And it Burns, Burns, Burns...
The taste of love is sweetWriting yesterday's post about what non-touch-related internet activity "counts" as cheating has brought an old memory out into the sunlight. Once, years ago, a good friend and I were taking a walk together. She was describing an experience with a particular guy she'd slept with, and I realized that at the time the story had taken place, this guy had been seriously involved with someone. I queried her on it, and she said, "He didn't have a ring on his finger. As far as I'm concerned, if that's the case, anyone is fair game." I let it drop, but her response has always stayed with me. It needled me then, and it still kind of needles me now in a number of ways.
when hearts like ours meet
I fell for you like a child
oh, but the fire went wild...
I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down
And the flames went higher.
Some thoughts this memory has stirred up, yet again:
I was in a committed relationship for many years. We lived together. We had an understanding that we would be monogamous. We never got married. He never had a ring on his finger, nor did I. With all that being the case, I don't think he should have been considered "fair game" because we decided not to sign a piece of paper or buy matching gold bands. Nor do I think that I should have been anyone else's "fair game," either.
Watch any cheesy reality talk show and you'll see these tawdry episodes titled "He's Sleeping With my Woman!" Or, "I'm Boning my Husband's Best Friend!" What happens every time? The host calls up the unwitting girlfriend, boyfriend, or spouse. The cheating partner makes The Big Announcement. The cheating "other woman/man" walks on to the stage. All hell breaks loose. And who does the cheated-on person run toward to attack? You know the answer. Not their partner. They run at the person sleeping with the partner, fist raised or claws extended, ready to kill.
In more of my relationships than I'd like to admit, I've been cheated on. I know what it's like to be that person, the one who who's been left in the dark while everyone else in the "audience"--whether that's your circle of friends, or just the two people involved in the deception--knows what was going on. I know first hand the emotions you have to deal with: how stupid you feel, how betrayed, how worthless and ugly, how utterly debased and humiliated. You do want to run toward someone--anyone--and hurt, maim, and kill them. I think, however, that in all these cases in my real life, I reserved the majority of the blame for my partner. After all, he was the one who had committed to me, not the person he cheated with. But I didn't think the other person was totally blameless. If any of the women involved in these scenarios had no idea that my partner was seeing someone, I don't think I would have blamed them at all. But the sad truth is that in 100 percent of the cases where someone cheated on me, the woman involved on the other end knew my boyfriend was seriously involved with someone else. And she still chose to do it anyway.
When it happened to me, each time, though I always held my partner ultimately responsible, I always thought about those women. I was angry, sure, especially if she knew me personally. But more than the anger, I would always feel this almost childlike confusion--this deep, abiding hurt and sadness, that would always end up in a question: How could any woman live with doing that to another woman? The only answer I could ever think up for myself was maybe they'd been lucky enough to never have been cheated on, so they didn't know what it was like. How their actions had consequences beyond their own life. I just couldn't imagine if they knew what it felt like that they could bear to even contemplate creating that kind of hell for someone else, even if you'd never have to know or meet them.
Very Christ-like, huh? "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." I guess I'd just like to assign some excuse for an action I don't want to understand, I suppose. But I guess I know deep down what I don't want to know. That's "they don't know what they do" really isn't it. When it comes down to it, they probably knew; they just didn't care. The hurt they caused someone else was less important to them than the hurt they'd feel if they didn't get what (or who) they wanted.
It's hard for me to take. I've known some very good people, my friend included, who have had no qualms about being "the other woman/man," other than that they don't get to spend enough time with their lovers. There are people whom I loved and respected who have cheated on their partners and spouses. I never know how to reconcile those two things.
I don't really know what I'm trying to get at here, exactly. Everything is whirling around in my head...but let me just rattle on and maybe it will come to some conclusion.
It's not that I don't understand the impulse. I'm a single woman. I've been single for a greater portion of my adult life than I have been in relationships. In the percentage of the time that I've been single, there have been a number of men who have wanted me despite being attached to others. And I can't even count the huge number of unhappy married or attached people I've met on the internet, both male and female, who are either looking for a quick cyber situation, or something more romantic, but at a safe distance.
What I'm saying is, I've had a lot of proposals for this kind of thing, both in real life and online. Sometimes the proposals are sleazy and therefore easy to reject. But sometimes, they're not. Sometimes you meet someone who is so wonderful, and exactly what you'd want if only...and it's all you can do to control yourself and keep your wits about you.
But the "if only" IS there. And the girlfriend or spouse, hidden though she may be from my sight, is out there somewhere. I find it impossible to ever fully put these out of my mind, no matter how much I yearn for what I want. And I have major fear of karma. I worry if I "gain" someone through deceptive means, it'll only come back around to mean pain for me in the end of one type of another. How does one win in this kind of a situation? How does the end ever come out happy?
Hemingway once said, "If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it." He was talking about marriage, about the loss of a spouse (because even in the longest, loving marriages, one spouse has to die first and the other will be alone). But how much more does this ring true if you love the person, but can never have the person? And even if you choose to settle for the long-term sad ending in trade for in-the-now happiness, how much more does it still ring true, knowing that choice will mean hurting someone else, not just yourself?
But then I think back to my friend, and her calm, unconcerned statement of her feelings about the whole thing. She didn't think she had any reason to fault her actions. And I think how recently a few people have said that feeling everything is your fault is the ultimate narcissism.
And so I have to ask myself, if I am "the other woman," do I have any responsibility? If I'm single, do I have a moral obligation to respect another's agreement if he is ready and willing to break it?
Or should I just be like everyone else seems to be, and not care about anything except my own needs and my own pleasure?
And if I do that, does it mean I can't say shit when someone eventually does it to me again?
And it burns, burns, burns(photo credit: "I see a woman's body in the flames" by Stephan Brauchli)
The ring of fire
The ring of fire.