I was reading Modern Love in the Sunday New York Times yesterday (one of life’s great pleasures). It was a story about a women in her 40s who falls in love with her boyfriend’s child and ultimately decides that what she really wants is to be a parent. Care taking a child exhausts her, but being so utterly needed, leads her to experience a kind of intimacy she’d never known before. I was struck by this passage.
I was overwhelmed by her vulnerability. I’d been single for so long that feeling this needed came as a shock.
The act of parenting a child that wasn’t hers (and who she ultimately says goodbye to, as the relationship doesn’t work out), inspires her to become a parent — a single parent — to step out of single-hood and independent living, and into the world of 24/7 responsibility.
I had to contrast that noble sentiment with the many posts and letters I get here at Chump Lady. Stories of abandonment. Cheaters walking out on small children, or established families with ties decades long, or men who cheat on pregnant women. Or people who blow up their marriages just as the couple ages toward retirement. And a leit motif occurred to me — the contempt for vulnerability. The fear and the cowardice that cheaters exhibit when faced with responsibility. Just when their partner needs them the most, they check out.
Not all of them check out to your face. For many, their entitlement leads them to the double, cake-eating life. Hey, I work a job, I provide for my family, I DESERVE to fuck around. That’s my reward for the “trap” of commitment. Some don’t even do that. They’ve got a working spouse supporting their ass, and they must manufacture some other excuse. But they’re all the same kind of Peter Pan. They want to live in the Never Never Land of Adolescence, where you get a veneer of adulthood, without any accompanying grown-up responsibility. That’s why these douchebags make such lousy partners — because they expect the other partner to do all the heavy lifting of life’s drudgery.
And yet, that drudgery is where the intimacy happens. Anyone who has taken care of a dying loved one, or a cranky toddler can tell you of the bonds that grow from that day-to-day care giving. The constancy. Meeting another’s vulnerability head on and staying there. Each day, every day. It’s not fun, sitting in the surgery waiting room, or going to work with baby vomit in your hair. But it’s meaningful to the people in your life who rely on you. You’re the lodestar from which your loved ones navigate their lives.
And it’s natural to expect some mutuality. When you’re that caretaker, you assume your loved one would do the same for you some day. That’s the social glue that holds us all together. What’s so repellent about abandonment and betrayal, is that it is a violation of that social contract. It’s looking at vulnerable human beings and your obligations to them and saying “No thanks, I’d rather not.” Or “I’ve got better things to do.”
I think there is a special ring of hell for men who cheat on pregnant women. Before the male readers of CL jump on me, I think women who walk out on their kids reside in another ring of the inferno (and Newt Gingrich or John Edwards cheating on wives dying of cancer have their own Skybox) — but indulge me on this one. Men who cheat on pregnant women IMO are the LOWEST of the LOW.
Nobody grows up knowing how to be a parent. You learn by doing. But the woman doesn’t get a lot of choice in the gestation of making a human being. This isn’t a pro-choice/pro-life statement. My point is, if you’re intent on continuing a pregnancy, you’ve got no choice but to have this being CONSUME you. And in some cases, threaten your health. (I had pre-eclampsi and two months of bed rest, I should know.) You’re not feeling terribly sexy by your third trimester, and you’re definitely not feeling it when you’ve got an infant attached to your breast like a barnacle. It’s hard to make a human being and ego kibbles simultaneously.
So to cheat on a new mother? A pregnant woman? It’s the ultimate betrayal, IMO. Here’s a woman making a CHILD for you, and you cannot step up to the plate? Really? Is it scary, all that responsibility? You poor sausage. You’re a Very Special Person and the Rules Don’t Apply to You, so I think you should get a pass. Or — did you provide something for this caterwauling nuisance and the stretchmarked bitch who spawned it? Health insurance? A roof? Support? Well, I think you deserve a REWARD then. I mean, you do So Much, and where the fuck are the kibbles? They aren’t what they used to be, that’s for damn sure. Go screw someone on Craigslist. You’ll feel better.
Or walk out. That’s an option too. They’ll manage without you. Because this is all about You. If kibble production is down, workers can be replaced or outsourced. The important thing here is the kibbles. That pink, shrieking bundle — okay, it might provide some kibbles in a few years if you groom it right, but it’s fuck all useless right now. What to do… what to do…
Cheaters live in a magical reality. As super beings, they don’t imagine that they will ever be vulnerable one day. I’m sure they’ve had bad days or even the occasional crisis, and the chump, of course, was there to soothe their fevered brow. But I mean old age, infirmness, helplessness. THAT shit will never happen to them! But they can sure see it approaching for the chump — so better trade in now. A younger source of kibbles means more production with less input costs.
When a cheater dumps you when life has you down and especially needy — older age, or small children — it’s a gift. I know, it doesn’t feel like a gift, it feels like a kick in the teeth. They were NEVER going to be there for you. It was just an illusion. The veil was lifted, and now you see what you were living with all along — your loneliness. Oh, hey, NOW it makes sense. That’s where they were! Checked OUT. Their abandonment is a gift because now you can shore yourself up and create a new life with people who WILL be there. Who respect the social contract. Who are moved by vulnerability, who feel the intimacy in that, who WANT that intimacy in their lives. They’re out there. Those people don’t have to be partners or new spouses even, they can just be the good people who love you.
You will know love, and be loved, because you can connect. You can empathize and have compassion, and experience authentic intimacy. The narcissist can never know these things. They just flit around from vapid hook-up to shallow relationship. And when things get hard, they’ll bail, or make the other person miserable. Just like they did you. It’s what they do.
But they don’t do it to YOU any more. Thank God for that.