When I was 22, I dated a man who cheated on me with a woman I knew. I was hopelessly in love with him. I ached for him so much that when he wanted to get back into my bed after being in hers, I let him. And when he got back into her bed and wanted back in mine again, I let him.
It went on like this for months.
He would make promises. He would break them. We would break up, but then have a tearful reunion followed by passionate fucking a few days later. I was so immersed in making it work, in figuring out how to change it that I was drowning.
At that same time, a friend of mine discovered her own boyfriend was cheating on her.
She showed up to my apartment with mascara smudged all over her face.
“I love him! What do I do?” she sobbed.
I brought her tissues and whiskey and said, “You have to leave! You don’t deserve to be this miserable with someone who doesn’t want to uphold the promises you made to each other.”
After my friend walked home, I went to the apartment of the man who had now cheated on me dozens of times. I stood on his doorstep wearing just a pea coat and shoes. It was January. It took him a while to come to the door. My teeth were rattling, but I could hear him moving inside.
Finally, he opened the door, and I walked in.
“Jesus, what took you so long?”
“I just woke up,” he said. “Long day.” He was rubbing the back of his head and cutting his eyes around the room.
“Kiss me,” I said.
He obeyed, and I slipped off my shoes and unbuttoned my jacket for him. When he laid me on his bed, I could smell a perfume that wasn’t mine on the pillows. For that moment, while he was with me, I didn’t care because he had chosen me. If only for that moment, that night.
But when I fell asleep, I had a dream in which I kissed the other woman’s soft mouth and tasted him on her lips.
Even though I’d so wisely told my friend in the same situation that she needed to leave, it took that dream to make me realize that I was giving myself to someone who wasn’t willing to give themselves wholly to me. When I walked out of his apartment the next morning, I never walked back in again.
For all of us, it’s hard to judge a problem clearly when we’re immersed in it.
It requires distance to judge things more reasonably.
King Solomon, known for his wisdom and sage advice, couldn’t save himself from making disastrous choices that led to his kingdom’s demise, which is why psychological scientist Igor Grossmann dubbed this phenomenon the “Solomon’s Paradox.”
Grossmann discovered within his research that, “people reason more wisely about other people’s social problems than about their own.”
When you are dealing with a hard personal decision, you can use “Solomon’s Paradox” to help you come to the clarity you need:
When we are living our lives and something happens that is troubling, our view narrows. Our feelings close in on us until we’re blind to the bigger picture.
When I was with the man who was cheating on me, I could only think about how and why I was thinking and feeling and behaving. If I can get my boyfriend to stop cheating on me, we have a chance! If I get him into bed with me again, he’ll change his mind!
I couldn’t think far enough ahead to imagine, “What will our relationship be like a couple of years from now with this person who continually makes promises to me that they break?” “How am I going to be able to forgive his indiscretions and move on?”
There are two ways to get distance from an issue.
- Imagine you are advising a friend who is in the same predicament. What would you suggest they do or not do?
- Talk to yourself in the third person. Instead of asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” or “What can I do?” ask yourself, “Why is s/he doing that?” “What can s/he do?”
Accept the wisdom you come to.
Once you’ve figured out how you would advise a friend or yourself (in the third person), you have to accept what that advice means.
Accepting that advice means coming to terms with some grief.
For myself, accepting the advice that I should leave that cheating scoundrel of a boyfriend would mean letting go of a relationship I was invested in, of an “us,” and the ideas I had for the future of that “us.”
You also might be quick to negate your advice. “That’s silly!” you might think. Or, “There’s no way in hell I’m doing that!”
Don’t shortchange yourself! Distance will help you get the clarity you need, and whatever wisdom that comes from that shouldn’t be ignored.
Follow through on your advice. This reads easy, but it rarely is.
If I had acted when I should have (as in after the first time he cheated or at least the second time), I would have saved myself so much needless heartache.
We all deserve a lot less misery in our lives. Hope you save yourself from some.