Ugh. I didn’t want to dedicate any more of my blog energy to this story. But I’m only lying to myself by pretending I’m not dedicating any more of my actual energy to this story, so here we go. Forgive me if my thoughts are a bit scattered – they aren’t quite clear to me either.
I’ve been trying to get some quality time in with this cheating, lying friend of mine. (And yes, I suspect he’s lying to me too.) At first, I was resolved not to side with him in any way, shape, or form – my own cheating and lying days being behind me, why would I? But I found I couldn’t let go of the feeling that I can really help him, by offering him the wisdom of my experience:
“Advice is a form of nostalgia; dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth,” explains that sunscreen song I used to listen to in high school.*
There’s a part of me that truly believes that if I can help this guy, who finds himself in the same situation I was once in, to do better than I did, then I will be redeemed for my past actions; I will have paid it forward.
There’s another part of me that wants to join in the mob mentality currently being exhibited by most people we work with: I want to hate him for cheating, denounce him for lying, and make his (and his new girl’s) life a living hell. It is, after all, what was done to me and Doug when we were the scandale du jour a few years ago. Thus far, I have resisted the urges to join the mob. Instead, about a week ago, I sent the subject of this more recent scandal a quick email:
I don’t know if you knew I was married once, but suffice it to say that I was married when I met Doug. I’ve done what you did and I’ve been where you are – give or take a few details.
He answered me to say how much he appreciated my reaching out, and how nice it was to hear that someone else had been through the same thing. We talked about it a bit more at work, briefly, in hurried whispers, and agreed to get together soon. Tonight, actually – but then he “forgot” and made other plans. It’s this kind of behavior that makes me want to slap him, because it’s this kind of behavior that makes me want to go back in time and slap myself.
When Doug and I first got together, we pretended to be careful about who did and didn’t know it. Which basically just meant we were super obvious about our relationship, and yet we denied it to everyone, including friends/coworkers/supervisors who wanted to help us – and unfortunately, as I’m learning, it’s impossible to help someone who is lying to you.
I also made myself impossible to get ahold of. I didn’t answer my phone, and I didn’t return the calls I’d purposefully missed. If my friends wanted to talk to me, they pretty much had to track me down at the house I was staying at. I refused to talk to my family.
I was unhappy, but I hardly knew it. I was so wrapped up in and thrilled with my new relationship, I didn’t care about anyone or anything else – which is the only way I survived the blacklisting imposed on me at work. I became so self-righteous, not realizing what all these people had to dislike in me, that I concluded they were all hateful people and, instead of feeling hurt or left out or treated unfairly (those feelings would come later), I just got angry and spiteful. They were nothing to me anyway – not like my real friends, all of whom I was willfully ignoring.
And now I am watching this guy exhibit the same behaviors I did, and I am watching our coworkers talk about him the way my ex-coworkers must have been talking about me. No one has been outright mean to him – not yet, not that I know of – but I sense that it’s getting there. And since it’s pretty difficult to stop an angry mob, I want to get in to his head and stop him from doing the same things I did. And of course, because he is doing the same things I did, he’s having next-to-none of it.
Because of my perceived connection to it, this whole situation has been affecting me way too much. (“You need to know when to put up a wall,” a friend told me the other night. “You gotta be able to not fully consume yourself in others… regardless of how close you are.”) When I actually see this guy, I want to hug him and teach him and mother him. When he’s not around, and I hear what’s being said about him, I want to punch him for being such an idiot. And then, as per the usual, I turn on myself, and my own past idiocy.
“It reminds me of that book,” my therapist keeps telling me when I talk about the mob scene at work, and the blacklisting, and the guilt, and the lies. She means The Scarlet Letter. We then talk about how Hester Prynne is the protagonist of that book – perhaps the only likeable character – and yet she is the one being outcast by society. We’ve had this conversation multiple times now – at least twice.**
Cheating makes people nervous, because we are all capable of it. When we learn of someone cheating, we either realize that it’s possible that, in the right set of circumstances, we could cheat one day too (and trust me, I never thought I could), or we fear that our partners, no matter how steadfast and loyal, could one day cheat on us. We could be totally blindsided – and aren’t most victims of cheating? Despite what we may want to think to protect ourselves, not every cheater is a scoundrel; not every mistress is a whore. And the expression, “Once a cheater, always a cheater,” is a gross overexaggeration and a dirty lie. It is possible for good, honest people to do bad, dishonest things.
*Thanks for the mix CDs, Kate, and for putting that song on one of them – I’d forgotten how good some of that guy’s advice really is.
**Last Tuesday, as we were having this conversation, it occurred to me that Hawthorne’s ability to make a “bad” person into a heroine is a mark of really good writing. And it also occurred to me that the storyline of The Scarlet Letter is due to be modernized, and that I might be a qualified candidate to write that book. Good idea/bad idea?