Recently i was presented with an ethical dilemma which i initially found troublesome due to its lack of a clear path of reaction for me as an ethical person.
The situation, in a nutshell, was this:During a visit at my home from a female friend, she came out to me as a lesbian, and confessed her attraction to me, and i was at once surprised and confused. I hadn’t ever thought she saw me in a romantic way. That was not the dilemma. I felt like she put me on the spot, and i had little time to consider it. That wasn’t really the dilemma either. The dilemma was that she was in a loveless marriage that had become, over the years, merely a convenient friendship due to the fact that she shared a child with this man. Since i overheard part of their conversation when he called during this visit, i was relatively certain that her framing of it was accurate. She stated that she was not after my heart, not seeking a committed relationship with me, and would be happy for me, should i find the right woman at some point. And though she had intimated earlier that she hoped we could have some sexual arrangement, all she wanted from me was “just this little moment.” She said, “i want you to just take me in your arms and kiss me.” That was uncomfortable enough, but when i hesitated, she started to cry. Everything in her life, she said, was about someone else. She gave-gave-gave, and never got anything for herself. She had felt this way about me since the first night we had coffee together. She just wanted to know what it was like, just for those few stolen moments. Now, although she is an attractive woman, I was clear that I had nothing but platonic feelings for her, and that would have been simple enough to respond to in the proper fashion. But then when she cried, i began to wonder if i was making my hardline ethical choices more important than compassion. Which was more important for me to consider, if i wanted to be the best person i could be? I’m afraid I erred on the side of compassion.
Afterward, i reconsidered, and realized i was regretful. Perhaps i had made the wrong choice. The gray areas always get me in trouble.
Then i found a two-part solution in the counsel of my best friend, and in the words of John Varley, via his novel, Steel Beach. The first insight my friend offered was something like this:
“Can’t you remember a time when you were crying and upset about something like that? Did you really need sex or a kiss?” So the question then became, Can i be compassionate without compromising my ethics? My friend suggested my response should have been, “I like you, you are an attractive woman, and i enjoy your company, but i consider us platonic. I think that what you really need is someone to offer compassion.” Then i should have pulled her into my arms and let her cry, and just be supportive that way. When my friend suggested this, my first reaction was, “Why the hell didn’t i think of that?”
I percolated on that whole concept for a few days. I knew that i would certainly handle it in that manner if the situation came up again. But my understanding was solidified only a few nights later, while I was reading the Varley Novel. The passage was:
“I have a short list of things I never do, and right near the top is surrendering to emotional blackmail. If there’s a worse kind of sex than the charity fuck, I haven’t heard about it. And her words could be read as the worst kind of whipped-puppy appeal and dammit, okay, she did have a right to act like a whipped puppy, but i hate whipped-puppies, I want to kick them for letting themselves be whipped…only the words didn’t come out like that….”
And there was the answer to my ethical dilemma. It’s not like i haven’t been in this situation before, either. I have often let my soft heart make my decisions, rather than my good sense. I should not be blinded by the suggestion that there is only one way to show compassion. And if anyone puts me in that position, i am not obligated to comply in the way they had in mind, and they ought to be ashamed for enlisting the ruse of emotional blackmail.
Maybe there is always a solution, even when the situation seems to tie me in a knot. The knot doesn’t have to be Gordian. I can just do what Alexander the Great did, and CUT it.