People are watching and they don’t like what they see. – Anonymous Comments from Lies
For many people, betrayal is a team sport; there are only winners and losers. Family and close friends rally around the betrayed. Sometimes even the family of the cad rally around the betrayed. Betrayal becomes a spectator sport with many people adopting the “Best defense is a good offense” strategy.
Worse yet, we carry forward language of infidelity based on the criminalization of betrayal. Those betrayed are victims and injured parties. The unfaithful ones are perpetrators, monsters, and predators. We interweave the limits of language to the limits of our ability to process emotions and pain.
We color both the adulterer’s innocuous actions and the intent of the betrayal in hyperbolic terms, covered in dashes of the conspiratory and the menacing. Every action must have hidden ill-will. Every act must be a reflection of a deeper darkness. “The entire lexicon is organized around an axis of wrongdoing,” writes Esther Perel, “that not only reflects our judgment but fosters it.”
Perhaps the harshness by which we respond to infidelity is a hangover from our culture’s Puritanical root, a mythologizing of 20th-century romanticism or the corruption of feminism where Hillary Clinton is damned for not leaving Bill and Monica Lewinsky is damned for Bill’s selfishness.
Meanwhile, Bill still gets to enjoy cigars.
Perhaps it is all those things or something else entirely, but “when we reduce the conversations to simply passing judgment,” adds Perel, “we are left with no conversation at all.”
What I do know is that there are entirely too many people with opinions practicing armchair psychology about my infidelity and lies. People that were never in our bed, in our home or privy to the inner workings of our Partnership. They see everything I did in my relationship with C – and perhaps in my relationship with them – as some long con.
What they want is for me to quietly slink off into the dark winter and disappear as if this infidelity is the sum total of who I am and the sum total of my relationship with C. They act as if they get to decide on my punishment and approve my consequences. They act as if they should have veto power over how I make use of my pain. Pain that is as real as C’s or K’s and a similar sense of loss, confusion, and anger.
They do not get to tell me how to grieve or act or behave. I cannot waste time or energy on those people that are watching and don’t “like what they see.” Their opinion of me is none of my business. Their opinion is self-congratulatory.
However, they have a right to whatever opinion they wish to hold. In a post-Trump America, nuance is irrelevant, there is only feelings, and infidelities cut to the deepest sense of ourselves. It’s simpler to boil it all down to sex, lies, and label it narcissism. “Nuance is a simply an excuse!” they cry.
The most honest reactions have been, “WHAT THE FUCK, Sean?!” They were honest enough to have a reaction and not judge my entire humanity based on these moments of my life. They watched me for years and how I talked and behave towards C.
They know I love C. They know I had an affair. Both things can be true. It isn’t a black and white world as much as we want it to be. They also have been honest enough to call me out when I rationalize my actions.
A few weeks ago, C contacted a friend and wanted to tell them the “rest of the story”. Someone C had only the most tangential relationship with but who is a friend of mine. My friend’s response was, “It’s none of my business and you and Sean should deal with it privately.”
I’ve spoken angrily and in pain but I’ve never laid blame on her for my infidelity or lies. I’ve never justified my behavior or my behavior post-discovery as anything other than completely and totally my fault and my failings. I don’t call her names or actively seek to out her secrets. I know exactly why I’m living in a van and I don’t blame her for that either.
When I asked someone yesterday to tell me what she has heard from me over the last forty plus days, she responded, “Based on what I see, you are owning your choices and C’s choices. You decided to carry the entire burden and don’t understand C’s choices because you blame yourself. You need to let that go. Everything C has chosen to done post-discovery is on her.”
Blame isn’t the same as taking responsibility.
After my Betrayal: The Hot Mess Club post earlier this week someone was honest enough to step into the fray and clarify details of C and K’s conversation and answer a few questions.
Now I understand why and I’ll cover that later in a later post.
But for now, everything that has happened has fallen into place. I understand why C hasn’t spoken to me in over 40 days. I understand why my best friend stopped calling me. I understand why I’m being accused of peddling a self-serving story and why my pain and sense of loss is met with such contempt. I understand why I cannot go back.
Most importantly I understand why our relationship is over. I understand the Team C mentality.
The only opinion that matters is C’s. What she needs and wants matters. She doesn’t want or need me there. We can both live with that.
As a result, for the first time in forty-one days, I have something that resembles peace and acceptance.
I can take a full breath again.