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Bridges of Bullshit

Guest blogger Judi Lembke is filling in today, to discuss again how what you once enjoyed in popular culture before infidelity, may now revolt you.

By Judi Lembke

I used to love Bridges of Madison County.  It was the Meryl Streep film that ended a decades-long streak of me disliking both her and her work.

Before STBX and I were married one of the cable channels had Bridges on heavy rotation – I  think I must have watched it more than a dozen times in a single month.  And I cried each and every time I watched it.

I cried when the Clint Eastwood character was trying to get her to run away, saying ‘this kind of certainty comes but once in a lifetime’. I cried when she realised she couldn’t do it to her children and husband, no matter how much she wanted to. I cried when she was in the truck, holding tightly to the door handle while good old Clint was in the truck ahead, fondling her necklace hanging from his rear view mirror. Hell, I was cheering that bitch on, screaming ‘goooo! GOOOOO! This is love! Dump that boring-assed sad-sack of a husband of yours who always slams the porch door, is more interested in the cows than you and who just doesn’t get your need for excitement. ‘  I even cried when she realised it was meatloaf for dinner. Again.

Now I look at that film and I feel sorry for the husband, as well as the kids. I think ‘you silly cow, you left Italy for what you thought was going to be an excitement-filled life in the States and now you’re pissed because it’s the same life you probably would have had back home, but with worse food and in a foreign language? Boo fucking hoo. You’re now thinking of tossing it all in for someone you’ve known FOUR FUCKING DAYS???’

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  The photographer, Robert, with his handpicked flowers and beer in the back of his truck and those glamorous yet playfully charming stories of shooting chimps in the wild are enough to make her consider throwing her whole life away, the life she built for a couple of decades. Throw in some socializing on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks along with a lot of hot monkey sex after banging farmer boy for all those years and she lost her dang mind in less than a week.

Sure, she ‘comes to her senses’ and stays, but what does she do for the rest of her life? Slumps about mooning over her ‘lost love’ and when her devoted husband is lying on his deathbed HE ends up grovelling and apologizing to HER for her boring-assed life and not ‘giving her what she wanted’.  Like it’s up to him to ‘make’ her happy.

And then? THEN??? She leaves her diaries to her kids, lets them know that cheating is awesome and says she doesn’t want to be buried next to their father, who honoured her throughout their marriage. No, instead she wants to ‘be with Robert in death’.

The whole thing pisses me off. You want to know why? Because you know and I know – we just KNOW – that had she ditched her family and run off with sexy picture boy the hot monkey sex would have worn off within a year or two, she’d have ended up stuck in some shitty apartment keeping the home fires burning while he went off on more shoots and she’d be going nuts wondering if some other lonely housewife had caught his fancy while he was on the road.  When he returned from his jaunts she’d be there, ready for a bitch-fest because she already knows he’s a cheater.

Or maybe he’d be the one going nuts while on the road, knowing that she’s easily bored and maybe some guy was going to come along and ‘relieve’ her boredom while he’s trying to make enough dosh to bring home the bacon.

Either way it was a clusterfuck from the get-go and the movie now irritates me beyond words because it sells that fantasy of true love at first sight and how people just get ‘swept away’ and ‘it just happens’.  Francesca and Robert didn’t get swept away and it didn’t just happen; they chose, very consciously, to have an affair and it was probably a million times more exciting than their normal, hum drum lives. But in the end, it would have been a disaster, the collateral damage would have been enormous and once they got past the initial la la phase it would have ended up with him slamming the door the ‘wrong’ way and her producing fart bubbles during their long baths together.

And the unicorns would have run away long ago.

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  • Dear Chump Lady,
    I’ve only read your blog for a few days after finding it on Huffington Post.
    This one cut me to the core. Twenty years ago, I did this to my then husband. I’ve carried around the guilt since then. There are few days when I don’t remember what I did and heart clutches when I recall his face and words when I said I was leaving. He was never anything but kind and loved me. What I did was unforgivable, and I’m very ashamed.

    (Fortunately for him, he soon after met a lovely woman and they have two handsome boys, he got a promotion in his company and moved out of town.)

    Karma bit The man I left him for charismatic and romantic. He painted a picture of a lifelong romantic adventure we would have. Well, there were red flags along from the start. But I let myself believe him when he said that most people needed an affair to leave an unhappy marriage. I convinced myself that was true. Soon his controlling traits emerged. Now I know he had NPD. I let him convince me I was always in the wrong, a depressant that didn’t know best and needed to be counseled by him. but I couldn’t leave him. I had to make it work because of what I had done–left a perfectly sweet man for him. I succumbed, learned to not piss him off, controlled what I said and in the way I said it and so on..I was happy at times and loved him but I didn’t look too deep below the surface.

    Karma came and bit me in the ass. He suddenly left me after twenty years. During a contentious divorce I found out what he had been doing. Years of cheating on me, from the very start. I got what I deserved.

    So I agree with you, Chump Lady. She would have been alone while her kind farmer husband would have remarried a nice woman and they would have had a loving life while she was on her own and lonely. Karma.

    • Welcome MJ. Judi wrote this piece, I just ran it, but I’m sure she’ll appreciate your words.

      It’s such an old saw, but I guess it’s true — if they’ll cheat for you, they’ll cheat on you.

      Sounds like you learned your lesson. IMO, if an NPD left you, this can only be a good thing and a start to a better life.

      • I’m trying to reply below to Arnold s mean comment to this writer. She has expressed genuine remorse. You’re kind of an ass hole aren’t you Arnold? And I like men just been reading your misogyny comments here for quite some .

    • I wonder if you, yourself, might have a touch of the old “Cluster B’s’. Your behavior would seem to indicate you do.

        • I think , once it hits them(the karma bus), they might feel something akin to those things CL.Of course, they are such great actors, one never knows.

          • I wonder about this theory of the karma bus. I mean, I guess I don’t view karma as retribution for good or for evil acts. I know that that is a commonly stated version of what karma is, but I’ve always understood karma to be more of a lesson, something that we *are* and that we need to confront in ourselves in order to learn more about ourselves so that we can move closer to self-actualization (pardon my lingo, but I’m a huge proponent of Jung).

            Plus, karma bus doesn’t work for me because then the BS’s karma is to be cheated on, meaning, the BS has done “something” in the mists of time that warranted being betrayed. Easier to stomach that if I paint it with a brush that says: “okay, I’ve been betrayed. This is an opportunity for me to learn about myself and grow personally.” rather than: “Woe is me, what have I done to deserve such a thing…??”

            As I have come to understand this concept it says: everyone is living his or her karma each day, and we either heed the lesson and move forward at first — so we find the next lesson — or we keep repeating it in different guises until we learn at last. So, one marries a cheat and then divorces a cheat. Then one marries someone else, that person may not cheat but may take advantage in some other way. How many bad relationships will someone have before he or she says: “okay, what is it that I’m supposed to learn about myself here?” At what point do you clear your karma? That’s not to say that the betrayed person is at *fault* or deserves the betrayal, it just means to say they have something to learn about themselves and they have not yet. So they will continue to run into the same lesson (in the form of a deceitful or abusive spouse or other fraught relationships) until they figure it out.

            Plus, just to cover my bases, I never wish difficult karma on anyone. If karma IS a vengeful/retributive force, then I sure don’t want to wish for anyone to come to harm. Because by its very nature, it would bounce back on me. Better to self-focus and move forward rather than sitting around waiting for bad stuff to happen to others. Even if they hurt me. Hating just poisons me, it doesn’t nothing to actually hurt the person who hurt me.

            In the end, I’m satisfied with the knowledge that a cheater’s karma is that they are a cheater. That’s pretty significant karma right there because it is a crap way to live. And unless he or she decides to actually clear that karma and accepts that cheating is crappy and that they need to change, they will be forced to repeat their karma in all sorts of ways until they are beaten down by the universe and they finally do make changes.

            Anyway… my opinion, only.

  • Arnold, I’m not sure what a “Cluster B” is, but might infer it has something to do with a character disorder. I suppose that might be an obvious conclusion after reading what I had done. What I was was stupid, weak, characterless and a near perfect source of Narcissistic Supply. I was a good wife to him in healthy, normals ways. I had to be to make up for what I had done. I was also unhealthy to myself as I always had new ideas on how we could make it work–always something I would do or not do anymore or I’d change and I’d apologize for any little way I’d been less than a perfect partner– if only he’d give it another chance. What I suppose I feared most has come true–that he’d leave me and I’d have to live what I’d done to another human being.

    I deserve judgment, Arnold. Just not for what you said.

  • “Cluster B Personality Disorders are evidenced by dramatic, erratic behaviors and include Histrionic, Narcissistic, Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders.”

    No, I’m quiet, avoid the limelight, am in a caring field and have maintained life-long satisfying relationships with friends and family.–What I did was evidence of lack of character.just make a big, huge, fucking decision that hurt someone very deeply.

  • Okay. Just wondering. The behavior was so incredibly traumatizing, I was just wondering how you pulled it off if you had any empathy.

  • Meryl has had a few of these roles. Kramer v Kraamer, Out of Africa come to mind.
    It is apparent to me that if the affair partner is attractive enough and the spouse less so, many people are okay with this.
    Of course, the analysis is so shallow. How does a hardworking farmer compete with the glamorous photographer.
    My daughters exhibit these values, unfortunately. But, they are young and I hope they get it , at some point.

    • Well that’s the thing, isn’t it? The excitement with the AP who looks so good and thrilling, compared with the same dude she’s been irritated with for years and years. Hard to compare but that’s what happens with affairs: grass is greener syndrome. Luckily she didn’t ditch her family in the end but still.

      And it is a bit odd that Meryl Streep has taken on quite a few of these roles. I wonder….

    • I just want to comment here: Karin was already separated (and actually a long-suffering BS) from her cheating husband Bror when she and Denys became involved in Out of Africa. She wasn’t having an affair. Plus Bror is aware of the relationship — nothing hidden from him. Great scene when Bror says to Denys: “you might have asked…” meaning Denys should have asked HIM (the chauvinist ass) and Denys responds: “I did. She said yes.” SNAP! Bror was a cheating toad who took her money and gave her syphillis (and this was actually a true story).

      And the Kramer vs. Kramer thing had nothing to do with another man, I don’t think, at least I don’t remember anything about there being another man. Her character left an unfulfilling marriage just for herself. Which, obviously, is the stand up way to do things; and yet her character was made out to be a flake and a bad person. She shouldn’t have deserted her child, but this was a ground-breaking film because it showed a woman doing what men had been portrayed as doing for years, i.e. leaving behind a wife and kids to fend for themselves. This was a huge film for fathers’ rights, actually. That men could and do take as good of care of children as women do.

      The film I didn’t care for was that idiotic one where she played the former BS who then starts cheating with her ex husband. Can’t think of the title. That was just a silly movie.

      • It’s Complicated, which is actually one I like, mainly because the OW gets a taste of her own medicine, the Streep character comes to her senses and ditches the ex and the ex is left with no one. Somehow that all made me very happy…but then I’m in kind of a strange place right now.

  • Well, I’m going to be in the minority here. I don’t start hating favorite movies, just because of what has happened to me. I mean, OMG, that would mean Sleepless in Seattle would be off limits — You’ve Got Mail, too, and Gone With the Wind, and The Notebook, and The Age of Innocence and the list goes on and on and on.

    But I do see (and respect) that so many people who have suffered infidelity take offense to movies that feature infidelity in a sympathetic light. Everyone is different, I guess, but I don’t think any of us is wrong; these are just our own opinions. I watch these movies and realize that in many cases, “affair” or “infidelity” is not the thrust of the message — it is just a vehicle that makes it easy for the author to express a common trope: i.e. star-crossed love. Or, as in the case of Gone With the Wind, childishness and an unawareness of self.

    The thing is, if I deconstruct Bridges, the thing I have to say is: her crime, in my mind, was living a lie. She was the one who was keeping secrets and living a life in which she put on a mask and did what was expected of her and stayed in that marriage etc. but secretly led some fantasy life in her mind, such a strong fantasy life, in fact, that at the end of it all she wanted to be with Robert in death. What the what? She was a cake eater. Don’t leave a marriage for someone else — it will not last anyway — but if you are unhappy then fix it and make it better and express your needs or freakin’ LEAVE, otherwise you’ll just end up swimming in a sea of resentment.

    And while we’re at it, her resentment about staying in an unfulfilling marriage came out in the final coup de grace because she didn’t go to her grave with her secret, instead she hung all her shit on her kids after her death. That is crappy and selfish. But in my mind, it was also selfish for her to stay married. She ought to have left him so he could have had the option to find authentic happiness elsewhere. Just because he didn’t know he didn’t have a good marriage doesn’t make it better or more fair to him.

    Her secrets, her lies, her hidden longings for Robert actually put her in complete control not only of her own fantasy life but also of her husband’s reality and, to a certain extent, that of her children. Until after her death when she unleashed an enormous “fuck you” to her survivors. Bad form.

    • Well said, although I do reserve the right to dislike certain movies-or at least view them with slightly different eyes.

      She really was a manipulative cow, though, which I see even more after reading your comments.

      • I’m seconding (or thirding?) the manipulative cow POV.

        I think it is horrible to treat your spouse as if they are some consolation prize, and you’ll tolerate them and suffer nobly until the end. Christ, how condescending.

        • “Christ, how condescending.”

          Yes indeed. I mean, don’t do me any *favors*, right? And then suffer through life all the while fancying yourself some kind of freakin’ martyr. No. Thank. You.

          Stay and air out your issues and give your spouse a chance at meeting you halfway or get the hell out and let everyone get on with their lives.

          No cake eating!!!

          And Nord, yes, of course everyone reserves the right to their own opinions, and I am not judging, just sharing mine. 🙂

    • I don’t hate movies with infidelity. But, I do notice how it is glossed over, justified, and , actually , galmorized, in some.(Bridges, for example).
      Before this happened to me, I had no idea of how traumatizing it is.

    • It always seemed to me that the beauty of Meryl doing a weird Italian accent and Clint directing himself was that it sold us a perfect fantasy. We do not know that her marriage was all that bad…or good. It was probably boring as long marriages tend to be.
      It had to end right there and they both knew it. If she had chased that truck Clint would have found her a cloying millstone around his neck within a fortnight and, if she went back, her nice husband would have taken up with the woman from the coffee shop.
      In our dreams we all have the makings of that perfect romance in us…real life it aint.
      They had the sense to call it a day…or four days…and did not try very hard to make it real.
      Ironically, I hated that movie when it came out shortly after DDay 1 in the early nineties….I like it now!

  • I think Kristina has defined karma accurately. I think what most BS who are looking for some kind of justice should think about is the biblical principle “you reap what you sow”. The cheaters will pay for their treachery. But it also applies to those of us who ignored the red flags, as I did, when we chose to enter a relationship with these people. I recognizd that there was something amiss with her but went ahead anyway. We loved each other, our relationship was “special”, she would never cheat, blah, blah…and 18 years later reaped a bitter harvest.

    • I hear you, Jeff, I really do. When I look back now I see all sorts of stuff, even from the very beginning, that should have told me that he was not on intimate terms with the truth. It’s a shame we both wasted so much time on someone who just wasn’t worth it.

      • Me, too. Should have seen it coming.

        I do notice that in quite a few cheater movies, the betrayed is portayed as somehow deficient(if the protaganist is the cheater). I think this feeds into the blame the victim deal.
        I thought in Kramer, she left for another woman. But, I think I mixed that up with one of Woody Allen’s old movies.

        • I don’t totally agree, Arnold. Surely in Bridges her husband was portrayed as good but uninspiring. She ends up staying, after all. I think there are great pains taken to show that he’s a “good” guy and that her situation with Robert was kind of one last “moment in the sun” for her before she buckled down to the rest of her real life.

          But in other cheater movies, the spouse, I think, is portrayed as decent and good as well. So, off the top of my head:

          Sleepless in Seattle, the fiance Walter is a decent kind man, never acts like an ass, but there is no spark for Annie with him, no “magic” and that’s why she goes searching for Sam.

          You’ve got Mail. Again, the LTSO, played by Greg Kinnear, is a good guy, smart, involved, helpful, but “predictable” to his girlfriend (I can’t remember her name now). Tom Hanks’ character is also engaging with an emotional affair online and in this case, his partner is kind of shown to be self-centered as a go-getter, successful editor. His father, who keeps cheating and marrying his OW, is shown to be an idiot, actually. So there’s a difference, obviously, between cheating for “good”, i.e. “true love” vs. cheating for newer models.

          The Notebook — the fiance is everything good. Rich, attractive, a great dancer, her parents love him; nothing wrong with him except that he is not Noah. But she goes in search of her Noah and that’s that. And of course that ends with alzheimers and death in bed holding hands. But her choice is validated because they stayed together all those years.

          Richard Gere in Unfaithful. I mean, for God’s sake, he’s shown to be a freakin saint. She still cheats. And you end up feeling sorry for Richard because what the hell is she thinking?

          Fatal Attraction: Anne Archer is wonderful and all things perfect and motherly. Keeps a beautiful home, has her act together. She’s wonderful. Plus she’s a very forgiving BS, in spite of the one outburst she just kind of forgives him. The obvious bad guy in that film is the other woman. But here’s where I take issue. I mean, yes, she’s a wack job of epic proportions, but that’s on HIM. He was the loser who brought that crazy into his house. So she’s vilified and he’s protected, ultimately, by his saintly wife. Two women doing battle over a guy. That’s one hot fantasy for some men. Ha.

          I can’t honestly think of a movie where the betrayed spouse is portrayed as anything but nice and good. But like I said in response to this post, somewhere, the point isn’t the affair, or why an affair happens. The affair is merely a vehicle to highlight a theme, “Star-crossed Love” or “Don’t settle for anything less than magic”. It is just an easy way to illustrate “roadblock to happiness”.

          What I would love to see is a real treatment of what it is to have an affair and then try to reconcile. I mean, I would LOVE to see that. I want to see how the BS behaves, how the cheating spouse behaves, how things go underground. Because the thing that bugs me, is these films where they make it look like a husband (in movies it is usually the husband) cheats and returns to the wife and they skip together into happy ever after once they get over the initial road bump of people being angry. Like, for instance, Miranda and Steve in Sex and the City. That’s not realistic. That’s rugsweeping. And that’s the model for what people think should happen after an affair. And that is absolutely criminal in my mind.

  • Well, in Bridges, Kristina, it did seem to me that the husband was portrayed as emotionally unavailable. I am not all that good remembering movies, but will think about it.

    • BTW, what person would cheat on Anne Archer with , oh crap, what is her name(another horseface) Oh, yeah, Glenn Close.
      Well, maybe Glenn is a BS, so I should not say that.

      • But Anne Archer is a Scientologist so yeah, which crazy wins out in that situation: the bunny boiler or the Xenu devotee?

        • Xenu devotee vs believing(as I was taught) that each Sunday, a wafer and some wine actually turned into the body and blood of an individual who walked the earth almost 2000 years ago.
          Try explaining to an alien that one beleif makes more sense than the other.

    • Haha Arnold!!! 🙂 Steiger was not Lara’s husband, he was her rapist…that is why she shot him. Lara was married to Pasha, who abandoned her during the revolution and she thought he was dead by the time she and Yuri got together. The wife was the BS in Zhivago and she was shown to be nothing but wonderful.

      But, I did think of one where the wife is a jerk. The Best Marigold Hotel, or whatever it is called. One of the wives is just a horrid person. In the end she conveniently leaves the husband so then he is free to be with Judi Dench.
      Honestly, the author of such stories has a better hook if he or she portrays the BS as a good person, because it causes more tension. People seeing a Dick of a husband or wife would think: well what is the problem? Just get out of there! Better if the BS is good. More tension and drama and building up love conquers all, even other love.

      • Oh, yeah. Tom Courtney(I liked “The Lonlieness of the Long Distance Runner). But, I think the point still remains. Pasha was so wrapped up in the movement, he was unavailable.
        Steiger was good as a bad guy. “We don’t like your kind round here, Virgil Tibbs”.

        • Pasha was GONE. Haha. He wasn’t just emotionally detached. He’d disappeared and abandoned her for the movement. Are you saying she should have remained faithful to him? 🙂

          I think the BS is portrayed as good, but not, ultimately the right “fit” for the cheater. And we’re encouraged, by the author, to believe that.

          And you know, that does happen. People change, but going back to CL’s post about “what if the bs sucks”… then just leave. Don’t cheat. The thing is, a spouse does not have to suck to become incompatible. As we evolve over our lifetime, we all do change. The hope is that you have a strong enough foundation that you change together but sometimes that just does not happen. Sometimes it is just time to move out of a marriage.

          Unfortunately, there still exists a stigma about just leaving because you are no longer satisfied with your partner or your marriage. It seems that there has to be some kind of “bigger” issue at stake for people to *understand* or not villify someone who leaves just to move on. Especially when kids are invovled.

          • Well, I think most vows do contain language that indicate a commitment to remain , regardless of change or lack of satisfaction. I suppose we can carve out exceptions due to conditions that are implicitly understood to be deal breakers: infidelity, physical abuse, abandonment etc.
            But, why take vows that you will stick it out, if mere change is enough to justify leaving?(This assumes there was no fraud in the inducement , which would void the contract). But, leaving because you grow apart or change etc . would not seem to be part of the initial agreement.
            This is why I think it is foolish and dishonest to take marriage vows. Very few people seem to really mean what they say.
            Why not more honest vows. like ” I am partially committing for as long as I feel like it”. At least that is honest.

      • I don’t think the betryed spouse need be portrayed as a monster(although it seems he or she is, sometimes). But, the BS is shown as somehow less interesting, less emotionally evolved etc.
        It’s the age old deal we see here:how does a BS compete with the image of the AP?

  • I forgot about Meryl’s final salvo: opting to be buried away from her loyal husband and leaving her diary around for the kids. Holy smokes, what a monster.
    But, even more shocking is that many folks come away from the movie sympathetic to her. How messed up is that. She is a heroine, yet she cheated repeatedly with this photographer, defrauded her H out of potentially finding a woman who really loved him, and she left her kids confused, conflicted and in pain.
    Makes me want to vomit.

  • That’s my point, Kristina. In many movies, the betrayed spouse is shown to have given the cheating spouse good reason to cheat. Like Pasha, gone off to war with no word to his wife.
    Zhivago is a little different , and I cannot remember Sleepless or Mail etc. But, it does seem to me that in some fashion or another,the audience is manipulated into siding with thoes who are being unfaithful. Bridges is a perfect example. So, Haha, Ipso facto, and Ergo etc.
    .

  • Well, I never liked the Bridges of Madison County. Francesca always seemed a bit unrealistic about life, and in the end hurt her loving husband over a fantasy.

    I read that the author’s wife said she found him crying as he wrote the novel. Hmmmm! Wonder what that means, or better yet, I already know.

  • Same Time, Next Year. Alan Alda, Ellen Burstyn (1978)

    Probably watched it because our family was a fan of M.A.S.H … that’s how movie marketing works?

    Check Wikipedia for the plot synopsis. And just gaze at that movie poster, with them laughing in bed together. All just so bizarre.

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