I am one of those people who is old-school in some ways and extremely contemporary in many others.
My moral compass about adult relationships is stuck in old times. If anyone asks my opinion on infidelity, it doesn’t take me two seconds to say, “It’s a deal breaker.”
It was no surprise when a friend told me about her boyfriend, I felt extremely uncomfortable. She is married with kids. I have known the family for years. She and her husband constantly share romantic pictures on social media for the world to envy.
To an outsider, everything would seem perfect about their fairy-tale life. Because I work with survivors, my first instinct was to ask if she was in an abusive relationship or any danger. She said, “No.”
“Why don’t you talk to your husband and communicate your feelings and convey your expectations?” I was persistent. I asked if she wanted to take some time and think things over—if she was unhappy.
Her response, “What happens to my financial assets and the glamorous life?” She sounded jaded.
I tried to explain that she seeks marriage counseling. “Listen, adultery needn’t be your only choice.”
She responded with a snide remark, “You are too old-fashioned. Monogamy is unnatural.”
None of us are immune to bad relationships or bitter marriages. I have seen people fall in love and fall out of love. I have witnessed friends go from loving to loathing their partners. I am aware that the spectrum of human emotions is nuanced. I experience them too. No one can love anyone hundred percent of the time. Love isn’t forever in many relationships. But honesty and respect are important—no matter your relationship status.
Despite all this background wisdom, I couldn’t swallow my friend’s choices. She insisted that she loved both the men. She was convinced that she was good at playing both roles: wife in the bedroom and mistress outside.
I felt a wall close around me. We came from similar backgrounds. How did we grow so far apart? I couldn’t reach someone I had known for such a long time. I wanted to hate the new boyfriend and blame him for my friend’s transformation. My friend didn’t like her husband commenting on her body (which is fair). But she got cosmetic procedures done because her boyfriend believed she had too much cellulite.
I am someone who likes routine and familiarity. My friend despised the security, predictability, repetitiveness, and knowhow of her marriage. She felt stifled with the humdrum.
While she battled sleep issues and massive temper tantrums, she believed she was otherwise healthy. I saw her break into hives and get livid where her face changed colors. She would scream at her family without any provocation. She could be caring and caustic with friends inside of a few minutes. She became indignant and arrogant around her husband.
I wondered if she was projecting her insecurities when she started to confess that she believed she was better than him.
We didn’t stop talking until one day when she asked me to meet with her and her boyfriend for dinner. It was a stormy evening. She asked me to lie to my husband about my evening plans and get out of the house. She spoke in an assertive tone, “If my husband calls, just say I am spending the night with you. Tell him I was tired and went to bed early.” She was going to stay the night in the hotel with her boyfriend.
I don’t do complicated. What I have learned about adult relationships: they are complicated. I felt uncomfortable with her web of lies and put my foot down. That was the day our friendship started to die. But I knew I had lost my friend a while ago when she started to brag about her money, looks, and fancy parties.
This used to be a smart woman who lit up business rooms when she walked into them. She used to be loving, funny, and a foodie. Now her life was about judging anyone whose body weight she didn’t approve of. Everyone wants to feel appealing, desirable, and coveted. But not everyone goes out of their way to seek attention of the opposite sex or berate other women.
It took less than a month for both of us to part ways forever. It wasn’t because our moral compass was pointing in different directions. It wasn’t only because she refused to own the problems she had created for each one of us by having an affair.
I started to see my friend as someone dangerous who would hurt anyone and anything in her way. She was so discontented that she was willing to burn anyone who stepped in her adulterous path. She wanted me to approve of her affair. She demanded that I become the gatekeeper of her secrets. I saw a little girl who was trying to put missing pieces of her life through this exciting new relationship. She was filling a gaping hole while trying to ignore the emptiness inside of her.
Sure, until my friend became unfaithful to her husband, I would be judgmental of adults going astray. I had a black and white opinion of adultery.
In losing this friendship, I have found clarity that sometimes people cheat because they are unhappy with themselves. It has nothing to do with others but their own egos and dissatisfaction with self. They have a tough exterior but might be broken and lonely on the inside. Shiny objects and designer outfits can’t fill the emptiness within. They are so miserable that they will do anything to connect with lost parts of themselves. Or pursue a life they think they missed out on in the past. When people are unhappy, they get reckless about hurting others.
I still don’t endorse infidelity. I am not lauding unfaithfulness. I continue to believe that the temporary gain from infidelity holds no value over the permanent hurt it causes so many.
I also believe a relationship takes work. It is a choice. A choice that you make every day. But if you don’t work on yourself first—the most important relationship of them all—you will hurt others.
I am learning to bring more empathy into these complicated situations where I have fixed ideologies. Maybe, just maybe, cheaters aren’t bad—but the act of cheating is still bad.
“Feelings are much like waves, we can’t stop them from coming, but we can choose which ones to surf.” ~ Jonatan Mårtensson