Dear Chump Lady,
Have you ever thought about compiling a list of anecdotes or stories from those that have successfully made it to the other side? A list of small, but concrete, examples of something a chump noticed their new partner did that their cheater would have never thought of or done? Like you with your husband ordering you tea at the hotel… just little things like that.
I think I’ve gone so long with little to no expectations of my partner that I’m not sure what are some nice things I can expect from someone “normal”? And maybe being reminded of some of the nice things about being in a relationship will help me and others to actually want to trust someone and be in a relationship again as well. It seems like we chumps like to read “success” stories and they are kind of few and far between. (Probably because the success stories don’t come here as much because they’re too busy off being successful.) It might help chumps who are sitting on the fence about leaving? Just a thought…
I hope fellow chumps will weigh in on this one. I know we have some readers here who are years out and engaged or partnered up again. I do think examples of normal kindness are all around each of us, however. Before you graduate to a full-blown relationship, I think it’s good to cultivate an awareness of reciprocity and kindness in others. Learn to spot the nice people, and encourage those relationships.
You’ve already mastered one skill — recognizing that your relationship with your cheating husband was toxic and jettisoning him. You stood up for yourself. You defined what you don’t want, what you will not stand for. The next step is to have a vision of what sort of relationship you DO want. Surround yourself with people who are more like you — giving, reciprocal, kind, good natured. Figure out what sort of people give you energy, and what sort of people leave you feeling drained. Who brings out your best self?
My husband, right after DDay, actually made a list of all the things he would NOT miss about his ex. And then he made a second list of exactly what he wanted in his next relationship. He tells me I checked every box, except one (I’m taller than he is). But he had a vision — so when someone like me (lucky me!) crossed his path, he knew what he was looking for.
I think you can do this sort of exercise with other people in your life as well, not just potential partners. Part of life after infidelity is the rediscovery of yourself. Who is Erica? What kind of people does she like to hang out with? Set the bar a little lower while you’re still feeling bruised — don’t worry about a boyfriend, just make some new friends. Edit out the draining people. Invest more in the good people who’ve helped you along now.
I remember when I was going through my nightmare, I was overwhelmed by the smallest act of kindness. It took on such huge meaning. I think I felt like this because a) I had been in an abusive relationship and my sense of normal was fucked up and b) I was developing a new sense — an awareness of kindness — that I think I’d lost in all the drama.
I’ll give you a couple of examples. I was part of a drawing club and I shared with one older woman there, who was a realtor, that I was thinking of leaving my cheating husband and I needed to find a house. Not only did she take me out to look at houses, for the next three months, she let me store whatever I wanted to in her garage. Personal effects I didn’t want to leave, in case of a quick getaway. She actually didn’t even take the realtor’s commission when I bought my house, she gave it to a younger woman who was starting out in real estate.
We were not that close — I’ve lost touch with her. She just saw a person in need and she helped me out (to which I’m eternally grateful). Another fellow in that class lent me all his plastic tubs for moving (he’d just moved). And one day he picked me up some take out food and lent me some DVDs. I honestly felt overwhelmed with those ordinary acts of friendship. He was not dateable (gay), but I remember thinking — I need this sort of relationship. This person is so nice. Nice is awesome.
By the time I met my husband and had that fateful cup of tea, I had a better sniffer. I could distinguish the ordinary good people from the sparkly. I was looking for actions over sparkle. I’m not saying this is fool proof — but IMO it’s pretty reliable. I could be bullshitted before. When I changed my focus to actions, and had a vision of the sort of person I wanted to be with (a nice person, like that man from my art class who was so helpful and kind) — I recognized those qualities in my husband. Oh! He’s part of the Nice Tribe! These are my people!
As for stories on the other side… I know a LOT of them and I keep asking them to share their stories with me, like my aunt did. It’s a funny thing — it’s exactly as you write — they’re too busy off enjoying their new lives. Also, (my aunt being the exception), I think for many of them, infidelity was too painful and they don’t want to revisit it, or talk about it. They survived it, they’re happier now, end of story.
That said — I’ll rattle off a couple anonymous examples of people I know who survived this. I hope other chumps will chime in with their own stories of people they know too.
My friend’s mother was a single mom once with two kids, when she married a lawyer she worked for. They had two more children together. For many years, they were a family, but he turned out to be a cheater, and cheated on her with a woman at work. Like most cake eaters, he didn’t want to give up his marriage or his mistress. So my friend’s mom left — a single mother with FOUR kids — left her cushy country club lifestyle, moved to the wrong side of the tracks, and went to school to become a nurse. The father disowned his two stepsons and never spoke to them again.
It’s 25 years later. The cheater married his OW, shortly thereafter. He’s an alcoholic. He’s terrible with money and hasn’t paid his taxes in years. The IRS has put a lien on his home for its entire value, and he refuses to leave it. The OW also has a drinking problem and endangers her retirement staying married to him. By all accounts, it’s a dysfunctional nightmare.
The mom? After a few years, she remarried a very nice man who’d never been married or had kids before. They raised all the kids. They managed their modest incomes. They built their dream house and then fixed up another second home across the street from their grandchildren. They own both of their houses. They’re happily married and spend a lot of time with their grandkids.
My friend asked her mom to share her story here, in her own words, and she demurred. It’s too painful, it was long ago. She doesn’t examine it, she’s just grateful her kids figured out their father eventually. I hope they won’t mind that I shared it with you here anonymously.
Another story — when I was in college, my friend’s brother was in the military. He’d gotten married at 18, had a son by 19. He was doing maneuvers, when a field stove blew up on him. He had third degree burns over most of his body and was expected to die. While he was in the FUCKING BURN UNIT, ostensibly DYING — his wife came in to tell him that she was leaving him — for his best friend. Yeah, she’d been cheating on him. And she was taking their infant son with her. She gave the I Love You But I’m Not In Love With You speech to a soldier dying in a burn unit. It’s quite amazing his mother didn’t kill her then, God knows she’s wanted to all these years.
He recovered. He had hundreds of surgeries for his injuries. (His ears burned off, to give you an idea of how bad it was.) Several years after his accident, his older sister says — hey, I want to fix you up with this waitress I work with. I think you’d like her, she’s this attractive blonde. He’s game. A year later — they’re married. It’s 25 years later — they have two kids in college, (the first son’s grown up and has a job in computers). He retired from the military, lives in his home town, near his folks. He posts a lot on Facebook about ice fishing. He survived that shit and he thrived — in a normal, ordinary life. I messaged him on Facebook once about writing his story here — radio silence. Why would he want to share the most humiliating, painful story of his life? I get it. He’s a normal guy now with a normal life. As far as anyone else knows, the worst thing that ever happened to him was that accident. I hope he won’t mind that I shared his story anonymously.
Helen Keller said that the world is full of suffering. And the world is also full of the over coming of suffering.
I hope these stories give you some comfort. Just because people aren’t out there sharing their stories, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. They exist. Not everyone wants to talk about it though, and I think there are still feelings of humiliation at being chumped, that a lot of people don’t want to share except with the people closest to them.
I know all of you will be success stories too — moved on, with normal happy lives, perhaps ice fishing somewhere. I hope you’ll tell people though, and give some hope to other chumps along the path. That’s why I started this site. I’m just one chump — but my story is real — and there are many more out there just like me.