Married, not Dead - Thoughts on Cheating
...you wouldn't object to meeting, say, a winemaker in Provence who also happens to volunteer at a dog shelter, who would cook for you, and feed you peeled grapes while whispering in your ears all kinds of shocking things in French, and then take you by the hand and lead you to a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean with white curtains flying in the wind, where he will proceed to make love to you as if his life depended on it...
Art & words by Fanitsa Petrou
Marriage has evolved, (or so I’m told) but it is in any case, still not for the faint of heart, and it is likely – among other things - to force you to face the possibility of cheating. If that happens, and your husband cheats on you, know that you have two – and ONLY two - options: either divorce him, or forgive him. No third option available I’ m afraid. You can’ t both stay married to him AND not forgive him for the simple reason that your anger, self-pity, and bitterness will eventually eat you up from the inside and make you lose yourself. Release him. Divorce his cheating ass, take a breath and reclaim your right to live the life you deserve. Go out there and be free from the burden of your pain. Unless you are still desperately (and possibly foolishly) in love with him, in which case, stay. But if you do: forgive him. And there is only one way to be able to do that. And it’s a tough one, but it is also necessary. It is NOT about sharing the blame with him, in a “well he was obviously not getting what he needed at home so he went out to get it” or offering him the easy way out in a “men-will-be-men” kind of manner, as if you are not only the victim of his betrayal of trust but also the cause of it. Fuck that simplistic, unfair, misogynistic, age-old, shit. If he is just not capable of understanding what it means to be loyal, trustworthy, respectful and appreciative of the love he receives, or indeed able to keep it in his pants when in the proximity of another woman, that’ s on him. It has nothing to do with you (well it has a little bit to do with you, for not choosing your life partner more wisely, but that’ s another discussion) Don’ t allow him – or anyone else for that matter – to victim-blame you, on top of betraying you! But to go back: there is only one way of climbing that gigantic mountain of making things right again: you need to understand that you’ ll have to forgive him. But don’ t do it just because you need to stay married to him, since that’ s all you know in this life: namely how to be a married lady. Don’ t even do it “for the kids” (for their college tuition, and music lessons, and in order to spare them some difficult times), because seeing their mum unhappy, or watching their parents fight all the time, is not more healthy than living through a divorce. Don’ t do it in order to avoid to explain this shit to your parents, or in order to avoid being humiliated by your so called friends who are more likely to gloat than sympathise with you. And don’ t do it because he “deserves another chance”. (This is NOT about him actually!) Forgive him because unless you do, you will never be the same again. You will lose more than your trust in him – or men in general. Forgive him, so that this won’ t change you. Do it for spiritual reasons if you like. “Save” your own soul from the bitterness of the alternative. So that you will be able come on the other side intact!
And here’ s how you do it: by identifying with him! By empathising with his cheating sorry ass. Even if you’ ve never actually cheated, or even considered cheating on him, you gotta do this. This is not in any way the same as what has been happening for generations; namely women forgiving their husband’ s cheating because they were without any other options, because the alternative was living in shame and destitution. No, I’ m talking about a grown up decisionto empathize and forgive, not because you have no other options, but because you consciously choose to. Because you still love the bastard. And because you need to heal.
So how can you empathize with cheating, when you have never done it, right? Women in general rarely do cheat on their husbands, by the way. Not just because women are naturally more loyal on top of having been groomed from an early age to place so much importance on the whole “sanctity” of marriage thing and all that, and they just wouldn’ t go around jeopardising their family and kids with the same ease as a guy, but also, because a man cheating is seen as practically natural, not to mention his male “right”, a woman ‘s cheating on the other hand, will be faced with some pretty nasty backlash and will condemn her as a horrible, disgusting, ungrateful bitch and an unfit mother on the spot, and possibly for the rest of her life! A woman who has been cheated on, will of course be seen as 100% responsible for her husband’ s infidelity (“She probably led him to it. She doesn' t please him obviously. She let her self go / she is an old hag / a nag / a cold, frigid bitch.” etc) while the man who has been cheated on will be seen as a victim, on top of being a saint (“That poor man, having to put up with this shit! Who does she thinks she is? The ungrateful, shameless bitch! To go and do that! What kind of mother is she? To do that to her family! They should take those kids away from her. That will teach her! Sex-crazed whore! Poor, POOR, man! The things he musta put up with all these years!”)
Women avoid cheating also because men need a woman to be impressed by them, to laugh at their jokes, to be blind to their mistakes, to encourage their hopes and ignore the futility of any divorced-from-reality dreams. (Just like a mother!) They need lenience and non-stop praise. And lies. (Ah! the lies they need in order to remain “in love” with a woman!) Usually of the “you-are-the-best-man / lover-I’ve-ever-met” variety. And if lying to one guy and constantly pampering to his ego is exhausting, lying to two of them at the same time can practically age you… That’s just too much work… Who has the energy, right?
Plus, the sex thing: unlike men who are good to go with a lot less, sex with a complete stranger, is not often what is cracked up to be for a woman. Not to mention there are not that many men out there who are as good as they think they are, at it. Sometimes when you don’t know the guy, it’ s like he is trying making a bomb while walking on a tightrope using groceries and leftovers from the fridge: it takes a whollot of things to work just right. It takes a great sense of timing and some pretty nifty fine tuning, and all the correct ingredients in carefully measured doses, plus that other thing (that undefinable who-the-hell-knows-what-it-is “other” magical, chemistry thing) so that it can lead to a well-timed nova explosion (or - a girl can only hope - a series of ones), or else to a complete waste of perfectly fine ammunition… In short, what if the Swedish architect you are fantasizing about, is in fact a Swedish meatball? I mean there’ s always that. You may be jeopardising your family in order to exchange one mediocre, insensitive lover with another… (Actually it's quite likely...) Plus there 's always the danger that he turns out to be not just a bad lover but some dangerous, violent weirdo... And who needs that? The stakes are just too high for a woman, and the outcome may be one hell of a let down. If not dangerous. At least the guy at home knows where everything is by now… (He may not be often responsible for any major nova explosions, but hey, he at least finally has a map of the general territory…) So, yes, a woman will think it twice. And possibly think better of it… (BTW, most women would rather get to have a day alone at a spa or a five star hotel, than an affair! A long, undisturbed bubble bath, a glass of wine, a gossip magazine, and some music, room service, and a bed with crisp bed sheets she was not responsible of cleaning? Yes please! Being miraculously guilt-free for doing something for herself, on top of being left alone with her own thoughts for a few hours? It beats sneaking around with a stranger who God only knows what he is into, any day!
Still, even if you have never cheated, you may still have had those moments when you might have pondered briefly on it, even for a second. Like when you were having a really bad day, and you thought you wouldn' t object to meeting, say, a winemaker in Provence, who also happens to volunteer at a dog shelter, and possibly spend his weekend saving orphans, who would cook for you, and feed you peeled grapes while whispering in your ears all kinds of shocking things in French, and then take you by the hand and lead you to a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean with white curtains flying in the wind, where he will proceed to make love to you as if his life depended on it. And then – get a load of this – actually hold you, instead of turn on his side and start snoring. Or even – stop my beating heart - talk to you 'til dawn! Or those real-life moments when you meet a really interesting guy at work, who on top of that, seems to be interested in you, and (Oh-my-God!) actually gets you! Who seems to see you as you wish your husband saw you. Or as he once did. Who flirts with you, and seems able to actually keep up!! Maybe you have only shared a moment, or some lingering looks. Maybe you had an actual conversation with him and he even went as far as listen to you, not just waited his turn to talk or ignored what you were saying but still went on looking at your boobs! Maybe you’ ve changed your routine (and possibly your hairstyle) in hope of meeting him “accidentally”. And maybe, just maybe, your heart skipped a couple of beats, as he leaned in to press the elevator button, and you thought he may actually kiss you, and then you felt both relieved and disappointed when he didn’ t - damn it!
You would never in a thousand years (I won't say a million though...) act on it of course, but there’ s a part of you that wishes you were “allowed to”, right? Because, you know, you can still feel things. Because, you know, you are married not dead! And that’ s where you will find that empathy thing we were talking about, my friend: in this realisation! In this childish need we all have, for a little bit of attention. In this yearning to be seen as adorable, as the best version of yourself by a stranger whose dirty laundry you will never get to see, or be responsible of doing. In this possibility that exists in that alternative and purely theoretical universe where no alarm clocks exist, no baby vomit is ever on your PJs, no worries about bills, no snoring or bathroom noises, no angry teenagers slamming doors in your face, no dirty dishes piling up in the kitchen sink, no man feeling free to pee in front of you with the door open (and then proceed to leave the fucking toilet seat fucking up, for the millionth, fucking time!), no meals that need to be made (and then re-made the next day, and the next, and the next, until you die…), no soccer practices and ballet lessons that take up your entire afternoon, no grocery lists, no pretensions of utter happiness when you talk to your girlfriends, no in-laws who never really warmed up to you, no vacations with couples from his work that make you wanna shut yourself in the bedroom and cry for hours, and no sex with the TV news on in the background. In that place, where you are still the center of someone’ s universe, and his reason for waking up in the morning. In that place, where the relationship is new and therefore not yet tainted by the everydayness of life, and it has not yet moved to that predictable for ALL relationships phase, where it’s all about what / where to eat for dinner, and what to do at the weekend, and then (and for years after that) about who is responsible for this or that chore…
You see, you too have days when you want out of this prison… (Not to mention more reasons for wanting out…) You too have this need for that something else. For that elusive wonderful other, who will do everything right and make the bad days bearable. Your husband went on and acted on it, without contemplating too much on consequences, possibilities, the other side, or you, let alone his kids. He probably does all his major thinking with his penis anyway, so it was probably inevitable. And, I agree, It makes all the difference in the world. But it may also be on some tiny level understandable. And if it is, and you still love him, then forgive him. And move on. But if that’ s just impossible, unbearable, and unthinkable, then it is time to leave. This is over. Face it. Save yourself!
Thinking about the possibility of another man is of course in no way equated with him lying to your face in actual life, and probably sneaking in hotels that charge by the hour, and having all kinds of intimacies and this whole other life with this other person(s). And don’ t let anyone tell you that it’ s the same! But understanding that they may be coming from a similar place, from a somewhat similar need, is what will make you get through this. Unless you can’ t. In which case, like I said, leave. Don’ t stay and turn into a bitter, angry woman who is daily drowning in a sea of self-hatred and repressed rage. Don’ t destroy everything that was good in you, spending your days planning little passive aggressive revenges, hoping to make him pay. And don’ t turn into this whole other docile, Stepford wive person either, who is daily cooking his favorite meals and having makeovers and cosmetic medical procedures, and hair colour changes and new diets, or who is all of a sudden very willing to do that thing she absolutely hates in bed, so that she will keep him from getting it from the other woman. That’ s not a solution. Why should you silence yourself, making it smaller and smaller until it practically disappears, leaving in its place a sheeplike thing that is too afraid to make waves? Why should you change your entire personality or your looks, and become this whole other person so that he will give you the time of day? How is that fair for you? How is his “love” - when it is only bargained and gained when you disappear - worth anything? Not to mention: why should he be “rewarded” for his cheating just because you feel so insecure you think it’ s your only chance of keeping him? Have a little dignity. Have some shred of self-respect for Godsake! Stop betraying your own self, as if being betrayed by him was not enough! Think of your options. You don’ t belong in your grandmother’ s generation who was proud of her long marriage, which was undoubtedly based on her silence and her fear and lack of alternatives and her ability to trivialise her husband’ s infidelities. You don’ t actually HAVE to serve him. It is not your “duty” to please him at all costs, so that he won’ t leave, so that you will remain married. And finally (FINALLY!) just open your eyes to the fact that this being married business, is not really what you were told it would be.
And if it all gets too much, remember: there is in fact life after marriage! Lots and lots and lots of it, in fact…
"Married, not Dead": Art & Words Copyright © Fanitsa Petrou. All Rights Reserved.
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