I am re-posting this because for whatever reason, this week has been the week of heartsick “what should I do?”s involving romantic relationships.
Admittedly, I get all sorts of mail from all sorts of people. Friend mail. Blog mail. Book mail. Get a bigger dick mail. Play with me, I’m at home alone and a 24-year-old housewife mail. Hate mail and love mail. Mail bitching that I dispose of friends too easily. Mail that I disposed of my husband too quickly. “I would have stayed if I were you” mail. “I went through something very similar, and I stayed to work things out because vows were taken and a child was involved. You should be ashamed of yourself.” They weren’t in my shoes. I haven’t been in theirs. But I’ll tell you this much…
When I first discovered The Wasband wasn’t being 100% forthcoming, I assessed the steps I’d need to take to leave. You begin to measure things. You think in practicalities: finances, of children, of location, of where you’ll live, of how you’ll be displaced. And the width of those measurements seems wider in the strides you’ll have to take, wider than standing still and believing it won’t happen again. You think of everything you’ll need to now live without, but in that tally, you forget to include the lies and the half-detective nature you’ll take on as the relationship progresses. That’s what you confront first. Then you slip into a rosy nostalgia phase, where you worry about the things you’ll miss. The cuddling, the closeness, losing “your best friend.” The way you kiss, the way he knows all those things that you don’t want to have to wait for someone else to learn. It’s tiresome just thinking about all the changes, all the do-overs, all the not-agains. You convince yourself that what you’ve had is real, and “I’m not just losing a lover; I’m losing the person to whom I told everything. My friend.” And you believe he’s your best friend because you’ve been selling it to yourself that long. But if he’s capable of what he’s done, he’s not only not your best friend, he’s a stranger. And that is what hurts most, that realization that the person you chose became someone you don’t even know. And you beat the shit out of yourself for letting it happen, as if it was your burden, your obligation, and under your control. And then you question everything else, all your choices and wonder how you can ever trust… not just him, but in your own choices ever again.
And it’s so much easier when it’s clear cut. When he’s a cheating bastard, than when it’s muddled in “shouldn’t”s but not in deal-breakers. It’s harder to choose leaving when you can’t say, for certain, that he’s messed around with another body, not just a few heads. Because when sex is involved, you’ve learned it’s gotta be a deal-breaker. But what if he’s just entertaining things, playing really, a step closer to some fantasy he’ll convince you he’d never planned on carrying out? And then you’re reminded, quite suddenly, of pedophiles. You’re certain you saw a segment on To Catch A Predator where hidden cameras confronted grown men at the doors of young boys they met on the Internet. And during their interrogation, they still claim, even standing at the front door, ringing the bell, that they wouldn’t have done anything. It began as porn, seeking out child pornography, and once that stopped becoming as titillating, he entered a chat room, where he was still simply “entertaining a fantasy.” Getting off, believing he was chatting with a young boy. And then a web cam was involved. And the nexts kept coming, until he found himself at the front door, insisting he wouldn’t have done anything. “I will never do it again,” he claims. And not but two days later, To Catch A Predator finds he’s at it again. They track his IP address, and he’s entered a different chat room. He’s in therapy for it, he claims, but. But he got caught again and still denies it.
Those of us who allow for the width of that, make room for it in our lives, holding onto hope and believing in change, feel duped. And we sit by and let him convince us that it won’t ever happen again. “You’ll see. It will be so much better now. I’ll be so much better.” He fesses up, eventually, once you present him with enough proof. Otherwise, he’ll deny it forever and a day, realizing no good can come from admitting he’s done anything wrong. And you believe him, somehow you allow for his remorse and believe in it, because it’s easier, for YOU, than not. It affords you time to remain where you are; it’s a pass you’re able to present, a neat slip of paper that enables you to stay later, longer, resisting change. Staying in a relationship where you don’t trust the other person is like staying in bed when you know it’s time to go to work. It’s lazy. It’s procrastinating. It’s pushing off the inevitable.
The very first time I discovered something I shouldn’t, I soon learned more lies would come buried along with it. I remember finding measurements of girls written on a slip of paper. Names beside the measurements and a phone number. It was a slip of lined paper, and it was written in blue pen, his penmanship. And I called the number. It was an escort service. I couldn’t breathe. When confronted, he assured me it was a bet he’d lost. That the terms of his losing this bet were for him to get his friend Dave an escort. “I swear, you can call him right now. And you’ll be the only one on the phone. I won’t prompt him.” And I believed him. I don’t think I called his bluff because I was too worried about how I’d look to Dave. Some psycho controlling girl. And time went on, us in our comfortable lives ordering in our cheeseburger deluxes, medium rare with the fries well done. We watched our shows and made plans for our future. Vacations were planned. He bought me a ring and had it engraved, “I adore you.” You know what else he adored? Lying.
I found emails. I found instant messenger conversations between him and other women, online women sometimes. And there was always an excuse for it. And people, even the girls themselves warned me, “Once a cheater always a cheater.” And I refused to believe it. I still don’t believe it. I believe in the power of change when we want to change badly enough. But when should you believe in their belief? Do you do it only for the sake of the children involved? Do you do it because this time is only the first time? He’s shown you his character, and you’re fighting to believe, to convince yourself, that he really isn’t that way.
Here’s what I know: if someone is capable of being deceitful, of holding onto lies, of covering things up, they’re okay with it. I don’t care if they don’t get physical. Physical is just the result. It’s all the steps leading to physical infidelity that matter. It’s the emotional infidelity that matters most. And once a person is capable of behaving differently when they’re alone than when they’re with you, there’s not only a severe problem. There’s cheating going on. Doing things you wouldn’t dare do in front of your partner is cheating… and no, taking a shit and farting don’t count. But giving some co-worker a massage, or IMing some girl the details of your relationship, or chatting in some online room asking a chick to describe the size of her areolas. That shit is cheating. Doing anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing in front of your partner, but doing it anyway, is cheating. It means you’re capable of duplicitous behavior. And you’ll do it again.
If they don’t make themselves sick by their own behavior you can bet they’ll repeat it. Equally as bad is the person who is sickened by their own behavior, who seeks out therapy even, and who still makes allowances for their own repetitive behavior. Like the pedophile who an hour after therapy signs onto a myspace page pretending to be a young boy himself. And sticking around in a world of “everything is okay now because we’re in therapy,” or “things seem so much better, closer even, now that it’s all out in the open” you’re almost certain to find yourself in the same compromising position again. And maybe then you’ll get the fuck out of bed and to living a life where an extra income and deceitful people are disposable.
This post brought to you by Stephanie Klein, author of about at least two hundred outbound emails stating just this in response to the overwhelming emails received with subjects reading, “What should I do?” You should leave. You should force yourself to do what’s hard because in the long run staying is so much more detrimental to your esteem and your own worth. Do I know you and the details that only you know? No. But I know enough, have lived enough, and have seen and heard enough to know when someone is kidding herself. You know what it looks like? A smile. She forces a smile and talks about hope and faith. And she hopes you’ll believe her so she can believe it too.