The Cliff

Sitting_near_the_cliff

Dear Russell & Friends,

I’m writing in response to a recent post by a family friend J, Russell’s wife.  She also goes by CC, the Counterfeit Christian, to reflect her journey through the desert of doubt concurrent with her husband’s loss of faith.  In this post she mentions the cliff of infidelity and how it shocked and disappointed her that she could even let it come into view.  I found her admission to be mature, honest, and much more healthy than most of us can manage.  In light of Josh Duggar’s recent revelations I felt an obligation to speak.

Mrs. Pascal and I met at the age of 19.  She actually baked my 20th birthday cake in a dorm microwave one step up from an easy bake oven.  We jogged together (she later confessed that she didn’t like to run), played racquetball, shared meals, and grew in friendship.  We wrote a series of pre-internet letters on paper with pen in envelopes requiring a stamp.  We both still have every one.  We decided to marry after an intense argument.  I asked her for 48 hours space.  I was either going to marry her or never talk to her again.  What a wonderful decision.  We celebrated 21 years of marriage last month.

In a life driven by priorities, following Christ is first.  The second priority is loving others.  These two priorities are why I’m here.  But there is a rank to my others.  My bride deserves to be first in my esteem and affections.  My children know that I love them but that they must play a secondary role in my heart.  Other people – – our community here falls into the third tier.  So if one person is my first priority, how can I guard my heart and hers?  I consider infidelity to be one of my deepest fears.  I would likely feel less guilt with other crimes that might be objectively considered more serious.  Why?  I promised her.  I gave my word.  I said that I wouldn’t leave and wouldn’t destroy what we worked so hard to build.

The photo above is beautiful.  Mrs. Pascal just walked by and said so herself.  I explained the metaphor of the post and she wholeheartedly agreed.  We have tried to draw our stopping line one mile from the cliff.  I am not a young sports car.  I’m not fast, shiny, or sexy.  I am a middle aged locomotive.  I can carry much over great distances.  I am defined by momentum, not acceleration.  A train can take a mile to stop.

Here are my principles for guarding a faithful marriage.  I have built them with the lessons learned from my weaknesses and from the failures of those I consider friends.  In the last twenty years I have sat across the breakfast table from 7 different men who were leaving their wives and children.  Only one turned back.  All of these men had picnics by the beautiful cliff.  For what it is worth – – here is the advice that I give myself.  I ask you all to hold me accountable.

  1. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to yourself.  You can become attracted to another.  None of the 7 men thought they could ever stray – – that was the one commonality.
  2. Friendship is more dangerous than physical attraction.  You’re not 19 anymore.  Finding someone who appreciates you and laughs at your jokes – – danger.
  3. Avoid pornography.  It is corrosive and encourages to ask, what if?  It honors neither women nor men.  How many human traffic victims?
  4. Tell the truth.  Tell the truth to your true friends.  Some men (most men) have less than 5 friends.  Find one.  Please.
  5. Do not meet privately with someone from work.  Have your meetings out in the open.  Do not go to lunch one on one.  Take a colleague.
  6. Know yourself.  I am more vulnerable to words than plunging necklines.  For me, to exchange letters with a woman who is not my wife is a crossing of the one mile boundary.  I did that one time.  I thought I had built accountability into the system.  The letters were for a noble cause.  They were openly exchanged.  I was wrong.  My bride asked me to stop and I did immediately.  She knew my heart better than I did and I’m so glad that she loved me enough to guard it.
  7. Be kind, but not familiar.  I hope that I am never rude, but I would rather be considered rude than over familiar.
  8. Do not flirt.  It is jet fuel on a camp fire.

This list is less important than the spirit behind it.  Please – – guard your own heart and the heart of the one you promised it to.  What do you think?  Have I drawn my lines to extremely?  Does this make sense, or not?  Have you successes or failures that may help us?

Pascal – – 1:16

photo credit: By Dinkum (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

24 comments

  1. I think you know that I agree with all of these, and more passionately now than ever. I struggle the most with 6 and 7—knowing myself and being kind, but not familiar.

    I will add one—don’t assume you’re safe with anyone. You can inch toward the cliff when you least expect it. The danger may even heighten when the other person is so much older or so much younger or so not your type or so committed to their marriage (and you to yours) that you don’t recognize the need to put up safeguards. In hindsight, I’ve probably been in a dangerous area before and have been too blind to recognize it. I might not have acknowledged it this time if my colleague hadn’t assigned words to our situation himself. For me, those “unlikely” situations were when I allowed my heart to take risks I shouldn’t have taken.

    It reminds me of unrestrained trauma victims I’ve taken care of who were ejected from cars during collisions—they didn’t wear seat belts because they were only going just across the street.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This works equally for singles meeting with marrieds in any number of scenarios.
    Both this and J’s posts come at a time where I wish I could encourage a married male friend from making a sub-conscious bee line for the cliff edge.
    It hits close to home also because my father had a number of ’emotional affairs’ before a physical one which tore up our family.

    I guess a question for you, and your readers… Is it appropriate for a single (female in my case) to ‘warn’ or otherwise encourage a married male from making a mistake he seems blind to? And if so how?

    (I will clarify, it isn’t with me)

    I am aware though that his answer to anything I say will be ‘but that won’t happen, we just get along great, – we are like twins (words he actually used with great excitement), or mirrors of each other, we just get each other’. SO is it even any of my business?

    Sorry to hijack your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And… is the fact he is even sharing the news his new ‘buddy’ with me appropriate? His wife wasn’t home at the time, I’d been minding his kid for the day. And he was just so excited that he shared with me during the child hand over.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. JJ, take what you need and leave the rest if this is too much information.

        No. Not appropriate for him to share that news with you.

        If you already know how he’ll answer your concern (and it is as you mentioned above) I wouldn’t intervene. You are already know how he’ll respond and it’s a waste of your time and energy.

        A true story.

        Two years after his wife left him a Dear John note I had occasion to be in contact with my former best friend’s husband over town issues. His occupation. He was short with me and supposed I knew all about his wife’s abandoning him. I did not. I had ended my “friendship” with his wife a few years prior. He had noted my absence but never knew that I had kicked her out of my life before she had left him.

        Years before she left him she came to me for counsel regarding feelings for a pastor who was counselling her. She was considering sleeping with him. I laughed in her face. Wasn’t my best moment but I was shocked beyond imagination. I spent hours with her telling her she couldn’t do this and throw it (Christ) all away. I pointed out her discipleship ministry with young women, her relationship with God, her husband and children for crying out loud! (Short story.)

        More years later she confessed to me that the best thing I did that day was laugh in her face. It kept her from making a mistake. I thought, ‘Well okay, good.’ Different styles for different folks I guess.

        A few years later I learned she was in an all out affair with the pastor, who during a private session touched her hand “in comfort.” He made the first physical contact in his office. They were in love. I demanded to know his name. She never told me but I knew who it was. Not only a pastor but the husband of her other dear friend who didn’t have a clue.

        I spent years listening to her go on and on about their compatibility, their love, how she could have sex with him and then go home and do the same thing with her husband. The more I chastised her the more she came after me. One night I lost a whole night’s sleep sitting with her in her marital bedroom while her husband was away and she was breaking up with the pastor. I cannot begin to tell you how many parts of me were lost tending to this woman. And the more I tended the more she took from my being.

        After a hospitalization that required a fight for my life, she told me I didn’t have Crohn’s disease but secret sin in my heart and if I would just confess that secret sin I wouldn’t have so-called Crohn’s disease. It’s then that I learned that her initial visit to me to confess and repent of her temptations was all a ruse. She had already been sleeping with him when she approached me all those years ago.

        Now back to her husband. He asked if he could visit with me at our home. I told him yes but that I had to have Biker Dude present. This of course was no problem. (The reason I had Biker Dude present is he’s the one that rescued me from a nervous breakdown after I ended the relationship with my friend and she called me an abomination to God.) I was scared for my mental well-being.

        To try & shorten this up. He asked me about his former wife’s friendship with said pastor. He wondered if it wasn’t too familiar. I started to shake. It was the pastor she was having the affair with. What was I to do? I listened as he shared with me his concerns and I broke down crying and shaking. I told him it was true and that please forgive me for not telling you. I have lived for so long with terrible guilt about this. I am broken. I’m a shell of who I use to be. He was stunned. I told him what she had said to me over the years and how I had become a wasted soul over this issue. I told him I felt like she had used me like the mafia uses a store front to hide their sin. I told him what she had said to me in a 4 page letter about being an abomination.

        I told him I had been holding her feet to the fire all these years but she’d smile and laugh and lie, lie, lie. I was taunted and humiliated in my concern for her, for her precious family, for her relationship with Christ. I demanded accountability. I demanded he be exposed. I tried to love her back. I tried to insist. I can’t possibly tell you all of it other than I basically almost gave my life to this cause. It was all for naut and a terrible waste of myself.

        As I lay there in Biker Dude’s arms weighed with guilt her husband told me I had nothing to feel guilty for. How can that be? I asked. How can you say that? I knew and I did not tell you! He told me he would not have believed me and in fact would have kicked me out of their lives if I had even hinted at such a thing. He told me the responsibility lay with him for making her his Queen. He had bowed down to her. She was perfect and not capable of such a sin. He had made the mistake of worshiping the almighty Queen. He would have turned on me in a heart beat.

        He told me there was nothing to forgive me for though I asked for it several times.

        Before he left he told me that I had that night saved his life. He was in counselling but had decided to end his life. It was going to be very soon. He told me that knowing the truth had released him from thinking he was crazy and gave him the will to carry on.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Zoe. I have no doubt that it was painful, but I truly appreciate all you have offered to JJ and others here. And I am so thankful for Biker Dude’s faithful support for you—and the fact that his presence gave you the courage and safety to carry out such a difficult conversation.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Painful for sure CC, but only because I question whether full disclosure is wise. It’s like throwing yourself into the pain over and over again. It’s the years of turmoil and travesty that one subjects themselves to over and over neurologically that concerns me about sharing. As well, there are a dozen more things that could be shared that relate but never see the light of day.

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        2. Zoe,

          We are strangers, so I’m not sure what level of acceptance my words will receive or if you will receive them as truth. You are most certainly not an abomination to God. I am so sorry for your physical suffering with Crohn’s disease. I know from the outside how terrible it can be but I can’t empathize with the physical pain. I am so sorry for your emotional devastation. I know from the inside what it means to be broken. I too have a Biker Dude who helped to put me back together. I disclosed my mental illness to Mrs. Pascal as soon as our path together appeared serious. She helped to build a troubled boy into a stable man and for that reason alone I owe her steadfast loyalty.

          Your suffering did have a purpose. You saved a man’s life. Your kind disclosures here may save others. We often don’t know. A thousand thank yous for sharing the testimony that I’ve read on your blog here with our readers. You are welcome here, accepted here, and valued.

          Pascal

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You’re welcome. I believe you are sincere in your efforts to communicate with me Pascal.

            As you know I don’t believe there is a God. From your Christian vantage point I am not an abomination to God. From my former vantage point of Christianity and that of my former friend and others I am in fact an abomination to God.

            Both sides claim faith in the same God. It appears to me that you do not share the same God.

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        3. Zoe, thank you for sharing your experience. I agree with all that J and Pascal have said in response to this. So I’m not sure I can add much. I value that you would feel strong enough to share what can only be described as a deeply emotional experience – which extends to the physical for you.
          There have been a number of moments over the last few years where I would have really been able to use a ‘Biker Dude’ of my own. The value in that kind of relationship – whether a close female or a male partner/husband (in my case only because I’m heterosexual, though equally valid in any other combination – I hope I’m not being disrespectful in the way I’ve said that.) is not lost on me. It is something I struggle with at the moment, that lack of having someone to confide in, trust, gain support from etc. I don’t need it to be a life partner, just someone who could be beside me when I really need it. – Sorry off topic again.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Sharing that wasn’t done on a whim JJ. I thought carefully about it. Took time to walk in the gardens, do some photography and ponder. I use to believe that sharing parts of me was the right thing to do because of my former belief. Now I believe it can be the right thing to do because I am a human being connecting to another human being, regardless of beliefs.

            I know I’m in a different place than you having Biker Dude by my side. I’d like to think that without him I would have survived the moment. Truth is though, without him I wouldn’t be in this moment. You know what I mean. I wouldn’t be living in this town. I’m here because I married him and this is where he obtained full-time work. I’m here because we are still married and he is still alive. If he wasn’t I would move. 🙂 (That is not a death wish.) I guess what I’m trying to say is, my circumstances are different than yours I know. And it is easy for me to say Biker Dude rescued me. But I wouldn’t even have bothered with the church I ended up in (the one where this toxic friend wooed me too) if not for a serious postpartum depression and being scared to death that he and our children would burn in hell if not saved. My whole life would be very different than the one it is now if I had not insisted on going to that church and if I had not fallen prey to my former “best friend” and her subtle manipulation.

            I have no way of knowing if in a situation like this I could have managed with or without a Biker Dude. I have no way of knowing because I never had any other way of knowing. 🙂 I think we are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for but somewhere in our development and in our belief systems a seed was planted that we are weak and for some reason we believed it.

            Liked by 1 person

    2. Many will disagree with what I will say, but you asked, and I will answer, from one woman to another.

      It is not wise for you to warn him. That involves time alone with him, and it involves intimate conversation about matters of the heart. Do you have mutual male friends who could step up here? Do you know his wife well enough to share your concern? If a woman were concerned about my husband’s excitement about a woman he isn’t married to, I would want her to come to me rather than to my husband. An even better scenario is if the wonderful men in my husband’s life (Pascal, for example) could confront him and hold him accountable to the promises he made to me.

      Also (and this is unsolicited advice), I would honestly avoid a child-keeping situation where you spend time in conversation apart from his wife. I understand that sometimes it’s unavoidable—I have been living two hours away and my husband has had to hire babysitters, and I certainly prefer that they be female for my children’s sake. But we understand that it can be a complicated situation. He pays them quickly and shows them the door—no discussions about anything that matters, although we are happy to pour into our babysitters when we are together the way families poured into me when I was a young adult.

      I very recently didn’t follow my own advice, but I learned a lesson the hard way (although thankfully not the hardest way). I couldn’t avoid being alone with a married coworker—that’s a daily thing for me. I could have avoided conversation about anything not work-related. Our discussions weren’t inappropriate—they mostly centered around faith and our individual journeys. Through that, I showed him too much of my heart. His is also won with conversations, as Pascal and I have said is true for both of us—it didn’t matter that I dress professionally and never seduced him.

      Be careful, friend. I do not at all question your intentions. I’ve just seen good intentions backfire when people become vulnerable with each other, and it could happen even with something as innocent as a concerned confrontation with the goal of protecting his marriage. It is not your duty to warn him. In my opinion, the best thing any woman can do for any man’s marriage is to keep her distance. I do pray for my husband and for all the men I love that they will have other men in their lives who can protect them from tragic mistakes—and I hope your friend has the same.

      (This comment was assuming heterosexual marriages, but obvusually the same principles apply in gay marriages).

      I hope this all made sense, JJ. And I’m not meaning to sound like a hypocrite. I just care about you and don’t want your heart to break like mine did.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I value your response and would like to respond but it is almost 1am and I know I will not make sense. I will respond later in the morning or tomorrow afternoon.
        Thank you J.

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      2. Hey J, Yes all made complete sense and in no way would I consider a hypocrite.
        It’s funny really because all you have said to me here is stuff I would have told myself if I was someone else in the same situation. I have a mother who sometimes throws me off with the way she says to deal with situations – it causes me to second guess my own authentic natural response.
        There are mutual male friends, though none that would step into that role. And I do know his wife well enough to talk to her about it. We are actually very close – in a weird kind of way… Hard to explain. Because I know them both very well and am included as a member of the family I think they feel very comfortable with me – to the point that I am often uncomfortable and thus I have stepped back a bit. Though still will mind their kids when needed (It was an error to use the word ‘his’ child… I thought about that after) The mother was away at camp and normally I rush out once he comes home but (and that but sounds like a great big excuse) his daughter wanted to show me some things from her day at school and then wanted my son to play with her for a bit… There was an occasion where he wouldn’t let me come in as his wife wasn’t home – which was totally fine with me – but that has changed and now he invites me in when I am sitting in the car with my son waiting for his wife to come home – if I am visiting in the afternoon.
        It is interesting to me that he is so keen to share his excitement with me and tell me all about his day etc yet has no interest in me or mine… I think it is a sign of a wanting man, not necessarily a wanting of me, but a wanting of company that should come from and be gained from his wife or other male friends.
        I understand your concern, for my heart and for his too (I’m assuming but it seem like the kind of heart you have) And I value that you would share with me so straight up.
        Thanks again.

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  3. Any advice Pascal for those who seek counsel with a church pastor/priest/minister/reverend/bishop/elder/deacon, fellow congregant who are in positions where private &/or confidential counsel is sought?

    Not to only pick on Christianity but it is what most of us have here in common. And when it comes to issues of faith, familiarity and vulnerability are often considered and expected amongst believers.

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    1. Such a good question, Zoe, and I’m interested in hearing Pascal’s thoughts too. I think this issue highlights the importance of having women in leadership in the church as well as men. Some churches don’t participate in this at all, and I think that makes things very difficult. There are also further considerations required in handling these issues with gay or transgender or other unique members of a congregation.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. That is such a good question. By definition when one seeks counsel they are vulnerable. And an effective counselor is empathic. Empathy is glue and I can understand how that balm can draw two people together. For the sake of the counselor and the sake of the counselee I think that the wisest path is to have sessions with those of the same gender, assuming opposite gender attraction.

      For that reason, mentioned by CC below, we need more women leading in the church. One of my favorite pastor/teachers, NT Wright, has advocated for more women leading in the church and I could not agree more. It is fair, in my view, to accept Paul’s teaching on women in its cultural context and to recognize that our contemporary society requires a different solution.

      Short answer: most wise to seek/receive counsel women from women, men from men. My friendships with women in our church body is in the context of their husband and my wife being present, or other members of committees on which we serve being present.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s important to understand your biology and why you have mammalian urges.

    The Coolidge Effect.

    http://www.reuniting.info/science/coolidge_effect

    Telling a married man that he’s committed adultery if he looks at another woman with the thought of mating with her — isn’t addressing the core issue. It’s a form of shaming that can really mess with a guy’s head and stigmatizes women as sex objects. Back in the Bronze-Iron age, they didn’t know about evolutionary biology, reward neurotransmitters and why they existed. Without the Coolidge Effect, there would be no porn or infidelity.

    I also think that teaching married men (or women) that they should never be alone with the opposite sex exacerbates the problem. They are being condition to think they are not capable of self-control. It’s like a metaphorical burqa.

    I have several male friends, and they are married and fully committed to their commitment with there partners. There has never been a problem with corresponding with them, talking on the phone, or being alone in a room with them. Their wives are aware of our friendship and have a relationship built on trust and respect. We don’t need chaperones.

    From the article I linked, look on the left-hand side of the article and select “The Monogamy Challenge”. If more monogamous couples knew about this I think there would be less infidelity or temptations to stray from the nest.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. From the monogamy challenge that you referenced:
      “We are soon on a treadmill of dissatisfaction, punctuated with brief highs – wondering how the joie de vivre went out of our lives.”
      I had to look up joie de vivre – – thank you for that!

      I’m grateful that a growing understanding of neurobiology allows us to understand why we are the way we are. I’m also grateful that you referenced an article with normative content – – why we are not slaves to our genes but can modify our behavior to better control our instincts.

      A book that meant alot to me was The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright. It explained morality in Darwinian terms and wove in a beautiful biography of Darwin’s life. Much of what you write about our neurobiology resonates in this book.

      I accept your approach to married men and the friendships that you’ve formed and accept your intentions and the controls of your prefrontal cortex. I would only offer this as a caution. You are brilliant and some men will be drawn to your intellect in ways that you may not immediately perceive. Be careful and guard your heart.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Pascal, thank you for the book recommendation and for your gracious and thoughtful comment. I also appreciate that you took the time to read the article I suggested.

        “Be careful and guard your heart.”

        Just so you know — I’ve been around the block a few times. 🙂 You are the one who considers infidelity to be one of your deepest fears.

        “What I fear most overtakes me. What I dread happens to me.” Job 3:25

        Thoughts are only thoughts. Don’t fear the fear.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I really appreciate reading this perspective. Recently I read a rant by a former friend from my fundy days on this whole Ashley Madison thing, and it was so gleefully gloating and judgmental it crossed the line from offensive to funny. It’s nice to see another, more humble perspective on fidelity. Such things always bolster my faith in humanity.

    I have some very complex feelings on the whole issue of fidelity, partially influenced by being raised in a world that took a very shaming attitude towards even thoughts of infidelity (as well as sex in general and all queer identities) and then finding refuge from that world in a place that was the polar opposite; accepting of consensual non-monogamy, all gender identities and orientations, and really any sexual behavior that was safe and consensual.

    The funny thing is that both worlds tend to suffer One True Way syndrome, and yet in both I’ve seen cheating (which in the world of consensual non-monogamy, means affairs without the consent of all partners involved. Why people would do this when all they have to do is ask is still beyond me), unsafe behaviors, emotional abuse and other violations. What I’ve taken away from all this is that it isn’t about what you do or don’t do, but how you do it. It’s about being honest with yourself about what feels right to you (both in the sense of what feels like the right thing to do, and what feels like the thing that is right and true to who you are), being loving and respectful to others, and staying true to whatever promises or commitments you have made.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lane – – I appreciate your perspective too, and I must confess to chuckling when you used the word fundy. I suppose that describes my upbringing too, but I’ve found refuge in a different place. I’m glad that you found refuge. You are loved by God. I’m also glad that you quickly get to the core of a complex set of issues – – other people and our promises to them matter very much.

      Liked by 1 person

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