But February made me
With every paper I delivered.
Bad news on the doorstep,
I couldn't take one more step.
I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed Bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
- Don McLean, American Pie
Part I. Watching it all slip away.
"Simon, can I talk to you upstairs for a second?"
It was late in the evening and Mariska had come home
after a night out with her friends from work. I picked myself up off the couch where Gerry
and I were watching yet another installment of World's Wildest Police Videos (a habit we
had found was yet another common thread) and followed her up to our bedroom. As I walked
through the door, she turned to face me and with both arms over my shoulders held my head
in her hands and kissed me with a passion that had been hidden for many a long night.
That's when I knew. There is only one thing that a kiss like that could mean. It was hot,
passionate, heavy with guilt and moist with the knowledge that it would be our last. She
told me what she had done, at least she admitted to a very small part of what she had
done. The months following revealed details of much greater indiscretion and disrespect,
but it had all started with a single act. She had been for dinner with him.
It isn't the act of sex that is the ultimate act of betrayal, in fact, sex itself is a long way down the road of indiscretion. The first act is the belief that what you have, what you are currently are involved with is not worth the risk you are about to take. Most would claim that "It's harmless" to have dinner with a guy who obviously likes you but "knows I have a boyfriend". It's not. Far from it, you see, guys are not in the habit of doing things without very specific objectives. Being the hunter type, it is necessary for us as men to pursue what we want regardless of any danger or consequence unless we have the decency, respect and integrity to behave like adults. This is, however, mostly not the case. Agreeing to have dinner or coffee or any social contact with a man who harbours an interest in you is leaving a crack in the door which will, in most cases be seen as an invitation. The question is, is it meant that way? I believe that subconsciously it is meant that way, that the woman wants the pursuit to continue since she is either not satisfied with her current state, or is interested in putting more than one car in the garage. This essentially is how the game starts. Picking up that thin thread of intent and allowing it to thicken with each turn of the spinning wheel until it is thick as rope, pulling you from your involvement is the way that women and men allow themselves to be taken from one another.
Now I am known for my extremism. It is a well known fact by anyone who knows mw and especially those who have dated me that I am proficient and ruthless at 'closing doors'. I have spent a great deal of my life protecting myself from scenarios as outlined above and have to admit that with my emotions on short chains, pulling and straining like bloodthirsty dogs I am able to control my life in ways that are to some, utterly unbelievable. All it took was practice. You see, despite the fact that (I think I am right in saying) I am a pretty damn good boyfriend in almost every aspect, I tend to manage to attract women of questionable integrity. There have been many scenarios like the one with Mariska, some tearful admissions at the time, some revelations long after the fact, but the bottom line is that I have had way, WAY more than my fair share of women who have cheated on me. At first I thought it was me, that I was a bad boyfriend and that they must be searching for something that I wasn't giving them. However, having been fortunate enough to know some pretty cool women in my past I have since found out that in fact it was nothing to do with anything that was lacking, but rather something else.
But what? That's the problem, they mostly don't know. Their conversations are filled with things like:
"I didn't mean for this to happen"
"I didn't want to hurt you"
"I didn't instigate it"
"It just happened, I don't know how"
"I was drunk/stoned/just not thinking"
"He took advantage of me"
Not only that, but they come up with lots of reasons why it was actually alright that they did what they did (not that they would admit that they did anything wrong) like:
"I was lonely, I hadn't seen you in XX days"
"I just wanted to know I was attractive to other men"
"I didn't know if we were still together..."
"It didn't mean anything"
"He's nobody, I don't even know him that well"
"If you had been there, it wouldn't have happened"
"I was confused and you weren't around"
By the way, ladies, all of the above will only guarantee that your man will feel a great deal worse about what happened than he already did. It would be vastly preferable to admit that you thought he was cute and wanted to have a quick snog.
Finally, the apologetic stage comes around and they will hit you with such gems as these:
"I was stupid, I should never have done it." (Duh!)
"I am an idiot, I feel awful."
"I am so sorry, I can't tell you how sorry I am."
"I am going to regret this forever, isn't that enough?"
"I can't believe that I was so stupid and now I have screwed everything up"
These are meant to instill a feeling of sympathy, however when they don't (and they shouldn't) you will run into the post script of the admission which is designed to regain what little dignity they have left and even try to turn the blame a little and make you feel bad for being angry.
"It's not like you never made a mistake"
"I can't take this, if you can't forgive me, maybe we should end it"
"You're making a big deal out of nothing, but if you are going to be mad then fine..."
"I can't believe you are going to throw everything away over this..."
"If you are going to make me feel bad about this forever then forget it!"
"It was your fault anyway, you shouldn't have gone away this weekend (or insert some other recent issue)"
Now this may seem a little lighthearted, but it is far from it. As I sat in the Jeep outside Jenny's house and listened to her talk, everything she said echoed in the voice of a different ex, the reasoning, the excuses, the apologies and the threats. But let's address our situation specifically and see what has happened here.
It is true to say that we were on a break. However, I was the one to instigate that break and therefore was the one who specifically outlined what I believed would be the healthy and most productive boundaries for us. The break was designed for me to move into my place, to have a little time to digest the very rapid path Jenny and I had taken into our relationship and for her to have time to be by herself to rediscover a little of herself and to recover at least a little from the relationship she had recently exited. I knew from the day I met her that she would need some time away to collect her thoughts and to escape the trap of defining herself in the context of being with someone. I hoped that this couple of weeks would give her that opportunity and that the person I would see after our time apart would be the strong, confident and amazing person I had seen brief glimpses of at the outset. It was made very clear, and by that I mean EXTREMELY clear that we were not breaking up. This was merely time apart from each other, not time away from our relationship and I was confident that my exhaustive explanation of this fact had been understood. Unfortunately, that was the point at which things started to go awry. She didn't believe me. She absolutely did not believe that what I was saying was true, and that there was some hidden agenda that I was following to my own ends. This is crucial in determining the motivation she had for kissing a guy when she was out with her friends on Friday night. She has claimed several times that she "didn't know if she had a boyfriend" over the last couple of weeks which says to me that she really didn't either understand what I had said which is unlikely, or that she simply thought I was lying. This in itself is a slap in the face to a certain degree, that no matter how hard I had tried, that my good intentions were being painted with the same brush as the intentions of others in her past. It would seem that even if we had been on a "broken up" break, if she had wanted for things to work out then she would not have been interested in being with other guys just as I would not and was not interested in being with other women.
I had hoped that our time apart would have helped us to emerge slightly different people, with a desire to be with one another and the bumpy ride of our start in the distant past. It would seem as though that dream is dead.
I know that regardless of what she did, that ultimately I will be saddled with the blame for ending this relationship. It will be because I was unwilling to forgive and forget, or unwilling to overlook this indiscretion in the context of the greater benefit but there are questions I must ask of myself whenever I am faced with an issue such as this and the answers will inevitably point me in the right direction.
Would I have done the same in her place?
What would I expect to happen if I had?
What kind of person would do this and are they the person you are looking for?
If this is an isolated incident, are there other things that point to a similar frame of mind?
If I let this slide, what kind of message does it send about my tolerance for infidelity?
If I move on, how much will this affect how I feel about this person?
Can I trust them and do I think that they do or will ever respect me?
How does this act weigh against the length and depth of our relationship to that point?
What has this taught me about their personality?
Do I still want to be with this person or is it time to move along?
Is it worth it?
I am no angel. I have had my share of screw-ups in the past, but I have also paid my fair share of consequences. In the end, I hope to be able to forgive those things that are indeed not relevant or damaging and to decide to walk away from situations that I consider hurtful or detrimental to my emotional being. I am certain that I will not always make the absolute right choice, but I am sure about one thing, that the decisions that I make for myself are decisions with which I am willing to live. As I serve consequences for others, I serve them also to myself since I will have to suffer the aftermath of my decision whatever it is. Do I understand what she did? Yes, I do. It has been over 10 years since I had a drink, one of the reasons being that my judgement was clouded by alcohol. Do I know how much she cares? I believe I do, but depth of feeling is easy to achieve with the right type of attraction. It is the skill in protecting and nurturing those feelings that are critical and in the care of those feelings we do whatever is necessary to prevent them from being hurt. It's easy to say "I care", but it is far more significant to show you care by living your life with respect for your emotions and the feelings of those for whom you claim to care.
"But we were on a break!!" Was Ross' indignant cry in explaining why he had sex with the Xerox girl. Each situation is different, but short of making a 3" x 5" card for her wallet, I don't think I could have made our situation any clearer. We were on a break, but we were under no circumstances broken up. I can imagine some people being amazed that Jenny would put up with such a request for a little time apart, and to them I say that she always had a choice and that a large part of my motivation for this time was so that I could be sure I was not simply stepping into shoes that were not yet cold. I guess my discomfort at the outset was a sign that things were not going to be easy, but I didn't think at the time that the uneasy feeling would follow me so far. All things considered, I know myself well enough to know that there is only one reasonable thing to do when someone is unfaithful to any degree. I have been down both roads, forgiveness and separation and they both have left me empty at times. But I do believe that for the most part, I have made the right decisions in my life, knowing as I get older, that nothing is ever carved in stone.
I do have one more thing to say, and that is that I am proud of Jenny for having told me what happened. I am firm in my conviction that honesty is the only way to live one's life and that even indiscretion should be admitted and dealt with. No matter what may happen I know that for myself, I am always proud to be able to say that no matter what I was honest about what I did. You may think that her honesty was rash or ill-conceived if indeed this relationship ends here, but let me tell you that I have a great deal of respect for what she did in telling me. Living under false pretenses or admitting somewhere down the line would have driven me to hate her, I know from experience that time only magnifies the damage an admission can do and if nothing else, I am proud she had the guts to do the right thing. It doesn't mean I have to agree with her though.
So as they used to say on that old English TV show, "It's make your mind up time!".
P.S. I think Ross was wrong, despite the English guy on the airplane telling Rachel she was at fault.
Part II. How to make someone look like an asshole in a single step.
I was recovering from the emotional outpouring when I was invited downtown to celebrate the promotion of my boss to Acting Director. "Great" thought I, "a nice relaxing evening with the co-workers and back in time to make the call I had promised at 10pm. We were already into the appetizers when my pager went off the first time. I left it for a few minutes to finish a couple of nachos when off it went again. Same number, my home fax and answering machine letting me know I had messaged waiting. I decided I should call right away since twice is usually an indicator of desperation of some magnitude. It was Jenny, first to tell me that she wanted to talk right away and that I should pick up the phone since I was obviously home. Second, to let me know that she was getting in a cab and coming to my house. This was not good, nor was it the first time she had pulled this stunt. Luckily, last time, I was home. This time, she was not about to get so lucky. I was downtown, having given 3 co-workers a ride down there and could not graciously leave and hope to get to my place in time. Besides anything else, I thought we had decided that we would talk at 10pm. That was the plan, regardless of any interim impulses. So I was screwed, and in no delicate manner. I tried her cell phone, assuming that she would have it with her, but nothing. A little while later, another page, a message telling me she was actually at my place and waiting. Minutes later, a text message presumably from an accomplice of sorts telling me to go home because Jenny was waiting outside. Again, I left the restaurant to make the call and again, nothing. Dead air. I tried twice from my cell, failed, tried again from a phone in the lobby but to no avail.
So now there is a woman on my doorstep, no phone call, no way of reaching her and her only assumption is that I am ignoring her. Once again, guess who gets to play the jerk. What the hell was I supposed to do? I was in a GOD DAMN restaurant!!!
Quite apart from making me feel like an absolute shit, making me feel guilty for making plans with my co-workers and making a complete balls-up of my night, she also probably managed to make herself feel a great deal worse than she did before.
This, I am afraid, is completely beyond me.
I am waiting for the phone to ring...