January 24, 2024
I guess today it’s fitting to post something. Today at about one o’clock in the morning, nine years ago, we first typed each other “I love you.” Well … a fat lot of good that did. Okay … I overstate things. Although … I have always remembered days like this. I remember today, I remember Valentine’s Day (well, actually, I believe it was the 12th, because I would not see him on the 14th) because it was the first time I was able to hold his hands and tell him that in person, and because I brought him a small gift. I remember his birthday.
I doubt very seriously he remembers any of these dates, and I’m pretty sure he never even knew my birthday.
Which is part and parcel of what happens when two people become attracted to one another and one of them is married. Tell ya what, I know a shitload more about these relationships now than I did nine years ago. At least nine years ago, I had the presence of mind to do some research, which informed me I was highly likely to get back-and-forthed and back-and-forthed. Since I looked ahead in transits, and bingo, there that was, I knew not to go there. But that barely scratches the tip of the iceberg regarding what one needs to know about affair relationships. This week I had some cheated-ons chastising me that I can’t possibly know how I would react to being cheated on until it happened, and blah blah blah blah blah. I beg to differ.
Um, I was married once. Do you think I didn’t ponder what I might do and how I might feel if my late husband cheated on me, although I was fairly sure I could trust him with my life?
By now, I know SO GODDAMNED MUCH about relationships, marriage, and cheating, I do not look at these issues the same way I did as a young girl years ago when other girls would come to work in tears about a boyfriend or a fiance cheating. Or when I discovered the affair between my married boss and an assistant at work. I now see that I was as ignorant then as most people are now, because not only did I just not know, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
And about the biggest, hugest, most earth-shattering thing I didn’t know then was this: RELATIONSHIPS ARE NOT SECURITY. Oh, we treat them like they are. Disney movies suggest, and we are all too ready to believe, that the answer to life is romantic love, and that once we leave our parents’ house and cleave to The One who Will Be With Us For The Rest Of Our Lives, we’re all set. They are our security and The Bedrock of our lives, and we rely on them absolutely for every sense that things are right in our world.
Which, I’m sorry to say this, but you really cannot do.
Humans do this. They look for externals to help them feel all right in a world in which we are all aging every day, and we know that we must die. Daphne Rose Kingma writes that we use romantic love to replace our parents’ love as The Antidote to existential anxiety, and in a very real sense, our partner becomes our parent.
Then we start getting older. We move into a new life stage, life gets hard, life gets boring, and the wounds our parents raised us with prevent us from keeping the living connection with our partner that makes us see them not as our keeper, tasked with our well-being, but as a separate person, the same as when we were dating them. And that, BLOOIE, baby, shit’s gonna happen. And that when that shit gets shitty enough … some of us put the stress in an affair when it doesn’t fit in the marriage anymore.
Shit can always happen. We’re never safe. At any moment, we can have a horrible car accident and never walk again, we might have a heart attack, we might be diagnosed with cancer, our spouse might be diagnosed with cancer, we might get fired and lose our home, all kinds of terror may befall us.
And, yes, our spouses can cheat.
Or we not-marrieds or married-to-somebody-elses might decide we want to cheat with them.
I see now, looking back, that I had perceived this person as being a whole lot stronger and with a whole lot more intact personality than he actually was and had. It would be nice if that’s better now, but I rather doubt it. You don’t earn your reward without working for it, and this person was terribly, terribly allergic to working for it. Too hard. Too scary. Too depressing. (And I have to say, both their therapists needed a good swift kick. A plague on both their houses!)
He looked like a guy with the potential to work for it, but he let everyone else think for him instead.
The fact was, when I responded to what a sweet, sweet, sad, sad person this guy was and I said, “I love you,” at the time? I was the only person in the room.
Then other people walked into the room (it takes something drastic like moving out of your house to get some people to notice you, you know), and as soon as those people all spoke in turn, telling him what they thought about his life and therefore what he ought to think about his life … what he thought about his life was in turn what each person told him to think. Where was he, anyway?? Fuck knows, man. Too worried about what other people thought of him, that’s where. I have discovered that you simply cannot have a relationship with a person who only worries about what other people think of him. You can have something, all right, but it will not be a relationship.
What it will be is a master and a slave. Because the only kind of person who would want to be with someone like this is the kind who wants to order around someone weaker. Who expects that person to pretzel themselves all around what they themselves want and need, and doesn’t really think of the other person at all. If you refuse to think for yourself, you refuse to reflect and know what you want and need, and you refuse to put your dukes up and fight to get your needs met in the pairing, you will be everyone else’s slave. And I do not want a slave. I want an equal. Once upon a time, nine years ago to the day, that looked like it was possible.
Because a person who does not believe himself to be the equal of anyone else will never behave as one. And this person is one … he just thinks it’s wrong to believe that. And that is really, really sad. It’s been nine years. Gone are the days of “What might have been.” I am an old woman now, and that stage of my life is gone. I won’t say I never loved the man. Who wouldn’t appreciate the fine intellect and the sharp wit that guy had? I thought he was the sexiest man I had ever seen, bar none. But, you know what real love is? It’s refusing to be someone’s master. So, when he said he wanted to go back home, I respected that. Even if I didn’t see that ending well, it was what he wanted, and I want that person to be sovereign in his own life. Nine years ago, I thought we would have made good companions. But a companion isn’t a savior, isn’t your rescuer, can’t fix you, does not try to change you. A companion does not lock you into marriage and then expect you to take care of them. A companion realizes you are not the roles you play, that you are a person, that you can be unhappy, that you can cheat. Nine years later, I understand that this is just part of life, and we have to become big enough to handle it just like all other parts of life. Just like I will have to become big enough to handle it when I’m even older than I am now, and still all alone, and the doctor tells me I have become diabetic, or that I have cancer, or that I am showing signs of dementia. Shit happens in life. We’re not immune because we put a ring on it. Promises made twenty years ago protect you from nothing. But I made a promise nine years ago that I respected this person’s sovereignty, and that was what I did. I still do. Ultimately, that’s love.