There is no “when,” actually. Our own minds are always our worst enemy. The experience we have of the world takes place between our two ears much more than it happens “out there.” That is not to say that there is no objective reality, as some people believe. But, objective reality is not as responsible for our happiness as what goes on in the recesses of the mind.
Eyes Wide Shut (screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Frederic Raphael, inspired by the novel by Arthur Schnitzler) illustrates this perfectly. Alice and Bill have been married for eight years, one year beyond the infamous “seven year itch.” Both of them behave inappropriately at a Christmas party, but not in unforgivable ways. However, the seeming innocence of their respective flirtations betrays a deeper discontent lying just beneath the surface.
During an argument, Alice reveals that in the prior year, while she and Bill were on vacation together, she entertained a fantasy about another man. She is brutally honest and, perhaps, unnecessarily detailed, in recounting the depths of her lust for this stranger. She does nothing more than exchange a glance with this man. Nevertheless, at that moment, she says she was ready to give it all up – Bill, their daughter, and their future – just to have one night with this unknown man.
Bill takes this hard, of course. But if he had had some emotional distance from her marijuana-spiked confession, he might have realized that this fantasy was not only foolish, it had more to do with her than with him. Had she been dumb enough to actually pursue this fantasy, she would have, no doubt, regretted it. This handsome stranger probably could not have lived up to her fantasy. He might have been an asshole. He might have been terrible in bed. He might have had a disease.
But Bill does not have emotional distance from either his own thoughts or his wife’s. He is cut to the quick, not only because of jealousy. He is also shaken to the core because his wife’s revelation overturns all of his prior conditioning regarding female fidelity. He assumes he can basically take his wife for granted because “women just don’t think like that.” In other words, women don’t crave sex outside their relationships. But, he’s wrong on both accounts. The movie (and the world) is full of lusty women perfectly willing to have uncommitted sex and/or cheat on their loving partners.
But, while his wife’s confession was regarding a fantasy, Bill’s indiscretions are all too real. He kisses two women – three if you include the masked kiss at the party. He goes to a hooker, stopping only because his wife happened to call. He goes to a sex party and almost cheats again, stopping only because he was kicked out. In his pursuit of “strange,” he spends over $700 of his family’s money in one night. He sinks so low as to call his lovesick patient whom he had kissed, and then rejected, earlier, only to be stopped by the fact that her boyfriend answers the phone. He even goes back to the hooker, willing to sleep with her roommate when she’s not there. This time, the only thing that stops him is the discovery of the hooker’s HIV diagnosis. You would think almost exposing himself to HIV would have woken him up, but, nope. Not quite yet.
So, Bill’s fidelity is technical, rather than actual – and, thus, basically non-existent. Whether his unfaithfulness emerges due to torment over imagining his wife with other men, or whether that’s simply an excuse for him to indulge his own desires, he has been played by his own mind. He has fallen for a false image of “something better out there” that, in reality, is a hooker-y, pedophiliac, HIV positive, drug addicted, seedy world of deception, betrayal and pain. He brings this pain into his family life during what is supposed to be one of the happiest times of the year for families – Christmas.
Alice’s statement at the end is very telling: “The important thing is we’re awake now.” The fantasy of something better “out there” has ruined many potentially solid relationships. There is nothing “out there.”
The ego-stroking that people get from exes, sexy strangers, opposite-sex “friends,” porn, and dating sites is an illusion. Chasing that illusion will likely cost you what you already have. The men and women in our fantasies are only flawless in our minds. In reality, they are the same, and probably worse, than what we already have. Had Alice known that, she could have laughed off her fantasy rather than spend their whole vacation thinking about it, then sharing it with her husband a year later. Had Bill known that, he could have chastised his wife for her careless confession rather than literally walking the streets looking for some kind of revenge or distraction – stirring up drama and pain that may take years for them to fully heal.
One of Alice’s final statements is that “Maybe I think we should be grateful.” She goes on to refer to their past “adventures,” but I wish she had stopped there. Maybe we should just be grateful. Grateful for the love we have, rather than thinking there is some escape in the attentions of other men and women. The fantasies may come up in our minds, but we have the option of seeing them for what they really are – reflections of a mind that has wandered away from the present moment, and forgotten to be grateful. The mind will always crave what it doesn’t have, compare the past to the present, think what it has is inferior to what others have, and long for admiration without first giving it to others. In short, the undisciplined mind is a source of misery.
So, let’s do our best to not be our mind’s bitch. Let’s be grateful for who we are, and for whom we have in our lives. Let’s offer praise and appreciation to ourselves, rather than constantly seeking it from the outside. Relationships are what we make of them. If we take our partners for granted, we will soon discover that others view them the way we used to – and will take them off our hands for us. But, if you are the one who is being neglected or taken for granted, the answer is not in the arms of another man or woman. The answer is a frank conversation, a clear request for what you want, and a graceful exit if they won’t comply.
Remember, the most powerful sexual organ is the mind. Take control of yours so you can have the relationships you deserve.
Peace and love,