Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Case of the Cheating Girlfriend

This week New York Magazine’s advice columnist, Polly, takes off her fake-therapist hat and speaks to the letter writer clearly and directly. She does not tell the woman to get in touch with her feelings. She does not even tell her to feel her feelings. She shames her for her appalling behavior.

The letter writer, who calls herself a Selfish Romantic, has developed the habit of cheating on her boyfriends. No matter which boyfriend she has, she manages to find another man to cheat with. In ancient times, she would have been called a slut or a tramp. In modern times we are not supposed to be judgmental… we are supposed to feel her pain.

Much to our surprise, Polly does not feel her pain. She refuses to associate herself with a woman who does not respect herself or other people. Polly is clearly correct here. She shows that adult women refuse to associate with woman of ill-repute because they understand that condoning such behavior will cause them to be similarly disrespected. This the rationale for slut shaming, a practice most often engaged by women, not men. When women refuse to shame their slutty sisters they are defining themselves down, declaring that they are worthy of being treated as women of less repute.

Kudos to Polly.

Anyway, here’s the text of the letter:

I started cheating on my boyfriends in college, and it’s a habit that has followed me into adulthood. It started out with onetime hookups and escalated into full-on affairs. I always had the comfort of a loving boyfriend while the “other man” could nourish unfed parts of me — my interest in art, my inner social butterfly, my sense of adventure. It’s weird, I remember fantasizing about infidelity when I was younger but have also always craved monogamy.

I find ways to rationalize this extremely selfish behavior (“What they don’t know won’t hurt them”). I’ve even called it a “feminist act.” In other words, I’m delusional.

I’m currently in one of these situations, but it feels harder than before. My current boyfriend and I get along so well. We have so much fun together, laugh at the same things, and he really loves and cares about me. We’re on the same page about almost everything, but I’ve noticed some parts of him that I don’t love. He’s often negative, sometimes short-tempered, pretty unmotivated, and a bit anti-social. I suppose these are the things that have led me to cheating on him, even though I love him.

The guy I’m cheating on him with is also a great guy, but I don’t feel the same comfort, ease, and love with him as I do with my boyfriend. He checks a lot of my boxes (passionate, social, friendly), but I would hate to leave my loving, supportive, compatible boyfriend for someone who might not be worth it. I don’t know what to do. On the one hand, I love my boyfriend. But on the other, I’m literally cheating on him.

Who do I choose? The answer everyone has been giving is “choose yourself,” but I don’t want to give up both of these great men.

Selfish Romantic

After offering a wee bit of psychobabble, Polly offers the cogent remark, that romance is a contract. I would have preferred that she note that relationships and especially marriage are contracts, but she is using the term that the letter writer uses. In her deluded state the letter writer thinks she is being a romantic.

Polly writes:

Maybe you have to pretend or act cheerful or suspend your disbelief a little bit, but with romance, there’s a contract. Romance means you share at least a loose understanding of what you’re doing together. Romance cannot exist when one person is lying. The lies nullify the romance. The lies mean that your partner is trying to live in reality, but you’re bamboozling him for the sake of living in a fantasy world. Your fantasy depends on a heist.

I especially like the idea that a man who is faithful to his girlfriend is engaged in a real relationship, while the cheating girlfriend is living a lie. That means, is living in a fantasy world.

She continues to argue a point that I often note: namely, that the contract does not require you or anyone to come clean about everything. Other advice columnists have said as much. It is worth repeating:

Coming clean is not always the most generous and kind act that a person can engage in. But those rare and particular situations are nothing like your situation. In your situation, lying is a crime against the two men you’re milking for affection and support.

Polly places responsibility where it belongs, with the cheating girlfriend. Since the letter writer behaves the same way with every man she is involved with, the chances are good that she is the problem. True enough, the problem might be that she chooses men who are inappropriate, who are not marriage material, who are lousy in bed… whatever. None of it justifies chronic cheating.

Polly continues, sympathizing with the men and denouncing the cheater in notably harsh terms:

They’re trapped by your lies while you suck the life force out of them. It’s not romantic and it’s not sexy and it’s not just selfish, it’s deeply unethical and punishing and unfair and wildly abusive.

Polly suggests that the woman has numbed her moral sense to the point that she is oblivious to the harm she is doing to herself. She ought rightly to feel shame for her behavior but has numbed herself to it. Here Polly takes up the shame issue and gets it right.

You already realize that, at some level. Your cells are absorbing the unethical nature of your current experiment. That’s what I think you don’t see. You think you deserve the luxury of dating two men, at some level. You think that you haven’t gotten enough and you, personally, deserve a little more. You’re in more pain and need more than other people. Or you’re less decisive and that’s just how you are! You like cheating! Whatever, that’s you! You’ve always been this way! It’s kind of messed up, sure, but you identify deeply with your dark center. You’re a little bit of a criminal, one who has become attached to the criminal lifestyle. You think it makes you a badass. Even when you say, “I know it’s delusional,” it almost sounds like you’re bragging a tiny bit.

Trust me, you don’t know how delusional it is.

The delusional part goes well beyond the unethical nature of your activities, because the damage to your self-esteem, your daily lived experience, and your worldview at large is so enormous that it’s impossible to map. “He’s often negative, sometimes short-tempered, pretty unmotivated, and a bit anti-social. I suppose these are the things that have led me to cheating on him,” you write. This lies at the heart of your wrongheadedness: to believe that your boyfriend’s flaws are the cause of your cheating is to believe that your own flaws make you worthy of being cheated on, abused, abandoned, you name it. You believe that flaws are moral failures.

Polly continues, speaking from the heart. And being utterly and correctly judgmental. She should do it more often.

I just need for you to INTEND to understand that you’re hurting yourself every single minute you continue to live the way you’re living. Your fantasy world is making you sick in a myriad of ways that aren’t that obvious yet, but they can only get worse. You’re permanently fucking with your balance and your senses. You’re choosing confusion over clarity. You don’t like to reflect on anything because it means letting in all of your self-hatred. This also means you have no room for anyone else. You don’t listen. People are disposable, even when you crave a permanent relationship. You are all alone on a lonely planet. That’s why you always need more. That’s why there’s never enough. That’s why neither man is quite good enough. That’s why you will never be good enough for any man, not without lies, not without the safety of a hedge, not without the reassurance that you know something he may never know, not without bamboozling the living fuck out of him.

Think about that. Love is a theft to you. You aren’t even feeling it. And you can only have enough if you take more than you actually deserve.

It’s time to turn the corner and get some clarity. In order to do that, you have to walk straight into your shame and self-hatred and look around at the world in your mind, a world where flaws are moral failures. You have to acknowledge your fear. You have to acknowledge how ugly and disgusting you feel. You’ve always felt that you had to put on seven veils and dance and charm and cajole just to have friends, or lovers, or support, or patience. You are a real living organism who can’t feel anything, so you’re pretending to be an invincible robot dog.



sestamibi said...



Sam L. said...

I have to wonder WHAT got into Polly!

David Foster said...

Completely missing from the letter is the word 'sex'

Could that possibly be a factor?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.