I have a relative with what I think is a very big problem. She says her husband has been cheating off & on throughout their marriage. He tells her “you’re making too much of this.” It makes me crazy. What are your thoughts? Is it ever OK? She is devastated & wants to end their very long union.
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Soon after I met Mr. Gefilte, we went to a pub and had a tough powwow over boxed wine and a game of Uno®. We were tiptoeing into that now-that-we’re-getting-serious-why-don’t-I-show-you-all-my-scars territory.
I mentioned my list of psychotropic medications and attraction to rabbis. He opened up about losing a favorite uncle and an ex who had broken him someplace deep inside—she had slept with one of his close friends.
I listened. I nodded. I ordered another glass of wine and threw out a wild card. I like to think I even bit my lip with concern, but to be honest, I don’t remember my reaction so much as his. Mr. Gefilte was staring at me solemnly. Telling me that he valued loyalty above everything else. He wanted me to promise I would never do something like that to him. Which was a noble and yet vulnerable request and when he paused to hear my response, you know what I did?
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I laughed in Mr. Gefilte’s face. Loudly.
“That would take so much organization and secrecy and I don’t even know how to do the privacy settings on my phone! I locked myself out of my apartment three times in just the past month. Would I have to wear a disguise?”
I kept rambling until I noticed Mr. Gefilte was putting down some cash on the bar and heading towards the door.
“Wait!” I yelped. “What I meant was, I would never do something like that. I could never do something like that. Please. You don’t have to worry about me cheating because I honestly don’t think I have it in me.”
Collateral, that was my first lie right there. Or at least a grand oversight.
You see, having studied the human condition for lo these past 2800 years (gefilte time is warp-speed) I have come to learn this:
Each of us is capable of deceit and betrayal.
Each of us is capable of great love and trust.
And every moment we have to choose which impulse to follow.
Here’s a brief history of the lies I’ve told just today:
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LIE #1: My daughter asked if it was time to get up, and I said it wasn’t morning yet.
LIE #2: I told several people that I had no more gum.
LIE #3: I ran into a dear friend and told her about a new writing group I’m in, which is not a replacement writing group for the one that she and I were in together before I quit. This new thing isn’t really a writing group at all, it’s more like an informal exchange of ideas where we comment via email and don’t really have any emphasis on grammar or narrative style, so no, it isn’t a writing group and I can’t remember what we were talking about before this can I get you a chai latte?
Here’s a good question from Lily Tomlin: If truth is beauty, how come no one has their hair done in the library?
Collateral, the truth is often ugly and scary. The truth is so obvious it can be insulting. The truth is always ready to be spoken, but we have to be brave enough to go that route. And when we choose to knot ourselves up in lies instead, I think it’s always because of grasping and fear.
I didn’t mean to lie to or hurt my friend, but I did. I didn’t want her to feel left out, and I didn’t want to admit I’d moved on and I got very busy trying to make everything pretty when it can’t always be pretty.
Now I don’t think what I did is the same severity as breaking marriage vows, but I do need to acknowledge how I betrayed someone very special to me. I apologized before sitting down to write this. I told her I was wrong, and I didn’t want to lose her as a friend or writing partner. And now the real work begins.
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So, back to your original question: Is it ever OK to cheat?
I’m going to go out on a gill here and say no.
However, I do know a lot of couples that have come back together after something like this because there was true repentance and a desire to earn that trust back. Sadly, it sounds like your relative’s husband has no intention to change his behavior or to admit his wrongs. He doesn’t want to do any of the trust-building or apologizing. And I bet he sucks at Uno®. Ergo, she must leave him if she wants to find truth.
There is a bright side to this story. After the divorce settlements and mix tape bonfires, the storage lockers and empty chairs, there is a sky clearer and wider than ever before.
I’ll leave you with this one from Mark Twain: If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.
Collateral, tell your relative I’m going to do my best to tell the truth from now on. And she needs to be true to herself and say goodbye.
Together let’s start here. Honestly.
With love and schmaltz,
Have a question for Gefilte? Send it to email@example.com, and you might just get an answer.