I recently wrote a review of the book When Good People Have Affairs by Mira Kirshenbaum and a commenter asked if I had read another book which she felt was written as a validation for the author’s affair and affairs in general.
That book is Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser and no, I had not read it, but I went straight to the library and checked it out. It is that comment along with the book that has brought me to these thoughts.
On one side there is Stayed’s husband, a returned MLCer who had an affair and even lived with the alienator. On the other side is Elizabeth Lesser who had an affair—it was a secret affair in the midst of her marriage—and left her marriage when she ended the affair. She left, he stayed; does that make her message and experience any less valid or credible than his? Should we discount anything Elizabeth Lesser says because she cheated, did not return and gives reasons for her affair—though having now read the book I can tell you that she does not consider her affair a justifiable or right action, but she accepts it as part of her past and thus something from which she has learned and grown.
Let me review her story for you. But first, her book is not about her affair or affairs in general and it is not a memoir of any sort. She is the co-founder of the Omega Center for spiritual retreat and personal growth; she founded the center with her first husband before her affair. This book is a self-help book; it’s not directed at marriages, but to growing through trauma in a more general sense. It is a about Mirror-Work. Elizabeth includes the story of her affair because it was the significant breaking open event in her life.
She had an affair with someone she met through her work—yes, her work as a spiritual teacher. Her affair lasted a year and her description of it in the book is not specific, rather she talks about it in more general terms—overwhelming urge, I felt I would die unless…, overpowering. The brief details are really only covered in three chapters, page 114 – 125. She calls the affair partner a Shaman Lover—she uses that as a general label, much as I use the term alienator. What she is really describing is the anime (my gender neutral term for the anima or animus) and so I personally feel anime is a better term—plus, as a betrayed spouse I don’t like the inclusion of the word lover. Her description is accurate of an anime experience. Instead of dismissing her because she did not return to her marriage, learn from her, she can provide you with insight into what some of your MLCers are experiencing.
Here are a few pieces from her description of the experience.
- I followed him because something inside of me sensed an urgency I had never known before. I felt I would die unless I went with him into a dark and beckoning sea. (p. 118)
- In the beginning, I was aware only of an overpowering attraction.
When I first laid eyes on him, I knew I was in the presence of something out of my control. (p. 118-119).
- I was drawn to him by a force stronger than any kind of will to turn away—as if his gravitational pull matched that of a planet. (p. 119)
- What I thought was the best of me—devoted mother, faithful wife, public leader—gave in to the demands of an irrational force. (p. 119)
I’m a writer and I take word choice seriously. When I wrote my list of Key Components of MLC I said one was an urge to abandon, not a need or desire, but an urge. Watching Sweetheart in those first weeks after Bomb Drop, it became clear to me that this was not something he was doing because he wanted to do it. That became profoundly clear in a moment when he suddenly seemed to freeze—deer in headlights—for an instant. In that moment I saw his fear and his chaos and the absolute inability to control what was happening, I too described it as a an urge and a force like gravity. In that moment I could see the energy around him like a sharp and jagged aura.
Lesser has since observed this process in others and identified a few markers of being caught in the throes of an Anime Experience.
- Sudden loss of control
- Fearsome sense of abandon
- Air of foreignness
The Shaman Lover is not the one you thought could turn the large ship of your life around. If you thought you would be attracted to someone with money, he is broke; if you wanted respectability, she’s a gypsy; if you longed for sweet romance, he’s mean; if you wanted deep peace, she’s trouble. (p. 119)
She also said that what she did with her affair partner—secret-keeping, lying, betrayals…had nothing to do with him. (p. 118) Sound familiar? The alienator is a band aid, a symptom of MLC. But there’s more. I have left one part out and it may be the part that may be the most offensive to a betrayed and Standing spouse. That will be tomorrow’s topic.