I'm reading Cheryl Strayed's wonderful new book Tiny, Beautiful Things – which is a collection of columns she wrote as Dear Sugar on The Rumpus. Strayed is pure magic. She offers advice with compassion and insight that I've never read in any other advice forum. Her book is a treat.
But a big part, beyond the overwhelming compassion she offers to people many of us think are undeserving of it, is her ability to draw sharp lines around a problem, thereby making it impossible to not see it clearly. Unless we're blind.
And blind is what so many of us are when it comes to the men in our lives. We want to believe they're better than they are and so we see them as better. We want to believe they're worthy of us and our loyalty and so we see them as worthy. And sometimes we're right. Sometimes they really are men who simply lost their way for a while and are desperate to become better and worthy again, despite having done something so egregious that our hearts lay shattered in a zillion pieces on the floor. Sometimes they really deserve that second chance.
And sometimes they don't.
How to tell the difference?
Stop lying to yourself.
It seems simple enough. But when many of us have spent a lifetime lying to ourselves, the truth and lies become so mixed up together it's hard to figure out where one ends and the other begins.
And so we end up with men who also mix lies and truth and it sounds so familiar to us that we settle in for the long haul.
Sometimes good men do bad things. Sometimes they don't even understand themselves why they do it. They've got their own history around sex and intimacy. Just like the rest of us, they're susceptible to our culture's marketing of love and sex as always exciting, always hot. And if it's not...well the problem can't possibly be them, it must be their partner. And so, when suddenly it seems exciting and hot with another person (or seems like it would be exciting and hot if we gave it a chance), they convince themselves that this other person must be "the one". And because they can't stand to think they're liars and cheaters, they tell themselves that they're "in love", they "couldn't help it", that they're "soulmates". And sometimes that's even true. But mostly it's not. Mostly it's total bullshit and if they had an iota of self-awareness, they'd see that trading door #1 for door #2 just means they'll end up with a different colored door.
Some of these guys, at some point, recognize this. They realize what they were about to give up...for a fantasy. For the reflection of themselves (sexy! interesting! powerful!) in another person's eyes. A reflection that may have been missing in their partner's eyes, as time and inevitable disappointments pile up.
And maybe, with a lot of remorse, attempt at understanding themselves and a sincere desire to want to be a better person, these guys deserve a second chance. Which also means giving ourselves a second chance to make our marriage better. To ensure that it's equitable. That we're truly in a respectful relationship. That our own issues haven't also gotten in the way of a loving marriage. Because, rarely, do these things happen in a perfectly healthy relationship. Then again, perfectly healthy relationships are rare.
But this is the chance to try again to create one. To make sure that we're building a marriage on truth, not on lies we've told ourselves about our partners or ourselves.
But to figure that out, it's crucial to take a look at our partner through the lens of our entire relationship with them.
Sometimes a cheater is just a cheater.
Sometimes, when we look back, we see that they lie about lots of things. They might keep extra change that someone mistakenly gives them at a store. They might not return items loaned to them by friends. They might lie to insurance companies. To the government.
You might notice, with the eye of a forensic wife, that they lie when they don't want to get in trouble. That, for them, it's easier than telling the truth. That they hate when others are angry with them. That they can't stomach another's disappointment in them.
And so they lie. They cheat. They steal. And they refuse to acknowledge that anything – ANYTHING – is ever their fault.
Those guys? Throw 'em back.
But the others? The ones who hate who they've become and what they've done. Who shrink with shame at the pain they've cause. I'm firmly on the side of giving them another chance.
Cause sometimes a cheater isn't just a cheater. Sometimes he's good man...who did a bad thing.