Unmasked in Marriage

Damn you! You little prying Pandora!
You little demon – is this what you wanted to see?the phantom gl
Curse you, you little lying Delilah!
You little viper
Now you cannot ever be free!
-The Phantom once he’s unmasked, from Lloyd-Webber’s ‘Phantom of the Opera’

In Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s musical re-telling of  The Phantom of the Opera,  a disfigured musical genius wearing a mask tutors an ingénue soprano and, in the process, falls deeply in love with her.

Early in the story, the protégé Christine, curious to know what her mentor looks like under his mask, snatches it off his face when his back is turned. Furious at being exposed, he lashes out at her, screaming that by unmasking him, she’s ended their relationship. She’s seen him as he is. Now, he’s convinced, she can never
love him.

You know the greatest crime you can commit against some husbands? See them. See them as they are, unmasked and vulnerable, and they’ll be convinced you can never again love or respect them. And that can be the beginning of the end.

She Knows Me, She Knows Me Not
No wonder adulterous flings can be so attractive! The woman who’s lived with a man for years knows him without his mask. His co-workers and colleagues see him all spiffed up at his professional best, but she’s seen him at 6am, sagging jowls, morning breath and all. More to the point, over the years she’s seen him stumble, lose it, blow it, cave, misjudge and misstep. So she’s probably lost the adoring, doting attitude she had in earlier times, and her eyes may not beam with the same admiration they used to.

Well, how could they? She loves him, certainly, but the ups and downs of ongoing intimacy in close quarters can knock the idealism out of any wife.

But another woman who’s seen less of the real him – the co-worker, client, friend or neighbor who knows him in a very limited way – can be a very ardent admirer indeed. And in her eyes he may well see the respect and that naïve You’re My Hero look he misses, and craves. He feels bigger with her, more competent, special. Strictly speaking, it isn’t so much her that he loves; it’s the way he feels about himself when he’s with her. It’s intoxicating, and from what I’ve seen from men I’ve known and worked with, it’s the stuff broken vows are made of.

Of course, not every adulterous act can be traced to this. But browse the history of so many straying husbands and you will hear a lot of “I stopped feeling like a man with my wife”, or “With this other woman I was strong and virile again.” Those are weak excuses, for sure, founded in selfishness and guile. But to the unmasked man, known too well by his faithful but no longer starry eyed wife, those excuses become convenient reasons for wandering.

Not Just Sinful, But Stupid, Too
Part of the tragedy in all of this is the man’s stupidity. He’s not thinking clearly enough to realize that the love of the woman who really knows him, warts and all, is just the type of love which will sustain him, because it’s based on knowledge and commitment, rather than romantic imagery. Because only where there’s real knowledge can there be real intimacy; the one simply can’t be without the other.

True, most guys I know, myself included, would like to be seen as a cross between CS Lewis and James Bond. We love being adored, but when our marriages succeed, it’s the love more than the adoration which keeps it all going.

So true closeness means relinquishing the mask. And ironically, once it’s discarded, a man may realize it was an unnecessary prop all along. Because although love usually begins when we’re presenting ourselves at our best, it only ripens and deepens when our beloved sees us in the stark light of day to day living, then hangs in there, supporting us with consistent caring rather than idealistic awe.

That’s real and permanent. No third party can compete with it. And no man who’s truly smart will allow one to even try.

Next: Doctrine Matters

Friday: Reparative Therapy: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters
This will be the first in a five-part weekly series on the controversy over therapy for homosexuals wanting to change, which will be posted for the next five Fridays.

Saturday: Our response to the Bruce Jenner/Diane Sawyer interview on Jenner and transsexualism.

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