I try mightily to be fair(ish) to Handsome when I write here. Yes, I often vent, but I aim for rigorous honesty and if it looks bad for him, that’s on him. I don’t need to portray his actions in a negative light because they were horrific enough all on their own. When good things happen, I try to recognize that too. For example, Handsome finally got a sponsor. He’ll have six months of sexual sobriety and three months of sobriety from alcohol this week. This coming weekend we are going to the couples intensive he arranged for us a few months ago and he’s doing the pre-session homework. He’s keeping up with the after-care from his intensive with Dr. M including journaling every day (which I never thought he’d do, but he actually says he likes it). All good things.
Occasionally though, things come up that I just have no idea how to process. Perhaps they are too overwhelming, or create too much confusion, or are too triggering. Or maybe they just make me ask myself, “What the actual fuck am I dealing with?” One example: during his intensive with Dr. M, Handsome was incredibly raw and overwhelmed. We were talking one night about his cheating in broad terms and I asked him out of the blue whether he had ever cheated on me during the 27 months I lived and worked on the other side of our state, when we were commuting back and forth to see each other. I had never had occasion to ask him that before, because it never occurred to me (before DDay #2) that he would have cheated all the way back then. Keep in mind, we were either married or engaged for 21 of those 27 months.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when someone asks me if I’ve done something awful and I haven’t, I answer immediately, emphatically, and without hesitation. When Handsome’s answer was “Welllllllll… (crickets chirping during long pause)… not exactly.” I knew the answer was just “yes.” His story is that we had a big fight, he didn’t think we could recover, we didn’t talk for “weeks” and he went to a local bar and he met a girl and he later took her out to dinner. During dinner he says he realized it was just absurd and not what he wanted, so he finished dinner, took her home, and that was the end of it. I didn’t want to sound like Ross and Rachel, but I grilled him on whether he was under the impression we were on a break or that we had broken up. No, he wasn’t. He acknowledged we had never broken up.
What do I make of this revelation now, years of marriage and two kids later? His story simply isn’t plausible for a variety of reasons. First, we have never, ever gone weeks without speaking. In fact, we’ve never gone more than 48 hours without speaking. Memories can be faulty, so I actually went back and reviewed my cell phone records from back then (I swear I’m not a hoarder…I have them only because at the time the phone was a plausible work expense, so they’re in my tax files). There are only a handful of times we didn’t speak each and every day. Next, I simply have zero recollection of this allegedly big fight. I went back through my calendars to see when this might have happened, and over the 6 months I lived there before we got engaged we saw each other regularly every two weeks if not weekly. We talked daily, sometimes several times a day. We took trips and vacations together. It just doesn’t add up. Plus, this was not a hook up. By his own admission, he chatted her up at the bar, got the girl’s number, called her, set up a date, and then took her on that date. That takes a few days, and we’d have been in touch in that time. In short, my conclusion is simply that he cheated. We hadn’t broken up and he took someone else out on a date. That’s cheating.
By my best guess, this occurred sometime in late January 2004. We had seen each other over the New Year holiday and then again over the long holiday weekend mid-month. Then we didn’t see each other again for three weeks (we spoke daily) until we took a long-planned vacation together to Punta Cana the week of Valentine’s Day. Why do I suspect that window? When we got to Punta Cana, Handsome was an asshole. I mean a miserable jerk face. He snapped at me so badly before we checked in that I thought about turning around and flying home alone. The vacation improved greatly over the week, but those initial few days were incredibly difficult. At the time, I attributed it to a dozen things: his hatred of flying, exhaustion from work, maybe I really was a bitch? Now, post DDay, it’s the same behavior I saw throughout his acting out… picking fights and blaming me to “justify” to himself whatever crap he was up to.
So, then I start to wonder… now that I know, what exactly do I do with the information? To me, this ties to my post a few weeks ago on betrayal and whether our choices would have been different if we, the betrayed, had the whole truth (click here for that). Would I have kept dating him if I knew he did this? Hard to say. Maybe not. Yes, I was in love with him, but I was also living hours away and had plenty of other non-cheating, educated, employed, single guy options at hand. I’m not entirely sure what I would have done. Would I have agreed to marry him? Even more doubtful, and certainly not so soon afterwards. I most definitely would have wanted him to do some serious work on himself first.
Just like now, he had choices then. He could have actually had the balls to break up with me before dipping his toe (or anything else) back into the dating pool. He could have admitted what he did at the time he did it. Or, better yet, he could have chosen to work through whatever disagreement he claims we had and stay faithful to his devoted girlfriend of three years that he kept talking to about marriage.
Many of my decisions that have flowed forth since then have been based on my ignorance. I used to confidently tell people that I actually thought our long-distance romance was helpful to us early on because we had to learn to communicate really well with each other. Unbeknownst to me, it also seems to have been when Handsome started honing his compartmentalization and deception skills. I had no idea.
So, what am I going to do? Likely nothing, other than ruminate on how long he has actually been betraying me. That’s the sad fact of it. I don’t see a point in driving myself more nuts over something that happened 14 years ago. I can dissociate myself from that. Compare and contrast that though with driving myself nuts over whether he’s been keeping secrets throughout our entire marriage, as opposed to just the last five years. (I say “just” now as if that number of years is de minimus, but it isn’t. It’s a hair under 40% of our marriage, to be precise.)
Does it matter? I don’t believe the answer makes his cheating better or worse depending on the answer. It’s all bad either way. Nonetheless, the more time passes the more I reconsider previous events that I thought I had processed and moved beyond. I’m not suggesting that Handsome is still overtly lying (of course, he very well might be). He is, however, a master at lies of omission. I am left to wonder what secrets he may still be holding on to for dear life… the tightly held mysteries of our marriage and the vestiges of his addiction.
Our weekly check-in follows a format from his intensive program, and one of the questions is “What is a lie or secret that you are keeping?” No matter how much thought or effort Handsome puts into the rest of the check-in, and it’s usually considerable, he inevitably glosses over this question. He has, on occasion, tried to skip it entirely. When he does address it, either the “secret” will be something hardly secret or the lie will be something along the lines of a white lie. (“Daughter asked if I liked her haircut and I said yes, but I really don’t care for it.”) It’s maddening. I’ve started to call him out on it, to hold him somewhat accountable for half-assing that part of the exercise. You would think that 5+ years of acting out would give him fodder to come up with legitimate, meaningful answers to that question, but he can’t (or won’t) as of yet.
I know he’s an addict. I know that secret keeping is as much a part of his addiction as what those secrets are about. There is probably very little more he could disclose that would shock me. We’ve been through a polygraph that he passed with flying colors. Certainly, what I can imagine in my head is likely worse than anything else that may have happened. (As I commented on another blog, I’ve told Handsome in all seriousness that if someone called me tomorrow and said “Hey, BW, I just saw Handsome fucking a monkey,” I would politely thank them for calling, hang up, and then start Googling intensive treatment programs for monkey fuckers.) That’s the tragic part here. I just want to know the totality of what I’m dealing with, process it, forgive, and move on. He wants to keep his secrets to save his pride and to protect himself from further shame. The two are fairly mutually exclusive, and so I continue to drive myself a little nuts over things that are totally outside my control.