The first year I started this blog, I was asked to appear on a HuffPo video panel. The subject was on being friendly with your exes. (Mine was the “no thanks” vote.) Before the segment began, the other panelists and I were chatting and introducing ourselves, off air.
I said howdy, mentioned my blog, and that I’d been chumped. Dr. Tammy Nelson (The New Monogamy) laughed and said — and I will never forget this — “Oh, most people wouldn’t publicly admit that.”
It was not said in an Oprah-esque “Gee, aren’t you brave!” way. It was said in a “My, aren’t you a two-headed calf in the sideshow tent” tone.
We. Don’t. Talk. About. That.
Why would you admit something so embarrassing? Do you really want to confess your failings that drove him to cheat? Do you want a million viewers to wonder exactly how fat, sexless, and controlling you are?
Or worse — are you going to Play The Victim? Dear God, aren’t you Over It? Why are you still talking about this?
Okay, if you must speak of the chump experience, (and better you don’t) do so in terms of reconciliation, forgiveness, or Friendship For The Children.
Otherwise people will think you’re bitter.
Apparently, I didn’t have the good sense to be ashamed of my chump status.
That episode came to mind recently with the whole #MeToo revolution that’s afoot here in the U.S. Victims of sexual harassment are having a moment, standing up and outing their abusers. The mighty are falling. It’s exhilarating.
Of course, like 99 percent of women, I have a #MeToo story (or stories). The creepy ABC News producer who used to follow me around when I was an intern to ask if I wore that outfit just for him? Did I think he was handsome? Am I a virgin? Do I have a boyfriend? Perhaps we could move this conversation outside, because he has a lot of contacts in South Africa he’d like to share, over an intimate dinner.
Oh, or the revolting man who came up to me IN CHURCH, on CHRISTMAS EVE, IN FRONT OF MY FAMILY and kissed the back of my NECK — by way of greeting, because I’d once worked in his bakery. Where he was creepy and inappropriate.
Did I tell anyone I was being harassed? No. I’m telling you now about 30 years later. Because like every other person this happens to (and really, I got off lightly — no one exposed themselves or assaulted me) — I picked up on the societal cues. We. Don’t. Talk. About. This.
I asked myself if I wore the wrong outfit. I seethed with fury at the baker. I kept my mouth shut.
What do all these experiences have in common?
Wear the shame.
Own what isn’t yours to own. Eat the shit sandwich. And don’t you dare spit it out or you will be judged. This is your fault.
Finally, finally! We are collectively spitting out the shit sandwich and having a national conversation about sexual harassment and abuse that allows for anger and truth telling. Check out the devastating op-ed by swimmer Diana Nyad or Lindy West’s awesome Brave Enough to Be Angry post. (Could Lindy West please be my new best friend? Total fan girl here.)
Finally, people are pointing out the obvious — this isn’t about sex, it’s about power.
Some people point to the accusers and wonder why they didn’t speak up sooner. Well, imagine the awkwardness. It’s your boss, or a revered public figure, or a comedian whose approval could make or break you. Those are losses and embarrassments that would shut a person up.
I wonder about all the silent chumps out there, who never speak of their experience. Who wear the shame.
We can rightly imagine the perceived losses that would keep a victim of sexual harassment or assault quiet. Now imagine the loss is your entire family structure. Your home. Your financial stability. To tell is to risk hurting your children. It’s admitting the most sexually humiliating things that ever happened to you. It’s confessing all the grotesque things you accepted and accommodated to avoid these losses. And the perpetrator wasn’t tangental to your life — it was your spouse. Your partner. Your true love. The person you trusted the most in this world.
Now imagine that the ENTIRE discourse around this experience blames you for it. Asks you to own your part. Wonders out loud what needs you weren’t meeting.
Of course we shut up. The number of silent chumps is legion. In that vacuum, we let the cheaters have the conversation space and own the narrative.
What’s their story? That cheating is about sex, the unnaturalness of monogamy, and unmet needs — and not an abuse of power.
Of course cheating is an abuse of power. Intimacy makes us vulnerable. To trust someone is to show them your tender underbelly and hand them the harpoon. Betrayal is a violation of a sacred trust.
The cheaters are all “Harpoon? What harpoon? You shouldn’t go around showing off your midriff like that.”
I hope someday we can have the same reckoning with infidelity that we’re having with sexual harassment and assault. I’ll confess, I still have a hard time telling people I don’t know well about this blog. I mean, imagine leading with this at a cocktail party.
What do you do?
Oh, I’m a journalist. And I have another career as a blogger.
What do you write about?
Uh, relationship stuff. It’s on leaving cheaters… and there’s cartoons and snark. And uh, cheaters. It’s called Chump Lady. I was once a chump.
I HAVE KNOWN THIS PERSON 30 SECONDS AND I HAVE NOW JUST REVEALED THE MOST INTIMATELY MORTIFYING THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME.
In my experience, about 99 percent of people visibly recoil. If the conversation lasts long enough, and they don’t immediately lurch towards the buffet line, they recover at “book deal” and perk up considerably at the traffic numbers. But despite this blog’s success (which I attribute to a) Chump Nation and b) having this conversation space all to myself), I still stumble over telling people I was cheated on.
I wait for the judgement I know is there. Two divorces? Loser. Why couldn’t she make it work?
I wait for the pronouncement. Chump Lady? That’s… quirky.
And I do my best to shrug it off and keep this place going. Not because I give a shit about my cheater (I’m long past meh), but because the majority of infidelity discourse still peddles chump blame and assumes reconciliation over self-protection.
Fuck that shit. Come out of the closet, chumps! Stop wearing the shame!
I’ll talk about it, if you’ll talk about it. Were you chumped?
The cartoon “Rejection Man” appears in Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life and is copyrighted by Tracy Schorn.
This column ran previously.