Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Question of Character: Part II

This issue of character is still bubbling away for me, and especially the issue of what positive qualities might constitute character. One of these qualities, I believe, is integrity. I like this link on integrity because it connects the idea to being a whole and complete person, as well as to honesty and to adherence to a particular moral code.

Now, as you know, I find honesty a somewhat mixed blessing around here. In my view, honesty should be tempered with tact and kindness. I also don't find trying to fit myself into abstract moral rules all that helpful.

So I like this idea about integrity being a whole and complete person, and I think it is about following our own moral code, rather than somebody else's. Because I think that, in some ways, integrity is not so much about honesty in the sense of telling the absolute and brutal truth on every occasion, as it is about authenticity. It involves telling the truth, living the truth, about the most important things. To me, an Emily who is a person of integrity might tell the occasional fib, especially to avoid causing needless pain, but she would not live a lie.

And teasing out exactly what character and integrity are in my current situation is becoming important to me. Some people, for instance, would consider that being a person of character in a relationship with illnesses and sex problems would be about turning myself into a kind of saint, a martyr, and especially one who wordlessly pretends that she has no sexual needs. Being Nice about it. Being heroic. "A better person", they would say, "would just accept that the sex is over and get on with the nursing".

Oh, but I have been down that path before, and I know where it leads. Now that I look back on it, that whole path, however well meaning I was when I trod it, lacked integrity. And it took me to places that were even worse.

Smiled sweetly and pretended everything was fine with our sex life, because I was a Nice Girl who found the whole subject embarrassing? Check.

Made half-hearted attempts to fix things while wallowing in resentment? Check.

Lived an increasingly surface life with the Big Dude, privately retreating into a kind of wounded sulk until we lost that emotional connection that brought us together in the first place? Check.

Retreated into fantasies about having chosen a totally different kind of man and actively planned my escape from my responsibilities? Check.

Had casual sex with someone else and lied about it, feeling justified by the deprivation at home and the Big Dude's lack of effort and refusal to go into sex therapy or counselling? Check.

Run off into a much more promiscuous lifestyle that, however fun it was at times, tended to bring out the worst in both me and my temporary sexual partners? Check.

And where did these things take me? They took me nowhere, that’s where. Ultimately, they led me to... nothingness.

And on reflection, I think that this was because all these responses came from failing to realize that I had to be a whole and complete person - a person who both enjoys and needs sex, and who also wants love and commitment with one particular man who simply can't meet those sexual needs most of the time. The only way to be true to myself was to learn to live with that conundrum, instead of trying to cut through it by denying one side or the other.

In fact integrity, for me, is more about living with contradictions, with how messy life really is, than about trying to make my life conform to some particular moral code or pursuing extremes of sainthood or promiscuity. It is about trying to find a golden middle way. Its just a pity that I am so crap at moderation. So this kind of integrity, for me, takes a kind of self-discipline that I have to work at. I am naturally much better at extremes, but I have to learn to pick out that middle path and stick with it.

And it also requires courage. It requires admitting that our sexual problems are not a temporary crisis that may dramatically improve at any moment. They are almost certainly permanent, in some form. I am going to be living with them for a long time.

And it does require authenticity - maintaining a steadfast honesty in expressing my needs, refusing to be ashamed of them, while trying not to guilt trip a person who feels very differently.

It takes saying to myself:

This is my life. I will face it with my eyes open. I will not lie to myself or to the Big Dude about how I feel in this situation. I will not pretend to be Nicer than I am. But I will temper my honesty with kindness and respect. I will not "supplement" with some other person who I can't tell the Big Dude about. I will not run away. And I will keep trying.

Integrity sux.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


As to your penultimate point, that integrity sucks, all I can say is, It sure can. Hard choices abound, don't they?

You seem to do well with them, better than most. Remember, nobody has a perfect life. Nobody. You're doing better than most.

7:43 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

Emily, I congratulate you for making your way back from 'nothingness', and retrieving your life w/ the Big Dude. Integrity, indeed - wholeness, consistency. All that.

And, it's not easy. Life turns out to be more heartbreaking than we planned on. But being able to come at it all with integrity (I LOVE that word; you chose it well), is worth more than its weight in gold, or fun, or whatever else you might be tempted to trade it in for. . .

I understand what you mean by the idea of being 'true to yourself', and that's an important component of integrity. But, I've come to the conclusion over the years that morality is, in some mysterious way, 'built into' the universe - that its source comes from beyond myself. Of course, I'm also a part of the universe, so it's 'built into' me, as well. But it's not something I chose, except in the sense of conforming my own life to it.

Anyway, my point is not to quibble over moral philosophy with you. I admire you for the choices you've made. . .

8:46 AM  
Blogger O272 said...

Maybe a little offtopic, but I cringe when I see the word *martyr*. I think of someone who bends over backward for everyone else for the sake of pity and sympathy from others. I realize that's not the actual definition, but it's my version and I know quite a few people that play that game.

In my eyes, that's not you, Emily. You're a very intelligent, young woman. If you ever do feel that you're doing more than others than for yourself, it's time to take a step back and rearrange priorities and responsibilities.

Or you could fly on over here and we'll take you out drinking. ;)

10:09 AM  
Blogger F2 said...

Hmmmm. This post was like a salve and a balm and salt in the wound all rolled into one. Much to think about here.

I tend to spend a lot of time in my head. You know, caught up in thoughts and wishes and would've/could'ves. And, yes, sulking, too. And, it's not necessarily a bad thing to be in tune with how you feel. But, things will only change when I can use all that headspace time working on solutions, action plans and ways of better communicating what I'm feeling.

This, I often forget. And your post was a good reminder.


10:34 AM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

This brought tears to my eyes. You're very brave, Emily.

9:01 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

In fact integrity, for me, is more about living with contradictions, with how messy life really is, than about trying to make my life conform to some particular moral code or pursuing extremes of sainthood or promiscuity.

Beautifully said. And one person's "strict moral or ethical code" can be different from another person's.

I think you exhibit character in bucketloads, my dear woman.

2:12 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

I am really moved by the responses to this post. I cringed and hesitated to post it because it just seemed so self-indulgent and even kind of "preachy". But quite honestly, this is the deepest truth of my life as I see it, at least at the moment. And your comments are so generous.

LBP - Do you really think I'm doing better than most? Sometimes I feel like such a loser, to be honest.

Desmond - No need to quibble, and I do understand what you mean. I think maybe that when times are really hard, a person just needs to look within themselves to find what they need to carry on. Its a focusing inward to find inner strength and conviction. It doesn't mean that they won't come back to those ideas and draw strength from them at a later date.

O272 - Not much scope for rearranging priorities and responsibilities at the moment. The Big Dude just can't take on any more, there is no one else, and so every time there is a new issue or task, I'm "it".

But that night of drinking sounds good - red or white? Or shall we go hard? You know what I really love? Drinking vodka and limes and dancing all night - I could do that all night and I'd be feeling no pain :-)

F2 - Actually, writing it was a salve and a balm and salt in the wound, too. Simultaneously soothed and comforted and damn well irritated.

Mu Ling - Well, your comment brought tears to my eyes, too. I don't think of myself as brave at all. From reading your blog, I think you understand certain things about my life very well, and more than you say.

2:42 AM  
Blogger Emily said...

Thanks, Fiona. I don't think I have a lot of character yet, but I'm working on it. And may I say how much I am enjoying your current happiness :-)

2:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And I will keep trying"

As long as you do this Emily, I think that you always have hope. Things may not change dramatically for the better, but then again they could. Or they could continue to improve in little steps as they seem to be doing since you've done what you mentioned in this post - be totally honest with yourself and the Big Dude about your needs.

It was a great post, and I'm sending you hope and hugs to keep on keeping on.


3:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not much that I can add. Thanks for a great post.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Lickety Split said...

understanding the issues is half the battle.

Yes it sucks to have a conscience or integrity but in the end it must be important to you or it would not inspire this type of deep emotion.

Big hugs to you...

10:25 PM  
Blogger oldbear said...

Good for You E-girl!

Well put Desmond.

BEC, good point about the little steps.


ps-E-girl, as long as you think and try and talk and love and enjoy you are winning even if it dont seem like it in the now.

4:40 PM  
Anonymous loz said...

you are so amazing. thank you for sharing this (even if I am late to reading it)... turns out, I really needed to read & think about integrity - and what it means to me personally, how to live it personally - just now. you've given me a lot to consider. x

7:33 PM  

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