No one ever feels bad for the adulterer—or fornicator, philanderer, harlot, lecher and all those names I loathe.
Yet my side of the story needs to be told.
And I’m not asking you to understand.
Just bear with me while I attempt to pull myself out of the fire of unforgiveness.
When I read the call for submissions to discuss why good people cheat my heart raced. It was like that split second before you’re caught doing something you’ve had no business doing. Just before the light clicks on or the door begins to squeak open, you must decide whether to give up quietly or go kicking and screaming.
“So what are you going to do ShaMecha?” This is what the headline for this piece should have been.
I wanted to dismiss the thought of writing my story. I kicked and screamed, but quietly I knew I had missed an important healing step somewhere. I’m still struggling a bit with the shame.
Every ending starts with a beginning.
My kinesiology studies were quickly approaching “degree conferred” status a few years ago and I was panicked. Like many classic bad decisions, fear of something new, of taking on the unknown waters of the wide open possibilities reduced me to grasping for whatever seemed to float.
I wanted to trust the man who would become my husband, though I only knew him seven months before we eloped. He wanted to trust me; though he had solid proof that I was emotionally bound to someone he’d never quite match up to. I had not yet learned to diagnose the stomach knots and flares of doubt as my intuition’s attempts to save me. My head still ruled the majority of my choices at 24 years old.
We agreed on absolutely nothing other than the idea of marriage, of partnering up with somebody for life. He wanted me and I needed to be wanted after being rejected for a relationship with, let’s just call him Greg. Oh, and the darling curly-haired additions we could make to the rainbow tribe. It is no surprise to me, now, that trouble was the only wedding gift we received upon sealing our vows.
So this is what life is like in Chernobyl.
Trying to put into words what three active years in my marriage was like is difficult. There were good days—mainly when we focused on shared dreams (which there were few) and spending money, but mostly it was awful.
In the course of our time together I found out that I had the propensity to be a rage-filled, hateful, destructive bitch. He would hide the laptop, demand access to my MySpace and Facebook pages to send anyone with a penis and a kind word to me odd messages. Anything that was of sentimental value to either of us ended up in the trash. It quickly became abusive, physically and emotionally.
The only person that seemed to be thriving despite the radioactive toxicity was our infant.
I remember distinctly the misguided prayer that changed the trajectory of my fate.
I still have it in “My Notes” section on Facebook, one of those silly questionnaire games that went around a few years back to which you could only answer “yes” or “no.”
“Believe in love?”
The simple question fooled me with its guise of harmlessness.
“Whoaa” commented a friend, “how is it you’re married and have a child but don’t believe in l-o-v-e?”
“I guess I don’t believe in romantic love y’know?” I blindly commented back. “Tina said it’s just a sweet old fashioned notion.”
I guess the universe decided it had enough of my bad attitude and would fix me good.
It wasn’t supposed to happen like that.
The best way to simplify a complicated tale is to come clean and say my indifference with love made me careless. At this point, three years into marriage, I forgot what I really wanted from a partnership and settled for a human capsule of pain reduction.
A few hours before the sun woke up the world one September morning, I threw a haphazard plan together to cavort with a former classmate through the dutiful messenger commonly known as the Facebook inbox. The calculated risk seemed low—Neil (not his real name) lived a full two hour time zones away and was only in the area briefly. He’d never get close enough to let me down or catalog my failures as a wife. It would be an hour of my life at the max and I’d be on my way back to resume reality.
When I finally arrived at Neil’s door I began to realize how preposterous this situation would sound to most individuals—I hardly knew him. As the door opened I barreled past his towel-draped figure with a barrage of apologies for my lateness, I am terrible with directions. He might have said something about it being okay but I was nervous. My eyes narrowed to spot a place on the dresser to place my keys, phone and clutch in the steamy darkness. Then without further words, he grabbed and kissed me.
If I had been a single woman I would tell you that this is the moment I knew that he was the one. Given the circumstances, it’s more appropriate to say it was the point I acknowledged I wanted to connect to someone in a manner that quieted my inner screams—quiet because I knew with that specific individual is where I belonged.
Once the sun began to part the darkness of Neil’s hotel room it was clear I could no longer drink the bitter brew of my marriage.
Three years of searching religious scriptures, church groups, prayers for me or my husband to change, discussions about marital counseling and endless journaling had left me hung over with contempt toward love. I do not intend to imply religion can’t work, just that it could not comfort me.
The interactions with Neil reminded me that in order for profound and lasting change to occur I must accept the responsibility to make a choice; no matter how that choice is perceived by others.
A year and a half following that first encounter with Neil, a petite and efficient judge signed off on my choice to end my marriage.
Though I felt more confident in divorcing than I did in marrying, the process was far more emotionally complicated than I expected. I learned that men often struggle to express their true feelings, masking it in bravado and jokes. I learned that I, too, struggle to be in touch with my own sadness. I coated the toll of doing it my way in bright smiles and deflecting questions.
A few days ago the question was posed to me, “What kind of animal would I want to be?” With my right hand I wrote, “polar bear.” With my left hand I wrote, “eagle.”
The theory behind this practice is your dominant hand answers according to how you want to be seen by the world, while your non-dominant hand answers according to who you are inside—but both make up who you are.
As I researched the habits and spiritual energies associated with both animals, the similarities of these two vastly different creatures struck a chord. Though land-bound, polar bears are simultaneously solitary and deeply committed to their loved ones. The eagle, also associated with freedom, is generally monogamous. I was blown away by the results.
The two-year mark of my divorce is quickly approaching and while my inclination is toward partnership and monogamy, I wasn’t sure another would see me as worthy based on my past. They do say that once a cheater, always a cheater. However, if my subconscious mental hot spring bubbles up a polar bear and an eagle as the animal spirit that best describes me, a cheater must not be who I am.
I’m slower to move into a relationship now that I’m in my 30s. It would be so easy to give back into being with someone simply because they wanted me but I barely survived the first marriage. It hurt for a very long time. It hurt in ways that I’ll likely never share in its entirety publicly due to the complex loyalty I feel toward the characters involved.
My intentional prayer this time around is to be paired with someone who expects all of the things in the world and himself that I tend to expect from the world as well as myself—enough alike to get along, different enough to be harmoniously interesting.
The experience and tools I’ve gained have become invaluable to the practice of loving someone fully, of embracing both their best and most maddening attributes.
What is the most important tool? It’s that at last, I am capable of being honest and accepting of me, first.
(This is the third in a seven-part elephant love and relationships series with content partner The Good Men Project on the theme question, Why Do Good People Cheat? Check out first piece, How to Be a Cheater and second one, Forgiving Adultery.)
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