But when it comes to infidelity, you would’ve thought that everyone is clairvoyant and that particular super power skipped you. Because after you discover your spouse was cheating on you, there will be folks out there shaking their heads saying surely you “must have known.”
One of the worst things about being cheated on is others’ wrongheaded notion that somehow you were in on the deal. That you knowingly turned a blind eye. Perhaps you and your cheating spouse had an “arrangement,” wink, wink, nudge, nudge. The unspoken assumption is that you kind of deserve infidelity for being such an oblivious idiot.
Of course this is a way for the smug to distance themselves from the pain and humiliation of betrayal. Just like some folks think cancer and other sorts of misfortune are contagious, it’s easier to think we have control over Bad Things That Happen. It must be because you failed (unlike me). Blaming the victim is a nice little voodoo smug people do to protect themselves from the scary uncertainty that they too could be played.
Perhaps you were smug once too, safe in the knowledge that infidelity would never happen to you.
I know I was. I thought cheating is what happened when you had a sexless marriage, or let yourself go, or married some obvious Lothario. (The Lothario of my imagination being some cross between Austin Powers and a skeevy sales and marketing rep.) My husband loved me! My husband pursued me! My husband and I had sex! I was safe.
Insomuch as I thought of infidelity at all, I thought it happened to Other People. People with either really, sad pathetic marriages, (see sexless and ugly above) or glamorous Bohemian people who were swept up torrid affairs, helpless against the inevitability of their fated love. Solid, dull Midwesterners don’t do drama, I thought. I was immune.
We all see the world from our own moral lens. And if you have a particularly good set of morals (and assume everyone else does too), that makes you a good mark. If you’ve never experienced infidelity before and you know that you wouldn’t cheat on your spouse — you stumble around the planet with a certain naivety. You wouldn’t have done such a thing and therefore you can’t imagine a world in which the person you are most intimate with daily would do such a thing either.
That’s why infidelity is so shattering. It completely up-ends your view of the world, your sense of reality, of who you can trust. When it happened to me, it was like that scene in the Twilight Zone where the “normal” people suddenly rip off their masks and reveal that they are pig-snouted aliens. I was shocked to my core. The world has PIG-SNOUTED ALIENS?! WTF?! No one TOLD ME!
It’s not pathological to trust your spouse. It’s what normal, loving people do. And that is why betrayal and manipulation are so very ugly. Because abusers take that trust — that social glue that binds us together — and they turn it on you. Use your loving “benefit of the doubt” against you.
And as if that shit isn’t painful enough — it’s that much more painful to have the Peanut gallery out there gawking and pointing and saying you were somehow party to your own abuse.
You can only be in denial about something you know. Betrayed spouses beat themselves up for being chumps. The deception is humiliating. In retrospect the deceit looks so obvious (he never answered his cell phone, she was a sudden aficionado of Brazilian waxes…) And of course, you probably had gut feelings that things were off. But your cheater told you, no, everything was fine. Or no, actually you were the problem. And you believed that. Until you couldn’t any more.
After you know you’ve been cheated on, it’s pretty normal to go through the stages of grief. Denial is one of those stages, as is bargaining. (Pig-snouted spouse… okay… maybe it’s not that bad. Maybe I can work with this…) Once you know, however, that knowledge is a gift. It doesn’t feel that way, of course. It feels like death. Like someone bulldozed your soul, and shoveled its remains into one of those radioactive waste containers, never to be touched again like Chernobyl. But really, knowledge is power. The worse part is not knowing.
Surely you knew? No. You didn’t. But now you do. The rest of your life is up to you. If you ask me? I think you should run as fast as you can from the pig snouted aliens. God speed.
This column ran previously. Feel free to comment. Photo stills are from the Twilight Zone.