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Why Is Your Relationship a Secret?

Does the love of your life deny your relationship in public?

Source: wikipedia/freeimages/usedwithpermission

A woman is encouraged by our culture to look for a man who will provide her with an identity. The more prominent and elevated a man, the more difficult it is to secure his recognition, the more valuable his attention becomes. This gives women, especially insecure women, a sense that they are somebody if the powerful man knows their name, their tastes, or wears their ties. It's as if they are invisible until a powerful man looks in their direction, and then they have achieved what they’ve always wanted: a name for themselves as so-and-so’s latest object of desire.

It used to be that the name women wanted from these relationships was “wife” but that is no longer the case. Now to be known as the lover of such a man is considered sufficient, just as long as the information about the relationship is public.

That is part of the catch: somebody has to know that the woman has been picked in this game of sexual duck-duck-goose. And this is where pride steps in: the connection has to be underwritten—even or especially when it is illicit—by at least a few other people who will attest to the fact that the powerful man has indeed made himself vulnerable to the woman, thereby giving her power over him and justifying her existence.

This leads to an old and familiar pattern. Many an assistant sighs after the man giving her the assignments. Many a client longs for a more personal relationship with her therapist. Some women long for personal attention from their physician, lawyer, banker, or from the chef of the most fabulous new restaurant—any man who wields power because of his public rather than private appeal.

But most women can recognize, after a certain point in the fantasy, that these relationships will not necessarily yield the real-life romance they're looking for. In most cases, the woman will then turn her affections to more realistic visions: the man sitting next to her at a lecture, the friend working beside her in the office, a gentleman who will listen to her without billing Blue Cross.

But some of us have more trouble adjusting our sights to those more realistic visions. We get hooked on the fantasy and that takes up all the emotional time and space we have to offer so that, finally, we're left to hug our pillows and cell phones at night.

Even if these fantasies get turned into real relationships, they don’t often work for long. There are good reasons for this: Marry the most powerful man on earth and you nevertheless inevitably end up with a person. The godhead doesn’t belch or fart; the person does. The hero doesn’t get cranky if dinner is late, the idol doesn’t want to watch a rerun of Blazing Saddles, the symbol-of-greatness doesn’t mispronounce the name of a fine wine or make you listen to his favorite band from high school (whose one hit single was released years before you were born).

Historically, the closest a young woman could get to having power was to have sex with a man who had it. That’s changed, but obviously not everybody got the memo. The workplace should not be a version of “Wild Kingdom” where young females unanimously choose the senior male, regardless of his physical, emotional, or ethical imperfections.

The wish for what is out of reach seems to be a legacy from our first mother, Eve: told that she could eat anything but the apple, it was the only food she craved. When you're on a no-starch diet, only pasta and bread look appealing. When you can't eat sugar, only candy bars call out to you from newsstand vendors. Just as when you're on a long business trip, you dream about sleeping in your own bed, but when stuck at home you imagine the luxuries of a night in a hotel.

In the same manner, some women set their sights on men who could not possibly enter into a fully fledged relationship—whatever the reason. And once again we see how pride fits into this: we seek the impossible because it appears magnificently unrealistic, and yet, at the same time, seems to be within reach. If the powerful man desires you privately, could he really deny publicly that you’re the love of his life?

There are short and long answers to that question. The short answer is: Yes, you bet he can. Because in part his pride is wrapped up in keeping you as private as possible. The longer answer might suggest that part of the satisfaction in an illicit affair from his perspective might be obtaining sexual favors without having to endure a real relationship with a real person, with all those attendant details such as getting the spelling of her name straight or having to remember her birthday or favorite color.

Ask him your favorite color. Ask him the name of your best friend from childhood. Ask him your favorite song, flavor, dessert, and movie.

Ask yourself whether you’d like him if he were pumping gas, bagging groceries, serving tables or digging ditches. Not that it's about the money—but is it about the influence? The status? The place he has in the world? The reputation he's made for himself?

Ask yourself whether the relationship is about affection, respect, pleasure, and fun—or whether it’s about pride and power-by-proxy.

Then listen closely to your answer. And your favorite song.

More from Gina Barreca Ph.D.
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