When you stare at something long enough, you eventually see through the surface to the deeper structure.
I’m staring at another milonga. Another long row of crossed legs and heels, breasts straining to leap from their chairs, desperate cheerfulness. I observe the bursts of aggression, women demanding dances. I observe the men, swaggering, nonchalant, cocooned in ego, taking what they want when they want it.
I observe my heart. Inured to the routine pain as my partner reaches for another’s hand, as a woman takes him away from me. I smile. I wait.
Then he is mine again and I fly in his sweet embrace.
Until the next betrayal.
This is a cycle we are all accustomed to. We tango dancers pride ourselves on managing our jealousy with strength, with retribution, with ritual games, with “codes” of etiquette.
We believe this strength and savvy calculus buys us something valuable and precious.
I have believed that my pain tolerance was a ticket to extraordinary accomplishments.
I have occasionally wondered if it cost me the possibility of ever receiving care.
I have known that I tolerated relationships and circumstances that others would not.
I have taken pride in my ability to focus on the treasure and repress the attendant shame or pain or fear.
I have done this in four abusive relationships with men.
(Lest you suspect I use that word loosely,
let me inform you that one case was validated by a court
and another by a leading expert in male anger and violence.)
Why would a woman like me put up with this? Because they were superlative men.
And because I could.
I have told myself that this special skill to survive pain was the silver lining of having been physically abused as a child.
Yet now I find myself normalizing, on a nearly daily basis, a situation which, like abuse, cycles constantly between painful negligence and redemptive adoration.
The man who embraced me moments ago now embraces another.
The man who danced with me last night ignores me tonight, pursuing another.
My partner of years allows himself to be seduced, returning later with apologies and love proclamations.
I sit waiting to be “chosen” by one or another or any man.
I compete with other women for men who advertise that they will never be loyal.
And we are not the kind of women with the courage and self-respect to ask or expect that of a man.
I look again at all those women. Is our presence here at 01:00, numbly waiting for the next hit, evidence of our damage? Is this emotional landscape –our nightly routine– one that an unbroken woman would not tolerate?
• • •
And if you are one of those men perpetually reminding me that women in tango are abusive too, then, yes. Abusees tend to replicate the only cycle of intimacy they know. And what kind of man puts up with that?