We have, says the brilliant Rebecca Solnit, “a desire to make certain what is uncertain, to know what is unknowable, to turn the flight across the sky into the roast upon the plate, to classify and contain.”
She's referring to art and culture but her observation, of course, applies to life.
Humans hate uncertainty.
And we betrayed wives especially hate uncertainty. It dogs us as we try to move through the pain.
"But what if I stay and he cheats again?"
"What if I regret staying?"
"What if I leave and then regret it?"
"What if I leave and he ends up with her?"
Oh, for a crystal ball that will make our choice clear.
We're not alone, of course. My 18-year-old, finishing up her first year at university, is desperate for certainty. She wants to know that her major will lead to a good job. She wants to know that the guy she likes likes her back. She wants to know that she'll succeed at the summer job she's landed. She, like all of us, just wants to know. Certainty.
For her, of course, the stakes feel impossibly high. "This is the rest of my life!" she points out to me in frustration, in response to my "take it one step at a time" urging.
Thing is, it's not the rest of her life. It's right now.
Five years from now, her life might look very different. One year from now, her like might look very different. Opportunities will have come her way that she can't imagine. Doors might have shut that seemed like sure things. Friends will have come and gone. Dreams will have been shaped.
And the same holds true for you.
Betrayal exposes something we had cleverly hidden from ourselves: Life is uncertain. People are unpredictable. Promises can be broken.
And while betrayal's impact extends far beyond garden-variety disappointment, it's an impact that many many of us experience. There are, literally, millions of us going through the same pain.
There's comfort in that, whether we see it or not. The millions surviving this are proceeding to live despite the realization of how uncertain any of our futures are.
For me, learning to proceed in the face of such uncertainty, meant getting comfortable with it. It meant understanding that I'd really been living with it all along. That this idea I had –that a marriage vow was intractable – was an illusion. Had always been. We can never ever be certain about anyone, even when that person is standing in front of us promising fidelity and honesty and 'til death do us part.'
Sounds harsh, I know. But it's become a form of liberation for me. Understanding that being with my husband is a choice, every single day, makes me more grateful for his presence. Knowing that I could leave tomorrow, and so could he, makes our time more precious.
And that understanding has held for so many of life's uncertainties. My 88-year-old father is on borrowed time, despite his health. But I have him today.
Journalism, my chosen career, is a shaky field at the moment. But I have work today.
I only need to know where I want to be today. I only need to know what I want today. And then to set about living that choice.
Nobody can promise you anything further because people are complicated. We're unpredictable. Life is complicated and unpredictable. And certainty is an illusion no matter how real we thought it was.