“To answer your question,” said Abigail, “I always gave Oscar the benefit of the doubt. That’s how I put up with him.”                                                                                                          The Great Man by Kate Christensen

Women find it so easy to fall in love with their idea of who someone is and then maintain a foolish generosity towards the other person. They ignore actions that are a better source of truth and love to be seduced by words. The words make you feel good and if the words are being said by a married man who cheats on his wife, how easy it is to trick yourself into believing you’re special and it won’t happen to you. Listen to your own inner voice that offers the warning, to slow down and be careful, like the canaries did in the coal mines long ago. So often women share with me their sorrow and the consequences of not listening to their own inner voice. “I knew something was wrong,” or “How could I not know something was wrong?”(Certainly this is not the exclusive provenance of women). Here are only 4 of the many reasons women overcome their doubts, too often to their own misfortune:

1. We are all foolish for love.

2. We are afraid to be alone.

3. We are desperate.

4. We love our fantasies (and hate to acknowledge reality).

Often women can pinpoint the date when “things changed” and then when they ask, they are always reassured. It’s a very hard thing to learn to pay attention to the actions because words are so easy. It’s the words that nurture the fantasy. It’s the fantasy that women refuse to neglect. So imagine someone who is lovely in their 30’s and is attracted to a rich man in his 50’s, who has a reputation of being obnoxious. She loves the sex and the idea of being taken care of even when she knows deep down she’ll never survive his expectations. There is also the research based reality that older men have a greater likelihood of producing autistic children. The power of fantasy will beat the harsher reality every time. The early worries when dating such as, “Does he drink too much?” or “He really doesn’t want kids” are ignored until too much has been invested in the fantasy.

The Disney version of The Little Mermaid makes it acceptable to pay a great price for love. Did Cinderella need the fairy godmother ride to the ball or could she have walked? Sleeping Beauty would be at rest forever if the prince hadn’t rescued her. All of these examples are about women being passive and not taking care of themselves. I fell in love with Ellen Ripley in Aliens in 1979 because she was so courageous and powerful. (The American Film Institute made her the 8th greatest hero in cinema history)  I still remember sitting in the front row (because it was sold out) and knowing with certainty Ripley was fully capable of winning and being self-protective. It was a unique film experience and unforgettable.  Not since Annie Oakley on t.v. in 1959 was there any female character that strong.

Generosity and fantasy are an important part of the beginnings of love. We ignore the farts or honking laugh because we’re in love. Yet, fantasy should not erase real scary character flaws. Asking the nagging questions and risking the answers matters. Can we have fun together without dope or drinking? Can you choose me when it really matters or will your family of origin always come first? Do you have a lot of credit card debt? Have you been tested for STD’s?Are we monogamous? I’m very surprised how many people still have sex without a condom. They look ashamed when they admit it, and yet it still happens. Another example of over-generosity is that many spouses “forget” to even consider asking their partner who’ve admitted an affair whether or not they’ve used a condom.

What is the opposite of being overly generous? Take a moment to try to answer that before going on to the next sentence. I mentioned it when I described Ripley. Generosity matters and it needs to be balanced by self-protection. Swallowing only what’s told, hinted at or suggested is not enough. Self-protection doesn’t mean control. Love entails risk, generosity, failure, rejection, excitement, belief, respect, vulnerability, truth and a wise dose of self-protection.

We live in a difficult world and fantasies are very appealing. It’s why the whirlwind weekend vacation away is so powerful in fueling romance. Fantasy is seductive and offers relief. Instead of grabbing the idea; “At last, I’ve found him” too quickly, consider slowing things down to find out who someone is. As the comedian Steve Harvey says in his new book; how about no sex for 90 days? Sex, too quickly, is the fuel for fantasies which are then built without any infrastructure.

Another solution to the fantasy problem is to figure out how to enjoy your life alone. Volunteer, subscribe to the arts, take piano lessons or learn a language. Do something to make yourself and your life more interesting to you. Then you won’t be so quick to give it all up and leave yourself behind.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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