Romeo, Save Me, I've Been Feeling So Alone, I Keep Waiting For You, But You Never Come, Is This In My Head, I Don't Know What To Think
or "Why I Cheated on Greg"
Hey, did you hear the one about the woman who cheated on her husband of five years?
Sometimes when I get asked the question I have the gumption to fire back with that reply. It's not mean-spirited or an attempt at being snarky. It's merely that, as far as loaded questions go, that is as loaded as they come. It may not be their intent, but I feel like they're reaching for a brief sentence or two that'll explain everything. They want me to have a direct and succinct answer that will be to their satisfaction while at the same time enabling them to maintain their perception of me. That's a tall order no matter how you look at it. The reality of the situation is that there is no one easy answer and it's ridiculous to intone the question as if it can ever be easily answered. It's not a riddle and it ain't a joke. I can't make my answer into a punchline that will put a smile on their faces.
Now, when I saw they or them, I mean the casual acquaintances. I'm speaking of the people who know all the principals (and I reckon, principles too) involved, but do not possess any intimate knowledge of how all of the history, emotions, and feelings coalesce together. They think they know me. They think they know Greg. They think they know Patrick. In actuality, they don't not squat. The people whose opinions matter to me, they know the score. They've dealt with me. They've consulted with me. They've handed out advice, made their recommendations, and were there for me to pick up all the crumbled pieces as if it were their profession. When I talk about "they" or "them," I'm not talking about folks like my parents, like Fanny, like Katie, or like Fawn. When I talk about "they" or "them," I'm talking about that innermost circle of trust. I don't know about you, but when I give my opinion about a story I want to make damned sure that I have heard the entire story. These people that ask "the" question, I'm sorry to say, do not even have close to the full portrait. They've heard what they've only heard. They've listened to what they've been told by other people, but have neither earned my complete trust for me to willingly give all my secrets away nor been considerate enough to patiently wait for me to explain as much as I want to explain. They think they know what it's all about, and this thinking has led them to the batty notion that they can judge me. That, in turn, makes them think they have the right to question me about something that is so clearly not their business.
I had to write out a similar exercise as part of mine and Greg's sessions with the marriage counselor. I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to write out to my husband all the reasons why it happened, what I think caused it, and if it were to happen again why it would happen again. It was the hardest thing I ever had to write, especially knowing that he was going to read it aloud (our counselor's directive) for both me and her at the very next session. Try and imagine the difficulty in hearing my own words parroted back to me, how I wanted to hide behind the nearest loveseat until it was over. Wrap yourself around the idea that version of my own private hell and tell me how gladdened I was to explain my reasons for my infidelity. And that was in front of my husband and a paid professional who probably heard about a thousand other similar stories. Now imagine if I'd been that timid, against my entire personality of staying confident no matter the circumstances, then when trying to answer what was supposedly a simple question, how gunshy would I be in front of people I don't trust half as well. you know? It makes some sense when you couch the exercise in those terms, you know?
What I learned from all the time away working on my relationship with Greg is that there ain't no good reason to cheat. There's just no cause to be unfaithful. No one deserves to be betrayed in such a fashion. No one. It's a losing prospect because, for me, I thought it would give me something missing from my life. I imagined I'd be happier. I thought I would make out better than I was before. I imagined I'd be gaining something substantial in lieu of what I was losing. It ain't so. I can tell you, for whatever reasons noble or ignoble you rush into sleeping with another man, you don't earn more than you give away. You lose a hundred times more than you ever win back. I know--I sound like the penitent sinner. I sound like the spoiled, little 'ole rich girl that got caught doing something she wasn't prepared for and is now doing her best to prostrate herself in front of everyone, displaying her remorse. I sound like the only reason I'm sorry is because it didn't work out in the end and not because of the morality of the act itself.
Nothing could be further from the truth. At the time, it felt like the right thing to do. At the time I honestly believed I was okay with the decision and that I was measurably happier for the experience. After months and months of losing focus what made Greg and my relationship so sensible, so inevitable, I was once more with a person where intimacy wasn't even a concern. I fell into a comfortable pattern that seemed so natural and tight-fitting that it was hard to convince myself that that wasn't where I belonged. As I explained to our counselor, it was like going from working out in the fields to an amusement park. I went from an environment where I was stressed out all the time, where everything felt sterile, almost clinical-like to an environment where everything felt fraught with joy and painlessness. I didn't have to work at making this other person happy and he didn't have to work at making me happy. It happened all by its little 'ole lonesome. I thought that's how two people are supposed to get along; not like me and Greg were getting along in those last few months. It was what I thought I wanted.
I don't say it enough, but I never thought I was the marrying type growing up. I had the fanciful fairy-tale version of what I thought married life would be like, but in my heart of hearts I didn't think there was a man forceful enough to ever cause me to settle down--not as early as I did, at any rate. I was Kate in Taming of the Shrew, doomed to spend her life as an old spinster because she thought she would be better off that way. It wasn't like I didn't have the offers. And it wasn't like I didn't offer that myself. At the end of the river, though, I always sought my freedom from all distractions. For a long time I thought of marriage as a distraction and more work than it would ever be worth.
My counselor says I carried that daydream over with me when I ended up getting hitched. Instead of steeling myself for the toil and struggle ahead, I forged forward holding onto the idea that I wouldn't work as hard as I could for a marriage. I held onto options at the back of my head. I didn't give it my all because I didn't think it deserved my all. I see it now, I was trying to fit marriage into a tiny portion of my life instead of the rest of my life around my marriage. I wanted to be a wife... as long as it didn't infringe of everything else I wanted.
The first few years weren't bad. They were great, in fact.
The last few years, though, when I started to notice exactly how much I was sacrificing of my former life, I balked at the idea. I grew up with my parents instilling in me the drive to be my best self. They told me I could be smarter, more charming, more graceful, more beautiful than any other woman who had come before me. When I got married a lot of the time I didn't feel like my best self. I felt like the dull, uninteresting version of who I had been. Patrick has said that I'm more adventurous than a guy like Greg could appreciate. I admit, there were times where I felt constricted at home because nothing I wanted to do coalesced with what Greg wanted to do. I had to give up the power to decide my own destiny--at least for that evening.
This went against the grain for another basic personality trait. I had always been taught that the people who love you wanted you to succeed. They were the ones who would be there to push you along and applaud you when you achieved your dreams. They didn't keep you with them against your will. They didn't coddle you into giving some or all of your pursuits. They wanted you to go as far and as high as you could go without a sense of jealousy.
This was not Greg.
This is not Greg.
I understand now that it's not that Greg actively tries to stifle me. It's only that Greg doesn't have the sense of whimsy that I possess. In that area of compatibility we're woefully askew.
When placed against the backdrop of such a, at first, disheartening dynamic, it's obvious that my dalliance with somebody who also possesses this sense of adventure would make more sense. People who have gotten along for as long and as fiercely as Patrick and I have don't do it by mistake. We do it because with that much history there's a lot of shortcuts that are enabled along the way. We do it because with that much history there's a lot of time to discover just how many areas we are compatible in. We do it because with that much history there's a lot of memories of times we were there for one another to draw upon. At first glance, it doesn't appear quite fair to measure five years of married life against the monolith of fourteen years of devoted friendship.
It took my counselor delving back into that very history to get at the truth. Simply, she asked what the first five years were like in my friendship as compared to how it is now. That's when I remembered all the yelling and the condescension that traversed from him to me. That's when I remembered that, back then, it seemed like it was him being the burr in my britches. I remembered the fights all along, of course. It took those sessions to remember just how bad it had been every once in a while, trying to keep things running smoothly when the other person seemed determined to render everything asunder.
That's when she asked me why I wasn't prepared to give the same benefit of the doubt to my husband, when I had given it so easily to my friend. After fourteen years, obviously, I had the understanding Eeyore and I got along. After five years of marriage, things weren't so easily discernible. Again, I was the one who didn't want to work. I was the one who felt it was easier to blame him for not doing enough to make it easy for me instead of trying to make it easier for him. I was the one who was still having difficulties fitting the marriage into my life instead of seeing it as my life now. I was taking it at face value, as if I was only married when Greg was around and still single when he wasn't. That was how I was acting, as if marriage was one facet of my life separated from the rest of it.
Why did I cheat?
Because it didn't feel like cheating. That was my answer. At the time, I didn't think of it as wrong. I thought of it as doing what I've always done. Hell's bells, to be completely off my rocker, I felt it wasn't Greg's place to tell me not to cheat. I had compartmentalized what I did with my own time away from what I did with him. I didn't do it in so many words, mind you, but, breaking it down, that's exactly what I was doing. I even went so far as to reconcile that I was two different people--the wife when I was with him, and somebody entirely different when I wasn't. And never the 'twain did meet.
I cheated because it was fun and easy.
I cheated because it just felt like falling in love with somebody all over again. It felt like being in love with somebody all over again. With Greg during those last few months before we got help, it felt like I'd fallen into some 'ole hole and was beginning to fall out the other side. I wasn't experiencing that sensation of somebody being so deeply in love with me that it made my eyes water just to think about how much somebody cared about me. It didn't feel like the rush of somebody telling you each and everything that's good and decent about yourself. It didn't feel like the bursting flame of passion that won't be put out, not by anything. With Greg it felt safe. It felt pristine. It felt like all signs of outward affection were long behind us.
I cheated because Patrick made me feel loved at a time when I wasn't feeling very loved. He made me feel important when I felt very overlooked.
But all of that falls by the wayside. Boiled down, I cheated because I could and I've always done what I wanted no matter what.
It took a lot to get to where I am now, to accept how my perception of what marriage was and wasn't skewed my personal choices. It took a lot to rebuild that trust that I tenuously enjoy now with Greg. It took a lot of me to admit I was wrong. Too long I wanted to play the victim. Too long I held him to blame.
I told our counselor he didn't love me. I said that he was controlling and possessive. He was too restrained, no fun at all. I said that we didn't have anything in common at all. It was all his fault. It was all his fault because he was just too weak of a man for me. I said all that when I was at my angriest. I said all of that at first, in those opening sessions, because I was hurt that he had driven me to do what I did. A stronger man would've fought harder for me, would've done everything in his power to insure I didn't stray, would've loved me as much as half-a-dozen men put together. A stronger man would've given me no reason to leave.
That was his fault for not being stronger.
I blamed him for not doing anything exciting. I had suffered one too many uneventful nights at home. I had too many of my ideas of what we should do with our weekends shot down before he had given them a chance. Too many teams had we argued about him being closed off from everything I liked.
That was his fault for not being more like me, for not liking what I liked, for not living up to my example.
I blamed him for being far from my first choice. I told him during those sessions that I wasn't sure why I even married him. I questioned time and time again why I'd rushed so foolishly into something obviously ill-fitted for me. I explained to him all the ways he was lacking in what I thought was an ideal lover, an ideal mate, an ideal husband.
That was his fault for not being who I really wanted.
But the more I went with him, the more I saw how dedicated he was to making us work. I saw how much still very in love with me he was. Even though I'd hurt him in the worst way any one person could hurt another, he still wanted me to be there with him. Even though I was the one with all the issues to work out, even though, really, he had been blameless in the entire affair, he took everything I said about him in stride. At first, what I thought was a sign of weakness on his part, turned out to be patience in who should've been the most impatient, most indignant man with me. I was the one with all the weaknesses, it turns out, yet through the course of our months in those sessions he very rarely forced me to turn the binoculars back on myself. I thought he was being timid or of not knowing exactly what he wanted from me.
He always knew what he wanted from me.
He wanted me--no more, no less.
He saw that I was never going to be the bigger person at first. He knew I was going to be the one with something to complain about. I was going to be the one blaming him even though he should've been, by all rights, the one hurling accusations around. I was going to be the one playing hurt, playing misunderstood, playing the victim. He knew what I was going to be like. He saw that to even begin the healing process he would have to hold his tongue and let me work out my issues aloud. He allowed me to make the transition from placing all the hurt and blame on his shoulders to accepting the mantle of my own malignancy. He saw that if he pushed me, I would only push back. And he saw that if he allowed me time to come out of my turtle posture, I would figure out what he had known for sure all along.
He knew what marriage was going to be like all along. He had been prepared for far longer of a time than I ever had. More to the point, he had an inkling of what it was going to be like being married to little 'ole me. I suppose you could say he had more knowledge of what he was getting into than myself. Because of this he understood the ins and outs of shouldering the load of working at the marriage these first five years. He knew that one of us could be unhappy and want to call it quits, but if both of us admitted the same feelings then that was it for us ever being together. Everybody always thinks when a couple says they both share in the responsibility for carrying a marriage that it's split completely down the middle, 50/50. In actuality, there's always one person in the partnership doing more heavy lifting than the other one.
For the first five years that was him.
Now that I can see that, now that I've had it explained to my stubborn 'ole mind, I can once again see clearly just how much he adores me and how much I've been taking him for granted all this time. He wasn't being boring or uninteresting or trying to hold me back. He was holding us together by the very act of not fighting back when I so desperately wanted him to fight me back. He didn't let my tendencies to "burn and turn" when things got tough destroy the two of us. He knew my patterns. He had heard enough stories of me laying it all on the line and retreating as soon as somebody else did the same back to me. He didn't allow me a chance to run because he refused to let me goad him into defending himself. He stayed resolute in his love for me by not allowing me to see his doubts, his insecurities, or his wavering trust in me.
The point is he fought for this marriage by not fighting at all. That's all he could have done in the situation, something I'm sorry to say I wouldn't have been able to do the same. I don't think about what I do each and every second. "Breanne doesn't think; she just goes." Greg's different than me. He's smart enough to know that everything he does impacts me in some way; he's smart enough to do the opposite of what he thinks is best for him if it means doing what's best for me or for the both of us. He's much nobler than me in that area.
After all our sessions were over and I came back here, I started to notice all that more. And it's not so bad right now, you know? It ain't perfect. It ain't ideal. But it's what I have right now, and all in all, what I have right now is unbelievably good. It's certainly more than I deserve for what I did. I'm loved by a man who gets me more than I ever knew, yet hasn't had to change all that much from who he was. I'm loved by a man who's seen me do horrible, wicked acts of defiance and betrayal, yet hasn't left me yet. I'm loved by a man who, when it comes right down to it, never asked me to change or alter my beliefs. All he ever asked of me is to love him enough to make him smile.
He's carried me for five years when I was nothing but a dead weight to him.
The next five years the least I could do is return the favor.
Why did I cheat? Why did I do it?
Because I was a stupid, stupid gal who didn't know what she had in the least...