It's been on my mind a lot these last few months. Not least because I myself contemplated it, even if only in thought. Some close friends went through hell thinking that their husbands were in other relationships. Close relatives have been affected.
So, as you can imagine, I've been thinking a lot about it. I used to be the kind of girl who had major trust issues; if I felt betrayed then I wanted nothing to do with the people concerned any more. If, six months ago, you had asked me what I would do if Vicky cheated on me (even if only in thought) I probably wouldn't have even paused for thought before exclaiming that I'd consider the marriage over.
Now though I'm starting to see the finer shades of gray. It's not just about whether your partner cheated on you or didn't. How do you define cheated? Slept with someone else? Had intimate conversations with them? How do you define intimate? Did they only just think of somebody in a way you'd rather they wouldn't? Where are you, yes, you, drawing the line between what you have the right to object to and what you don't? Does your spouse agree to that demarcation? It's all very difficult to pin down, isn't it?
It seems a poor life to me if you can't lust after the odd non-spouse now and then. Especially when I consider how little these men mean to me before and after. Perhaps for a period of time -- and always when the going is rocky at home -- I may consider closer relationships with a man I know but he never displaces Vicky. It's part of the bigger way of life as I live it. I fly away, roam free, and come home to him, and I married him precisely so I could do this. The flying makes no sense without a home to come to and a home makes no sense without a Vicky waiting for me. I'm not trying to justify a fling here, you understand, because I haven't had one. But I can understand the misery and loneliness that would have you looking elsewhere for companionship. And I also know quite well just what I would be giving up if I were to cross the line. Thus far even though it's been tempting now and then, it's never been quite tempting enough. (Also, quite frankly, if you consider that I'm mostly in this frame of mind when I'm angry with the husband, saddling myself with yet another male isn't high on my list of priorities.)
But I also hold that if blame is to be apportioned, it falls equally upon both the parties who indulged themselves. It's not for either to say that the other led them on or tempted them or something that stupid. Two people went ahead, knowing all the while that they were in the wrong. So I blame both. A person may follow you but you can always say no, I think. Since school I've seen male friends try to justify letting girls dangle after them by saying that they (the guys) were helpless. I've never bought that. If I can ensure that an unwanted follower gets the message why can't they? So yeah, it's your fault too if you can't say no.
But then what? Life doesn't stop there and neither does the average marriage. How do you move on? I'm learning that it's not all about betrayed trust and packing of suitcases and contacting lawyers. It's about facing your own lack of commitment to your marriage that would have your partner looking elsewhere, or your own lack of belief in your relationship that would have your partner thinking that she has nothing much to lose. And it's about all those concerns you shared till now and how well you two really do know each other even when you think you don't. It's about going beyond the surface hurt and shame to reaching out to your partner in the time they need you the most. In lesser cases it's about trying to work out why you no longer feel secure in your marriage.
Six months ago I'd have deleted that last paragraph in disgust, but now I hope I know better. I have always prided myself on being able to tell my husband everything. When I told him about my mixed up thoughts, it was extremely difficult to get the words out but it helped that he heard me out, that he knew me well enough to understand that it was less about another man than it was about him and me moving away from each other. And since then I've seen other husbands and wives reach out to one another. It's said that you need to lose something or think that you've lost it, to truly value it. Well, in all these marriages, nobody lost each other but some came close. And I cannot help but appreciate the grace with which the 'wronged' spouse in every case behaved. From Vicky holding me while I 'fessed, to a wife understanding that a handful of indiscreet SMSes are not the end of the marriage while another wife tried to make up for the attention she hadn't given her husband and thus felt cut adrift from his inner thoughts, to a husband looking beyond his own humiliation to understand why a dearly beloved wife would start walking away -- all of these are real lessons. They teach me that it's not all about instant decisions and snap judgments. It's also about the 'cheating' spouse getting beyond the guilt and resentment and meeting their partner halfway.
Understand, I'm not talking of actual episodes of infidelity; I'm only talking of relationships which have had close calls of late. I have no patience with doormats, you see. But none of the men or women in any of these relationships are anything but strong-minded, highly individualistic people. Most of these marriages are of long duration and worth the effort. It's just that it's nice to see them make the effort. It would have been so easy to walk away. One doesn't need a divorce to shut oneself off, after all. But these people, both husbands and wives, have taken stock, reworked their schedules, adjusted their priorities and carried on. Knowing that rocky times lie ahead, they nevertheless have the experience, the maturity and the self-confidence to recognise that there is more to be got from working on their relationships than in giving in to dented egos.