The Redbook article that I cited here continues to weigh on my mind. Though I've known about AshleyMadison.com and have written about it here and here and here, and though I've gained considerable insight into the psyche of cheaters, I nonetheless consoled myself with the belief that these guys were the exception, not the rule.
Now...I'm not so sure.
I've spent a lot of time trying to find the best in myself. When you're raised in a dysfunctional home (alcoholism was the dysfunction of choice in my family....but it, of course, spawns all sorts of others: neglect, abandonment, intimacy issues, for starters), you often feel "bad". As a child you believe that if you were good, then you would be treated well. There's such shame around dysfunction that you grow up convinced that you, too, are shameful.
I tried to get better. I spent years in therapy, struggling to understand what it was about me that made me put up with all manner of neglect, abuse, betrayal.
And then I met my husband. And, for the first time, I felt safe.
And we all know how that turned out for me.
The thing is, we all deserve to feel – indeed to be – safe. When we choose to commit to someone else in this life – whether that commitment looks like marriage or parenthood or friendship – we owe it to that person to provide a basis for their happiness. Not that it's our job to make them happy. But it is our job to want their happiness. And to not stand in the way of that.
Which is why the Redbook story has me feeling so sad. The men featured are themselves sad. And by that I don't mean pathetic, though they're a bit that, too. They feel cheated by life. Their wives aren't who they ultimately feel connected to (though, perhaps, that's because they're trolling sites to hook up with other women rather than actually listening to their wives thoughts and dreams). Their lives haven't measured up to their dreams. So they dip a toe into this fantasy world, where they're sexy and desirable and life is good and exciting.
But where they're so lost is not that they're putting their own happiness before their wives. Indeed, I think we owe it to ourselves to strive for our own happiness. But where they're lost is that they're actively standing in the way of their wives' happiness. How? By not giving their wives the truth about themselves.
We all deserve that truth. We deserve to know who it is we're married to because we deserve to make the choice about whether or not we want to be married to that person. I don't dispute another's right to have sex with whomever will have sex with them. What I object to is the lying and betrayal. If my husband loves me but feels he can't connect intellectually with me and therefore would like to forge a relationship with another woman, fair enough. But let me decide if that's okay with me.
A truly enlightened relationship operates on that level of honesty. I'm not sure I would consider "open marriages" in this category...but perhaps at least some of them are.
As for me, I want a relationship in which my husband wants the best for me. And respects me enough to be honest – which allows me to decide what that "best" is.