This post is a continuation from yesterday where I was responding to a few of the comments received from Part 2 and Part 3 of my series The Midlife Journey: Understanding, Accepting & Embracing the Outcome.
The original series referenced the book Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser. In it the author spoke briefly of her affair and the end of her marriage.
Lesser chose to see her affair as a brilliant awakening… a Phoenix moment or whatever she calls it, and she has devoted her life to helping people have this kind of awakening.
An awakening, yes, but brilliant I don’t know. Brilliant perhaps as a descriptor of the affect—the phoenix flames, but brilliant as in a wise action…I can’t speak for her, but I am not so sure that is how she would describe it. I think it may be more about making lemonade and finding silver linings than approving of her affair.
Yes, she devotes her life to helping others through their own phoenix processes. That does not mean she encourages them to go out and do bad things to create and facilitate suffering and adversity—since …suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope… (Romans 5: 3b -4) I do not believe Lesser is encouraging people to deliberately create and invite suffering for the purpose of suffering—or any other purpose. It’s about Acceptance of it when it happens. So she is not going around advising men and women to cheat on their spouses because she thinks it will be a great learning experience. She doesn’t promote doing things we know we will regret or that we know will harm others, but she helps people come to terms with such actions after the fact and she helps them transform.
I don’t believe a “Phoenix moment” or crisis is a necessary part of living life as an authentic human being. I don’t believe in destiny. I believe in free will and making choices. I also believe each of us is not the center of the universe and that we have a responsibility toward others (Golden Rule). By the way, I am not religious at all.
I don’t think a Phoenix Experience is necessary either. But I do believe it happens and that it can lead a person toward greater authenticity—but no, it may not be part of each person’s path—not because it is not available, but not everyone will choose it.
I think there is a rule higher than the Golden Rule—so I call it the Platinum Rule. What’s good for one may not be for another and so instead of treating others in the manner you would want to be treated, treat them in a manner they want or need to be treated. Think of that regarding Love Languages. Mine is Touch and I thrive on hugs, but Sweetheart thrives on Acts of Service and Quality Time and if all I did was try and touch him, it would not be sufficient—and in Sweetheart’s case he might get squeamish!
To me, Lesser took an experience (her affair) and guides (her shaman lover and a psychic) and decided, while still wearing her MLC shit goggles and probably in the midst of lust-induced dementia (these are terms used by people on the midlife board), that life with husband #1 was not worth returning to, because she had bigger and better things ahead… more, better sex, more excitement, more LIFE!
Similar to many of our MLCers? Probably. Admirable? Not to me. The only inevitable path she could have taken to fulfillment in life? I don’t think so. But she did choose it, and she’s found herself content where she ended up, and so she’s interpreted the affair that triggered her to take this path as the golden phoenix moment in her life… a brilliant awakening. That, to me, is justification of the means (the affair).
What are Lesser’s MLC symptoms?
Sure her shaman lover sort of affair may share MLC attributes, but an emotionally bonded affair will share attributes with MLC. Did she project onto her husband? We don’t know, she wrote the book years later, so perhaps at the time she blamed him while defending herself. But in the book, she does not make her ex-husband the bad guy—which is what an MLCer would do. Her affair was secret while she stayed in her marriage, in MLC there is typically a Bomb Drop before an affair, at the start or during, but the affair does not end. Lesser ended her affair and then she and her husband separated. The situation does not fit MLC—just below the surface. Maybe it was MLC, maybe not, but if it was MLC it is not obvious.
As for being admirable, who is making that claim? Infidelity is not admirable. Separate these questions from the specific situation of Elizabeth Lesser and apply them universally: Do past sins mean nothing done afterwards can be admirable? Do sins—of which infidelity is only an example—taint not only the past, but everything in the future? Present contentment does not mean Elizabeth Lesser is interpreting her past as inevitable. To me, this still goes back to accepting her past.
When Sweetheart was cheating I wanted him to feel guilty and ashamed of his behavior—internal not the toxic types that came from me or anyone else. Guilt and shame that are not toxic are not bad, they serve a purpose. But I do not want Sweetheart to live the rest of his life with that guilt and shame; I want him to release them and I think he has, or he has come far on that path. We can now talk about his MLC and affair without emotionality. We can mention the alienator—a couple times he has referenced he likes the way she cooks something and requested I try her way. No problem.