Three years ago on Black Friday my life as I knew it ended. At times I still miss my life and the relationship. I loved that woman. I loved my life. I loved my community.
At least that is my story of my history. I loved her and I betrayed her is also the reality.
The other reality is the relationship, life, and community are gone and in its place are ghost stories, mine and others.
Although I have worked to rebuild my life since it’s annihilation in the quietest of quiet and the stillest of still, I can still hear whispers calling me back, pushing me to fix the unfixable, to love the loveless, and to prove the unprovable. Whereas before these feelings were an an emotional torrent flowing through every breath, today they are but a far off echo from a distant river.
I’m not really sure what that is about. Perhaps it an emotional tide of grief, loss, and loneliness. The feelings create moments of dis-ease. When the moment passes I find myself sitting with a feeling of discomfort. Unsure of the data, unclear about the next best action, I wait.
“As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort,” writes Pema Chodron. The discomfort is my resistance to the vulnerability required to grow. Trying to avoid the discomfort opened so many of the doorways that led to the end of my marriage and relationship with my X.
I’ll not go there again.
In reality, some things just hurt. Sometimes they hurt for a long time.
As such, I’ll slow down, sit for a bit, and listen to the feelings of discomfort, and look towards them instead of hastily moving away. In this uncomfortable place that scares me I find myself sitting with feelings of grief, loss, humiliation, and a conscious awareness of how selfishly I behaved.
Over the last three years I have grown to recognize the simple reality that if I sit, the feeling, like the moment, will pass. The feelings mean only what I imagine. “Emotions are data, not directives,” writes Dr. Susan David.
I have at times sat and simply listened to the emotional river run through me, sometimes letting it carry me, frequently fighting to hold my own ground, and occasionally still beating against the river only to be pushed further down stream.
Growing requires being willing to let emotions flow around me, even as I imagine the feelings are a riptide and surely I will drown.
But I do not drown.
Occasionally, I believe myself the Captain vaingloriously battling the current, only to find myself squeezed between the rocks and tide. Out of spite I will lash myself to the broken and battered mast of my ego, hurling angry epithets towards an unmoved Poseidon.
In the end, I wound only myself as the tide moves on with indifference to my suffering.
At times I imagine I am the fish. Exhausting myself as I swim against the current looking for a pool to rest as the emotional river rages.
In other moments, I am able to imagine myself a stone in the river. Occasionally more grateful than others as the feelings, like water works over time, smoothing the emotionally sharp edges that cut the ones I loved and loved me.
The benefit of my last relationship ending is I was given the opportunity to face reality and abandon the stories of my perception.
Contrary to the cliche, a person’s perception is not reality. Perception is rarely defined by the reality of the situation and has little to do with the truth. “Our beliefs are usually not only flatly false and a bit ridiculous,” writes Sociology is a Science in The Four Types of Reality, “but often magnificently self-serving.”
This harsh reality is as true for the one that cheated as it is for the one cheated on. Everyone lies to themselves to explain away their entitlement and expectations.
Often I have heard people on all sides of infidelity — and politics and life — use their perception to avoid the discomfort of the truth. Forever we bind ourselves to one dimensional perceptions. As a result, we are left to see situations, others, and ourselves as emotionally simplistic caricatures.
People do this because nuance gives people heartaches. Nuance creates discomfort. Better to lash ourselves to the mast of emotional rigidity using whatever justifications are at hand to avoid looking at the reality of our own ugly.
However, “our personal realities, our subjective views, are almost tragically, hopelessly untrue.” For example, people say nonsense, such as “He’s a coward” because he cheats or “She’s a bitch” because she won’t shut up. Infidelity is filled with this kind of emotional driven story making dependent on self-serving and lazy perceptions and preconceptions of others.
For me, when I become a slave to the limits of my perception it became my master. It chained me to vainglorious stories and imaginings of victims, villains, and Heroes. Everyone playing a role projected onto them.
The gift of the end of my relationship is I have been given the chance to slow down and greet the discomfort in the grief and loneliness. I was given the gift of pain and annihilation. I was given the gift of fear, anxiety, shame, and humiliation.
The end of my relationship gave me the opportunity to confront reality and accept where I have been willing to trade my integrity, heart, and identity for someone else’s acceptance, approval, and love. As a result, I am now free to own what is true and not what people perceived to be true.
In reality, my infidelity, secrets, and escalating series of lies cost me everything I held dearest to my heart. A truth is I loved that woman and another truth is I betrayed that woman. A truth is I regret cheating on my wife. A truth is I hurt for them and myself and I tried to fix things without being vulnerable to discomfort or create discomfort for them.
To some people that will sound simplistic, it isn’t. I carry a deep ocean of uncomfortable and conflicting emotions about this reality. I swim in these dark currents every day as I work to chart a new course in my life.
Knowing this reality, I choose to perceive discomfort as a gift. What I’ve embraced over the last three years has far more value to living and loving than the shallow and fickle acceptance and love in the feel-good half-hearted relationships I imagined existed with others.
As Hamlet says, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Today, I perceive life filled with discomfort contrasted by moments sublime. I continue to do the work. I continue to grow into my truth even when it results in my discomfort.
Do I pine away wanting it to be different? Not at this moment.
That’s the reality.
SIDEBAR: Tonight I said to the woman I am dating: “I don’t always know how to talk about the hard things but I always know you will listen and only own what is true for you, and not imagine what is true for me. Thank you for working to know the reality of me and not your perceptions or your expectations on me. Thank you for not expecting me to guess.”