says stuff like that.

  4. Good column and comments.

    The nature of lying in a relationship is interesting. It’s another matter of warping reality to appease wacky feelings. I watch a lot of life, real and via art, and it amazes me how little understanding and expectation people have of how imperfect people are at love. Also, of a rudimentary understanding of the male gender, evolution, and sexuality.

    I know right from the start that, in a close relationships, I’m enough of a space cadet to guarantee that I’ll make people cry (or unhappy). I can also guarantee that I’ll love others, though I can avoid infidelity. It’s amazing what a gift love feels like, especially given to a woman that wants it, even if it’s a woman outside my “couple”. I want to be of value… and the value that my company can sometimes be to a woman is one of the most clear sorts of value I ever see coming down the pipe.

    If I start a new relationship? I try to vow to not fall into that early-love-blindness trap. Use that golden beginning to discuss, in detail, exactly who we both are, when talk of flaws can be tolerated and not destructive. Grease the wheels of expectation. Detail exactly who we are when we become “normal” people again, for it will happen.

    I’m nearly certain that a lifelong golden romance is myth and fantasy.

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