Wednesday, February 5, 2014
What the *@#% was he thinking?
"I wasn't," my husband finally said. "I wasn't thinking about you at all!"
Bam. There it was.
Though he'd said variations on that same sentiment – that his cheating had nothing to do with me – plenty of times, there was something about his candid admission that, as he left our house in the morning to drive to her house for a pre-work quickie, he simply wasn't thinking of me that hit me like a lightning bolt.
He wasn't thinking about me. This wasn't about him battling his conscience, torn between the pajama-clad wife at home wiping her toddlers' faces or the showered, perfumed Other Woman.
He wasn't thinking about me. At all.
It's crazy right? And crazier still that this made me feel good. In that moment, I got it. I finally understood that his cheating really had nothing to do with me. This was about a parallel world he believed in where he was free to do what he wanted. Where he didn't have obligations or responsibilities. Where it was all about him. He didn't care about her. Didn't even like her. She was escape. And escape was what he craved.
So often when women write to me within their letters is the question "why?" over and over and over. Why would he do this? What was he thinking? How could he ruin our relationship? What about our children? Didn't he think about them?
Aren't I enough? they ask. How could he throw away five/ten/twenty years? Didn't he think about what he was doing?
I doubt it.
Cheaters become masters at compartmentalization. Some are so good at it because they're truly narcissists who simply don't care about anyone else. They aren't thinking about you because they never think about you except in how you can be of use to them.
But the others, like my husband, are garden-variety fuck-ups. They've got issues, often deep issues, that haven't been addressed. Childhood abuse or neglect. Emotional detachment. Mother issues. Unprocessed grief. An inability to recognize or manage their own fear – of growing old, missing out, failing.
And then someone comes along who offers escape. Someone in whose eyes they loom large and exciting and interesting. The someone is less important than what that someone offers. A parallel universe. Escape.
It's the reason so many of these guys are stunned when the affair is dragged into the real world and suddenly it seems so ridiculous and cliché and embarrassing. They can't believe what they've done. They're acutely aware of just what they have to lose.
It's not always immediate. Sometimes this parallel universe has such a hold on them that it takes them a while to shake it from their psyche. Like someone in the dark arriving, blinking, into the bright sunlight. They're not sure which one is reality, the light or the dark.
But a lot of guys know immediately that they've really messed up. That this escape has been a total illusion. That the price of this fantasy is going to be high.
They're the ones who insist that they're not that guy. That they didn't know what they were thinking. They don't want to talk about it. It's humiliating. It's confusing. They can't really explain what they were thinking because they weren't.
If they really think hard about it they might acknowledge that they were thinking variations on such things as nobody will get hurt. Or I feel young again. But mostly they just weren't thinking at all.