"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why Families Stay Together–A Little S&M Helps

Bob Markum was an ideal husband. He helped around the house, took care of the children, supported his wife in her career, and never raised his voice. He felt that women had for far too long been stepped on by men, and he was out to do his best to see his wife flourish and prosper.  Not only was he a model of propriety and support at home, he extended his commitment to the Women’s Movement and was one of the few men who had been trusted enough to be a charter member of the Washington Area chapter.  He went to women’s meetings, seminars, and conferences; and was even asked to be a speaker.  With his wit and literary background, he could ironically spoof men by citing Rosalind’s run-around in As You Like It, Viola’s hijinks, or Beatrice’s neutering of the once cocky Benedick.

Bob was an earlier adopter of feminism and women’s causes.  While most of his colleagues at Williams were swinging from the chandeliers in drug-fueled orgies, he was doing advanced research on the role of women in 18th century America.

His doctoral thesis at Yale was Modern Slavery: The Abandonment of Women in Colonial Williamsburg. The more he learned about the bondage of women – suttee, bride-price, dowry, and chattel labor – the closer he felt to his wife, Kathy who as a girl had suffered the patriarchy and retrograde ignorance of her father and the meek complicity of her mother.

Given Bob’s demographics – white, upper middle class, intelligent, and intellectually versatile – he could just as easily gone into investment banking or law if it hadn’t been for the Catholic Church and its particular veneration of Mary.  Father Brandon, a young priest not long out of the seminary raised worship of the Blessed Virgin to such a degree that the Archbishop had to step in.  It was one thing to worship the Holy Mother, he said, but not to raise her to cult status.  Every sermon of Father Brandon’s was about Mary, her virginity, and her womanhood. Brandon, who years later came out of the closet and left the Church, was having early difficulties with his sexuality; and since he was attracted to men, used Mary as cover.  She was unattainable and yet venerated.  A perfect compromise to the struggling priest.

In any case, little Bobby Markum got taken in, and he saw the Virgin Mary as the center of his very devout Catholic universe.  Every woman had been graced with God’s favor, and only one of them had produced Our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Bobby idolized his mother and thought that she symbolized Mary’s goodness and perfection.  She may have had her warts and blemishes, but her spiritual radiance suffused the room whenever she walked in.  She and all women could do no wrong; and if their innate, God-given qualities were overlooked or ignored by men, then something had to be done.

The problem with Bob Markum’s overweening respect, adulation, and support of women was that his wife who although on the surface shared his progressive sentiments and had herself risen high in the ranks of the Women’s Movement, was a sexually tormented women of fiercely passionate desires.  After twenty years of marriage, she was sick and tired of her husband’s solicitousness (“Am I going too fast?  Let me know if you are uncomfortable. Does that feel good?”).  She wanted to be taken, told, and held down; not talked to or asked questions.

Not long after Kathy realized that she was becoming bored with her husband, she decided to do something about it. Slowly, carefully, but deliberately, she explored the world of what she called D&E – Demand and Exhilarating.  She would never admit to herself that in fact it was S&M she wanted; and at first performed an elaborate charade designed to protect what she still thought was her innocence and moral rectitude. The ‘dating service’ she had chosen in Las Vegas during the IV Annual Feminist Conference on Women in Science, was especially configured to meet the needs of upper middle class matrons who were very reticent about their needs.  The dominatrix who came to Kathy’s room at the Las Vegas Hilton was dressed in a silk blouse, designer skirt, Blahnik shoes, and a string of cultured pearls; but in her Louis Vuitton case was all the leather, whips, chains, and harnesses that any woman could want.

Later Kathy dispensed with the preliminaries, left pearls, coquetry, and dominatrices behind, and went hard core, Spanish Inquisition, and slave bondage.   She found that group sex was far more exhilarating and satisfying than a hotel room one-on-one. Everyone doing everything to everyone was the apogee of her sexual curve.  Nothing could be better than that.

She easily justified her sexual libertinage.  It was the apotheosis of women’s liberation. Cracking the glass ceiling was nothing compared to primal sex.  To willingly lie under the lash of a masked overlord was far different than having to subject to it.

Her husband was so clueless and faithful that he had absolutely no clue to Kathy’s sexual adventures.  Most men would have suspected something.  After all, the brutal passion of these encounters did not fade for days.  As much as Kathy rearranged her clothes, fixed her makeup, and tried to enter the house with composure and good cheer, she couldn’t hide the sexual flush and physical lassitude that were the result of her escapades.  Bob Markum noticed nothing. 

Later, when the marriage came apart, he said he felt like Alexei Karenin, Anna’s husband who said he had so much respect for women, that accusing them of jealousy would be degrading, demeaning, and wrong.  Little did he know, of course, that Anna was deceiving him with Count Vronsky in a passionate affair.

To all their friends and family the Markums seemed like an ideal couple.  He, unlike most men, was faithful, respectful, and even dutiful.  She successfully combined work and motherhood without stress or complaint.  They both shared a commitment to social justice, world peace, and the environment; and were always affectionate if not outwardly loving.  What more could anyone ask in a troubled world with so many troubled marriages?

Bob was so faithful in fact, that he jokingly referred to himself as ‘a latter-day Jimmy Carter’ who had famously admitted to lust in his heart; but he had read Matthew as a child and could cite the lust passage from memory:

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.…

His friends could not understand him at all. Not only had they had lust in their hearts since puberty, they were all serious pussy hounds.  Not a one had been faithful to his wife; and while none subscribed to the outright misogyny of Posthumus, Cymbeline, or Othello, they all felt that infidelity was an instrument of sexual warfare.  Women hold the upper hand  because only they know who the father is; so anything men do to redress the imbalance is right and fair.  The Captain in The Father understands that love is war, but he is so outgunned by his wife, Laura, that his struggles are hopeless from the beginning.

If Bob’s uxoriousness wasn’t bad enough, Bob’s friends thought that his very public support of feminism and the Women’s Movement was downright treasonous.  They tolerated him and enjoyed him because of his good humor and wit; but they thought he was a wimp and a clueless jerk.

Nevertheless, the strange combination of a sexually demanding wife who gets satisfaction wherever and however she can; and a tame, admiring, and supportive husband ignorant of all signs of trouble makes a perfect marriage.  Kathy was happy because she was free, liberated, and sexually satisfied.  Bob was happy because his Virgin Mary, feminist-centered idealism had been made real.

When he first was forced to confront reality – there was no way that Kathy’s sexual exploits could be kept out of sight for long – he again acted like Andrei Karenin. “She has a right to her own personal expression”, Bob said to himself when he heard the first innuendoes of his wife’s vagaries.  “Fulfillment is an individual event and responsibility.  She can’t be faulted for her openness”.

Given his so well-constructed moral and ethical life, it was very hard for Bob Markum to give up his insistent denial and face facts.  Not only was his wife unfaithful to him, she was unfaithful in the most twisted and primitive ways.  Her demonic behavior was not only an insult to his manhood, but to his very soul.  He, a devout, faithful, and unquestioning Christian was living with the Devil. How could anyone deal with that?

It was religion that started his relationship with Kathy Freeman – her assignment as his Virgin Mary – and it was ended by it.  For all his denial, his vigorous justification of her actions on feminist grounds, and his belief in Christian redemption and forgiveness, the photographs of her trussed up on the rack in a mock torture chamber in Crown Heights, whipped by a black buck in leather, eyes rolled to the ceiling with pleasure was simply more than he could bear.  He dissolved the marriage and they never saw each other again.

Yet, by today’s or any era’s standards, Kathy and Bob Markum had a good marriage. It was one in which there was respect, consideration, complementary careers and a satisfying sexuality. The fact that Kathy’s sexual satisfaction was achieved in unusual extra-marital ways is irrelevant.  From Bob’s perspective, his caring, methodical, and predictable lovemaking was what was required in a mutually respectful relationship, and he was satisfied.

Bob never married again.  Although he was still relatively young, he had no appetite for any more intimacy.  He admitted that he never really understood women.  If he had been unable to appreciate his wife’s appetites and determined feminine nature, that was his fault.  Kathy was guiltless and by no means responsible; and to his dying day, Bob venerated women.

Edward Albee and Eugene O’Neill were convinced that not only was there no such thing as a good marriage and all marriages were confining, degrading, and destructive.  Despite the happy wedding ceremony at the end of all of Shakespeare’s Comedies, it is always assumed that the marriage will be a bad one, so ill-matched were the lovers. So perhaps the Markums were as good as it gets.  They had thirty good years; and who is so presumptuous as to define a successful marriage?

To put it simply and somewhat crudely, a marriage between a pussy-whipped, timorous husband and a sexually twisted, insatiably passionate wife seems to be the ideal.  Complementarity is what marriage is all about; and the Markums had mastered the seesaw.

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