Whenever I think I’ve overstated the pernicious ubiquity of The Reconciliation Industrial Complex (RIC), something pops up on my news feed and gobsmacks me all over again. No. I’m not imagining it. There really is this fucked up societal message — and literal industry — insisting that chumps not just forgive, but reconcile with their abusers.
Take this recent New York Times article — “Her Husband Did The Unthinkable. This Is A Play About Everything After.” The play is “Accidentally Brave.”
Ooh. Sounds like a chump story. Tell me more.
“Brave” was not what Ms. Corman set out to be. But three and a half years ago, while driving to work on a “semi-terrible TV show,” as she put it, she got a phone call that can’t even be described as the kind of call nobody wants to get because it would never even occur to most people that this call would be possible. The police were at her house, her teenage daughter sobbed through the receiver. Her husband had been arrested on child pornography charges.
What do you do when your husband of two decades — father of your three children — is suddenly revealed publicly to have a shameful and disturbing secret?
Lawyer up? Get everyone therapy? Find a support group? Change the locks? Buy a firearm? Take up self-defense?
When the police made it clear it was not a mistake, she pulled over to the side of the road and threw up. She picked up her husband on a street corner in Brooklyn, after he was released on bail, and she asked him if it was true (yes, and he said he needed help) and if he had ever touched anyone (he swore he had not). Then she punched him, and she sobbed, and she called her kids and reassured them that everything was going to be O.K., even though, as she puts it in the play, “I do not recognize the voice coming out of my mouth.
Every chump can relate to this scene. The sickening discovery. The betrayal. The anger. The intense protectiveness for your children. The disbelief. The hollow assurances.
Maddie Corman and her children have my complete sympathy. Jace Alexander, her husband, and the narrator of this NYT story, however, do not.
Hey class! What channel is the mindfuck set to? SELF-PITY.
The poor boo needs her “help.” Help he didn’t realize he needed until, gee whiz, he’s up to his pervy hard-on in criminal charges.
Also note — viewing and sharing child porn is not described as the criminal act the police seem to think it is — no, it’s a “shameful secret.”
Like picking your nose. Or eating a whole box of cookies. Or having a mortifying yearbook picture.
The real problem is “shame.” That toxic bugaboo.
You know where this is going, right?
Oh, and here’s what she calls the spoiler: Nearly four years later, after rehab, an ongoing 12-step program, couples therapy and much anguished wrestling with questions of ethics, family and the nature of forgiveness, she and her husband remain married.
Much of the article that follows is a description of how “not OK” she feels. I want to reach out and insist she Google “trauma bonding,” but apparently the 12-step sex addict therapy ranch retreats got there first.
Her husband, best known for his work on “Law & Order,” is now producing a documentary — working title: “Tsunami” — about the destructive forces of pornography.
“You’ve had the worst thing you’ve ever done exposed to the entire world,” said Mr. Alexander, who spent a month and a half in an inpatient rehabilitation facility and remains part of a 12-step program for sex addicts. “It was incredibly painful and incredibly destructive, but it allowed me to reinvestigate the way I lived my life.”
Well I’m glad becoming a registered sex offender was a growth experience for you, Jace. Think of the journey of self-discovery it must be for your family.
And so, the way she sees it, speaking about the unspeakable might help someone else whose life is turned upside down, who is forced to test the limits of her own capacity for forgiveness in the face of something terrible.
“I wouldn’t wish what happened to me or my kids on anyone,” she said. “But the way that I feel, and honestly the way that my husband feels, is that when we keep things in the dark, that’s when shame and pain actually grows.”
“Our family,” she continued, “didn’t just stop being because something terrible happened.”
Right-o. Set aside the whole RIC forgiveness diktat (bravery is staying and forgiving) — notice the passive language of Terrible Nebulous Things.
No one will explore the absurd assumption that divorce is a more terrifying specter than marriage to a sex offender. (Would she be lauded as brave then? Or bitter for failing to understand him and work through his sex addiction therapy?)
No, to do this kind of mental reconciliation jujitsu, you have to sterilize the language of accountability.
Try instead: “Her own capacity for forgiveness in the face of her husband’s criminal sexual behavior with child pornography.”
“We keep things” is taking ownership of HIS terrible secret. The problem isn’t that child porn is secret — it’s that a 52-year-old man IS INTO CHILD PORN.
And pornography didn’t make him do it. You have to look for child porn. And download it. And trade it. And jerk off to it. And make it quite the recreational activity for the cops to raid your home and impose a criminal sentence.
NONE of which is Maddie Corman’s fault. Or shame. Or secret. As someone who tried reconciling with a monster, I can tell you, the shame you’re feeling, Maddie, is the cognitive dissonance of your values crashing up against the act of taking him back.
And you can fight it, and throw sex addiction couples (?!) counseling at it, and you can write an off-Broadway play about it — but it will never feel “okay.” Because it’s not okay.