The first thing I did besides throw up when I learned The Player was having an affair was call my best friend. I walked outside because it was early and a school day and I didn’t want the kids to wake up, fearing I already had from my vomiting and wailing.
“What’s wrong?” she asked as soon as she picked up the, knowing I would only call that early if there was an emergency. “The Player is having an affair,” I said. She could only keep saying, “No. No. Oh no…” I was doubled over because I was still sick to my stomach. She recommended I call another friend who also had a husband who cheated and even though it was so obvious, I couldn’t see it.
Beyond the soul-crushing hurt in those first few weeks and even months, there’s a soul-crushing shame attached to everything we feel as a betrayed spouse. What could I have done differently? Was it my fault? Betrayed people have the notion that we must have done something or not done something in order for this to happen. We think that about our situation because we’ve thought that about others who’ve been cheated on. Maybe not in the direct sense, but you know we’ve thought, “I wonder what was wrong with that marriage for there to be cheating.”
The thing is, within a couple of days, The Player told me it was basically my fault. He said he wasn’t happy because of my weight, because I talked about my kids too much and because we didn’t do anything – like a hobby – together. It wasn’t hard to make the leap from, “What the unbelievable fuck just happened?” to “It must be me.”
It’s worthy of mentioning here we did not have a horrible marriage. In fact, it was a great one. He and everyone around us would tell you it was a great marriage and I was a great wife. Supportive (supported his career changes and job changes), sexual (in 20+ years of marriage I never turned him down and in fact pursued more sex heavily in the last several years), joyful, traditional and faithful. I will also tell you I was even a happy person, creating a place of happiness and warmth in our home. We had all of that even in the face of some tragic circumstances in our marriage. Of course, as is the case with most cheaters, their behavior is about them, not the person they cheat on. It wasn’t what was lacking in me (thinness, mothering skills, not wanting new adventures), it was what lacking in him. Which I often say, is morals, character and self-worth. Even when I knew it was his issue, I still carried the shame.
As the story of his grew and I learned more, the shame grew.
Ground Zero Whore Affair. (“Didn’t mean anything. It’s over.”)
One Night Stand Seven Years Prior. (“I was drunk, it just happened.”)
Ground Zero Whore Affair. (“No, it’s really over now, I just needed to do it my way.”)
Ground Zero Whore Affair. (“It’s REALLY. REALLY over now, because I want to work it out with you.”)
Different Whore Evidence. (“We’re just friends. You’ll see when you meet her, she’s that way with everyone.”)
My “Must Be More” Stance. (“I just want to tell you everything. Come clean. Once and for all.”)
You Did This When? Where? (“I wasn’t thinking of you at all. I blocked you out of my mind.”)
Wait? You love me? (“I do love you. I never wanted to leave the marriage. I just did some bad things.”)
“You are what you do.” (Silence. No comeback from The Player.)
Are You Fucking Kidding Me, You Asshole? (“I hope by telling you everything I can slowly start to repair our relationship and if I can’t, I hope we can co-parent well together.”)
It went something like that and with each piece of knowledge of how he betrayed me the shame piled on. One whore? Five whores? More? Someone I know and consider a friend? In our vacation home? Okay, then.
Played a fool? Check!
I’m not sure when it happened, actually. Months later as I told my mother and father? Or my sister? Or a friend who is a counselor? Somewhere along the way, the more people who knew and knew me, knew it wasn’t my shame to hold. They stood with me in the belief that it was his problem and his problem to solve and the shame started to subside.
It’s been hard to let it go completely and creeps back in every once in a while when I focus on a detail of any of the affairs. The latest detail that is consuming me is that The Player never took off his wedding ring. His hand that I held over two decades ago and placed a ring on is the same one that touched the whores’ breasts and faces and vaginas and hips. The same hand with the ring that I held and talked about my undying and abiding love. How the circle of the ring was a symbol of those feelings and commitment. They were only of my commitment and undying love, apparently, and a promise I kept. Hence the reason I don’t wear the ring he gave me. Locked away. To help keep people to shut the fuck up, I wear a ring that symbolizes someone special’s love for me that passes for a wedding band.
The shame wrapped around the belief that I had anything to do with his behavior over the two decades is ridiculous and I refuse to carry that for him.
His brokenness. His choices. His shame.