|The thing missing as a husband talks
to his wife is good will--for her and the world itself. Eli Siegel defined
good will as "the desire to have something else stronger and more beautiful,
for this desire makes oneself stronger and more beautiful" (The Right
of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, no. 121).
I am enormously grateful that with
the woman I love, my wife of 12 years, Maureen Butler, I am studying Aesthetic
Realism. Because of our study, our love for each other is more passionate,
deeper, more exciting, more intellectually stirring, and kinder with each
How a husband talks with his wife,
Aesthetic Realism explains, begins with how he sees the world and people.
I didn't see people as whole beings, with insides as real as mine. Growing
up I thought, as many children do, that adults were insincere, more interested
in flattering and kidding others along, or complaining about and making
fun of them, than in knowing them. As I listened quietly to adults talk,
I felt superior to everyone, particularly when these same people showered
me with praise while I just stood there, acted polite, and didn't say a
I felt my mother existed to serve me.
I remember, with regret, the pleasure and power I felt as I sat sulking
at the kitchen table while she tried to cheer me up. Unwilling to speak,
I would scornfully mumble "No," "Yeah," "I don't know," "Maybe." To get
me to talk, she said, was like "pulling teeth." Years later, in an Aesthetic
Realism class, Mr. Siegel explained: "You just want to have a mother with
whom you don't talk very much. She is in reserve. You can use her quietly
against other people. [You say,] 'If my mother can care for me, even if
I am what I am, why can't other people?"' Mr. Siegel gave form to how I
judged whether people, particularly women, cared for me.
The Conversations with Ourselves
The person we talk to most is ourselves,
and if the conversations we have with ourselves about people--how we think
about them--are not to know and be fair to them, what we do say aloud may
be hurtful both to ourselves and to another. For example, when I was attracted
to a woman I'd say to myself, "She is gorgeous!" or "Wow! What a doll!,"
and imagine just the two of us together--and the picture did not include
us talking. I wanted to use a woman to get away from thought. I'd try to
impress and entertain her, to get what I saw as the ultimate pleasure,
which did not require talking or thinking: sex. What she said didn't matter,
unless, of course, it was to praise me. If she was critical of me I would
defend myself, carefully explaining how she had "misinterpreted what I
meant." And if there was sex, afterwards I'd usually feel empty and dull,
unable to look into her eyes.
I felt something was missing, but just
how big, beautiful, and luscious that thing was and what in me interfered
with my having it, I found out when I began to study Aesthetic Realism!
In one class, Mr. Siegel described
why I was angry with a woman, Rose Lindelli. He explained, "You have a
desire to capture ": and he asked, "Do you want her to fall into your arms
and say, 'I accept you unquestionably'?" I said, "I feel her desire to
understand is not great enough." But Mr. Siegel--and I love him for it--wanted
me to see the mistake I was making. He said, "Ms. Lindelli would like to
be cared for, and she is also independent and critical. Do you want to
see that, or is it a subject of displeasure?"
I answered, "It is a subject of displeasure."
And I asked Mr. Siegel how I had hurt Ms. Lindelli. He explained: "At a
certain time you took for granted that you knew her well enough, and that
even if you didn't, you should be approved of. You weren't deeply interested
in her questions, Do you think you acted like a plantation owner on the
plantation called Lindelli?" "Yes," I said.
The Delight of Respect
What I was after with women was so utterly
puny compared to what I feel now as I see that a woman has in her the whole
universe. I love talking with Maureen Butler, having my thoughts known
by her, and knowing hers.
I have the good fortune to be learning
in Aesthetic Realism classes how to be a better person and husband. For
example, shortly after we were married, I found myself irritated at having
to think of what concerned Maureen. When we were alone, under the guise
of giving "useful criticism," I'd pompously lecture her. She was critical
of this. And when I spoke about the matter in an Aesthetic Realism class,
Ellen Reiss asked: "Has Maureen Butler gone from being a human being to
being an appendage of you--not someone to know, but someone to bring you
praise or disgrace? Do you think she stopped being a person when she became
a wife?" As the discussion continued, Ms. Reiss explained, "You're angry
with Ms. Butler because she makes you think. Your marriage won't fare well
if you don't want to think." Hearing this criticism, I was able to change!
As we've talked, Maureen has encouraged
me to see the insides of people with greater warmth and depth, and to see
value and beauty in things--an aria sung by Maria Callas, the drama of
light and dark in a cloud formation at dusk. I thank God we are learning
how to have conversations we're proud of, which make for respect, joy,
and kindness to each other and other people--that we are able to ask as
we speak about people, "Are we fair to them?"