I was jolted out of my sleep by the sound of someone banging on the door with what sounded like a battering ram. “I know you’re in there,” she screamed. I looked at the man I was sleeping with, unaware of what I should do and what was happening. His wife, with whom he was still married but separated, was attempting to knock the door to his apartment down. The look on his face was sheer terror. He stood 6’ 5”, muscled from head to toe, and he was as frightened as I was. He rushed me into the bathroom, where I sat for an eternity, waiting for the angry woman to leave. That was the last time I saw him.
Let me say I’ve never really cared all that much about fidelity. My parents had an open relationship, and although there was some drama and hurt feelings, they mainly handled it maturely and with a level of acceptance that was rare. Even though the rest of the world had strong ideas about “cheating,” deep down I always felt indifferent about it.
I’ve been a cheater since I started having relationships. When I was in first grade, I told Kevin that I’d be his girlfriend when I was already Star’s girlfriend. The uproar among whispering six-year-olds was deafening, and I soon realized that I had broken a code of conduct. I had done something unthinkable, and I would be an outcast for it.
But that didn’t stop me and, before getting married, I had affairs within all of my relationships. I was a Tarzan dater — just as Tarzan had a grip on a new branch before letting go of the one behind, I made sure I had successfully secured a new man before letting go of the old one. Being single — I mean completely single with no romantic prospects — really scared me.
Marriage ended all that. Once I said “I do,” I let go of the branches and dropped from the trees. Or so I thought. At one point in my marriage, I was attracted to a man in my master’s program. He had these piercing blue eyes, and our shared educational goals and career pursuits gave us much to discuss. I started to feel myself tingling in his presence, and I started thinking about him sexually. And while the thought of lying, hiding and trying to act normal with my husband was more work than I was up for, I had to do something with this energy.
One evening, after a long weekend, I came home to find my husband enjoying the time he’d spent alone. He was in a good mood and excited to see me. I placed my bags down as I geared up for a conversation and confession. “I’ve been having these interesting feelings for one of my classmates," I admitted. "I’m feeling attracted to him in way that seems inappropriate.” My husband listened. His expression changed almost imperceptibly, but I could see it. I talked on and on out of nervous fear. When I finally stopped, he looked me straight in the face and said, “Fix it,” followed by, “Keep that shit to yourself.”
We never spoke about it again, and I let the feelings and energy just burn themselves out. The experience with my husband showed me just how difficult it can be to create true intimacy within a marriage. One person’s inability to venture into painful places can leave the entire marital experience void of the love and compassion that it desperately needs to thrive and evolve.
Many years later, we divorced, and I began questioning the very foundation of marriage. How is it possible to promise to stand by someone “until death do you part”? What if I change? What if he changes? Why doesn’t marriage create space for people to be who they really are?
In my marriage, I imagined that I’d share my feelings about this other man with my spouse, we’d talk about where the feelings came from, how interesting it is not to act on them, and how nice it is to be able to share this information without feeling threatened. And if we did feel threatened, I saw us able to address that as well and move past it.
None of that happened.
I’ve been the woman driving by my boyfriend's house and I’ve been the other woman hiding inside. I’ve finally resolved that I’m not willing to be in a relationship in which my partner isn’t committed to radical truth-telling. Transparency is now my relationship mantra.
People can create any relationship they desire, and for me, intimacy means that I show my whole self to my partner; keeping corrupting secrets is not a practice within an intimate relationship. I’ve also decided that none of my relationships will be exclusive; each person is free to do and be with whom they desire. My partner belongs to himself, and I belong to myself. “Cheating” has been rendered impossible. And if he likes, I’m happy to listen to his stories and experiences with others. For me, this is unconditional love at its best.