An alert chump sent me a link to a sad women doing a sad pick-me dance dressed up as unicorn sophistication — My Husband Cheated On Me — And I Stayed. Here’s Why.
Cheated on? Hey, the problem isn’t that your partner told you they were at the gym when they were fucking someone else. And it isn’t the venereal disease you may be experiencing as a result. Nor the mindfuckery. No, the problem is monogamy!
That arrangement we all agreed to, but never mind. They were not happy. And if you would just unshackle them from your ridiculous, naive assumptions about fidelity and encourage their extracurricular hook-ups, Your Marriage Will Be Stronger!
You can have partners too! Maybe. After you finish folding the laundry and put the kids to bed. And work your day job. Okay, so they got a head start on this open marriage thing, but DON’T YOU WANT THEM TO BE HAPPY? I think you do. And, chump, you simply don’t have enough orifices.
The open marriage ultimatum. CN knows it well.
The Universal Bullshit Translator has been lounging about, waiting for its next snow day, considering what cookies it could dunk in its cocoa. About time it got to work! (You can read the whole essay here. The UBT had to edit.)
It’s been almost four months since I discovered my husband’s cheating. Three and a half years of it, some of it in our house, some of it without protection.
We had been monogamous, or so I thought, for 16 years.
When people used to tell me about how devastating infidelity could be, and what measures to take to prevent it, I took their advice with a grain of salt. Such betrayal would certainly feel crushing, I knew, but surely it could be managed.
Surely, I could manage crushing grief. What is marriage for, if not crushing grief?
But in September, when a stranger reached out proffering a photo album of incriminating screenshots ― a Tinder profile showcasing my husband’s smiling face, in which he claimed he was “slightly married,” a series of graphic sexual text messages, and time logs of hourlong phone conversations ― I realized that these earlier claims weren’t exaggerated or relegated to a sensitive few. The knot twisting in my stomach proved their validity.
I considered throwing all his shit on the lawn and telling him he’s only “slightly homeless.” And should he use his credit card to buy a hotel room, he might find it “slightly cutoff.”
But the lucidity faded.
I suddenly found myself careening through a type of grief, as if the person I thought my husband was had died. As if, in fact, a part of me had died. What remained was now being dragged, kicking and screaming, through an existential metamorphosis into something new and unknown.
At first, I thought divorce was our only option. “Once a cheater, always a cheater” looped in my head, along with the imagined porno film of what my husband had done. I couldn’t sleep. I could barely eat. I lost weight. The walk to the STD testing clinic felt like a funeral march. And through it all, that horrible movie kept playing on repeat, torturing me with all the visuals and sounds and smells that I imagined had occurred in his adulterous moments. In a frenzy of despair, I banished a couch ― “the couch of sin” I called it ― onto a truck-bound journey that assured I would never see it again.
I was destroyed and couldn’t fathom recovering.
I think PTSD is a solid foundation for a relationship. My husband isn’t abusing me with his double life, he’s dragging me into an existential metamorphosis!
The notion dawned on me that perhaps some of the pain I was feeling stemmed from a preventable social malady rather than abject personal failure. Maybe, to a certain degree, our institutions had misunderstood love, and taught it to us all wrong.
My husband didn’t cheat on me, our Institutions just taught us to love all wrong. Mrs. Cieleski, my 7th grade geometry teacher, the Milwaukee Department of Sanitation, and the International Monetary Fund — we need to talk.
What if the lack of respect that made infidelity so agonizing was less about sex and more about dishonesty? If honesty could be achieved and mutually maintained, then, could my husband and I develop a level of empathy that would allow for more sexual freedom without damaging our partnership? Could we think and feel past the societal taboo of sex outside of marriage and discover a truer definition of love? Was there a third viable path hidden alongside divorce and forced monogamy?
It’s absolutely believable that a man who conducted a double life for 3.5 years is going to “achieve” honesty. Right after he learns empathy. And how to fold the laundry.
Who am I to continue to “force” him into monogamy? I must relinquish my shock collar and the mind control that made him stand up in a hall full of family and friends and expensive ice swan sculptures and swear fidelity to me. No more damage! No more expectations!
My husband and I had talked about opening up our relationship nearly a decade ago, before we got married. It had been my idea at the time, and he had nixed it over concerns that I would have much more success at the endeavor than him. I now understand that his worry was rooted in the kind of abandonment fear that fuels jealousy and a tit-for-tat mindset. The kind of visceral half-conscious terror that, when left unexplored, upholds institutions like monogamous marriage and vilifies other ways of living.
Visceral half-conscious terror is his pet name for me. He only abandons me because he is afraid of abandonment.
Le me cling to spackle and psychobabble! Do not vilify my way of living!
So in the wake of my husband’s infidelity and the philosophical renaissance it catalyzed in me, I found myself at a crossroads, wracked by cognitive dissonance.
Hindu elephant fandango wracked by flaccid soufflé regret. Grok! Michelangelo!
(Excuse me, the UBT is malfunctioning.)
Dissonance! Heidegger duck toy! At the crossroads!
(We need a moment.)
I understood intellectually that ethical non-monogamy could perhaps be a truer expression of love than traditional monogamy, but emotionally I was still bound to the traditions into which I was raised. Disney princesses. Happily ever afters. All or nothing. Good or evil. True or false.
A Disney princess would never tolerate this shit. All the birds and squirrels in the forest would knit together a divorce degree and a fairy godmother would serve the summons. As global mega-stars Disney princesses have far too much self-respect than to be bit players in some fuckboy’s drama. They have snowman friends, genies, and dwarves to hang with.
(Excuse me, the UBT is refusing to do its Translation persona. Good grief.)
Will things between my husband and I progress into the mutually empathetic utopia I imagine?
Or genital warts?
Only time will tell.
And an abnormal Pap smear.
One or both of us could prove emotionally unfit to sustain an open arrangement and our experiment could fail. And there are sure to be bumps, some jarring, even if we succeed. I still have moments when I think I ought to consider separation as an act of self-preservation, when I wonder whether the mental load of our new arrangement destroys more than it builds.
If it fails, it’s just because I’m emotionally unfit. My mind won’t open enough. The mental load of this cognitive dissonance is destroying me.
But hey, at least I’m not judgey!
Inevitably, though, those darker moments are followed by the conviction that the true act of self-preservation is to maintain courage in the pursuit of happiness ― to follow whatever paths, no matter how unorthodox, lead to that place of self-actualization. And for now, at least, the most promising path involves walking with my husband, side by side.
And his girlfriend.