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Can I trust a cheating wife?

Dear Cary,

I met my girlfriend almost three years ago. She was married at the time. Things started casually. We flirted and maybe behaved inappropriately when no one was looking. Our flirting progressed, some playful touching and sometimes she’d teasingly pull her dress up a bit for a second or push her cleavage together for a quick tease. Eventually we began exchanging sexual text messages and pictures.

I knew that she had a husband and that what we were doing was wrong, but I justified it to myself by saying that nothing was really happening. It was all just flirting and having fun, nothing more. After she snuck to my house one day and things became physical for the first time, it became a full-blown affair.

I thought of her as my girlfriend and tried my best to just ignore the fact that she was married. It went on for nearly a year before her husband discovered what was going on, and immediately demanded a divorce and kicked her out of their home.

The stone stairway leading up to the bedrooms of le Château du Pin

The stone stairway leading up to the bedrooms of le Château du Pin

We have been living together and officially been in a relationship ever since and I truly care for and love her. We talk about our future and plan and dream about our life together. But my problem is that I don’t trust her. Every time she leaves the house I am nearly overcome with anxiety. I think about how we began, how she would meet me and smirk about the lie that she told her husband as she left her house. I see her phone and think of the secret messages between us. She says hello to a male friend of hers and I think about how we used to share a polite smile in public then have our mouths on each other in private.

I feel guilty. She vents to me about how people look at her and how her family judges her ever since her infidelity was exposed. They all really loved her husband. She hates that they hold it against her and I was ashamed to realize that I am no different from them. I hold it against her every day and I desperately want to stop. I want to be able to trust her and feel secure and comfortable when thinking about a future with her. How can I get past this?

Guilty Lover

Dear Guilty Lover,

I love this story and want to write about it honestly and not judgmentally even though it might sound judgmental anyway, like when somebody kills somebody and you call it murder but you’re not being judgmental, just kind of literal. I mean, literally, you were acting in a delusional state. Not in a bad way necessarily. Just in a delusional way. As in: pretending that stuff is not happening when it actually is happening.

You had to pretend because otherwise you would have to stop doing this thing that you were enjoying very much. You could have just admitted what you were doing and that it conflicted with your belief system, but you chose to keep your belief system intact and instead deny reality. That just blows my mind, but it’s very common and it is, I think, the key to a great many tragedies and mysteries of the human condition. We would rather sacrifice reality to save our belief systems. So rather than question your belief system, you split yourself in two: the person doing the act, and the person characterizing it.

Wonderful.

But delusional.

Hey. I’m not trying to be mean. Nor do I place myself above you. I have been delusional and acted in delusional ways, and trained professionals have called me all kinds of names. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just helpful to know what it is. It’s delusional.

In other contexts, such a delusional approach to reality might make you a super-dangerous and weird dude. But I think you know what you are doing because you feel anxiety. The anxiety you feel is the result of your attempting not to remain conscious of, nor to feel, what you actually do know and feel. The truth is, you are afraid that she will leave you. This is a rational fear based on observation. So you are smart to face it.

The curtain bed in an alcove of the "green room" at le Château du Pin

The curtain bed in an alcove of the “green room” at le Château du Pin

If she cheats on you, that’s normal for her. It’s what she does. So expect it.

Which leads us to the philosophical-inquiry part. And also the part about sexual freedom and gender relations and power. Because here is the other thing that gets me: Under what law or charter or agreement, when her husband found out she was having sex with you, did he have the right to throw her out of the house? Was that something they had agreed on when they got married? Like did she sign something that said if she cheated on him he could throw her out of the house? Or was that just common folk custom, to make the wife homeless if she was sexually unfaithful? And, further, as if she were chattel, was it then your responsibility to house her? Is it like the last man who fucked her now has to house her? What is going on here in the realm of gender roles and power? This is pertinent because housing is such a basic human need, and ought not rest perilously on the vagaries of human sexual conduct.

Granted that apparently this husband has the right to render his wife homeless, where do this husband’s powers end? Could he throw you out of your house, too, for conspiring with her? Could he throw everyone out of their houses? Could he throw me out of my house because she cheated on him?

OK, I know that is stretching it. We’re just asking, in a legalistic way, where his powers of throwing people out of their houses end.

I know people just do things. But it is instructive to inquire into the unspoken rules that govern the things people just do.

So here is an idea. Instead of throwing her out of your house if she cheats on you, why don’t you throw out this antiquated notion that when a woman has sex with a man other than the man she is living with he has to throw her out of the house and file legal action? Speaking of which: Legal action because of fucking? The power of the state because of fucking? Why involve the power of the state? The state, in general, is a terrible thing, brutal and ugly. Why involve it in sex?

Instead, why don’t you and she make an agreement? Why don’t you make an agreement that if she fools around once in a while it’s no big deal. Is that possible? Why not? Obviously, it’s something she does. What do you plan to do when she cheats on you? Is your purpose in life to uphold some abstract law that you and she haven’t even totally consciously agreed upon but just let hover in the air between you like an ancient sacrament?

I understand that you are anxious, and I feel for you. But I think you are anxious because you cannot accept the reality of your situation. You have put yourself in situation that is deeply conflictual. Your belief system says that cheating is bad, but your actions say, Hey, who cares? I like her! You are going to have to reconcile your belief system with your situation somehow, either by ending the relationship or expanding your belief system to accommodate what for her is fairly normal behavior. My opinion: It’s easier to change your belief system than it is to change another person’s behavior.

Of course, you are free to tell me I’m crazy for even suggesting that you accept her exactly as she is and let things happen as they are going to happen. It isn’t what most people would say. And, having thought about it, you may reach a different conclusion. You may decide that it’s your belief system that has to stay, and the girlfriend who has to go.

I’m just suggesting that you ask hard, penetrating questions in order to determine what is your own bottom line.

You are two adults, presumably capable of free, conscious choice. You can talk about it and work it out. It doesn’t have to be a big drama full of people throwing each other out of houses and filing legal papers.