This weekend was emblematic of my relationships with friends that span chapters and in some cases, decades of my life.
“Is the show going to make me cry,” my friend asked, as we walked to get dinner before we joined my friend and her husband for the Accidental Curator at the Steppenwolf Saturday. I laughed at loud at the thought of him crying. His masculinity is a dominant feature. I was taken aback by the question, my teeth chattered from the frigid fucking cold, and before I could respond, he alluded to how being out with a cry-baby would hurt my reputation. “Come on Craven, your the tough former reporter, you can’t be seen with someone who cries in the theater.”
He was right to an extent. Twenty-five years ago, an editor described me as a pit bull, prior to that another said I was full of piss an vinegar, green reporters thought I was a bitch, and I probably believed I was a bitch, too. I am not that tough anymore. Though I might be a bit hardened, I am pretty transparent.
“So what’s my role here tonight,” he asked when we sat down to dinner, just steps away from the theater. “I’m cover so you don’t have to talk about your ex and the divorce?”
Shit, he nailed it again.
“Yes, I said. That’s exactly it.”
“You ok with that?”
He said he was.
Phew. He was game. And I was grateful for the honesty.
The weekend’s conversations focused on relationships, and each morning and night we honed in on cheating and lies. On Friday, with my friend Marianne, our conversation circled around the intimacies, fears, desires, and needs of men. We went from why men are dishonest, dominant, and how can we find one who wants what we do? Lies, passive-aggressive behavior, dishonest and disingenuine behavior were topics that swirled in our heads and rolled off our tongues. Always coming back to the question, why lie?
Saturday morning with Maggie, who’s getting married in two months, the topic centered around friends and lies. When I hear “cheating spouse” I automatically equate that it with the husband. But our conversation was around the wife. Changing the character, the cheater, the infidel, made it even more offensive. The reality that one of us, our gender, a mother too, would cheat and lie. It was beyond the imagination. It’s so icky. Why cheat?
Later that morning, I visited my parents, and we also discussed relationships. We recalled a friend’s first marriage. Her spouse racked up tens of thousands in bills for phone sex. That relationship came up again at dinner that night with my friend, who sat in disbelief at that great amount of debt that was incurred by those actions, which prompted me to explain it happened in the 1990s. The emotional toll was as great and as toxic as a full out affair. Why lie and cheat?
The Accidental Curator at the Steppenwolf was all about relationships, in this case, it was family. The story and the success of the show were contingent on the actress’s ability to quickly build a rapport with the audience. To build trust. She shared her family’s history, including perceived infidelities, accomplishments and joys many never shared for publicly fear of repression. Why keep it a secret?
Public or secreted, lies corrode the fabric of any relationship. For me, I am most offended when those actions occur in a committed relationship. I had coffee with a friend late Sunday afternoon, after seeing Molly’s Game, a movie all about the secrets and lies of relationships. I shared a story of a friend whose partner cheated and lied during their relationship and now continues to reappear in his life. It is painful to watch. Why not let bygones be bygones?
Last night, my high school girlfriends and I had dinner. Our annual gathering prompted by the visit of our friend, Mary, who lives in Washington, D.C. It’s humbling that we are now of the age when we share deaths of parents, friends, and stories of troubled children and marriages. I was the only one in the group who is single. The second one to be married twice. The only one to be divorced twice.
Infidelity got stuck at the forefront of the conversation. One friend said, unequivocally that her marriage would be over if she ever learned that her husband cheated. Others nodded, some said maybe, or each situation is different, and then it moved to if I kept him I’d want to know everything. All of us wondered why? How could someone do that to someone he or she loved?
Initially, I didn’t express an opinion because I have no one who I can cheat on, no one to throw out. Eventually, I shared that I learned after I left my first husband that he cheated on me, possibly many times. I was living in Portland, Maine by then. I still don’t know if it was true, and I never cared. It seemed out of character, but if drugs and alcohol were in the mix, it was possible. I didn’t pursue validation. I was already hurt, and at the point learning the truth would have thrown salt on a fresh wound. Why hurt more?
I think in the end, it depends on how sound the foundation of the marriage is when the offense occurs. Forgiveness is predicated on some soundness remaining. At the end of the day, we lie, cheat, and steal in overt and quiet ways. By withholding sex, touch, affirmation, affection, we chip away at the intimacy in our relationships. By lusting for others, wishing our partner was prettier, more handsome, thinner, more muscular, wittier, less serious, with every thought we cheat on them by not honoring their wholeness and accepting who they are.
Trust precludes love. When actions like lies and adultery occur, the foundation of that love is forever compromised. In my experience, being a complicit spouse is the equivalent of aiding and abetting the crime. I wrote the other day about my dad speaking of hills and valleys in a marriage. This morning after this weekend of enjoying my relationships with new and old friends alike, I reflected on my own marriages. In both, we were stuck in valleys, selfish in our own right, absent trust in the other, we lacked the collective strength to reach the hill. Repeated injuries, scars perpetually unhealed, ended with the loss of empathy that corroded the trust in each marriage; eventually rendered empty of love.
Love: when it’s good, it’s good, and when it’s bad, it’s bad, and when it’s gone it’s gone. Sometimes it goes through all cycles and never dies. Funny thing about last night is the evening is that after all the questions and talk of how we manage to destroy love there was a unanimous plea for love. My friends want me to get back together with my first love.
“You know who I always thought you would get back together with?” one friend asked me.
Before I could respond she said, “Paul.”
I smiled. We all smiled. The other three agreed. In unison, oh yeh, he was my favorite, too. They went on and on, and I told the story of my regret, and how I just found pictures and a letter of and from him, and yes, I admitted I had thought of him, both recently, and often.
The same friend who queued up Paul as the topic said, “He just seemed like such a good guy, he never hurt you, Karen.” I nodded, and said, “No, he never hurt me, but I did him.”
I didn’t marry Paul. Yet, I truly loved him. His love scared me, it was so good. I cheated on him, with his friend, no less. I ran from him because I thought I was too young to marry. I once told him that I needed to end it because I wanted to live life without regret. He never left my heart. I selfishly always thought he would be my safety net. Why hold on to that?
This morning, the question for me is this: is my lie, my denial of my love for him, forgivable? Or did my actions irreparably fracture that relationship? My answer? I don’t know. It takes two people to answer that. So, second and final question: Should I find out or let bygones be bygones?