Fiona Answers Readers’ Questions

These are questions asked about Fiona’s Story by participants in the bulletin board forum where Fiona first published it, and from commenters and emailers on the original Salon blog. Fiona is not available to answer questions here, but comments are open.

by Fiona

”Edward” says:

    I believe that emotional-physical contact, if intimate enough, could change under certaian cirumstances this kind of fixation on a given body type. I know myself, that women whom I hadn’t found attractive at first, became rather desirable ocne I have known them better.

I know this is possible, of course. But you have to remember that we weren’t talking about a long-term, daily-view kind of situation. We would be able to see each other only intermittently for little periods of time. I don’t think it would be enough to “retrain” his view, anyway, and the first time, of him being revolted, would be enough to ruin it for me. I wouldn’t be able to wait for him to get over that first problem. I think there was an unthinking assumption on his part that anyone who attracted him with personality was, naturally, physically attractive, too. We get that idea I think from even the earliest stories we are told about ugly witches, where a person’s appearance is a clue to their character. Even the ugly duckling grew up to be beautiful in the end. I see this on children’s cartoons all the time. The bad guys are ugly and repulsive looking and the good guys are beautiful.

So Mark’s idea that I was thin and beautiful was just one of those assumptions normal people make, and the whole point is that it is thoughtless. Automatic, like a reflex, something you can’t help because it never occurs to you that there is anything wrong with it. Which is also why I was so sure that he couldn’t overcome this natural, ingrained prejudice if we met in person.

“Betty” writes

    The sad thing is that you, yourself, are so strongly influenced by these sexual stereotypes that [you] caused yourself suffering for not living up to the perfect images.

Yes, that is also absolutely true. I was talking about this with someone and they said that your own image of yourself is so important in these things. If you don’t feel attractive and desirable, it puts a damper on things. That was a big part of it for me. I couldn’t get over my OWN knowledge that he didn’t like fat. If he had never told me, it would have been better. He could have been disgusted when he saw me, even, but if he had pretended it was okay, in ignorance I could have still felt okay about myself. As long as I never knew how he really felt.

I never realized before this how much keeping a secret or not being totally truthful can sometimes be a really good thing. You’re taught all your life never to lie, and to feel guilty and sinful when you do. But there are times when lying is the best thing for everyone. There’s no question in my mind.

The problem is figuring out when the lie is better than the truth.

”James” asks:

    How did [this experience] effect your feelings towards your marriage over time?

Thats a good question. I’m not sure how to answer it. Sometimes I feel one way, and sometimes I feel another way. Sometimes I think I am just as content as I always was, and that the sexual boost it gave us was actually helpful. Other times I think I am just a little bit more restless than I would have been if I had never met Mark. But it is so hard to tell about these things. I mean, who is to say what I would have been feeling now if Mark had never happened? I could have been feeling a small amount of middle life crisis or dissatisfaction even without Mark coming along, and you could say that getting the lesson of that relationship pointed out to me how lucky I am to have a man who really loves me and doesn’t seem to mind my dress size. If it hadn’t been for Mark, maybe I would be fooling myself more about the green grass on the other side of this comfortable marriage.

It’s like I got a taste of what would be waiting for me out there if I wasn’t married now. The exciting highs and the lows, and the uncertainty and the broken heart that is always around the corner. It has made retreating into my husband’s love both necessary and meaningful. He doesn’t know what happened, but the marriage is better for him, I think, because of it.

Of course it also made me aware that you never know what is going on in another person’s head. For all I know Grant has an online girlfriend himself that he talks to from work or something. Or even a real one. I realize that as long as I don’t know and it doesn’t make him love me less, if I’m not aware of it taking something away from me, I don’t actually care. I would have cared, before. Now I understand that it doesn’t have to hurt one relationship to have one with someone else. I never would have imagined that to be possible before.

I think it has made me a stronger person. I know things now that I didn’t know then. I don’t want to sell the story itself, but I can’t help thinking that having the experience will make any future stories I might write about love better.

“Junkie46″ complains:

    you don’t have to tease us at the end of each chapter. just tell the damn story and tell it succintly.

and “Player B&A” writes:

    You are a superb writer, Fiona. You have moved both my senses and imagination. You have enough here for a novel. I think you should put it together, embelish it a bit, and publish it.

and “Jorgen” says:

    This is a great story. And that you tell it as a serialized novel works great to keep up the suspense. The way you can tell this tells me that you did rise above your experience. I once tried to get over a somewhat and ongoingly traumatic relationship by writing hundreds of pages about what was going on. It provided some kind of relief, but it neither worked as a story nor did it really get me beyond the experience.

and “Jonathank” comments:

    What I dislike about this story is the lack of reflection about motives. This problem is common to memoir. (I blame the influence of the Iowa writing school which often equates description with insight.) …

    But at the same time, the author must have wondered where this could go, what this says about her and her marriage, what this says about her real motives and desires – beyond the typical “I was so into the moment”. It is the introspection that makes the artist, for that is what informs description.

Fiona replies:

As Julia said in that comments section, I really was not trying to be artistic here. Writing something like this is not really “creative.” To me it’s almost like listing things in sequence. This happened, then that happened, then that. I don’t have to make anything up, so the words just come out the way they come out. No big deal. When I think about how hard I work to do stuff out of my head and make it sound right, I’m almost annoyed (in a strange, good way) that this stream of consciousness stuff flows out of my head and onto the screen so easily and gets compliments, too. Wild.

The reason I told it in this serial, cliffhanger way was partly because that’s the way it came out as I was originally writing it in that dead forum discussion. It took days to tell it. And then Julia encouraged me to keep the suspense thing in because it might drive a little bit more traffic to this site (sorry Julia, got to tell the truth, ha!). The only changes I made (other than copyedit kinds of things) were to rearrange the sequence of paragraphs, add some transitions, and take out or change details that might make Mark more identifiable if his wife or friends should stumble across this website.

This isn’t a novel. It won’t ever be a novel. I don’t want to embellish it in any way. It is what it is.

I’m not sure this “works as a story,” either, given the anti-climactic ending. Did writing it help me work through the experience? Yes! Although I didn’t add in all my thoughts, I did do a bunch of introspecting on myself while I was putting it out there in that forum, and during and afterward the people there were talking about it with me. Then someone else came forward to tell another, much more tragic and ugly story, and oddly enough, that helped, too. The forum discussion was about 4 years ago now and I haven’t spoken to Mark since May of 2000. He disappeared from AOL and I didn’t even try to find him.

I’m going to summarize a couple of questions that more than one person asked. Several people wanted to know if Grant ever found out (NO), and whether I could be sure of the things Mark had told me about himself. One woman wrote:

    If he admitted he’s over 50 years old, he’s probably 60, and he’s got a gut hanging over his belt. Lots of internet men who want to impress you pretend to be a lawyer.
Isn’t is possible Mark was just a particularly plausible liar?

Yes, it’s possible. There were some clues that he was keeping himself in shape, but he was a pretty good writer and understood about “backstory” and such. He might have been creating a character and putting those clues in on purpose.

But the thing is, I looked him up. There really was a guy named Mark [Thus-and-So] in his city. I found his address and looked him up on one of those internet locator maps and sure enough he was on one of those looping, curved, wide-spaced network of roads next to a golf course, just like he said he was, with a narrow river/creek passing the back of his property, which he had talked about seeing from his office window.

Now, yes, it’s possible that he took some other poor sap’s identity and address and was using that to fool gullible women on the Internet, but frankly it seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth to get things THAT perfect, just in case your victims looked you up.

And maybe I’m naive, but I think you can tell a little bit about a person after you’ve talked to them long enough, just from the way they write. The words they use, phrasing, subjects they bring up, their attitudes. You can kind of tell what kind of brain and upbringing they’ve had, and how much they’ve probably read. That counts for a lot with me. Whether it was formal education or self-taught, the fact that a guy considered it important enough to learn certain intellectual things and read certain kinds of books is a sort of recommendation in itself. Most of the piggiest louts I know are piggy mainly because they haven’t ever bothered to learn more than what they got in high school.

Jonathank asked an odd question in this comment:

    3. In your writing or the rest of your life, are you a fantasiast?

I think he was asking if I was somebody who does a lot more fantasizing than usual. I don’t know what usual is, but if I’m honest I have to say that, yes, I think I overdo it a lot. I’m a big imaginer. I write a lot of fiction, none of it published yet (although Julia is TRYING to help me with that), and it all has a romantic sort of relationship in it.

There were several people who implied I was crazy or inadequate or pathetic. This comment is only the most overtly hostile.

    Oh.My.Fucking.God! What are you Fiona? In fucking high school? That was the most insipid story I’ve ever read in my life! And coming from a 40 y.o. woman! I know 20 year olds who have more mature relationships than that. You sound like a really insecure person who needs validation for her marriage, her weight, her life… As most people on those chat room things… I guess with an exception for the 15 year olds who are really insecure. Man, get a life!

My thanks to my defenders in that square, but this person is right. The story is insipid. I am insecure.

If I was an outside critic of it, though, what I’d get from it is that even 40-year-old women can sometimes feel and act like teenagers, and that the yearning toward romance and “validation” never goes away no matter how “mature” we are. It was surprising to me at first that adult people in the chat room were playing out all those high school games that we were all supposed to be too old for anymore.

We can’t fool ourselves. As we get older and more cautious we might be able to control these “immature” impulses better, and look on the outside like we’re all grown up, but for most of us the impulses keep going.

”Simone” asks:

    I guess I’m wondering if your body-image/self-image is becoming a shield in your relationships.

    Like a lot of women, you may be stuck in the “Gee, I don’t know if I’m really happy in this marriage but I’d better not explore that issue beyond a certain point because my husband is certainly the only guy who would really like me despite my size and looks and considering what I look like, I should really consider myself lucky that he’ll have me.”

This question bothered me a lot when I first read it, and I realize it is because it hits home a certain amount. Not the “not sure I’m happy” part, that wasn’t it. I’m happy, I was happy, but there IS that feeling there that I am lucky to have a guy because at my age and size it would be impossible to get anyone else to look at me.

But if I absolutely had to I could live without Grant or any other guy. I’d manage. The idea doesn’t totally terrify me. I’m past that part of my life where I think I can’t live without a man’s love.

”Jorgen” said:

    [If you met him and went to bed] wouldn’t there always be the nagging suspicion that the guy didn’t really choose *you*, but the sex?

Yes, that occurred to me. That I would meet him and we would have sex and I would be a adulteress, and then I would find out (or suspect) that not only had he actually found me unattractive, but he had used me anyway. Or maybe he would feel sorry for me (worse?), and have reluctant sex with me in spite of his distaste and disillusionment.

I didn’t like to think this was a possibility. Mark “felt” like too good a guy for this to be something he would do. But I knew the possibility was there. I would lay awake at night obssessing about all these angles.

“Kat” wrote:

    If you had decided to do it you might as well do it for what it is — sex. In which case, just forget about whether he thinks you are attractive and go for the orgasm, which is precisely what he’d be doing anyway.

But that was another thing, another concern I had about how meeting for real would ruin everything. I was really afraid that I had set him up to think that I could come quickly, and that I could come in ways that I doubted I could really “get there” in real life. I was afraid that nervousness alone would make me take longer at it than usual, and that he would use the fantasy techniques that turned HIM on the most in our conversations (lots of fiddily fingers in my vagina, just teasing the clit rather than concentrating, that kind of thing) and not what I would really need to make it.

“Chris” asks:

    What have you learned from this experience? About yourself and other people?

This is one of the things I learned: Even when you are happy in your relationship and you want to be moral and keep to your vows, those vows suddenly don’t seem like such a tip-top priority when you start to feel so strongly about someone else. They go farther down the list of considerations than I ever dreamed they could. It makes me feel a little differently about adulterers than I used to. I used to be very stuck-up about them, you know thinking, “How could he possibly have done something like that to his lovely wife” and so on. It was just unthinkable. Now I think I understand better.

I have gotten the impression from a lot of people who wrote that they want me to make some big statement of regret, or guilt, or (as in this case?) life-changing revelation. If this was a novel, there’d have to be a climactic moment when the protagonist has some big emotional ephiphany moment, realizes the error of her ways and changes herself or her life. It’s not a good “story” otherwise.

Life doesn’t cooperate with Art sometimes.

”Chris” also asks

    How do you think Grant would react if he knew?

I think it would be easier to tell him today, several years later, than it would have been while it was going on, or right afterward. Plus, he’s mellowed out a lot about a lot of things since then, so I don’t think he’d be too pissed, expecially since nothing “actually happened.”

It’s sort of like the boyfriends I had before we were married. They’re no threat to him, they’re not interesting to me any more, they’re just not relevant now.

I guess that’s it from me for now. Julia wants her webblog back! It’s been nice talkiing to you.


One Response to “Fiona Answers Readers’ Questions”

  1. Michael Says:

    OK, I have to reply. What the fuck? I’m not even thirty but I’m past every stage of immaturity in that story, especially the one that’s surprised that immaturity still persists. I mean, c’mon. It’s one thing to tell a story and even to revel in rediscovering youth (good and bad). It’s quite another thing to continue to do it all behind one’s husband’s back, years afterwards…

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