Friday, December 23, 2011

Does it matter if infidelity is physical?

I've had this article sitting here in draft mode for nearly a month now, a little tentative to try and finish it. I wasn't sure I could pull it off. Last month I watched a very good movie with one of my favorite actors. I won't say who, or what film, as I want to speak without fear of spoilers. But I do want to try to explain this. I just find it hard to make my point on it. It can be a very intense subject for many, especially for those who have experienced these kinds of things and they can tend to have a very visceral reaction to something like what I'm about to say. But I'll give it a good shot.

There is seminal scene in the film where something drastic happens. The protagonist's wife has just about had it with her husband. She loves him but he can be annoying. So she goes to visit their son at college. She simply needs some time, a week maybe, away from him.

During a phone call with his wife, he asks if he can come up and join them. But she turns him down, saying that it kind of defeats the purpose of her getting time away. Then he finds that the man she works for just happens to be in that same town and now they going about to go to lunch with him, so she needs to get off the phone. She is open about it, to suggest she sees nothing wrong with her actions, which is a little (a little) bit reassuring. She even points out that her husband was the one to have suggested the man go to that town for some business. It all seems rather innocent.

But that man happens to be someone who has been, at least in our protagonist's mind, a threat to him, just because he is so much more than him in many ways; he is handsome, he is clever, and his wife likes him and works for him. All mostly things that had made him uneasy from the moment he saw them first meet. Obviously he is pretty annoyed about all this. And she is annoyed with him about it, after all, she's not doing anything wrong, just lunch with a friend and coworker with their son there. She is firm and says there is nothing to worry about, that she will see him in a few days.

But, this rips his heart apart. He asks her to come home but she refuses, saying she loves him. So she goes  and supposedly has lunch. But he is devastated. He goes to his favorite bar to have a drink and drown his sorrows and missing his wife. While he is sitting there, having his drink, drinks, an attractive women next to him starts talking to him because she recognizes him. As it turns out, she used to work for him some time ago, on his soap opera type TV show. She has an obvious attraction, and after all, he's a guy, so he finds that attractive.

At this point, he believes, according to how he feels from what happened with his wife, that had she left for that town, where she just happens to find "the guy" who just "happens" to show up, all during a point in their life where she is unhappy with him and he is feeling very low. Because she left for a week for the soul purpose of being away from him, because she won't come home, because she was meeting with the one guy that seriously threatens his security in himself and his marriage, because she wouldn't cancel the lunch and run home to him right at that moment, he feels that his heart has been shredded in his chest.

He is feeling great pain, and partially because his wife is off with another man. He is intelligent, creative, and hurting, not a good combination; and his wife will not do anything to sooth his pain, to make it stop, to make it go away. So, she has in some way, seemingly abandoned him, and replaced him with another in order to feel good, to enjoy herself with; even if their son is there with them. And, after all, what about after lunch, or the next day, or night? Since there is some distance between himself and his son, would his son hide any indiscretions?

So he ends up on the floor at home, having sex with the girl from the bar. And he feels better afterward. He can make it through the rest of the day now. But after a little time passes, he starts to think about it. Having not used protection, he panics. By the next morning, he asks his friend and doctor to give him a test to find if he is infected with a social disease, and run it, really fast. You see, he realizes, now that he can breathe easy again, and has calmed down some, can be sane again, that he shouldn't have done what he did. It was wrong.

But he was just a little bit insane for a while and it took someone being intimate with him in the most intimate way possible, to show him he was worth the attention, in order to find his sanity again. Now this is not making excuses for his behavior, and he knew that; it's simply explaining the order of things and how it happened.

His wife then finally returns home, having stayed until the end of the week as she had said she would. As it turns out it was good for her, it was just what she needed. Once she gets home she is happy to see him again, she feels rejuvenated. She just needed to get away to clear her head, just like she had said. Nothing had happened with the man, after all; they were just friends, coworkers.

The phone rings and he says he has to take it. She wants him to hang up, for him to take her to bed. He is rather happy about this, but pretty panicky, but tries to be calm and simply says he has to take the phone call. So she tell him that she is going to the bedroom and he knows what will happen if he simply joins her.

He takes the call and finds out that no, he is clean, no STDs. He is so happy now, he can finally put this horrible mistake behind him and never do it again. After all he loves his wife and she is an incredible wife and person, and he just wants to forget what an idiot he was. This has reaffirmed his belief in life and his wife.

So he goes to her, just in time to see her setting down the phone, with a shocked look on her face. She apologizes, and has a good reason for having listened. But she didn't really hear anything, other than it was the doctor. She is concerned. Is he dying? She asks him to just tell her, whatever it is, just tell the truth.

Foolishly, and since he has been traumatized and is so happy to be back with his wife, he makes a very poor choice in judgement; he tells her the truth. Of course she is devastated. And sadly it ends their marriage. She can put up with anything, with his grumpy old character all these years but she cannot put up with this, he has broken a trust with her and she simply cannot get back to before. Ironically, she ends up with the coworker. So in a sense, he was right to have been worried except, she wouldn't have done anything, had he not ruined things.

But he has ruined things. But why?

She didn't have sex with the friend and coworker. But he acted like she had. It wasn't that he thought she did, he knew she hadn't, but he "felt" like she had. By her having left him, rejected him, even for that short time, leaving him vulnerable when he needed her most, by then rejecting him again when she refused to come home, or to allow him to come up to visit with her and their son; then rejecting him yet again in the most intense way at that moment by going to lunch, seeing that particular other man, by acknowledging that man over that of her husband, buy sharing her "wonderfulness" with another man, when she was so in the process of taking herself away from her husband; she had damaged him so badly by all that, that it was like he had experienced the situation of his wife having actually been adulterous with that other man and that man in particular.

It was at that moment on the phone with her, that he was experiencing that she had indeed been adulterous.
And he had acted accordingly. Not in a mature fashion, to be sure. But in a way to stop the pain and anguish. So that when he tells her the truth, that he was tested not for a life threatening condition, but for the possibility of having acquired a social disease by being adulterous in her absence; her reaction to him, as one of the cuckolded spouse, was almost mean spirited. Ironic, to say the least, that is from her husband's point of view.

Did he know this? No, he may not have recognized it at all and his argument at that time, was weak because he didn't understand himself all I have just explained. He too was at a loss as to how to explain why he did what he did. And it's not to say that he thought she had committed adultery and so it cancelled out what he had done. He knew something was wrong and so he got angry and argued back about it, about how she was off in another town with that man.

Of course, she asked if he thought that had any comparison to what he had done, and of course, he had to reply to the negative. Of course her having lunch, with their son there with them, in no way compared with his act of infidelity.

He knew he was in the wrong. He was devastated. He had ruined their marriage. But he was not fully culpable, was he. She did have a hand in his actions. She had lived with him for years, she knew him better than he knew himself. She knew how he saw things, even on the night they first met. But she would never see that now. Their marriage was over, and it was his fault.

You cannot claim that she was at fault, he was the one who acted on the actual, act. But she broke trust with him first. She didn't see it, because she was hurting, because she needed time to herself, she couldn't see that she needed to be there for him, that to leave him like that, was devastating to him, and was taking their marriage to a precipice where it could easily be knocked over and destroyed; and so it was.

Should she have stayed with him? Should she have come back when he asked on the phone? No, probably, most likely, not. That would have been the optimal thing, for him, and in the end, for their marriage. But she deserved her need for privacy, for alone time (and there is part of the problem, she was welcome to her "alone" time, but not with another man, especially, that man).

Of course she needed her time away, and no doubt, he needed her to return. Her going was probably actually good for their marriage. Maybe too, even her staying. But throwing that other guy into the mix was the toxic element to topple things over that edge.

The point here is this, sometimes, there is simply nothing to be done. You may very well both need what you both need and sometimes, only one of you can get what it is you need, for things to continue all well and good. But sometimes, if one of you can recognize that single element, that one thing you can do, that you may even not want to do, if you can find your way to move on that, you may just save the rest of your life, or at least, your marriage.

Sometimes undoubtedly, it is best that a marriage end. But many times, I think people give up too easily. It can take a while for a marriage to smooth out and get back on track. It is when the love is truly dead, when you are completely miserable and it will never go away; or even more so, if it becomes destructive, that it's truly the time to end it.

So, that was what I wanted to share. I just thought it was interesting, intriguing and bittersweet. It was a very moving part of the film and I found it both sad and enlightening. I've been through a few relationships, all of them interesting, all rewarding in some way. And all of them have had moments like the one I have described. Perhaps not so large and intense, as I've never gone out on someone like that, though I've had it done to me a couple of times. The first time it happened, it was devastating. But whether it has actually been done to you, or it only feels like it has been done, it can still be intensely painful.

If we can just see when these times happen and try to avoid doing those kinds of things to the ones we love and care deeply about, I think the world would simply have to be a better place. Even if just a little bit. Because sometimes, that's all it takes, a little bit of effort, to avoid a devastating life event.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with your last remark since I experienced something that completely devastated me not to mention totally knocking my self esteem into the dirt in the worst way. That was a number of years ago and that hurt and humiliation is still with me today. I am a romantic and believe there is nothing that real love can't fix so maybe I'm a bit daft. I think the guy in the story used everything he could think of to justify his behaviour. Had I been in his place I would have fully explained *everything* I felt so my spouse might completely understand what I felt... how scared and veunerable I felt... again, that is just me