A friend was confiding in me her struggles with body image, compounded by her husband's struggles with purity in his thoughts. She said to me, "I know that's just the way men are wired. Isn't your husband the same?" I hesitated a moment, trying to find a way to be honest while simultaneously meeting her desire for support before deciding there was no way to do both.
"That doesn't happen to be one of his particular struggles. He'd be more likely to notice the keychain a woman was carrying than the skirt she had on." I added a lighthearted laugh in an attempt to keep the conversation casual and moving forward, hoping to convey through my tone of voice and body language that I did understand her concern even if I didn't share the same circumstances.
"But he thinks you're attractive, doesn't he?" she said with some incredulity, apparently more worried about my body image at this point than her own.
"Oh yeah...when he thinks about it."
The conversation quickly trailed off, replaced by superficial banter. I knew that it would have been one of those bonding moments that bring women together had the discussion gone differently and I silently mourned the loss of commonality and friendship. I don't discuss my husband's differences with acquaintances both to respect his request and on principle (I have plenty of weaknesses of my own I wouldn't want him bringing up in casual conversations), but the kinds of conversations women have around me rarely address my marriage's particular struggles anyway. I imagine my friend felt more alone than ever, wondering if she was the only woman concerned about her husband finding her slightly-larger-self attractive at the end of the working day in which he was surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of thin, young women in heels. Since weight isn't something I struggle with, she politely implied I wouldn't have a clue what she was going through and hasn't brought the topic up again. What she didn't know is how much I could sympathize. The feeling of worthlessness, unattractiveness, and competition with "the other" that is created when a woman wants to feel loved in a way she can understand is something I experience regularly even though my husband doesn't have roving eyes.
On any given day, I could walk right in front of my husband buck naked and be completely invisible to him and totally ignored. The few times I hinted at his lack of interest in me or my life, I was told that my husband must be gay, must be having an affair, or must be involved in a gay affair. The marriage counselors we visited had no idea what to do with us. One called my husband an "odd duck." No one could relate.
"The other" I compete with is my husband's latest passion. This week that would mean he'd notice me if I were carrying a box of oh-so-difficult to find .380 bullets but in the past it has been anything from his connections to his family-of-origin to entrepreneurial ideas and anything you could imagine in between (before our marriage, his passion was me which is why he showed so much interest at the time and was able to woo me off my feet), but it has never been another woman (or man, for that matter) that I was romantically competing with. How can I be so sure? I asked him.
In a series of short and direct questions, his answers of no to every one means if he has ever had an affair (which I doubt), it is buried so well that I am not going to discover it. While my husband has a natural skill for answering what was asked and not what was intended, and because of his literal take on words he is adroit at talking in loopholes if he desires (meaning our entire conversation can quickly focus on the implications and definitions of particular words if I don't stay vigilant), he is unlikely to outright lie.
My friend went home and told her husband yet again about her insecurities. He assured her that he thought she was beautiful, hugged and kissed her, held her hand more, spontaneously praised her, and overall spent time and effort showing her his love. The next day, he was back to the demands of a high-pressure work environment and was ignoring her need for frequent flattery for the most part, but she was buoyed for a while and able to communicate her needs and fears effectively. I told my husband about our conversation and how isolated I felt in not being able to relate with other women. He nodded his head and said, "Mmmm..." in agreement, never lifting his eyes from his plate or giving any other indication of concern or support. He didn't touch me all that evening until he leaned over to kiss my forehead to say goodnight--one of the few times our routine includes physical interaction. It was a little underwhelming so I expressed my frustration and desires on how it could have gone differently to his expressionless face. Getting nothing, I said, "I need you to hold me." He happily obliged, wrapped his arm around me, and was snoring in contentment, happy with the perfection that was currently his life as I laid alone in the dark and cried.