The Day I Saved My Friend From Cheating
You know those nights- drinking with friends, laughing, sharing secrets about things that wouldn't normally be talked about, even in the the most intimate of settings. We've all had times like these, with memories made to last a lifetime and friendships further cemented in the truth that's spilled from slurring mouths as a direct result of too many red-headed sluts.
Except this night was different for many reasons. This was the night that changed a lot of things, forcing me to realize that we're all grown-ups now, these are the major leagues, and if someone you care about can't land the game-winning homer by himself, you're going to have to bat him in RBI-style and share the glory together.
This friend and I had been talking all evening, sharing stories about our relationships- mine with one of his best friends, and his with his wife of three years. We talked about sex and how different it is now that we're in committed relationships and the animal urges to tear our significant other's clothes off have completely abandoned us, leaving us feeling that copulation is simply an act that takes away from the time that could be better spent sleeping. We laughed about the routine feeling of it all- "okay, put your hand here" or "keep doing that" and especially "turn the light off!"- as the realization dawned on both of us that this was it, that last relationship to end all relationships because we're both adults and this is what adults do.
After several pitchers of lager and a few shots, things were starting to feel pretty right with the world and my gay friend was beginning to play with my hair, a sign that we had all put away our weight's worth in alcohol in a relatively short amount of time (What can I say? We're champions). My married friend leans in close to me with rheumy, glazed-over eyes, so close that the others couldn't hear and says, "I'm talking to someone else."
Let's pause this scene for a second and clear some things up before we continue. "Talking to" usually refers to the beginning steps of any new relationship, and so we will discount the technicality and just skip right to assumption that what my friend was trying to tell me was that he was considering sleeping with someone else. This is an admission that doesn't require judgment, yet it places the listener on a seesaw by themselves and requires them to maintain the balance all on their own, between staying the "cool friend" ("Hell yeah, man! Good for you!") and the intelligent, emotionally-mature stick-in-the-mud ("Wait, what? Are you high?!")
My friend's reasoning might have been askew due to the fact that his brain was pickling; however, the story behind it might resonate with many people. In fact, it has been estimated that anywhere between 30 and 60% of all married individuals in the United States will commit infidelity as some point in their marriage. This is a huge percentage! And I would be willing to bet that even more have thought about cheating, or have cheated emotionally on their partners.
Why is this such a big deal? Because on the extreme end, if you have 60 people in a room, you can expect 36 of them to cheat at some point during their marriage. And even on the lower end, you could expect 18 of them to be unfaithful to their significant others during the course of their relationship.
It's fairly obvious that infidelity has become a widespread issue that is caused by some very basic issues that seem to reoccur in relationships throughout the country. Those issues can be observed quite clearly in the case of my friend, who whereas was not in the condition to run statistics in his head at that very moment in time, exhibited a firm grasp on the magnitude of the situation at hand nevertheless.
First and foremost, let's admit that sometimes marriage- or even long-term relationships- is excruciatingly difficult to handle appropriately at times, like when your partner refuses to talk to you because you stayed out too long with your friends. Even superficial problems such as this might represent a larger undercurrent of dilemmas that could sink a marriage or relationship in the proper circumstances.
My friend, for example, was extremely unhappy in his marriage and had verbalized this to me on previous occasions. His most basic, underlying issues were simple- lack of attention, lack of sex, and changing interests. His wife no longer complimented him and their sex life together had taken a turn for the worse. The two of them were arguing frequently over changes in their interests- his wife had begun to appreciate quiet activities at home more, but he enjoyed going out with friends. When he tried to do these things alone, his wife became resentful because he was spending too much time out of the house. But he grew bored easily when doing the things that she liked to do, and so they stopped spending any length of time together.
See how easily I took those simple problems and made them larger? This is what happens when we stop communicating with one another- molehills become mountains.
It was because of these problems that my friend was considering turning to another person for comfort. And even though we've been conditioned to cast judgment, we have to take a step back and realize that these are truly real issues and that seeking attention in another human being is natural. Monogamy is a man-made condition, and flies in the face of what evolution has bred into us. It is instinctual to search for acceptance elsewhere when one finds himself deprived of it in his home environment. It's important to recognize that this just isn't true for marriages; it applies to all relationships regardless of length or degree of commitment.
At this point during the evening, he showed me a picture of the woman that he had been talking to on the side. Actually, I should say "girl" because she was quite young and obviously quite taken with him. I had the brief opportunity to see the messages exchanged between the two and noticed almost immediately how many times she complimented his music, something that is very important to him. She was doe-eyed and full of life's energy, something that his wife had never really carried too much of, and I could see why he was attracted to her and what this attraction might mean for his marriage.
"She's young," I managed to stammer out.
His response indicated to me that he wasn't pleased about this. In fact, he seemed ashamed of the whole situation so I quickly thanked him for sharing this part of him with me, and especially for the reality that he was opening himself up to some potentially humiliating criticism. (Because that's what our society enjoys doing- shaming people. It's a good thing I'm an outcast.)
Have you ever been cheated on before?
I wasn't able to form coherent thoughts that evening, but the very next morning I woke up and immediately began typing him a message that ended up being the length of a short story. I am not going to replicate the message here- because it was very personal- but the gist of what I said was this:
"Don't let this be a very permanent solution to a temporary problem. Because even though you might sleep with someone else and have the time of your adult life, you're not addressing the feelings that you're having about the interactions between you and your wife. You are painting the rough surface of a barren landscape with high-definition gloss designed to cover the imperfections beneath. I know how you feel because I've had these feelings before about my own relationship. Let's figure this out together over a huge steaming cup of coffee because I feel like my head is full of rocks."
And we did. We discussed new things that the two could try together, and ways that he could verbalize his feelings appropriately to his wife. I recommended marriage counseling, not as a punishment but as a way for each of them to vent their frustrations about the other in a controlled environment. I also suggested that he end things with the other woman, because he was simply using her for emotional reinforcement and later, for physical intervention. It was important for me that he know that this situation was not entirely his fault; in fact, I believed that his wife shared the blame. Marriage is like a boat; it takes one person on each oar to steer the damn thing away from rocks.
I checked in with my friend last night to see how things were going. It had been a while since we'd spoken because I've been busy with work and he has new things going on with his band. I didn't want to make a huge deal out of the fact that I was checking in on him, so I just asked him very simply, "How is everything going at home?"
And he responded, just as simply, with "Good :)"