My question is: are all chumps created equal?
I’m not judging chumps by how long they stayed with the cheater or how many rounds of the “pick me” dance they did. I’m referring to previous knowledge. Several people have said that after they found out their spouse was cheating other people came out of the woodwork to tell them that they knew of the cheating ways. “If only someone had told me before I got married to this jerk what kind of person I was marrying! I would have…” seems to be the refrain.
So what about the chumps who did know? The people who knew this woman/man had problems but were determined to “save” them. The White Knights and Beauties of the world who are convinced that love will change the Beast into a handsome prince, only to find he remains a beast. When someone marries a person they know to be a cheater, an alcoholic, a drug user, someone how has anger management problems, a criminal, but proclaims to their horrified friends and families that love has saved them.
These are my choices? I told you so, or pity? I suppose I tilt towards the “I told you so” camp, but I question whether people who knew someone was a cheater before they married them — either the person cheated on them previously, or they were the Other Person that broke up a marriage — are really chumps. So it’s not a question of — are all chumps created equal — but rather how do we define “chump.”
To me, a chump is someone who had no clue they were being cheated on. They are gobsmacked by this revelation. Devastated. Shocked to their core. To feel betrayed, you have to feel that this person had allegiance to you. Now, of course, cheaters who then get cheated on are often shocked, just shocked! that their cheater cheats on them. They do feel that allegiance, but not because of commitments or children or a Potemkin life they built with the cheater — but because the pseudo chump feels special. They are Different. The Great Exception.
To me, this is just another kind of narcissism. My Love Is the One True Love That Will Save Them.
And this narcissism is not unique to affair partners who then become pseudo chumps. People in reconciliation also display this kind of idiocy. I will prove to the world! To my horrified friends and family! that ours is the Great Exceptional Love Story. As someone who had four DDays, oh yeah, I was that kind of idiot chump. I should’ve gone with my gut feeling after the first DDay — run, run like hell! This is not salvageable! — the first betrayal, yes, you should feel sorry for me. Subsequent ones? I was just asking for that shit. I stuck around way too long.
If that’s pitiable, it’s a common mistake. I still think it’s a whole lot different than if I knew he was a cheater and THEN I married him. Once you’re married, you have a lot invested to compel you toward reconciliation, which isn’t the case when you’re dating. In my story, I did not know my ex was a cheater. On the contrary, my ex told me he was cheated on by two ex-wives. He had a very convincing, sad story. About how he had done therapy, and realized he wasn’t the best husband. How he wasn’t bitter, and forgave them. (All things, that now that I think about it, sound like utter bullshit, and not anything remotely resembling the chump experience. Being a “bad” husband didn’t drive them to cheat. And — bitter? Yes. Forgiveness? No.)
If he had presented himself as he actually was — a serial cheater with a long-term mistress (among others) — hell NO would I have married him.
I did think I was marrying someone who had ordinary faults. Who could be insufferable. Who was alpha and macho. I did not think I was going to change him from jerk ass lawyer into a compassionate Alan Alda-type. I thought I loved him for who he was. I thought, ironically, that I was going into this with eyes wide open. What I didn’t realize was that his better qualities didn’t exist at all, they were a holographic projection, and his worst qualities were being tamped down until I married him, after which he let his freak flag fly. (Rages, drinking, etc.)
Once I discovered who he really was, I had a hard time believing it. That’s not unique to chumps, or pseudo chumps. Because to believe who he really was, I had to swallow a very bitter pill — realizing that I was not special. He did not love me. In fact, he never loved me. I was of use to him. I could spend the rest of my life trying to untangle apart the “love” bits from the giant skein of unloving bits — and it would not change his betrayal of me. It was an endless calculus, the kind you do with narcissists, of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin — how much of this is “love”?
Letting go and recognizing I wasn’t special to him was very hard to come to grips with, so I get how people fall deeper and deeper into chumpdom and try harder to change that narrative. I understand how affair partners fall into it, although I don’t feel one bit sorry for them.
My great grandmother had an expression, that I think translates originally from German, which went:
“If you don’t listen, then you must feel.”
Usually, this is said around small children. As in, if you don’t listen to me telling you not to hit that dog, you’re going to get bitten! But it’s a good life lesson as well — if you don’t listen to yourself, you’re going to feel painful consequences from ignoring your gut. If life shows you how this person is, and you don’t listen to that? Yes, you will suffer. Hopefully feeling that pain will make you listen the next time.
We think that those affair partners married to cheaters aren’t feeling the pain — but I think they are. Why? Because the dimmer among us can go round after round of “if you don’t listen, then you must feel.” Okay, I felt it… but then damn, if I didn’t hit the dog again.
There are chumps, and then there are volunteers for pain. The chumps who listen, learn from it. The ones who don’t, keep renewing their pain subscriptions. And that is a pity.