After infidelity, it’s not uncommon to feel like you never knew who that person was at all. That you loved a holographic projection of a loving spouse, but really some sicko was behind the projector. Or maybe you still cling to the idea that they were once a good person, but got abducted by aliens and replaced with an amoral jerk. Who WAS this person and how could they have deceived me?
Well, folks, maybe part of it was you. Maybe you spackled.
Spackle is filling in the gaps and creating a smooth surface from what was once an unsightly blemish. Add a little sanding and paint — and voila! A normal looking surface!
Relationships all possess some spackle to one degree or another. For instance, I look past my husband’s penchant for “Polka Pimp” t-shirts and dressing like a teenage refugee. If anyone asks, I’ll tell you he is the most handsome, brilliant, wonderful husband on the planet, and not a flaming dork. Conversely, when I enter the house, I take my shoes off in the most inconvenient traffic paths imaginable. I don’t know why. No one can break me of this. It has driven everyone who has ever lived with me crazy. My father used to punt my shoes down the hallway or hide them from me. If you ask my husband, he’d tell you I’m a delight to live with. I know I’m not. I know that my shoe habit among other idiosyncrasies (snoring, complaining about Texas weather, organic food snobbery) make people want to strangle me, but my husband is nice and looks past my insufferable qualities.
A little spackle is kind. Necessary, if you want to remain happily married. Too much spackle, however, is dysfunctional — delusional even.
What does bad spackle look like? Making continual excuses for bad behavior. Creating a positive narrative from spotty evidence. Constructing “underlying issues” that explain destructive choices.
Spackle examples: He isn’t really a cheater, he just has “bad coping mechanisms for stress.” She isn’t really a failure because she hasn’t kept a job in 20 years, it’s because she intimidates her bosses. They can’t handle how clever she is and so they undermine her. He isn’t a mooch. He has a lot of potential and is going to stay at home and write that screenplay for a few years.
Sparkly people (narcissists, Cluster Bs, whatever you want to call them) are really good at maintaining an air of being All That. They so believe it, that you do feel a little crazy around them if you don’t believe it too. And face it, most of us want to believe that we chose the smartest, best looking, most fabulous person as our spouse. Because that reflects well on us. We spackle out of self interest, as well as love.
The problem is that a lot of cheaters are frauds. They really wouldn’t look normal to the outside world if anyone knew their true selves. We are there to spackle and smooth their image to the world. We are of use to them. We polish and finesse and build them up. We are so invested in that image, that we do this work gladly, sometimes unwittingly. If the cognitive dissonance between what IS and what we want it to be, is too great, then we stuff that down. Until there comes a point at which you can’t pretend any more.
Infidelity is liberating in a sense, because the true person is revealed. You weren’t going crazy. The emperor really didn’t have any clothes. But damn it, if you weren’t one of the idiots saying he did.
And why is that?
1. We want to believe. We have a vested interest in thinking our world is normal and safe and we chose a good spouse who reflects well upon us.
2. They really do believe they’re better, and so we buy it too. Why would someone act smarter than me, if they didn’t possess the accomplishments to go along with that air of superiority? Wow. They must actually be smarter and more accomplished than me!
3. We don’t look at the evidence. If you pay attention to actions and not lip service, it’s pretty easy to spot who is sincere in our lives and who is a waste of space. But often those conclusions are painful to draw, and so we’re sucked in by pretty words and attitude. We construct realities based on spackle and no substance.
When I was dating my husband, he used to tell me his ex was “smarter” than he was. She was a serial cheater and a pretty stupid idiot to lose someone as great as he was, so I asked him more about that. “Well, she was a National Merit Scholar in 1983.”
Seriously? I mean nothing against National Merit scholars, because that is a fine accomplishment, but 1983 was a very long time ago. And when he met her, she was flunking out of college, and he wrote her term papers. How did this translate into “smarter” person? My husband has two advanced degrees at impressive schools and is a successful lawyer. The ex by contrast seemed to a be a person who floundered a lot in life and never accomplished much, by way of further academic or worldly success.
I said to him “okay, so what has she DONE with her life?” that makes her so smart? And he was gobsmacked. He really couldn’t come up with anything. He’d never looked it like that before. She believed it, so in the face of all evidence to the contrary, it had to be so. He believed it and fed her the ego kibbles that let her believe it. (Because apparently, it was very important to her to be smarter than him.)
And not to pick on just my husband. I did this too. I constructed all sort of reasons why my cheating ex was really a good person and not a freaking abusive wing nut. He had an “inferiority complex” for growing up the son of a coal miner. He had mommy issues. He had daddy issues. The problem was really the OW, he needed to feel needed and she was just manipulating him! You name the delusional excuse, I had it.
Lesson learned: If you’ve got a little ding in your wall, spackle is good. But it’s nothing to build the foundation of your house out of.