It's like Sex and the Suburbs and 30 Rock all rolled into one…
A few years ago I was in the relationship I thought would end all relationships. He was perfection for me – a thoughtful, intelligent and handsome man who enjoyed science-fiction, indie rock and a good beer. Our sex was amazing. My parents loved him and he was very fond of my family. The two of us would often host my sister for a weekend and even after all was said and done, he still found a way to send my father a bottle of a oak-casked beer the two were fanatical about at the time. Even though he lived nearly two hours away, I was certain we’d make it work. Conversations often drifted towards me relocating to his town, to children, to all sorts of domestic bliss. Well, at least I thought it was bliss.
He cheated. Like The Killers sing, “it was only a kiss, it was only a kiss”. Yet it was a kiss that changed everything. I was furious; I had never been so angry in my life at anyone. Hell hath no fury completely and totally applied. How dare he hurt me after all the things I had been though. Hadn’t he just been put through the hell of being betrayed by someone he loved? Why had he decided to throw away all we had for some silly girl he worked with? And God, that bitch, she deserved disaster to meet her at every turn for what she had done. All of these thoughts ran through my head for weeks while he and I tried to patch together any sort of trust. We had been friends before we had dated; we both still cared about each other in some undefined way. So while our romance was done, we had to find a way to make sense of the fond thoughts we still had combined with the maddening weight the infidelity had pressed upon us. In the end, we did not talk for about a year. We each did particularly hurtful things despite promising to remain friends.
It’s only years later that I recognize that he isn’t entirely to blame. There had been subtle hints and tells that he was feeling uncomfortable with how quickly our relationship had progressed. The more I pressed forward, the more he seemed to freeze. I had dismissed it; I never really asked him how he felt about things. In my single-mindedness – a trait many find attractive – I wasn’t allowing for a partnership or a discussion. I was that smothering girlfriend, that old ball and chain. In my attempts to get us to become closer, I was really pushing him away.
Still, I swore, I’d never be that woman. It’s not that I believe we are a sisterhood that must protect each other, but I knew how I felt and I didn’t want to put anyone through that. But…
I was in a bad relationship. He wasn’t abusive emotionally or physically, but he just wasn’t kind or compassionate either. He was, simply put, an asshole and not in the endearing and sing-song Dennis Leary sort of way. When I needed to vent about work, he only offered anxiety about the potential of getting fired for trying to find a new job. And it wasn’t a Venus-Mars issue either – he literally could not understand why I wouldn’t want his honest opinion that trying to get out of a bad situation at work would only lead to me getting fired for it, why I would want someone to just pat my shoulder and just sympathize for a moment. When I countered that I had already asked a close friend, who happened to be one of the better unemployment lawyers in town, and was told that looking for a new job was not an offence you could be terminated for, I was told that my friend’s legal opinion meant nothing. He had a friend who earned $400 an hour doing an entirely different field of law who disagreed. And because his friend earned more, his friend was therefore right. Any time he felt the need to apologize, he never did in person or over the phone. Instead he used twitter direct message.
Everything he did to further along the relationship only made me want to run. He emotionally twisted my arm into taking his house key. He arranged to meet friends for drinks having sensed that I am the sort of girl who likes to go out rather than stay at home. He tried convinced me to have one more drink with the offer to stay the night. But I didn’t want his keys, and when we went out he often sat there silent or worse argued impolitely and sometimes incorrectly. He complained that he wasn’t included in spontaneous gatherings, but when he was invited, never could make it and was irritated that I had gone out anyway instead of staying home with him. This man was so self-assured that I was his for a long long time, he hinted that I should move in with him knowing full well our pets wouldn’t mix. (He was not giving up the dogs or cats.)
Alright, so he wasn’t talking about babies or buying homes like I was, but it was a lot earlier in the relationship and he was a lot less charming than I was. And one night I was wearing a devastating dress and a billion strand of pearls and…
It happened. I remember asking my partner after his confession how it happened and he replied that he didn’t know, that it just happened. That night at the bar the two of us danced around the issue of going back to his place. And then we did. A drink after last call became a kiss became what the kids these days call “hooking up”. I couldn’t tell you when the two of us made our decision; it just happened. And I didn’t feel guilty about it. Not in the least. I remember my ex from those years back feeling badly about what he did. (It might be that he is a better person than me sometimes.)
I didn’t mean to go home for a one night stand. But by goodness my boyfriend had driven me to it. He hadn’t noticed the subtle ways I would pull away, or how I had to go home when he wanted to be intimate, which was on his timetable and never my own. He never accepted responsibility for anything he had done wrong, rather arguing that it was he who acted as an adult and everyone else had messed up priorities and sensitivities. Even when we broke up, he placed the blame on my childish needs rather than his own shortcomings as a person. If you say that I should have spoke up and ended things, you’d be right. Cheating is a betrayal of trust, the most crucial aspect of a relationship.
But let’s for a moment recognize the fault of the so-called innocent partner. I was wrong to attempt to force a future without seeing if that’s what he really wanted. Just like my ex was wrong to ignore my feelings and my needs. In both times we who cheated were unfulfilled. And making sure a relationship if fulfilling and fair for both partners isn’t one person’s job. Relationships take two, and when they fail, it’s often the fault of both.