61: Relational Blackjack

person playing poker

“It’s hard to walk away from a winning streak, even harder to leave the table when you’re on a losing one.”

― Cara Bertoia, Cruise Quarters – a Novel About Casinos and Cruise Ships

I was never confused about Painter’s decision to end the relationship. Although I was hurt and sad, I was never confused.

I understood.

There was no doubt in my mind Painter would end the relationship when she discovered my betrayal. I knew she’d make this choice despite, or perhaps because of her family history and participation on multiple sides of infidelity. 

Although after seven years, maybe Painter just wasn’t into me. That’s likely too.

I sometimes wonder if Painter’s reactions are shame projections fueled by her history with infidelity and one too many episodes of Showtimes’ Shameless. I wonder if it was her pride. Was I a safe person for Painter to plant the flag of her self-contempt?

After all, that was my role: carry Painter’s anxieties and keep her safe. 

Painter knew I would never storm the castle or show up uninvited at an art show. She knows I’d never approach her in public without an invitation. I made a promise to Painter I would be there only as long as she wanted me.

In the end, as she supposedly said to Beatrix, “I was looking for an excuse to kick Sean out anyway.”

Frankly, maybe Painter unconsciously knew I would take full responsibility for my mistake while excusing her reactions. Perhaps she knew it consciously. I’ve concluded this is one reason Painter chose me: I care about the well-being of the people in my life, even when I am acting unskillfully. I’m a dutiful, but flawed knight.

I also did not doubt that Beatrix would continue to reach out to Painter directly.

One of Beatrix’s strengths is her willingness to lean into conflict. She thrives in the emotional charge. I’m the opposite; I want it to go away. As such, I went along to get along as my resentments seethed. 

Sometimes, in our marriage, our reactions manufactured relationship new damage. 

Beatrix is highly competitive, and feeling right often trumped the well-being of our marriage. Frankly, by the time I emotionally abandoned the relationship, I was exhausted by Beatrix’s need to be constantly acknowledged as right. Her safety required feeling right–all the time. Beatrix is a contrarian. We’d argue about how much the State of New York sucked or which restaurants are worthy of dining.

Beatrix warned me about Painter’s shallowness and pettiness. 

After all, when I left the marriage, Beatrix did what many betrayed partners do and stalked Painter on social media. Beatrix saw social conversations and actions I overlooked or didn’t see.

She saw flags.

From my perspective, every lie, secret, and choice related to Beatrix after the initial selfishness of my betrayal was fueled by panic as I doubled down on the mistake. There was never any strategy to my reactions. I was floundering and trying not to drown. I was desperate for my relationship with Painter to work and the ends justified the means. I convinced myself Painter was perfect and could do no wrong. I saw myself always as the problem.

My desire to maintain the status quo created a horrible amount of pressure on Painter, me, and us.

The sexual part of my betrayal with Beatrix lasted from January 2016 to June or July of 2016. There were four to six actual sexual acts. I think. It’s kind of a blur and a long time ago.

I was surprised to learn that sleeping with an ex is not uncommon. As Ann Gold Buscho Ph.D. writes in her Psychology Today article, 4 Reasons to Have Sex With Your Ex (or Not), “Some surveys say that as many as 44 percent of people have slept with their ex.” 

Little did I know, my choices made sense when I made them. I just thought I was crazy and a failure.

From mid-2016 until Beatrix called Painter the day after Thanksgiving, 2017, I invested huge emotional and mental resources telling Beatrix what she wanted to hear. I often fawned to Beatrix’s aggression, telling an escalating series of lies to manipulate her into not calling Painter. My lies are not Beatrix’s fault. The inelegant truth is I invested a great deal of energy in telling Beatrix what she wanted to hear to avoid my discomfort. 

A choice that simply kicked the can down the road and created more pain for everyone.

My reactions were like splitting 8’s in blackjack. You know it’s a bad bet, but you aren’t going to beat the house staying on 16. By splitting the 8’s, you are playing for the push. Too often, that happens with infidelity. You know you will lose, but you hope for inspiration, luck, to win on the side bet, or get a push. Splitting 8’s and the secrets and lies around infidelity are both inelegant forms of FOMO.

What never gets discussed, what I have never been asked is, “Why do you think Beatrix called Painter sixteen months after the end of the betrayal and six months after she crashed the art show in Indianapolis?”

The simple answer is because I called Beatrix the day week before. 

I had heard my former father-in-law was in the hospital, I knew Beatrix was in Florida, and despite all the ugly of our marriage and divorce, I still consider Beatrix family. 

My attempts at polyamory were at their most unskillful.

As such, I called Beatrix as she sat alone in the hospital, sitting alongside her ailing father. 

Perhaps, sitting with the fear, anger, and loneliness, Beatrix reacted in a way that made sense at the moment and called Painter. Hurting people hurt people. Beatrix will tell you that she was just trying to warn Painter that I was a monster.

Something Beatrix felt was factual when she texted, picked the phone up, and talked to Painter.

I’m not even angry the Beatrix called Painter. As I said recently, “It has become apparent, I gained far more than I lost.

Also, Beatrix’s feelings were fleeting. I say that because after Painter and I split Beatrix spents the next two years trying to reconcile our relationship. A reconciliation I grew to welcome as I came to appreciate my contribution to the toxic nuances of our marriage.

However, even now, I’m not sure Beatrix wanted me in her life or didn’t want to lose to a woman she held in such contempt. Perhaps she needed to share her loneliness and sense of grief. 

Maybe it is all those things. 

It doesn’t matter now. I’m not responsible for how either of these woman feels today, or what they imagine is true about me or our lives together. It has taken a lot of reflection and therapy to discover I never was.

I know what is true for me and that is all that matters most days.

Frankly, there are still things about Beatrix I miss. If she called, I’d talk with her and take time for her. She was never malicious. And frankly, my marriage wasn’t all bad. I just lacked the skills to show up, and in pursuing comfort, I pursued Painter. It was easier than leaning into my unskillfulness or confronting Beatrix’s behaviors.

Every single lie, secret, and choice related to Beatrix was an attempt to avoid the discomfort of loss and loneliness. My manipulative and selfish reactions were an attempt to protect my pride, identity, relationship, reputation, and Painter and our life from my shame, unskillfulness, and discomfort. There wasn’t a lot of thought in those reactions. They were built on constant anxiety over losing a life I loved, in a community I loved, and the esteem of a woman I loved.

I accept this without shame, just sadness. 

Maybe someday I will be able to accept this truth without sorrow too.

Works Cited

Adamandeve.com. “Adamandeve.com Asks: Have You Ever Had Sex with an Ex?” Prnewswire.com, 8 Dec. 2015, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/adamandevecom-asks-have-you-ever-had-sex-with-an-ex-300189739.html. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

Bertoia, Cara. “Cruise Quarters – a Novel about Casinos and Cruise Ships Quotes by Cara Bertoia.” Goodreads.com, 2011, www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/16341845-cruise-quarters—a-novel-about-casinos-and-cruise-ships. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

Gold-Buscho, Ann. “4 Reasons to Have Sex with Your Ex (or Not).” Psychology Today, 2020, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/better-divorce/202001/4-reasons-have-sex-your-ex-or-not. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

Muses, Sean. “55: Zero Sum Love, Redux.” Love Letters to a Healing Heart, 11 Oct. 2021, cadconfessional.com/2021/10/11/55-zero-sum-love-redux/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.

—. “58: Four Years of Stories.” Love Letters to a Healing Heart, 26 Nov. 2021, cadconfessional.com/2021/11/26/58-four-years/. Accessed 13 Dec. 2021.