Monday, April 20, 2009

The lies we tell ourselves

Just a warning: this is not going to be a comfortable blog post, and I don't mean I'm going to talk about my kidney infection again. This is a serious post about some uncomfortable stuff.

I found out this weekend that a musician friend of mine has had a habit over the past few years of routinely having sex with women who are anywhere between 10 and 13 years younger than him. He's my age, 33. Some of these young women have been 16 and 17 years old, high school sophomores and juniors. He denies any wrongdoing, and was moved to tears on a couple of occasions with self-pity at the thought that anyone would consider him to have done wrong. Despite his protests of innocent intent, I did some research, and he's been shrewd enough to avoid going below the age of consent in the state that I know about, Pennsylvania. In Virginia, what he did would be statutory rape.

He's lived a lot of places and done a lot of travelling, so there's really no way of telling how many of these young girls he's taken advantage of, how many promises he made, how many may still hold a hope in their hearts that he'll come back. The stories I do know about lead me to believe there are a probably quite a lot of them out there. Of course, the way he conducts himself, and the way that young girls think, none of them has, or probably ever will, take him to court for what he's done. To do that would be to admit that they weren't "grown up" when they allowed him to seduce them, and a key part of his smack is praising absurdly young women for their maturity, beauty, and emotional depth. He also comes across as gentle, sensitive, the kind of guy who means every beautiful word he says. In other words, his routine is typical, and typically effective.

As I've been thinking about this over the past two days, swinging between intense rage at the injustice of it and my impotence to do anything to right it and intense sadness at realizing this person was my friend and is completely unrepentant of this behavior, I've been hit hard with a different point, and that's what this post is really about.

My friend doesn't seem to be a bad guy. He's crazy-talented, lots of people like him, and he is a master at turning things around so he looks like the victim. But the truth is that we are all pretty good at this in our own minds. It's a basic part of our nature that we justify ourselves to ourselves. We know our motives, see. We know what we meant to do, even if what we did was quite different. Even if it really hurt people in ways that cannot be reversed. Even if what we did preyed upon the weaknesses or ignorance or innocence of another person.

We don't all do this all of the time. Most of us have some level of filter on our actions, and we are occasionally aware that we are being assholes. Some pious folks like my Dad do far more than the average amount of self-examination, and are perhaps more aware of their sins than is really advisable on a day-to-day basis, but even Dad doesn't have a totally clear view of himself. Our self-justification mechanism is as old as the story of Eden. It's hard wired, and difficult to maneuver, even when things like parental love are in the mix.

So my recurrent thought today has been this: Holy shit is it important that we tell each other the truth. I literally have been having a sense of vertigo at the thought of how many lives could have helped if someone whom my friend really loved and trusted sat him down and gently told him that they loved him but he had to stop sleeping with minors... way back when he first started doing it. Or if just one of those parents had found out and taken him to court for what he did. If anyone, at any point, had screamed "STOP!!!" and MADE HIM STOP.

The implications for my own life are what really make my head spin. What patterns are present in my life right now or in the past, that all I needed was for someone I really trusted --who understood me and whom I was close to and respected-- to sit me down and say "I love you and you have to stop this". And then I remember all the times that people have, sometimes friends but most often my Mom and Dad. I haven't reacted well initially, but damn... what if they HADN'T?? and then I start to tear up out of gratitude.

Let me be clear: I have been the subject of Christian Witch Hunts, and I am not a fan. I'm also not a fan of "accountability partners", a concept I was introduced to in college and that will to this day cause me to foam at the mouth in rage at how ripe for abuse that whole concept was and how blithely and widely touted at Covenant. I don't think ANYONE should decide it's their job to call out the behavior of someone whom they haven't laughed with, cried with and probably gotten drunk with at least once. But if you are that kind of heart-friend, and someone you know is doing something that is hurting them or the people around them or you, you've gotta say something. Really. You have to. Because our ability to justify our own behavior is so very deep and so very poisonous, and it can literally wreck our lives, our relationships, and even our mental health as we become more and more distanced from the reality of the world as it sees us, wrapped in our bubble of self-pitying, self-righteous, self-justification.

I mourn for my friend. I mourn for every young girl he's hurt. I'd appreciate it if you'd join me in praying that he gets the wake-up call he needs and that he's never allowed to hurt another girl. But I also hope you hear me out about telling each other the truth. I'm always mindful of the Woman Caught in Adultery, and always very wary to call anybody out on their "sin". But what if she'd been caught beating her child to death? Attempting suicide? It'd be different then.

Love, sometimes, is rough rocks being slammed by waves as the wind howls... whether we like that or not.


kristanto said...

nice blog

My Journey to Hope said...

God, what a great post! You are completely right to have such intense emotions about this. In October, a good friend of ours (also our pastor!) was found to be visiting prostitutes for a 10 year period. We prayed and bled with this man. The horror and anger and shame and grief still continues to rack our community in the wake of his selfishness. He preached accountability and vulnerability, but did not live it. And even when it was discovered, he tried to spin it.

It has shown us that sin is so incredibly deceptive, and after a while, we start to believe the lies ourselves. For those of us who are scared to death to end up like that, these people serve as a wake up call to us. Let us take their mistakes and learn to be honest, never thinking that it couldn't happen to us. I will definitely be praying for your friend and for you!


Shower Pig said...

Self-pity is the psychological state of mind of an individual in perceived adverse situations who has not accepted the situation and does not have the confidence nor ability to cope with it. Along the lines of your posting, your friend needs help! The affairs with the younger girls are symptoms of a greater problem, steer him towards counseling.

The Shower Pig

Karl said...

First, I think you are right to call what is going on, wrong. On the specifics though, I'm unclear whether you are saying your friend specifically targets teenage girls on a regular basis, or whether he's more generally promiscuous, taking advantage of the many such opportunities that come to a talented musician, and that some of those encounters have happened to be with girls in their late teens. Either is wrong, harmful and destructive, but the former scenario (singling out and targeting teenagers) is even more troubling to me than the latter.

What is it that troubles you the most? Is it:

- The [mean] age of the girls, regardless of your friend's age?

- The age disparity?

- Dishonesty on his part?

- That he is different from who you thought him to be?

If you don't want to discuss all this in a public forum that's ok. Send me an email or just ignore me!

Moff said...

Hi Karl,

No it's cool discussing this in a public forum. You know me... no secrets here. :^)

I don't know for sure if he targets these girls or if they just cross his path. The fact that the first option is even a possibility is enough.

The thing that troubles me is that he has no remorse whatsoever about sexual intercourse with much younger women. Not even a "hmm, maybe that wasn't exactly fair to them." His reaction when I told him exactly what I thought of that was rage, and that scared me, because to me it was indicative of someone living in an extreme state of self-delusion, and probably someone struggling with mental illness.

There are a lot of details I'm leaving out here, things I know about his behaviors and his habits that create a more complete picture of someone who is seriously struggling with what, at the very least, is a dysfunctional inability to mature. That doesn't become a problem for me so much until it means he seduces young girls because either a) he sees them as equals or b) he doesn't see himself as responsible for their welfare.

The second thing that bothers me, of course, is his dishonesty. I have reason to believe he is maintaining several different relationships of a romantic nature with women in various cities, and is telling each of these women that the other women are just "friends". I have reason to believe these relationships also involve sexual intimacy. He justifies this behavior because he hasn't "committed" to any of them, but this creates the potential for obvious emotional, not to mention physical, harm for these women.

Does that make more sense?

Karl said...

Yeah Amy, that gives me a little clearer picture. Whatever I say or ask is only against the backdrop of "whatever the actual scenario is, it is clearly messed up and wrong and harmful to both him and these women."

I don't know the other things about him that you do and wasn't there to see his rage. Those might point to someone with problems beyond what most of us have. And the fact that at least some of the girls have been teenagers while he was in his late 20's or early 30's is troubling to say the least. But for a professional, single musician, promiscuity is pretty much the norm isn't it? I've had friends somewhat like him. One played in a local, small-time band, another played in D.C. area clubs and another is a professional musician in Nashville. The opportunities for sex that routinely come the way of people like that are staggering, and scary.

It would be easier to have a discussion about the whole thing in person because anything I type on a blog comment will probably make it sound like I'm more sympathetic to him than I am. I guess while not sympathetic, I'm not as surprised as you seem to be that someone like him would have succumbed to adopting that pattern as part of his life. Not that it's ok. Not that it's anything other than ugly and destructive and harmful and selfish - and sin. But if you had said "Hey, I have this friend who..." and then described him minus the details about his sex life, I would have thought "I bet that guy has a girl in half the cities he tours in and picks up a bunch of casual extras on the side". Maybe that's cynical. I wasn't in the position like you of being his friend, who thought better of him than that. It's ugly. But is it all that surprising or unusual?

Sorry, I'm not trying to be argumentative or insensitive or to justify his behavior. I'm not saying "hey, it's normal so get over it." I agree with your bottom line take on the wrongness of it all. Just probing to know and understand a little more.

Angela said...


i'm not sure how i found your blog anymore - i must have followed a link somewhere - but i just read this post today in the coffee shop and i'm nodding to myself and thinking, ya, ya, hell ya.
our ability to lie to ourselves is mind shattering. i need, need, need those honest hearts to steer me straight, though it's usually the grossest thing to live through.

this is such a good post. thanks.