On the Brink

Friday, November 04, 2011

Question

My wife put me through law school by working as a stripper. When the adult theater got too sleazy and started demanding high stage fees from the dancers, she went to work in a friend's dungeon as a dominatrix. I wasn't the happiest camper in the world but I appreciated her sacrifice to make a future for us as a couple. Neither one of us had a well-to-do family that would help to pay for my education. So I concentrated on working hard and getting good grades, while making contacts that might land me a lucrative job after graduation.

Now I have graduated, passed the bar exam, and gotten licensed. But she doesn't want to give up “being a sex worker.” My memory is that I gave my agreement on the condition that all of this would stop once I could support us both and help her to go back to school. She denies making that agreement. We never put anything in writing. I am being interviewed by corporations that would drop me in a hot second if they knew there was a potential scandal in my private life. She says she has a right to keep working, she enjoys her job, she is making good money, and she doesn't want to give up her independence.

This is a bad time for me to consider going through a divorce. I don't know how I would manage the stress of hunting for a job combined with that. But I am really hurt and confused. Why would she endanger us this way? It makes me feel like this is more than just a job, that she gets some personal pleasure out of doing it, and that kicks up the jealous feeling that she is cheating on me every time she goes to work. I can't tell you how awful our fights have been. Do you think this is fair on her part? What can I do to help her to understand my point of view?

 

Answer

Couples often run into trouble when they make agreements that take several years to fulfill. People grow and change over time, so it's almost inevitable that the two people who made the original contract will develop different priorities (and even identities, like that of being a sex worker). The experiences your wife has had putting you through school have shaped her view of herself and the world every bit as much as your years in law school have probably altered you.

I understand your fear of scandal. But if she has avoided being dragged into the limelight, it's unlikely there will be any now. Of course, there's no guarantee that this is true. During election years or moral panics, law enforcement can go crazy and even discreet dungeons that have operated for years may be closed down. It's also true that you can't do sex work forever. In fact, I encourage clients who are in one branch or another of that venerable industry to consider their plans for retirement as soon as possible. The crazy money that you can sometimes make won't exist in your forties and fifties. It makes sense to save that money to fund an education or a business that's more mainstream.

Do you share in any sexual interests that she expressed by working, first as a stripper and then as a dominatrix? I ask this because very few dominatrixes are good enough to make money at that game unless they have a personal understanding of power-exchange sex. If you have a penchant for exhibitionism or sadomasochism, you may be as vulnerable as she is to being publicly humiliated by unwanted exposure. A less judgmental tone would be helpful and appropriate.

Sex workers are frequently accused of cheating on their partners, especially if they get any pleasure out of their jobs. This is unfair if a couple has agreed that one of them will get a job providing adult entertainment. You can't do that while maintaining conventional monogamy. Do you plan to take a job that you will hate every second of the day? I hope not. Shouldn't you be glad that she is able to muster some enthusiasm for her vocation? It's demanding work, and no one should have to put in long hours at something that disgusts or upsets them,  no matter how big the paycheck might be. Whatever shiver of arousal she might experience now and then is nothing compared to the complete relationship she has with you. By providing acceptance and a loving home, you could create a sanctuary that will make her love you a great deal. Don't you think it's a little odd to blow so hot and cold, just because you have met your career goals? 

One of the things the two of you did not discuss was how to deal with her transition from sex work to another career. Can you understand that even if she wants to give up her current employment, there was bound to be a “gray area” during which she arranged her retirement? What exactly did she want to do with her time before you went to law school? Can any of her hopes or dreams be revived? 

One thing that was missing from your letter was a statement about how you feel about your wife. There's a lot of concern for the content of your agreement, but I don't get a sense of whether you are still in love with her. If you are both still in love, I believe you can eventually come to understand each other's point of view, and eventually figure out a solution that makes both of you happy. 

Has something else happened, other than your getting licensed, that makes you feel panic about the relationship? For some reason, she no longer trusts you to provide for her needs. She wants to take care of herself. Is that just because of the uncertain economy? This bitter argument about her job seems like a coverup for uncertainty about whether you care for each other the same way that you did when you got married. Couples counseling might be helpful, if you can find a relationship therapist who won't judge her for being a dominatrix. It often takes a mediator to de-escalate a conflict and create a workable compromise. 

 

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