I’m still thinking about cheating and how we, as a society, accept it as just something that happens. I think this is a huge problem for a number of reasons, not least because it gives the perpetrators a pass for their damaging behavior and leaves survivors feeling as though the crime committed against them—though it leaves them as broken and requires as much healing as many other types of abuse*—just doesn’t count.
Today I imagined, as I have been a lot lately, what might happen if I ran into the ex in a public place. I imagined a dialog wherein I told him to leave and he refused, telling me that he’d made a mistake but that didn’t give me a right to…whatever, that’s as far as I got before the following list began forming in my mind. It’s a response to the ghost of the ex and anyone else who wants to write this behavior off as a simple “mistake” to be forgiven and forgotten.
- A mistake is typing “ass” instead of “ask.”
- A mistake is putting your shoes on the wrong feet.
- A mistake is getting into a car accident when you did everything you could to prevent it.
- A mistake is an impulsive kiss or even a one-night stand.
- A mistake is something you do by accident in a moment of distraction or thoughtlessness or passion and then you stop and say, “Whoa. That was wrong. I’m not going to do that again.”
- When you are in a committed relationship and you purposely seek out a person outside the relationship for sex unbeknownst to your partner, that is not an accident. That’s not an impulsive action that takes place in an instant. That’s not a “mistake.”
- When you set out to deceive your partner on a daily basis, lying to her multiple times a day for months about where you are, making up elaborate stories about searching all over town for the right “surprise” when you’re actually having sex with your secret lover, that’s not a regretful misstep. That’s not just something that happens. That’s not a “mistake.”
This was not a mistake. This was a campaign of deception and betrayal.
Let me tell you about mistakes I’ve made:
- Spending seven years with someone because you believe what they tell you is true: that was a mistake.
- Wanting so badly to believe that someone loved me that I ignored the signs that he was not capable of it: that was a mistake.
- Trying to remain friends with the man who perpetrated what I have come to think of as abuse* against me: that was a mistake.
- Believing that he was even capable of being my friend after not only what he did, but the way he continued to treat me after the fact: that was a mistake.
- Believing that he would figure out how badly he’d fucked up and come back and do the work to make things right: that was a mistake.
These last few are mistakes because they held me back from healing. Who knows where I’d be now if I’d written him off in December, when I first tried to, rather than in February when I finally felt ready to?
Yeah, I know, it is what it is. But I’ve made my point: mistakes are not things you plan and execute like a serial killer. Mistakes are forgivable. Crimes like the ones this man perpetrated require more than forgiveness: they require redemption, and redemption requires sacrifice from the one hoping to be redeemed. It’s not something I can offer him—it’s something he has to want and work for and make happen for himself.
And maybe that’s one reason I’m having such a hard time with forgiveness—maybe it can’t happen without redemption. Or maybe I’m just not ready.
Maybe I never will be.
*I know, my use of the “A” word is a sticky issue for some. I am a survivor of many types of abuse and I don’t use the term lightly. I’m going to be writing more about it soon, but in the meantime, if it’s bothering you, ask yourself why. Ask yourself about power relationships and intent and consequences and damage. For some background, read this. We’ll talk more soon.
And everything here.
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One of the terrible things about losing love to deceit and betrayal is that there is no place safe from encounters with reminders of that love, and those lies, and the continuing hurts the betrayer sometimes perpetrates (like refusing to break off contact with his lover, friending her on Facebook, etc.). It’s like there’s a knife in your back, and the person you loved keeps twisting it with every thoughtless cruelty. And there’s another in your heart, and life twists it dozens of times a day as you walk through the house taking memories off the walls or move through the world turning your head away from one reminder only to be faced with another. It begins to feel like a conspiracy to keep you in a state of shock, the dull ache always present in your chest, tears always ready to spring from your eyes, and utter emotional breakdown imminent every second.
It’s the video playing in the doctor’s office ostensibly for calm comfort, but the undersea tranquility reminds you of snorkeling with your sweetheart, and that you may never be able to go to Hawaii–a place you loved–again without feeling that pain. It’s the song (and the next one, and the next) that sums up your pain so perfectly that tears stream down your face regardless of where you are. Trivial things like street signs remind you of a conversation, a joke you shared, or one of the many lies you’ve uncovered since you found out about the betrayal.
And then there’s time. It is now separated into three chunks, each of which provides its own special kind of pain when you dwell on it:
- Before the Affair: This is almost the most tragic period because it’s when you might have done something to head off the catastrophe you never saw coming. This is when you might have seen the signs and been just a little more mindful, asked more questions, pushed harder to work on the things that weren’t perfect. This is when the best chance existed at continued happiness with the love of your life.
- After the Affair Began: This is the period during which you were blissfully unaware that your life was falling apart around your ears, and yet–as you visualize continually now–the love of your life was experimenting with various sexual positions in downtown hotel rooms with someone he met on a sex chat. (And let’s not even wonder how long the “chatting” went on. That’s just too much to think of right now.)
- After the Affair was Revealed: The hell you’ve been enduring since you guessed, or he confessed, and your life turned into an illusion, a lie, a place you don’t recognize, but that certainly isn’t safe. The person you trusted with everything treated you like something disposable.
As people who live with anxiety will understand, it’s not just the world that’s the problem. Your mind isn’t a safe place, either. It shows you pictures of times Before the Affair, when you thought life was good, and twist goes that knife in your chest. Worse, it creates entire tableaux of your love and his lover engaging in the kind of intimacy you wanted, but didn’t have. It reminds you of the texts and notes and emails you used to get, and points out that she’s getting them now. It speculates constantly about how far he will continue to take this betrayal during this time when he claims to be trying to figure out what the hell is wrong with him. It rages because how can he be serious about getting better if he won’t stop engaging with his addiction? And in rare moments of peace, the world steps in again with an image or a song or a slip of paper that cuts your heart to ribbons all over again. And if you’re drunk when that happens, your mind can come unhinged a bit, and you can find yourself in the middle of a golf course in the cold, wet, dark trying to wrap yourself around a tree and hide from everything.
Yes, I just wrote all that in second person. It just felt better that way. It is Day 11, and while I am numb a fair share of the time, I am discovering that my supply of tears is never-ending, and that the pain comes back stronger to make up for the numb periods. I’m trying so hard to see beauty in the world–to see a future for myself in which I’m happy again and feel ok and stop finding ways to blame myself for letting this happen. But though I catch a tiny glimpse now and then, it slips away before I can grasp it.
And then there are those cruel moments when I almost expect him to walk through the door before I remember he chose to walk away from our life. And it starts again.
One second at a time. That’s how I’m doing it. Each second becomes a minute and an hour and then I’ve made it through another day. String enough of those together, and you’ve got a life. I don’t like mine right now, but maybe I will again someday. Meantime, another breath, another second.
I just have to keep breathing.
*Trigger warning for discussion of rape.*
My life just took a turn for the surreal when I discovered that my partner of 7 years sought sex from a stranger and carried on a relationship with that person for months, creating a bond with her and ensuring that ours would be broken, probably irreparably.
“Probably?” You cry. “But Rosie! He did a terrible thing to you. Why the HELL would you take him back? You’re a FEMINIST after all! Show some self-respect!”
I hear you, readers, but life just isn’t as simple as it ought to be. I may not take him back. He may not want to come back. The whole problem seems to be that he lost interest in having sex with me, but instead of telling me, he took care of it himself. And apparently felt no compunction in doing so. (Now, of course, he’s tortured over what he’s done to me. Go figure.)
It has been four days since he left and I have not left my couch. I am, as I’m sure you can imagine, a basket case. Some days I cry nonstop. Others I just ache. In between I seethe at the injustice of it all. I’m also reading books and articles on how to deal with deceit and unfaithfulness in a relationship. In one book, the author quoted a woman as saying to her husband the following:
“I was raped when I was 15. This is worse. The rapist was a stranger; you were supposed to be my best friend.”
I’ve been turning this over and over in my head. As many of you know, I have experienced actual rape, and it is a horrific thing that does not bear comparing to many others. I told my partner that it isn’t true. But I get why she said it. This feels like a very real violation of my person, and the physical and emotional agony are nearly unbearable. There will be lasting damage. I will have to learn to trust again—if not my partner, then others in the world. I question everything about myself, my life, what I thought was real and true. I don’t know that this is worse than the effects of rape, but it’s right up there.
When my partner confessed his infidelity to me, I confessed something, too. Something I hadn’t told anyone–a thing that happened to me three or so years ago that someone else did to me, something I didn’t write about in my article about my abuse because I hadn’t told him and couldn’t tell him because I was ashamed and afraid to hurt him. Enraged, I described the incident in detail and the agony I had endured keeping it from him. I wanted him to understand how his lies had hurt me. And he does—at least to a degree. I’m not sure he can ever fully comprehend my pain.
People who cheat rationalize that they aren’t hurting anyone. But they’re hurting at least three people. And while people do recover from things like this, I think it’s safe to say that the damage can’t be completely undone. I don’t know that I’ll ever trust another person the way I trusted him. I don’t know what lies ahead. I just know I have a lot of healing to do, and that may mean less blogging as I focus on myself. On the other hand, it might mean more.
Meanwhile, I have several guest pieces coming up, including another from my good friend Sid.
PS: I wrote this post on Day 4. It is now Day 6, and I have packed his shit and told him to leave me alone. I’ll write more about that when I can. I can safely tell you, though, that he has hurt me more than any single person in my life. Including my rapists.
Update (12/18/14): It has been two years today and my ex has married the woman he found on a sex chat site. I’m sure they both got what they deserved, or will. I am still struggling up out of a well of depression. I have been trying different combinations of medications for a year after going off my meds and into a very dark place for a couple of months. I have come to term what my ex did to me as abuse, and have unsurprisingly encountered resistance to that term. I have written a lot about this concept, what happened to me, and what I have gone through in the past couple of years attempting to recover from it under the betrayal tag if you want to catch up. You can also read “An Open Letter to B” for a snapshot of the damage. I know that I am getting better—that I will get better. And writing about it is one of the ways I’m doing that. Thanks for reading.