After our epic thread on Friday about how we all found out we were chumps, several folks asked for a post on trusting again.
To just say, oh you have to trust again! may come across as flippant, or minimizing the trauma of betrayal. That’s what’s so insidious about infidelity — the total investment of it. I suppose infidelity doesn’t hurt if you aren’t that invested, if your connections are shallow and superficial. Sure, then you get over it. Swapping out a spouse is like switching out an air filter or something.
But if you’re rooted, if you love with your whole heart, and your family means the world to you — the theft of that life is devastating. Because it’s not just that the earth opened up and swallowed up everything you hold dear, like some natural disaster, no — some idiot did this to you. Because you didn’t matter to them. Because they weren’t invested. Because it was easier to lie to you and extract value from you, and let you go on believing your world was safe when it wasn’t.
Betrayal is shattering. Coming back from it is just a series of small acts of bravery, one after the next, as you piece your world back together again. How far you go rebuilding is really up to you.
Some folks might get stuck at the trauma stage of “I’ll never trust again” — and to me, that’s terribly sad and incredibly impractical. And I don’t believe you. Of course you’ll trust again! You trust every day, if you didn’t you’d be huddled in a bunker, agoraphobic, refusing to engage with the world. Trust is the social glue that holds us all together. You trust that the money you bought your latte with wasn’t counterfeit. You trust your barista will not poison you. You trust a pilot every time you get on an airplane. You trust in democracy every time you elect an official and the world doesn’t dissolve into anarchy and executions.
Every day we trust people and institutions, and don’t think twice about it. We know intellectually that planes crash on occasion, and people get robbed, and institutions fail in far off lands and result in civil wars. But that doesn’t stop us from traveling, or carrying money, or assuming democracy is safe. We’d like to think if some calamity is about to befall us, we’d get a warning. To the best of our ability, we manage risk. We don’t walk in shady neighborhoods with $100 bills stuffed in our pockets. If peaceful democracy failed, we’d like to think we’d immigrate to Canada in time. We do the best we can. We trust in the overall solidness of our world.
And yet, intellectually we know that sometimes we don’t get warnings. Innocent people get trapped in civil wars, people are mugged in broad daylight, mechanical failures cause planes to crash. We accept that the world has risks and that life can be cruel and unfair.
But we still live in the world, don’t we? We still go on and engage with the world, don’t we?
Learning to trust again after infidelity is a process of risk management and mostly just trusting yourself. Not trusting that you’ll sniff out fraudsters with fool-proof accuracy, but trusting that you’re resilient and know how to face adversity.
I have to say, of all the infidelity fall out that I don’t get, it’s not trusting again.
Look, maybe I’m an epic chump, and a band of gypsies could carry me off in a sack, or offer to pave my driveway and take the money and never show up. Maybe it’s pretty easy to roll me, but I don’t want to live without trust.
Like you, I have every reason not to trust again when it comes to relationships. In my first marriage I was horrifically chumpy. I divorced that crazy person, paid him a shitload of money to retain custody of my son, and then he sued me for the next decade, mostly pro se. If that doesn’t put you off love and marriage, I don’t know what will — go live in the bowels of family court in Fairfax, Virginia. I estimate I lost about $100,000 in legal expenses. Does my head want to explode when I think about that? Yes, so I try not to think about it. Instead I focus on the fact that I survived it and my kid is great. What continues to piss me off is what a shit he is to my kid, but oh well. That’s on him. No one misses him. His loss.
Anywho, I went through THAT freak show, was a single mom in my 30s, noodling around quite happy otherwise, when my path crossed with the serial cheater. I’d like to think now that I’d have a better picker and enforce my boundaries better, and I’d like to think that now I know what cheating looks like, what’s a red flag. But I didn’t when I was 37. I had no idea. I was a trusting chump — and when I invested in that relationship — I was ALL in. I totally committed, not halfway, but all the way. I moved with him to another state, bought a house with him, had a custody trial to move my son. Gave up 16 years of friends and work in D.C. I loved with my big, huge chumpy heart.
And you all know how that ended — I got played. Totally sucker punched. Six months in the mistress called. Then it was a series of incredibly stupid and heart-breaking false reconciliations. (Chumpy heart still in! Chumpy heart gets PLAYED!)
Yeah, so anyway, my point is — I know what it is to lose. Hell, I know what it is to lose, try again and LOSE MORE.
But you know, I don’t think I’d have it any other way. If you’re going to love — COMMIT. Jump in with both feet. The whole thing was a horror show, but even the worst thing I ever did — marry that cheating idiot — led to some incredible blessings — living in beautiful Lancaster, Pa., wonderful friendships, a job I loved. Putting myself in that place was ultimately good for me.
The cheater was NOT good for me. And so I extracted myself — and it was painful as hell, and everything I learned about being betrayed I share with you here on this blog. I grew. I’m not the chump I used to be. I lost a fundamental innocence.
But I did not lose my ability to trust. Because, goddamn if I didn’t love again! If you’d talked to me after my last divorce and told me I would move AGAIN for a man — oh, and he’d be another lawyer — oh, and it would be full of risk, oh, and it would be to the state of Texas? I would’ve told you to put the crack pipe down.
I love my husband. I always felt safe with him. But more than that, I learned a shitload from my two horrible marriages that preceded. Mostly, I learned to draw boundaries and enforce boundaries. I learned that I don’t control most things, but I do get to control myself. And the pain and loneliness from those divorces made me appreciate opportunity. I was hungry to live to the fullest. I was sick of drama and unhappiness.
Pain and loneliness can make you go either way — close up in on yourself and tune the world out. Or it can make you a bold risk taker. There is a FREEDOM in losing everything and knowing that you survived. A whatthefuckever that is liberating. And when you feel that — and an opportunity presents itself to love and be loved? You say YES.
That isn’t to say I was being impetuous or foolish. No, I judged my husband’s character to the best of my ability. I knew what red flags were, and I looked hard for them. I trusted my gut. We both have pre-nups. But it was still a risk. A big life risk. And you don’t get the rewards of life without the taking risks.
So far, my risk has paid off — he’s wonderful. But who knows — maybe he’ll change. Maybe he’ll broadside me. Or maybe life will sucker punch me some other way. Maybe one of us will get ill, have some horrible financial set back. Maybe all three kids will move into our basement at once.
Here’s what’s different — I speak up now. I draw boundaries. I enforce boundaries. Shit sandwiches are not a basic part of my diet any longer. In other words, I trust myself to handle what is thrown at me. I trust my resiliency. Why? Because it was forged in a goddamn blast furnace of psychodrama. I know I can rebuild and reinvent because I’ve had to do it over and over and over again. I accepted the painful growth that came from my mistakes, and from the shit that was inflicted on me unjustly.
I trust myself and I still trust others. Only one idiot betrayed me. He’s an outlier. For one of him, there were dozens others who held me up, who helped me regain my life. I trust those people and I know they’re good. There were hundreds of people on online forums, fellow chumps, who paid it forward for ME — who took minutes out of their life to send me messages of support, to advise, to commiserate, just like this site does for you all. Those people, those total strangers cared about me.
Don’t they outweigh one cheating fucktard?
Oh, but he’s not the only one, you say! The world is FULL of cheating fucktards!
Yes it is. It’s also full of good people, and it’s full of chumps overcoming the damage cheating fucktards do, one brave act at a time.
So start small, folks. You can’t trust anyone? That tells me you made your world too small. Specifically, you made your cheater your whole world. It’s time to broaden your horizons and fill your life with good people who deserve you. How do you spot them? Well, some of them have always been there and others you’ll have to cultivate. You do that by opening yourself to them, and being BRAVE.
You do that every day here — and do people reject you? Or do they open up their hearts back at you?
Let me ask you something — How would you feel if no one trusted you? Are you a good person? Are you trustworthy? How would you feel if I said you were a figment. You don’t exist! Should I believe in YOU? How would you feel if I never knew your gifts? I never let myself trust you? We could never be friends because I assume the worst in you.
I’d be seriously missing out. Because you exist — THOUSANDS of you exist if my blog numbers are anything to go by.
So don’t assume the worst in everyone or you’re going to miss out on life’s gifts. You don’t have to partner up again if you don’t want to. Maybe that’s more risk than you care to assume. Maybe you’re a cyclops and you’re right, no one will ever love you. (Unless you date at CyclopsMatch.com.) But for the love of God, let SOMEONE into your heart, okay? Be a friend, make a friend. When people demonstrate they aren’t worthy, in the words of Muriel — fire them. Just because you know how to draw boundaries doesn’t mean you have to fire everyone. Be discerning of course, but be OPEN TO LIFE.
Cheaters rob so much from us. They try to take our children, our wedding china, our retirement accounts, our dignity — don’t let them have your soul. YOU own that. Don’t let them take your best self from you, that person who connects and feels intimate with others. They were fucktards, they didn’t have that ability to love with their whole hearts and commit to anything. You DO have that ability — so why waste it? I’m not saying you have to lavish your love on another spouse — but maybe you will, don’t rule it out. You don’t know the future. Maybe you’re going to lavish it on AIDs orphans or historical preservation societies or growing peonies. I have no fucking clue what your happiness looks like.
But I know this — your happiness isn’t with your cheater. That person is OUT of your life. Do not give them one more piece of your soul. Don’t let them win. They’d like nothing better for you to wither up and die from their rejection. How central that would make them? Imagine if they are the last person you ever loved! How powerful they’d be! How you couldn’t move on! Do you want THAT to be your legacy?
How about you trust yourself to rise above one fucktard’s opinion of your worth? How about you’re awesome without them? How about you go love, love, love a million things that aren’t them?
I trust you’ll figure it out, chumps.