It stands to reason, that if you don’t like someone very much, they can’t hurt you very deeply. There just aren’t that many emotional sunk costs. I suppose some people swan through life quite superficially, never giving very deeply of themselves or committing too much. Nonchalance as armor. Apathy as an insurance policy.
Yet, I don’t think most humans are wired to be that way. We’re wired to connect and bond. And we’re not alone in this either. Scientists have discovered that other animals display empathy and social interdependence. Even a rat will stop and help a fellow rat escape a cage instead of choosing a treat for himself. (Yes, even rats are more altruistic than cheaters.)
But it seems to me that we live in an age of cynicism. It probably began with the David Letterman irony of the 1980s and is now in its halcyon days with reality television, celebrity culture, and the sociopaths on Wall St.
It’s cool to be a narcissist! And there’s a shit load of money to be made. Sure we laugh (ironically, of course) at the Kardashians. But who doesn’t want their own reality TV show? Or youtube channel? Or personal brand?
It’s an era of I got mine and fuck you. It’s in our politics. It’s in our culture. It’s in that stuck up playgroup mommy who won’t ask her kid to get off the swings already. Of course, sometimes all this entitlement comes back and bites us in the ass. Bernie Madoff goes to jail, for instance, and we all tut tut. But then some board of directors approves CEO salary raises for a hundred other Madoff wannabes. Some of us caterwaul, more folks admire the moxie and wonder why they didn’t go into finance.
Narcissists are nothing new and oligarchs have been with us always. But we didn’t have social media to blast their lifestyles in our face constantly and make us want to buy crap. No, the fabulous people in days gone by had the good sense to build their castles far away, hide behind giant hedgerows, and not give interviews. Now, it seems, the more dim-witted among us, (like cheaters) look at those lifestyles and think — yeah, I deserve that. I’ll get mine and fuck you.
It’s not a good time in history to be a chump. Was it ever? Well, it used to be infidelity was considered dangerous and full of tragic consequence. If you were a chump, society understood that you’d be full of rage and might even kill someone. We had “crimes of passion.” I’m not saying go shoot affair partners (we’re all about “meh” here at Chump Lady) — I’m saying that sympathy used to reside with the chump, and outrage was clearly directed at the cheater and the “home wrecker.” We understood that the pain of betrayal drove ordinary people to extremes.
That’s been the conventional wisdom going back through the ages. To the Bible with Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. To Shakespearean tragedies. Othello weeps and agonizes, before killing Desdemona just on the (wrongful) suspicion that she’s been unfaithful. “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men.” Elizabethans understood that to cheat on someone who loved you was to destroy them.
My wife! my wife! what wife? I have no wife.
O insupportable! O heavy hour!
Methinks it should be now a huge eclipse
Of sun and moon, and that the affrighted globe
Should yawn at alteration.
Or check out the old British folk song Matty Groves. Lord Donald’s wife cheats on him with Matty Groves. He finds the couple in bed and tells the naked man to have one of his swords and strike him first, before asking:
“How do you like my feather bed? And how do you like my sheets? And how do you like my lady who lies in your arms asleep?”
Lord Donald kills Matty Groves and when his wife says she enjoyed fucking Matty better than him, he drives a knife through her heart and buries the cheaters together in the same grave. “But bury my lady at the top, for she was of noble kin.”
Or the blues song Frankie and Albert (also known as Frankie and Johnny) — where Frankie shoots her unfaithful lover.
“Boohoo, boohoo, boohoo, Frankie cried, ‘Baby what have I done? I shot the only man that I loved with a Colt 41.’ She shot that man, ’cause he was doing her wrong.”
Today? In our culture? Iago would say to Othello — “Dude, get over it already.” Lord Donald would probably commit murder suicide from the shame. And Frankie and Albert would go to marriage counseling, where the shrink would ask Frankie why she wasn’t meeting Albert’s needs. Maybe she should spice things up things in the bedroom, so he wouldn’t go back to Nelly Bly.
There was a time when we understood that infidelity drove people out of their minds’ with pain. Now it’s a big whatever. Did you get played for a sucker? Well, that’s your fault. You expected too much. What did you do to make them do that? And Get Over It Already!
Maybe you cared too much. Sentimentality is for suckers. Commitment is for chumps. There’s a “new monogamy” now which is really no monogamy at all, because only unsophisticated rubes expect people to keep their promises to them. You fell for that? Did you give too much? Well, that was your choice then, wasn’t it? Surely you didn’t expect reciprocity. Didn’t you have a Plan B? You put all the eggs in that basket? That was sure dumb of you.
My cheater said to me after D-Day, “Don’t be such a Pollyanna. Everybody cheats.”
The problem wasn’t that he cheated. No, the problem was that I didn’t manage my expectations of him properly. How dare I be upset that he didn’t keep his commitments! My heartbreak was just a symptom of my naivety. Of being an unsophisticated Pollyanna.
There isn’t anything wrong with chumps for assuming that their partners would be faithful. There is something terribly wrong, however, with a culture that thinks you should shrug at infidelity, and better yet — be friends with the person who betrayed you. Have Thanksgiving dinners together! Be progressive and evolved! Do it for the kids!
Lord Donald didn’t throw dinner parties with Matty Groves. He told the man who fucked his wife to put his pants on, take his best shot — and then he killed him.
I’m not advocating chump violence. I’m advocating understanding. Chumps are entitled to their grief and anger. The world must recognize once again that infidelity is life altering, tragic and terrifying. That betrayal is not a big shrug. It is fully human to love completely. We are wired to bond and it’s not naive to do so. We are not unsophisticated to expect people to honor their commitments to us. On the contrary, chumps are a better class of people because they DO honor their commitments. Which is a damn sight better than I can say for the narcissists in our culture who take, take, take and want to exhaust every resource for their personal glory.
It is better to give a shit. It is better to be a chump. (An older but wiser chump.)