I don’t believe that once a cheater, always a cheater. That specific aphorism is a bitter, moralizing form of self-deception. We all are cheaters; none of us is invulnerable to temptation. What defines a person is not whether they are faithless. It is a simple, easy thing to impulsively take that which you want. No, what defines a person is whether they chose to stay faithful. That is difficult, and that active decision, that vigilance, is the steep price love demands.
Pay the price and you’ll get your reward: quiet joys, partial insulation from life’s inevitable scrapes and bruises, immortality. Your life will be lived twice. Come up short, and eventually, you’ll know what it’s like to sit at the bottom of a cold, black, silent ocean totally indifferent to your loneliness. “Happily ever after” is bulls**t – that’s just the beginning of a long trip with a lot of hairpin turns.
I will also, for the zillionth time, defend my gender on one specific point: if women were not cheaters, country music would not exist. At the darkened ends of dive bars lit only by the glow of jukeboxes, sit men hunched over beers, stunned by heartbreak, lamenting the ones that done them wrong. And we’ve been done wrong, as surely as women have. If all of this were easy, if we were truly entitled to perfect love, it would have no value. No one deserves anything good in life. Sorry. It must be earned. To the victor go the spoils.
Usually, when asked what qualifies me to write about sex and relationships, I joke that those who can, do. Those who can’t, write twee little love columns on the web. Ha, ha, ha. OMG it’s true. It seems there is only one way to get it right when it comes to relationships – and that one way is always specific to the couple who met at the right time, with open-hearts, and armpits pumping out misty clouds of barely perceptible, genital-swelling pheromones. But there are ten thousand ways to get it wrong, and I am familiar with at least nine thousand nine-hundred and ninety-nine of them. Yes, I’m single.
I should probably confess something to all of you, and I realize admitting what I feel I have to admit, in the context of a website dedicated to all things womanly, is kind of like swimming in piranha infested waters wearing pork chop swimming trunks. I have cheated on women and been cheated on by women. I know what it’s like to intercept e-mails, to wonder where she is, to stumble into a party and see her making out with that ex she swore she was over. I am familiar with the pain. It’s termites squirming and munching inside your heart, it’s vomiting up every meal you’ve ever eaten, it’s ears on fire and throats full of fishhooks. Then there’s the pleading. I don’t like to think about that much. Not because I was pathetic, on my knees, sodden with snot and tears. But because it didn’t work.
And, unfortunately, I know what it’s like to smoke the crack pipe of infidelity. It’s all secret meetings, whispered promises, stolen moments, and forbidden sex in the backseats of cars, in stairwells with hands covering mouths, fumbling with belt buckles, lifting skirts. The unspeakable truth about cheating is that it is thrilling; it can seem like being saved from drowning, a hit of adrenaline that shocks the body into near narcotic dependence. Then there’s the crash. I know I wrote that no one deserves anything. That’s not entirely true, I suppose. I deserved to sit at that bar, our favorite spot from years before, and watch her walk in with a man whose hand had found that spot on her back that triggered warm smirks. He stared at her unblinkingly, as if she’d disappear while his eyeballs hid behind their lids. They were engaged, and I was a ghost. And like most ghosts, I walked out the front door because they could not see me. That affair, that burned so brightly, was just ash by then. Seems you can’t warm your bones with fireworks
We cheat out of supreme, short-sighted selfishness, or because the relationship is broken. Or both. And in the end, it all hurts. The English poet Maureen Duffy wrote, “The pain of love is the pain of being alive. It is a perpetual wound.” I’m pretty sure she ripped that off of seminal
’80s hair rock legends Def Leppard, who sang how love hurts. Or maybe it’s vice versa. I will get back to you on that. The point is: so much of life is about loving and losing that love. Your parents die, your youth fades, your children grow up and move away, and til death do you part. This is not depressing. This is beautiful. This is why making the choice to love fully, in the moment, faithfully, is the measure of a life well lived. I hope I can make that choice again, if not, tough crapola for moi. In the meantime, that ache? That instant pain of betrayal, or the creeping, cancerous pain of betraying? Hey, congratulations on being alive.