Following up on the Stupid Shit Other People Say, I feel it’s only fair to acknowledge that I was once capable of saying stupid shit about infidelity myself. Maybe you were too. One lasting gift of infidelity is that you’re never so smug again. What did I learn about what an ignoramus I was? Well, I thought I’d make a list. Feel free to add your own.
1. Cheating is about a power imbalance. It’s about gaining advantage over someone to get your sexual jollies. It is an unjust situation with a user and a chump. I did not used to think this, insofar as I thought of it at all. I thought, oh things fall apart. It takes two. Who knows what goes on in a marriage? Blahblahfuckityblah. I knew one gay couple who broke up over infidelity and I tried to be “neutral.” The chump friend was very gracious, and didn’t tip his hand much about what had happened. And the cheater friend wanted me to think it was about money, and not that he went and had another boyfriend. So I didn’t try to parse it out at all, I just wanted the old Steve and Warren back. Which was about ME, wanting to relate to them in the old ways I enjoyed. I wish now that I had been a better friend and shown more compassion towards Steve, and cut off things with Warren soonest.
2. There is nothing romantic about cheating. Once your POV on infidelity changes, you can never enjoy crap like the Bridges of Madison County again. There was a time when I didn’t vomit when I read of cases where two people meet, there is an explosion of attraction, and their love is just too great and powerful. Because to make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs, you know? If people get hurt, hey, it’s because they didn’t recognize the inchoate genius of those star crossed lovers. Of course, I didn’t know anyone like this in real life, but I sure liked to read about edgy, Bohemian lives. That colatteral damage from the affair? It’s worth it for the Great Pairing, to be the June Carter to their Johnny Cash. Her love is going to Save Him, and he’s going to write songs to celebrate their union! Left out off this pretty picture is that she gets a drunk with a prison stint.
3. No one is “driven” to cheat. Before infidelity happened to me, I imagined that chumps knew they were chumps. How did they know this? By the drab sexlessness by which they led their lives. I imagined cheaters were not getting it at home (poor things), or they were obvious Lotharios, who could be identified by their cravats and the Playboy mudflaps on their truck. I didn’t think of women cheaters much at all, except perhaps as the Other Woman who is either pathetic, or astoundingly charismatic (see item 2) to lure some man from his wife. I thought in stereotypes. I thought there was causality in cheating — this happens, ergo this. People Had Reasons. It was hard for me to think cheating was just really about unbridled narcissism and cake eating. I always saw it in terms of a Great Contest. This person over that person. And when this person Realizes Where They Really Belong things sort themselves out. I know — (shudder). Cake was a foreign concept. If I thought of cheating, I thought of it as a gateway to Something Else, not as an end to itself.
4. Boundaries matter. I had super sloppy boundaries before infidelity happened to me. In my first marriage, I did most everything without my husband. A lot of that had to do with him not wanting to do anything in tandem with me, but if I’d understood boundaries, that should’ve been a red flag. He didn’t have any, and I didn’t have any. For example, he would just inform me that he was buggering off to Atlanta to see friends, or Kentucky to do genealogy, or to a junk yard to look at car parts. There was no consensus. And I followed suit. I went everywhere without him too. A guy from work wants to have lunch alone? Okay. Some acquaintance wants to tell me about his sad marriage? Okay. A friend invited me on a roadtrip without him? Okay.
In my next marriage, with the cheater, I tried too hard to be the Cool Wife. Not to appear needy, or coupled or anything. You gotta disappear for another weekend for business? Okay. You have this weird woman friend who keeps hanging around and offering to watch our dog? Uh… okay. She’s not an ex-girlfriend or anything? No? Okay. Folks, I was Chumpy McChumperson. I was trying so hard to be cool with everything, I didn’t know where I began and the other person ended. I was accommodating to the enth degree. The payoff with that, was I suppose, I got to do what I wanted too. Some independence is nice, but I got married to be coupled. I should’ve realized I married two unavailable men who didn’t want to behave married AT ALL. Someone should’ve hit me with the clue bat. (I probably would’ve said okay, and please sir may I have another?)
What did I learn from all this? To recognize if my boundaries are being violated and communicate my needs. It’s OKAY to expect things from other people. It’s essential! When you don’t have boundaries yourself, it’s hard to advocate for other people in your life and see when their boundaries are being violated. It can make you a lousy friend. People without boundaries don’t have their own backs, so how can they have yours?
Who were you before infidelity? Who are you now?