Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Chameleon Woman

I have a good friend, let's call her C. C. is an unfailingly kind person, honest and loyal. The friend I was chatting with yesterday, who we'll call N., is also a close friend of C.'s. C.'s deep traits, her virtues, are solid and do not change.

Her more superficial traits do. I've known C. for almost twenty years, and I've barely seen any of her hobbies. She does whatever the man she's attracted to does. I knew the men, not all of them were very good but most weren't manipulative or pressuring about these things; and C. takes them on when the relationship is just starting, not when she's trying to keep it. With hardcore RPG guy she was a gamer; with athletic guy she was an aspiring athlete; with fishing and hunting guy she's a fisherwoman. Chat friend N. and I talked with C. about this because it seemed a bit worrisome, but nothing came of that.

N. feels that my second wife who's now divorcing me, T., has changed enormously in recent years. Neither of us knew T. for very long at all before T. became attached to me. I came along at a very difficult time in T.'s marriage, as I've told, and comforted her and praised her and gave her backrubs and encouraged her to get back to sex with her husband since she still loved him. He left her for his best friend's wife and she fell in love with me, and I with her.

My friend N. thinks that my wife T. did the chameleon thing with me. T. became a regular churchgoer, which I don't think she was before; she started target shooting and carrying a sidearm; she thought highly of the value of regular sex in a marriage. But she didn't talk deeply about any of these things. All of them have disappeared now.

T. has said she lost herself and had to find herself. That didn't make a lot of sense to me. I wasn't pushing her into being something or other; I was no pushier with anything with her than I am online about monogamy. I pretty much encouraged her in every interest, when she wanted to travel for work, anything*. But apparently she could not be herself with me, and had to find herself somewhere else.

Before we got married I laid all that emphasis on the importance of sex to me in a marriage. She agreed, apparently wholeheartedly, but it was a superficial agreement. She fooled me and I have no doubt she fooled herself as well.

It's kind of weird that my first wife left me for her "safety" and my second left me because she needed to find herself, away from me. I've got a lot of flaws, but neither violent nor controlling are among them. Both cases point to areas where I'm actually already really good. It makes learning from the experience more difficult. Maybe lesson 1 is some people are really hard to please.


* There's an exception to this. We both were RPGers at first. I came to resent them because having sex with me was always something she didn't have the time or energy for at 9 pm, but she kept staying out until 2 am at RPGs; I kept asking her to wear costumes for me that she wore to cons, but she didn't; etc. Role-playing sex was a fantasy of mine, but here my wife was role-playing with everyone but me. In the last six months or so of our marriage I was not encouraging her much in gaming. There were probably some looks and heavy sighs when she'd tell me about the games afterward.


  1. This is my theory on relationships:

    Everyone adapts themselves to a relationship to some extent; you might start using the same catchphrases as your partner or you might wear red more often because they've said you look good in it; whatever. This is a normal human part of wanting to feel you're part of a "tribe" - but it does mean that your personality is subverted, however slightly, for the greater good.

    And so, when you suddenly find yourself single again, you have to learn who you are - which parts of you are really you and which parts you took on for your partner. The problem is, most people don't take the time to do this. Most people are so freaked out by the sudden lack of structure and boundaries in their life - the idea that there's nobody to conform to anymore - that they start desperately searching around for a replacement.

    And since the recently-single person is so used to making little compromises for a partner, they're very vulnerable and malleable and can easily pour themselves into whatever mold is set in front of them. In layman's terms: a person rebounding from a breakup will probably "fall in love" with the first nice person who comes along because they seem to fit together so well and have so much in common - and because the newly single person has forgotten how to be alone and will do anything to be rescued from that fate. But the two people don't actually fit together well; it's just that treacherous malleability.

    Honestly, as soon as you said you were with your ex right after she'd divorced someone else, that raised a huge red flag for me. I agree that she did the chameleon thing, and I think eventually the stress of being someone she wasn't got to her and she did indeed leave "to find herself". That's exactly what happened with the guy I hooked up with eight scant weeks after leaving my husband (although it only took me six months to realize what was going on, thank god...amazing how self-aware I was able to become once I was out from under my ex's oppressive shadow).

    I'm still friends with my "rebound guy", amazingly enough: he is a really wonderful person. But it's laughable that I ever thought I was in love with him; we are so totally and obviously not meant to be partners. I was just so liquified by my marriage that when it ended I poured myself into the first safe-looking vessel.

  2. Okay, I call this a "theory" but that's just modesty. What I wrote is ABSOLUTELY THE WAY THINGS ARE, dammit. There is no doubt in my mind. I've seen the pattern acted out by myself and countless others again and again and again.

    Plus, I went from being a serial monogamist my whole life to taking a five year soul-searching break before being with Minx. The difference in my current relationship is palpable. I could rant about this all day...but I'll spare you.

  3. Perverse Cowgirl, I've been reading your archives from the beginning, and I'm picking up some of the differences there. (Do you like comments on old posts, BTW? Some bloggers hate them).

    I think people really vary in the extent to which they do this. I don't think I morphed myself that much; when I caught myself doing it I would try not to and warn T. about what I'm really like. It was a danger I was aware of, and she was, and I trusted her to handle it better than she did. But then I was alone for about a year before I met her.

    I've never seen anyone who does it like C, it's creepy.

  4. I would guess that C is very insecure and terrified of being alone, or believes that love means melding your entire personality with your partner's, or both. And I'd bet good money that she's almost constantly seeing some guy or other.

    Or maybe I'm just projecting.

    Shortly after leaving my husband, I went to a therapist for a while. She was mostly useless, and I quit after just a few sessions. But she did tell me that wanting to meld with someone else is unhealthy. She said that in a good relationship, both parties have discrete personalities and feel complete on their own.

    At the time, the idea of never again feeling "melded" with a boy was so terrifying and lonely that it made me cry. It's funny to think of that now.

    I'm glad you were single for a year between relationships. I would venture to say that you should go even longer this time around, the grand scheme of things, a year is nothing.

  5. I would venture to say that you should go even longer this time around, though

    I think I should get the whole "making up for being a man" thing under control, anyway. And I need to get myself back into better habits regarding the chores my wife used to do; I'm still doing those in a way that's too ad hoc. (Because I've always hated those chores rather than because I'm subconsciously waiting for her to come back and do them.)

    But in general I don't feel like I'm incomplete or that I want to meld personalities; I want a forever ally and sex partner, not another half of my soul. I already have a whole soul.

  6. It's also possible that she's not so much insecure as that she genuinely doesn't have a particularly coherent identity. I've met people like this, and while they are often entirely functional and often charming individuals, they seem to try on personalities like clothes and it freaks the hell out of me.

    I know I didn't have a lot of confidence or security in myself as sexually attractive or interesting for ages, but after a long childhood as a loner I had an extremely concrete personality and no conception of how to alter it for someone else's benefit. I don't think that was so much a virtue on my part as a temperamental trait.

  7. C.'s personality really doesn't change appreciably. It's just her hobbies and interests that do.

    I also feel like I have an extremely concrete personality. It makes me suspicious of my ability to change those things I want to change. What I can do like a champ is accept people being different, what I can't do well is change myself even when I really want to.