The other day I got a fairly disturbing phone call from a friend. It seems after 30 years of marital bliss her husband confessed to having an affair. The only reason he confessed was that God smote him with a sexually transmitted disease. She was devastated, heartbroken, angry and sad. He told her it had nothing to do with her—he was having a midlife crisis. But then, as men often do—he felt like he needed to tell her more. TMI! He told her that the woman was younger and he wanted to have fun. Something he obviously couldn’t do with her—or at least that’s what he thought. TMI! She called to find out what she should do. My first impulse was to tell her to plunge a knife through his heart – not far enough to kill him but certainly far enough to make him feel the same kind of pain she was feeling. Then I thought about this despicable woman who had changed their lives forever. Not because she had unprotected sex with the dope, but because she didn’t have the courtesy, the honesty, the integrity, to tell him she had herpes. Who would do something like that? What kind of a self centered, immoral, perfidious, slut would do that? But I guess I just answered my own question—a self centered, immoral, perfidious slut. (And I mean that in the nicest possible way.) I responded to my pal, “I don’t think I know what to say right now?” In these situations any advice you give is dangerous. Keeping quiet may be the only route to take. But you’re a friend, what should you do?
This was not the first time I had heard a story this tragic. And tragic is a good word because seemingly connected people, disconnect briefly, and may never recover. It’s horrible to think about the number of women with whom I have had this conversation. It’s equally horrible to think it could happen to any of us. Sometimes we delude ourselves about this, especially when things are going particularly well or particularly terrible. We know too well that good times eventually go away and bad times usually get better. Anyway, I know she wouldn’t have been happy to hear, “these things happen, things will get better, don’t worry”. No one needs platitudes when they are distraught. (Platitudes are seriously annoying in the best of times—they border on criminal when things are bad). People think they have a solid marriage and they trust their spouse unconditionally and then bam, without any warning something slaps you upside the head and you are down for the count. (Wow, I’m using a sports analogy). There is someone younger or perkier and why not opt for that instead of the boring reality of thirty years of together. The story is unfortunately always the same. The ‘husband’ tells you he loves you but...TMI! It's not about you, it's about their midlife crisis or looking for fun. But not with you. TMI! It seems they've had enough fun with you. They might rather share the laughs past and to come with someone who thinks everything they say is funny or witty, or important. TMI! They have more in common with this other person. It's too much work with you and really, it's too tiring. You make demands. The newer person makes love. TMI! How can you compete. You can't. (She wouldn’t want to hear this either).
The kids are grown, the house is dirty, the parents almost dead, the life is ordinary. Oh no, the life isn't ordinary, but it's old and so are you. TMI! Time to move on. You don't have a choice. You can't get young or cuter or better. You can't... Oh my. The future will bring some happiness but some sadness as well. Doesn’t he want to share the bad times as well as the good anymore? Not if he has an options. Who would? He wants to look elsewhere for the good times. TMI! You can be there for the difficult, but it's likely you will suffer them by yourself. You make it look too easy-- you can do anything. You will likely do it alone. He will look elsewhere for the fun. What can you do. You would like to think something but he says again, it's not about you. You can't get young, you probably can't get better, you can't ... How sad, and frightening, and lonely. And you can't ... (More stuff not to say to a good friend).
When my first marriage ended it was devastating -- even though it was clear our lives were moving in different directions. That end was painful, but wasn’t unexpected. I didn’t want to stay married and live a life that no longer made sense to either of us. And although it was complicated; I was afraid of change, afraid of what would happen to my child, afraid of being on my own, and afraid that I was not going to be able to make any other life. I had only been married a few years. Imagine what it must be like to disengage after 20, 30, or 40 years. (I didn’t want to share that either).
Living in my car and using the Hyatt on Capital Hill as the place where I cleaned up every morning, was dangerous, but even that wasn’t as disconcerting as the idea of doing my own taxes and having to take my car to be inspected. Isn’t that stupid. It was the simple things that amplified the sense of loss. I was a kid and kids are stupid—but they bounce back far more easily than women of a certain age. I thought my marriage back then, good or bad, I thought for a long time that it was not going anywhere. I was wrong. But how do you say to a friend, “You know that marriage you thought was forever, well nothing is forever”. You don’t. The only thing that makes any sense in the realm of what to say, can only be said to yourself, and it is... “there but for God go I.” We're Just Sayin...