I enjoy Twitter and my semi-private account has allowed me to learn a great deal from men and women on all threes sides of infidelity and secret keeping. Every person has a story and each story has beautiful triumphs and heartbreaking losses.
Occasionally, I hear a story and I cry with them; sometimes I set the phone down and walk away fuming over the lack of consistency and self-righteousness.
Throughout my sojourn from my community, I have been plagued by the ignorance and ghost stories of others inserting themselves into what should have been a private affair about my affair. There are reasons it isn’t more private ranging from my writings and overreactions to the way others share the narrative of their pain from their perspective.
Today I watched in real time as a ghost story grew. Someone on Twitter shared that, after 16 years, her husband announced to her today he is moving out. She was distraught and reached out online for support and encouragement. She was sent a few kind words and hearts but then the conversation turned on a simple three letter word: why.
Twitter: “Did he tell you why he is leaving?”
Twitter: “Do you know why?”
Twitter: “Why do you think he’s leaving?”
She didn’t know because he won’t talk to her. He says he just needs time. And this is where the conspiracy starts.
Within a few minutes, people started answering the “why” based on their own experience.
Twitter: “There must be another woman.”
Woman: “I don’t think so.”
Twitter: “There is always another women after 16 years.”
Woman: “He isn’t saying.”
Twitter: “Then he is hiding something. It must be another woman.”
Twitter: “You need to get him to therapy and get him to be honest about the other woman.”
Twitter: “That’s what they do, they hide their behavior and run away.”
Woman: “I don’t know but I need to let him do what he needs to do.”
Twitter: “IT’S ANOTHER WOMAN!”
She wasn’t looking for possible reasons “why”. Rather she was looking for support that regardless of why she would be okay. Offering support and ideas is not the same as feeding her imagination ghost stories. Entirely too many people want their story to be part of the someone else’s story.
Reading the thread gave me a headache. Which reminded me of a conversation with my parents over the weekend when I told them I was having some serious chest pains, my mom insisted I take one of my father’s nitro pills. Which proceeded to also give me a headache.
But still, I’m now carrying a pocket full of my father’s nitro pills because their pain, fears and ghost stories are now my pains, fears and ghost stories.
Thinking about headaches I was reminded again of how we project our ghost stories onto others:
Me: My head hurts
Friend 1: Me too. When I have too much caffeine I get a headache. You need a banana.
Friend 2: Me too. When I have don’t have enough caffeine I get a headache. You need coffee.
Friend 3: Me too. When I have too much stress I get a headache. You need to meditate.
Friend 4: Me too. When I drink too much I get a headache. You need eggs.
Friend 5: Me too. When my blood pressure rises, or falls, I get a headache. You need potato chips or maybe water.
Friend 6: Me too. Maybe it’s a brain aneurysm? Brain tumor? Brain cloud? You need to see Doctor Ellison.
Friend 7: Me too. When my partner hasn’t talked to me in 93 days I get a headache. You need to go for a road trip.
Friend 8: “That is awful. What do you need? How can I help?”
Friends 1 through 7 are friends but they are projecting their experience onto me. They are projecting their pain onto my pain. They work from the perspective that what must be true for them must be true for me too.
Only friend 8 listened enough to hear what I said, “I have a headache.”
Here’s the thing about the Twitter conversation. No one, except him, knows if it’s another woman…and the other woman. That is “if” there is another woman. I say that because all of Twitter is guessing because:
- No one knows if there is another woman
- It’s none of our business unless she chooses to share the information
But the “why” of the thing has nothing to do with the pain of the thing. When a trauma victim shows up at the hospital with a compound leg fracture you don’t ask them “Why did this happen.” You respond with, “Let’s get you what you need.”
Well, you do. I probably get a headache, vomit, and pass out.
There are a whole host of reasons as to “why” he might leave that have zero to do with another woman. Here is just a short list of alternative reasons that have nothing to do with an infidelity:
- feeling neglected
- he’s gay
- anxiety about getting older
- feeling pressured to be, do, act, or think differently
- he doesn’t like the pressures of marriage
Instead of asking about what is needed or how we can help we instantly jump to why. “They must be a narcissist!” “They must be having an affair!” “They must be hiding another relationship!”
None of this is necessarily true, but it is easier to relate to other people’s pain if it is the same as ours. As such we make our pain theirs. That is why, if I think my ex-wife is an adulterous malignant narcissist, your ex must be too.
Google “reasons relationships fall apart” and infidelity often isn’t even mentioned. Infidelity is a symptom of the other things but it isn’t the necessarily the “why” to the “thing”. Infidelity is simply the way of the thing. We just want it to be the “why” of the thing because it is easier to slap a label on behavior. It’s simpler to ship them to counseling or slap them with divorce papers than to see the infidelity in relationship to the whole of the thing.
Recognizing this forces me to change how I respond to people in pain around me.
Throughout the last 93 days of my journey, the people I have come to rely on most are the ones that have asked me how they can help and what do I need. Not one, except my counselor, has asked me why.
And that is how is how friendship should be.