There's been a bit of...debate...raging on another Web site dedicated to helping women deal with infidelity. It began with a post about infidelity being abuse. Similar to a guest post on this site, that blog post was adamant that infidelity is abuse.
I commented that while I think it can be abuse, it isn't always abuse.
I won't revisit the issue. If you're interested (trigger alert: please don't read it if you're feeling fragile!!), you can check the site.
But I want to examine what happened in the wake of my comment and subsequent address by the woman who runs the site. My argument was deconstructed. Commenters offered up pity to me. They offered plenty of well MY ex was a rat-bastard and though I hope I'm wrong I pretty much think yours is too and you're abused but simply can't see reality.
Of course, the site's motto is "leave a cheater, gain a life" so it's not surprising that my plea for open-mindedness around reconciliation wasn't embraced. Most commenters admitted that reconciliation hadn't exactly worked out for them. Fair enough.
Nonetheless, the response took me back to post D-Day when I was so damn confused and afraid. When I wondered what the hell had happened to my life and what I could possibly do to get it back.
And it took me back to how few people in my life were able to be with me in my uncertainty.
Humans hate uncertainty. Humans "have a desire to impose certainty on something that it inherently uncertain," says Malcolm Gladwell. Like our future, for example.
Even watching another grapple with uncertainty makes us acutely uncomfortable. But what are you going to do? we ask those at crossroads. And when they don't really know, we tell them what we think they should do.
What's more, if we've gone through it ourselves, we have a hard time entertaining alternatives, as if someone else making a different choice somehow threatens our certainty that we made the right choice.
But, when it comes to infidelity, there is no right choice. There is only the choice that's right for us.
But getting clear on that can be a challenge.
For one thing, our cultural conversation around infidelity lacks nuance. Those who kick the cheating bastard to the curb? Well, after we've silently judged the woman for being cheated on (she let herself go, she's a shrew, blah blah blah), we applaud her chutzpah. Those who stay? Kinda...pathetic. After all, who puts up with that? Unless they're codependent. A doormat. Abused.
But as Cheryl Strayed reminds us in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, "Most people don't cheat because they're cheaters. They cheat because they are people.... Which is a complicated way of saying, it's a long damn life..."
BWC member Laura S. puts it this way: "We cannot judge another woman's choices, and unless we have walked in her shoes we cannot know what her world is like."
All this is not to say that the answer to whether you should stay and rebuild your marriage or toss it on life's garbage heap and move on is an easy – or clear – one.
It is to say that nobody knows what's right for you, except you. Even if you don't think you know, you do know somewhere, perhaps deep down in a place you've forgotten about. A place that bends towards healing like a flower bends toward the sun.
It's also to say there are no guarantees. You might choose to stay and discover that your husband never stopped his affair. Or has another one. Or the marriage might fail for other reasons entirely.
You might choose to leave, thinking the whole problem is the cheater...only to discover he was a symptom of your unhappiness not the cause.
Certainty is a construct.
So ignore the people in your life who think there is just their answer. A friend of mine, who'd left her husband after his affair, dismissed my confusion with "well, I could never stay." Which might have been true. But was hardly helpful.
Equally unhelpful were the pleas to "think of my kids." I was thinking about my kids. I did little more than think about my kids. But did that mean I should stay and show my kids that sometimes we give those we love second chances? Or did that mean I should show them that when someone betrays our trust, we don't give them the chance to do it again?
I've chosen to stay and rebuild. My husband, thus far, has worked harder than I ever imagined he could to exorcise his demons and become someone who deserves redemption. And I've become someone who's lost a lot of her moral certainty and made room for nuance. For possibilities I'd never thought I could consider.
I'm happier than I thought I could ever be again. I'm able to witness others' pain without thinking I know what they should do to stop it. I see beauty in imperfection and strength in struggle where before I saw failure and disappointment.
I don't wish this pain on anyone. And I still refuse to say it was "good" for me. But I've followed my path toward healing. And it's been just right for me. Right now.