Thursday, April 17, 2008

Heart of Darkness

I'm exposing myself today so please be gentle.

No, not 'creepy guy in a raincoat' kind of exposure. This is more personal than that. I'm going to tell you something about myself that not many people know. Something that you will find distasteful and may hate me for. In fact, once you read this you may never visit me again.

That's ok. I would understand. There is something larger I'm striving for, anyway, and - no offense - people I have never met reading my inane chatter is low on the totem pole today.

Four years into my marriage I cheated on my wife. This is not something I'm proud of. In fact, that night I told her is the single worst night of my life. The night I realized I had made a terrible mistake. The night I thought I had ruined everything. The night I betrayed the one person who had trusted me more than any other person before or since.

Even now, nearly ten years removed, I get emotional about it. What the fuck was I thinking? Why did I think another girl was worth trashing everything wifey and I had built? What is wrong with me? Am I one of those guys? One of those scumbags that serially cheats on the ones he loves? Am I really that self destructive?

Things worked out for me and wifey, but it wasn't easy and I give her all the credit. For reasons I will never fathom she took me back, wanted to work things out and held my feet to the fire. Yes, she hated me for a while, but I deserved it. Even welcomed it. I wanted to be punished. I didn't want to be let off the hook or have things miraculously forgotten. There is no forgetting this. I'm not even sure it's possible to forgive, although she seems to have done just that.

I won't get into why I did what I did. I'll just say that things weren't as I thought and leave it at that. I was young and stupid and cocky and thought I was immune to the charms of good looking women. If anything good for me came of this whole thing, it was that I became conscious that I am not strong willed; nor do I have all the answers.

I learned that I am an idiotic, shortsighted, testosterone fueled douchebag who thought he was man enough to know everything.

What a fool! What an embarrassment I turned out to be. Not just as a husband, but as a man and as a member of a good family. It wasn't bad enough that I shamed myself and emotionally torched my wife, but I put doubt into every single person that believed in me. A bloody line of disappointment runs from my wife straight through my family weaving into her family crossing my friends and ending back at myself where it borrows and festers. It's a painful path; one that never really fades. The tracks will always be visible.

Oddly, that's not entirely a bad thing. Yes, my selfish actions created a Chernobyl-like emotional fallout that I'm still feeling, but it also clarified things. My purpose, my love, my friendship with my wife became stronger and more deeply rooted than ever. We had survived something most couples can't or won't. I know I hurt her badly and that is something I will never forget. But never forgetting is just another way of saying always reminding. I like being reminded of what I nearly lost.

Please, remind me how she looked at me that night.

Remind me of that emptiness I felt when she walked out.

Remind me that I am not flawless; that I can hurt many people when I convince myself I'm keeping everyone from being hurt.

Remind me how much I hate myself for what I did. No past tense here. I still hate myself and hopefully always will. It's a more productive, healthier self hate then it used to be. It's a hate that pushes me to be a better father, a better husband, a better man. A hate that keeps me grounded and focused.

But this isn't a pity party (ok, sort of). I'm here to help all the young ones out there that can benefit from my insanity. Any guy (or girl) that is considering cheating, here's a few tips that I hope you follow. This is more geared towards those in a serious relationship.

And if you're just one of those guys trying to score as many women as possible this isn't for you, either. Just move along.

For cheaters (or potential cheaters):

Tip 1: Ask yourself why: Look, if you're getting ready to cheat on someone you care about take a minute and think about why you're even entertaining the idea. There must be some underlying reason that you are about to betray one of your closest friends. Take a moment to ask yourself what you think her reaction will be when she finds out. And believe me, she will find out. Women can read us better than we read ourselves. If you rationalize it that you are in a relationship you want out of, then stop being a pussy and end the relationship.

Tip 2: Talk to your partner: Take it from me, your significant other will much rather hear you tell him/her you've been tempted to have sex with someone else then hearing you actually had sex with someone else. They'll still be pissed, but not nearly as pissed if the other scenario plays itself out. And it might lead to a much more meaningful conversation. Are you unhappy with me? Is there something I've done? Is there something I can do to make you happier? Are you on drugs?

Wifey and I spent time in couples therapy where we learned the biggest contributing factor in cheating was lack of communication. Sure, we talk, but do we communicate? Do we know what the other person is really telling us? Sadly, the answer is always a resounding 'No'.

Tip 3: The buck stops here: There's only one person responsible for what you did: YOU. You will want to reason that she or he drove you to this, but that's bullshit and we both know it. It's bad enough you cheated, but don't even think about making it seem like it's your partner's fault. That goes beyond betrayal and starts down the slippery slope of abuse. Man up (or woman up, as the case may be) and take responsibility for what you've done. If you don't start now, you never will.

Tip 4: Apologize, Apologize, Apologize: They're just words, but women know when you are truly remorseful. If you are, make sure she knows it. Hands and knees are very useful at this point. If things work out and by some miracle she forgives you, don't stop apologizing. If you wind up married and on your death beds together, your last words better be your last apology.

Tip 5: It never ends well: You may think you can get away with it. You may think you can keep up the facade with your significant other. You can't. This will not end well for anybody involved. It never does. Everyone will wind up hurt, confused, and an emotional wreck.

Tip 6: You will wind up hating yourself: If you have any semblance of human emotion, this is going to kill your self worth. The reaction your partner will display will be etched forever in your subconscious and make you lose sleep at night for the rest of your life. You will never respect yourself as much as you did before this happened. Tough shit! Deal with it.

Tip 7: Use that self hatred: This will either ruin you or make you a stronger person. A lot of how you emerge from this will depend on how you handle the after shocks. You won't just have to deal with your partner, but your family, his or her family and friends. You will be despised from a lot of different corners. Be strong, but humble in the face of this. You made the mess, so deal with the aftermath. Don't make excuses and if you feel it's right, apologize to them, too.

For the betrayed:

Tip 1: You will hate: And not one person will blame you. Don't forgive right away, but don't dismiss him or her either. If there were other issues and this was just the final straw, then so be it. But if there were great things about the two of you, then give it a week or two before deciding if this is worth ending the relationship over. Most likely it will be, but don't make adjustments. Only you will know how you feel and only you will know if he or she is truly sorry about what they've done. Only you can make the call one way or the other.

Tip 2: Listen selectively: Everyone that knows about this will be ready to pounce on the carcass of your relationship. 'Never thought she was right for you' or 'I got a bad vibe from him'. Listen to yourself only. They were on the outside looking in and most likely have sour grapes to stomp. If you want advice, then ask those you trust and avoid everyone you know will enjoy spreading your misery. You have enough to deal with and pettiness doesn't help.

Tip 3: Keep the lines open: You may hate this person, but listen to him or her anyway. If you can't stomach talking to them right away, then wait a day or two, but communicating is still the key to healing. If not the relationship, at least your state of mind.

Tip 4: The details don't matter: You'll drive yourself insane asking about what positions they were in or what she did for him that you couldn't. You may think it's important, but it isn't. You have every right to ask, but know that the answers only lead to more anger and frustration.

Tip 5: Nobody is judging you: If you do wind up taking the cheater back, not one person will scorn you or think less of you for doing so. Well, some might, but they're usually the same people who piss all over your depression anyway. This is about you and your significant other. Everyone else takes a back seat and if you do wind up back together and they don't like it, that's tough shit for them.

For both of you:

Tip 1: Therapy: Either alone or together (if you want to make a go of it, go together) this is a great first step. It may not be able to fix things, but at least you can say you tried. At the very least you may get the answer to why this happened. For me, I wasn't even sure until we started talking things out with a third party. It helped enormously to have a detached, experienced third party to filter out the anger and emotions and get to the root of what was going on.

Tip 2: It gets better: You'll both feel like an exposed, emotional nerve ending for a while but it does get better. Sadly, I can't promise it will be together or that it will be soon.

Tip 3: Neither of you will be the same: This can be a good and a bad thing. The good would be discovering and addressing your weaknesses as a couple or a person. The bad is the difficulty the betrayed will have trusting again and not just the cheater, but any future relationships he or she will have. For the cheater it's going to be knowing you ruined a potentially lifelong relationship for one night of sex. Tough pill to swallow.

Tip 4: Remember why you are together: What drew you to each other? Why did you invest so much time? What is it about the two of you together that other people envy? Most importantly, how did you make each other better people?

One final note: Every couple is unique and believe different things. Don't base your decisions on what some other couple did or how they approach problems. This is your issue. Deal with it the way you see fit. If you feel right about continuing on, then try it to see if it can still work. If there is no way you can continue, then end it and get on with your life.

There is no right answer.

Today's distraction: Man, that was a downer. Let's lighten the mood a bit. Here is some advice that just might save you if your parachute doesn't open. Funny stuff.


Anonymous said...

Thank you...

Anonymous said...

Deep shit, Beach. I commend you on your willingness to share this kind of stuff with us. You're a bigger man than most.