Found your book in the book store. It’s been tough to read, and I guess I’m doing that thing that a lot of asshole guys do — thinking I’m a unicorn, that I can change, that I can do better for my partner, that I can overcome this super shitty way of life.
I know your specialty is on the other end of things, but do you think people can change? How do they do so?
I am seeing a shrink for anxiety and am on my way to an SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) meeting.
I don’t want to be a bad man, but I am right now.
Thinking you could change (i.e., be a unicorn) isn’t what makes you an asshole. Knowing you don’t want to change and manipulating a chump into investing further in your relationship with false promises, so you can keep extracting value from that chump? THAT would make you an asshole. Knowing that you’re not really cut out for a monogamous relationship, but keep “committing” to one? THAT would make you an asshole. Risking your partner’s health and welfare in secret, while telling them to trust you? THAT would make you an asshole. The desire for self-improvement? No.
Yes, I believe people can change.
However, change is a long, slow, humbling process, and I am skeptical that people prone to self-indulgence and immediate gratification can sustain character change. It would require a huge values shift, from entitlement to empathy. From escapism to dealing-with-your-shit-ism. From narcissistic notions of gaming the system (more kibbles for ME!) to reciprocity and fair play.
This isn’t instant switch-o-change-o stuff. Character change occurs when the costs of being a “bad man” outweigh the perceived benefits. When it hurts you to hurt someone you love. Perhaps you do feel bad that you hurt your partner with your infidelities. But guilt isn’t enough — the fear of hurting someone you love should precipitate your actions. The connection and respect you feel for your partner should squelch entitled, escapist, let’s-go-fuck-someone-I-met-on-Craigslist notions. You should care enough to NOT hurt your partner.
Oh, but they’ll never know. Oh, but I deserve this. Oh, it’s just a bit of fun. Oh, but they pissed me off last Thursday, and they’re never going to fix X about themselves, so I’m entitled to this. Because I don’t get A, B, and C. Not enough anyway. And my partner doesn’t do P and Q. What’s life without Q?
If you’ve got a thousand rationalizations why cheating on your partner could be okay with certain mitigating circumstances, you’re not getting it.
Felix, I recently moved back to an area I moved away from 10 years ago. It’s changed a lot since I left. Yesterday I went to this farmer’s market I used to go to and I was wandering around the stalls thinking, “Where’s the Sticky Bun Lady? She should BE here! Where is she?!”
Even though I haven’t been to this market in over a decade, I childishly assumed it should be just as I left it. (In fact, the Sticky Bun Lady, I vaguely recall now, died of a stroke. Probably due in no small part to unfettered consumption of sticky buns…)
I resent that entire neighborhoods are missing and have been replaced with glassy high-rise condo units and fusion noodle cafes. I’m unnerved by the unfamiliar. Why can’t it go back to 2006? I’m MAD that I cannot get good sticky buns!
Felix, for you to be a serial cheater and come back to your relationship expecting it to still be there waiting for you is a lot more delusional than me thinking those sticky buns are there. To belabor my analogy — you firebombed the farmer’s market. And now you’re back.
How do you change after serial cheating?
First and foremost by recognizing and accepting that you destroyed your relationship. THAT relationship. It’s over. I’m sorry you broke it, but you’re not entitled to keep it. It’s changed. It’s been flattened. All the things you love about that farmer’s market? They’re all out. Trust, peaches, respect, sticky buns…
Sure, you could come in and offer to fix the farmer’s market! But you’d be doing a lot of grunt work for a long time. And those who invested deeply in the farmer’s market might not trust an arsonist with rebuilding. You can’t blame them for that. Even if you’ve truly changed in your heart, even if you scrub every toilet, and scrape blackened vegetables off every surface, and work tirelessly without pay, the memory of that explosion will haunt them.
Accepting consequences is the first step to improving your character. You don’t get to come back to the relationship you left. Is it fair to make your chump do the grunt work of rebuilding? Or worse, imply that they deserved to have their world exploded? Or demand a fully-functional market from a burnt-out wreck? You can hardly expect your chump to put their life on hold while you figure out this self-improvement journey.
In my opinion, the best way forward is new lives for everyone. Chumps must rebuild, but let it be lives of their own creation on their terms, not yours.
You can go forward too into a new life. You don’t want to be that “bad man”? Don’t be. But if it was so shitty and bad, why did you go back for second and third (and 15th) helpings? Get real with yourself. You liked the perks of entitlement, the power trip. Fucking around feels great! Until it doesn’t. Because consequences.
Stick with the therapy. Accept the consequences. Good luck.