“Cheater” Club

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I strongly believe I inherited the cheating gene from my dad. I have used this excuse more than once when I should have just taken accountability for fucking up royally. Cheating, in the cardinal hierarchy of human behavior, is considered a bad thing. I’m talking infidelity cheating, specifically, although tax abatement and stealing the SATs are two other examples.

A lot of hype surrounded Beyonce’s release of her visual album, Lemonade. Speculations suggest this is Beyonce’s response to Jay-Z cheating on her. She forgave him, but told the world about it, while looking gorgeous. For her, forgiveness was power. It was her choice and it is not for any of us to judge or stamp with approval.

Infidelity is a tornado, from a dark cloud, a rotating funnel touches the ground and destroys anything in its path. They say you can never imagine what it would be like until you’re in it.

“What would you do if your husband cheated on you?” is one of those sick things women hypothesize on, riling themselves up for no reason. It feels similar to the “What would you do if you accidentally got pregnant?” question. We take ourselves to a headspace of extremes, trying to predict how we would behave, readying ourselves with action plans should the catastrophe ever arise. But we can no better predict our responses to imaginary stimuli anymore than we can predict the lottery numbers.

On Monday morning on Z100, Charlemagne, a radio personality, said, “Women, if you want to be strong like Beyonce, forgive your man!” Asked if women should equally be forgiven when they cheat, and he said, “Hell no! Women are smarter than men; they should know better!.”

Choosing NOT to forgive can also be empowering. If you know yourself to be the kind of person who can genuinely forgive and forget, without any doubt, entirely trusting, from here on out, sure, forgive and forget. But, you can’t just say you will forgive and remind him endlessly, nervously check cell phones, emails, Facebook accounts, credit card bills. This is not powerful forgiveness. This sets you up for a lifetime of focusing on doubt, fear, and resentment. It is easier to admit you will not forgive. We have to know our own truths.

I don’t think I could forgive a cheater because I tend to believe “once a cheater, always a cheater.” I say this, even as I am a recovering cheater.

My father cheated on my mother (and our family) twice. The first time I was part of the team who apprehended him. I ran home telling my mother I saw my father’s red pickup truck in front of her house on Klondike Ave. She ran the three blocks to catch my father in the midst of some disgusting act I have been grateful she never elaborated on. This was in 1988 and her shattered heart and consequently, broken life has never repaired. But she told him she forgave him and she allowed him to stay. She wanted to keep the family together; I was 14 and my sister was 8.

She may have said she forgave him, but she never forgot. Every minute late, every call unanswered, any misspoken word or misstep and she was back at the side door on the house on Klondike, imagining her husband fucking another woman. Another woman, incidentally, who worked for my father. Another woman, who my mother let stay in our house for two weeks, sleeping on our beige corduroy couches in our wood-paneled basement. I remember my mother had me bring her a bowl of grapes.

My father cheated again ten years later. After he emerged from a silent depression, he took advantage of a business opportunity in Russia, and while he was there, he met his second wife, 30 years his junior. He continued this affair for two years while my mother supported him, until the divorce he initiated was finalized and he was able to bring his bride-to-be to America.

There are all kinds of daddy issue theories based on seeing your “first man” cheat on your mom. My fear of infidelity led to a pattern of dating men and cheating on them first because I figured ultimately it was a matter of time before they did it to me. I think this was my way of keeping up a permanently invisible wall of distrust veiled as protection.

When I first discovered my father’s infidelity, I wasn’t angry with him as most people would have expected a 14-year-old who caught her father cheating would be. Instead, I romanticized his actions, on the wake of too many 1980s romantic comedies, and told him, “I want you to be happy. If she makes you happy, and you are in love, I understand.” I remember this conversation keenly, as I was wearing my oversized stained Camp Beverly Hills sweatshirt and eating a plate of sunnyside-up eggs.

I was a daddy’s girl all of my life, from him giving me a blood transfusion when I was a sickly infant to a teenager who worked alongside him for six years in the family donut shop, he was always my preferred parent confidante. I always forgave him; for indiscrepancies towards my mother, or towards our family. For when he chose himself over everyone else, I understood his lifelong resentment for selfless choices and appreciated how it led him to his decisions. I didn’t want to see him as flawed and maybe it’s because I saw so much of myself in him.

As I write this it occurs to me Beyonce may have similar feelings about Jay-Z, and it’s just her turn to love him, flaws and all.

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2 thoughts on ““Cheater” Club

  1. Oh dear – it’s a gene? We’re all screwed. Literally! I think the only rule when it comes to infidelity is that there are no rules because it’s impossible to know how it will feel, or how to manage baggage, or what people will do to keep families together. The only rule should be don’t judge unless you’re in it. Great post.

  2. Yeah, can you believe it? There is complicated science that can help us defend how we turn into our parents’ worst flaws. Great, right? Lucky for me, I stay away from the booze otherwise I’d be a real hot mess!

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