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Sarah: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Sarah Beth: [00:00:05] and I’m Beth.
Sarah: [00:00:06] We host pantsuit politics, a podcast with a remarkable community of listeners
Beth: [00:00:10] Here on The Nuanced Life we come together every week to answer your questions and commemorate your milestones in hopes of bringing a little more grace to every aspect of life.
Sarah: [00:00:58] Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of The Nuanced Life. We are here today. Talking about betrayal. We have two questions about betrayal inside relationships and when relationships end or whether they should end. And we are going to try to take a lot of care with this topic because we know it touches a lot of people’s lives, including our own.
And we’re going to start today with a letter from Ann
Beth: [00:01:24] Ann has a burning question. She unknowingly became the other woman because a man was dishonest with her and lied by omission. So she started dating this person. Who she later learned is still technically married. He’s been separated for three years, but is not divorced.
And she says, that’s what he tells me now for all I know he could be in a long distance marriage due to work for the past three years. Not right. Cheating, I feel like. She says she can not trust him about anything because of this. She said that she has been to his house. She knows that he lives there alone, but that’s really all, she feels like she firmly understands because he lied by omission this entire time.
She said, whether he’s actively married or just married in the legal sense, married is still married. Something that big you need to disclose upfront. And he is still harboring hope of reconciling with his wife. If he’s even being honest, that they’re truly separated. I asked if he was planning to reconcile with her and his answer was time shall tell that was the hope.
So Ann is asking, is he a manipulative, psychopath who cheats with no remorse or was he actually being truthful and is genuinely lonely after three years of legitimate separation? She’s been alternating between shell stocked and thoroughly disgusted and swinging to the other extreme of having compassion and empathy for him without knowing the details.
It’s hard to know exactly who he is or even how to react. And she mentioned that there’s some PTSD from a deployment here. There’s a lot going on. And she wants us to talk through this with her.
Sarah: [00:03:01] I think this is more common than people who have been out of the dating scene for a long time. Like myself, I realize I think it is.
Yeah. Especially with online dating and sort of dating as a, as a presentation of yourself, even more than it always was this instinct to lie by omission, keep things private, however you want to couch it, but to, you know, not disclose everything upfront. And I think that’s really hard. I think that the distrust that builds not only with that person, but in your next interaction, in a dating situation where you’re going to worry, is this person telling me the whole truth?
And it’s like, I think it’s hard. You don’t want to walk in to a first date or in a direct message and be like, let me lay my baggage on the table. I can understand the instinct to wait until you see if you like the person or if you can trust the person to disclose these things. But I also think that that is inherently risky and can lead to the situation and describes where you feel like you were just being private, but really you were violating someone else’s trust.
And that’s not fair. This was not a fair situation to put Ann in. And especially now that she’s formed feelings and she is alternating between, I mean, clearly she’s formed feelings with them, that’s why she’s alternating between anger and empathy. And I think she needs to be gentle with herself and understand there’s probably not one universally right approach to a situation like this because, as we often say on The Nuanced Life, human beings are complicated, especially when they come into contact with one another. But I would say, I don’t think that, you know, I don’t think this is something wrong with her. I think this is. Pretty common.
Beth: [00:04:48] I think it’s common.
I think people would have a wide variety of reactions to something like this. I think all of those reactions have their own validity. I think what makes it so unfair for him to have not shared it is that that is a very serious moral dilemma for lots of people. And you don’t get to choose for the other person, whether that’s a serious moral dilemma for them.
Right. And that’s what I would say to anybody in this situation, because I do think there are folks who would say. Okay, I get it. You’ve been separated three years. You haven’t gotten the divorce done yet. Tell me why. Help me understand that because I don’t want to be in a situation where you’re actually hoping to reconcile.
Maybe some people would say I’m fine with that too, because we have all kinds of different reasons for wanting to spend time with other people.
Sarah: [00:05:35] Maybe Ann would have been one of those people. Well, if he’d given her a chance, instead of. Keeping it from her.
Beth: [00:05:40] And so I think that where your privacy interest rubs up against what could be an incredibly big deal in terms of someone’s values.
And an incredibly big deal in terms of their understanding of the situation that they’re walking into. I don’t think you have a right to keep that private. I also don’t think that means that he’s a manipulative psychopath. You know, I don’t know what he is. And I have been in that situation before where you suddenly have this sense.
I didn’t know this. What else? Don’t I know. And that’s a horrible feeling. That’s I can like recreate that feeling in my stomach right now, talking about it. That’s a horrible feeling. And I think that you have to look at the whole, the circumstances to decide how you’re going to proceed from that feeling.
Because some of us are going to be inclined to completely write the person off and have a lot of trust issues going forward. And some of us are going to be inclined to kind of gently continue to step through with this person and express the hurt and express some boundaries, uh, but maybe continue to talk with them.
And, and I don’t think there’s a wrong, I just feel like human relationships are way too complex to try to lay down. Here’s the right thing to do in this situation. Which sucks. And I wish that I did, I would give you a hug, rocket croissant, and we would talk this out for days if we could be together in person.
But I think it’s, to me, what I hear in your message is this is a very big deal to me and I feel very betrayed. And so I think that you don’t have to call him a manipulative psychopath to maybe say, I need to exit the situation. Cause it’s not good for me.
Sarah: [00:07:34] Well, here’s what I would say that I think as much as there can be a general rule or guidelines, this is one. I experienced enormous betrayal from my first true love. He was my first boyfriend. He was my prom date and my, you know, just all the first, all the loves he was at. And he cheated on me with one of our sorority sisters, fun facts. He did not attend our college.
He just knew her from hanging out with me. And she was a close friend of mine and it was awful. I found a letter from her in his house after he had assured me that they were just friends and I still went back to him. I still went back to him. Cause there’s this sense of like, if I didn’t know, then what else can I, then you, you trust every instinct you have, right.
If you couldn’t, if you didn’t realize he was doing this or if you did and you ignored it, then there’s this sense of like, I can’t trust myself either. Cause my instincts were so wrong. I remember being in his apartment and calling my mother and being like, I just can’t leave. I just can’t leave. Thank God I did leave. And he ended up with this girl. They had kids and they got divorced. She sent me a letter 10 years later. It’s a very dramatic story. The point is I didn’t have, the stakes felt high to me, but they weren’t right. The stakes were my feelings and not to discount those and not to discount the heartbreak of being cheated on by your first love, which felt like the most awful thing that had happened to me at that point.
But. You know, the stakes weren’t actually that high, we were not married. We did not have children. Nobody had uprooted their lives. Nobody was in a new location. You know what I mean? Versus I have friends who’ve been married for years, have experienced betrayal and who’ve worked through it. And I think that’s just the one thing that I would always advise people to do is because you can’t, I believe you can work through betrayal. I’ve seen it happen. I think you can do it. It is a lot of hard work and I think. You know right now in my life, if the scales, you know, in my own way, because the stakes are high, we have children we’re going to be in each other’s lives no matter what.
Right. And so there’s an aspect of, even if, if you get divorced, you have to work through that betrayal because you’re still in each other’s lives. We all know couples who separate, who never worked through it. And like, don’t speak at their children’s weddings and nobody wants that. But for Ann, there’s just a part of me
that’s like stakes are low cut and run, you know, like why pour all the energy into something. Right. Like if the stakes are low, this is a lot of work for something that will continue most likely to be an issue in your relationship forever. Not that I don’t mean you can’t get over it, that you can’t heal, but the scar will remain.
The scar will remain, you know, and I think if the stakes are low and you’re not tied to each other in ways that are difficult or impossible to sever. You know, say I learned this lesson, you taught me something valuable. I’m glad it came into my life. Let’s go our separate ways.
Beth: [00:10:42] To me, what that lesson is.
Not that I think you had to have this experience to get this lesson. I mean, you know, none of
that, right? Not putting a bow around this. Sarah: [00:10:51] No, no.
Beth: [00:10:52] I think this is a. Tool to help, you know, I need at the very beginning to be clear about what I’m here for, and I need you to be clear from the beginning about what you’re here for, because when the stakes get higher, even I think that the people who work through betrayal are able to do that because they’re there for the same thing.
Sarah: [00:11:16] Yeah.
Beth: [00:11:16] There are lots of contexts in which betrayal can arise, but if you fundamentally want the same thing, Then I think there’s an opportunity to get through that. If you fundamentally want different things, I think there’s not. Yeah. And I think that’s okay to say, but the trouble is nobody really teaches you how to go into a relationship saying here’s what I’m here for.
And sometimes you don’t know because of your age or life experience or whatever, and because the physical chemistry that exists between people is so confusing and can take you out of yourself. Right in terms of what you’re looking for and because women especially are told not to scare them with what we’re here for.
So there are like all these pressures at work, but knowing in your own mind, Hey, I am here for something that can, if it is intended to develop into a meaningful long term partnership means that if you are kind of. Just waiting and seeing if somebody is going to come back to you, this is not going to be worth either of our time.
Sarah: [00:12:32] I also got an anonymous letter from M who is 26 years old and has separated from her husband for about five months. He told her that he doesn’t want to try. He doesn’t want to continue therapy. They sold their condo. They separated financially, and this summer marked their five-year wedding anniversary and she’s brokenhearted.
They have to wait a year of separation and in order to file for divorce. So she’s living alone for the first time she’s moved into her own apartment. She’s a teacher and struggling with all the stress of being a public school teacher. And she just. She said, I just would love some empathy for my situation.
I’ve been having a really hard time and she’s in counseling and she has a small group and she wants to be told that she’s doing a good job and that what I’m going through is hard and sucky. Oh, M, of course what you’re going through is hard and sucky, you know, I thought immediately of one of my favorite songs of all time, Bonnie Raitt, I can’t make you love me if you don’t.
I think that is one of the most powerful lyrics and music, because it’s just, it’s, it is the most brutal and heartbreaking of truth. When somebody walks in and says, I don’t love you anymore. And there’s nothing you can do about it. And I think that that is one of the most difficult things that we can go through.
I also think it is a fire that will forge your self awareness and your self understanding in a way almost nothing else will. And so, Oh, we see you. We see you. We see you. We see you.
Beth: [00:14:19] You’re doing a good job. And what you’re going through is hard and sucky and I’m so sorry. I wish that we could guard your heart for you right now.
If there is a moment of gratitude here for me, it is that he told you. Sarah: [00:14:38] Yup. Yup.
Beth: [00:14:40] Because five years in is a really hard place for this to happen and 15 would be even harder. And so I am glad he told you as much as I wish that this were not true for him. And I wish for you, so much happiness on the other side of this grief.
Sarah: [00:15:04] You know, I have women in my life who have lived through this very close scenarios to this. And I think there is a cultural message that the best thing that can happen to a woman is that she be chosen by a man. And that the worst thing that can happen to a woman is that that man says he no longer loves her and the women that I’ve watched walk through this, the friends of my life who have gone through this and come out of the other side, have a freedom that is hard to articulate. The Freedom of knowing that that cultural message is a lie.
The freedom of knowing that it is hard and it is difficult. And also it is not life-ending it doesn’t change your worth. Or your value. It is only a statement on their choice and to walk through that and see that in your own life with your own eyes and feel it, and every cell of your body, like they just, it’s almost like a superpower.
They just have an understanding and like the depths of who they are that you just can see, you can see it in them. You really, really can.
Beth: [00:16:14] I totally agree with that. I hate that experience is such a good teacher and that anybody has to go through an experience. But I definitely sense in women who have
gone through something like this, they just recognize that whatever happens, they can handle it, they can handle whatever happens.
And I think that’s so important, especially when you’ve gotten married at a pretty young age. It sounds like you have been with somebody for a long time. Like there can be, I mean, I have moments. Chad and I were married when I was in my late twenties and I still have a fear about what would happen.
Could I, could I do life by myself? And I know I could, I don’t want to, but I have thought through that enough to know that I can. And I think that’s really, really important. Again, I don’t want this for you, him. I want the people who we love to love us back as wholeheartedly as we love. I think the next best scenario is when that’s not happening for it to be said truthfully so that everybody can move on.
I know you’re going to, this will build who you are in unexpected ways, but I wish that you didn’t have to walk through that tunnel to get there.
Sarah: [00:17:34] I know. You know, I grew up with a mother and a grandmother that went through divorces when I was a young child. And I think the message I got from both of them is, you know, be prepared like this could happen to you.
And I think, you know, there’s a lesson in women that go through this. And I think that part of the pain that women and men who experienced this sort of breakup feel is the smugness from other people, with the idea of like you did something wrong, which is really just an attempt to make themselves feel better, or this sense that that won’t happen to us.
I think about that line in the Dixie chicks song, where she says we would sit in judgment when our friends got divorced. And this idea of like, well, that won’t happen to me. And those people are full of it and deluding themselves. It could happen to anybody. Love is fickle and life is hard and things change on a dime and anybody who doesn’t understand that and sits in judgment of you, that is their burden to carry not yours.
And you’ll get really good at sniffing that out. You know, anybody that’s been through a tragedy, you sense it immediately when people are just trying to make themselves feel better, that it won’t happen to them.
Beth: [00:18:49] That’s a hundred percent, right? My therapist talks about this as the spell of solidity.
Sarah: [00:18:53] Hmm.
Beth: [00:18:56] Yeah. He says, you know, that there are people who walk through this world into advanced age, believing that you set things up and they are, as they are. And they need that. And that what you have to try to do as a parent is. In age, appropriate ways, help your child walk through the spell of solidity. They need it for a while developmentally, and then you have to start showing them.
It is a spell in fact, and we have to do that even as we are working on lifting that fog for ourselves. And I’m worried that 2020 is like a whole lot of ripping the spell of solidity away
for too many people at one time. Yeah, but especially when it hits this close, you know, because what you hope for in life is that everything that takes you out of the spell of solidity, you’re holding someone’s hand during that time.
Right. But. I also wished for you M that you are surrounded by hands to hold, even if they aren’t the ones that you, that you know, you’re not holding it in the way that you anticipated, but I hope that you are just surrounded by friends and family and people who love you and build you up. I hope your other second grade teachers are places that you can lean into, you know, and that everybody just works through this together.
Cause it’s, it’s too much for any of us to do on our own.
Sarah: [00:20:26] And we are holding your hand. Absolutely. We are holding your hand. Yeah, I think that the shooting, I was a victim of a high school shooting when I was a junior like that, for that I’ve never had language for what that did without having to do this sort of really careful dance about everything happens for a reason, which I don’t do not believe, but the spell of solidity is a perfect way to put it.
It just, it forever erased that for me. Like I don’t, I don’t have that. And I haven’t, since I was 17 years old or 16 years old, like just the sense of like. Oh, no, everything can change like that. And I do try to convey that to my children. I was, you know, the other day,those of you who have followed us on Instagram for awhile.
Um, my son Griffin requested rats for his birthday, so he has two sibling rats. They’re very sweet. They’ve grown on me, but one of them got sick and we knew that he had arrested. We could tell he had a respiratory illness, which can escalate quickly with rats. Like, that’s the thing you, they tell you, you gotta be really careful because it can kill them and it can kill them quickly.
And I saw him sort of starting to escalate that in every cell in my being was like, tell him it’ll be okay. And I thought, no, that is not the right approach here. I said, Griffin, we’re going to get the treatment that we can, but understand that, the rat could die. We know that the rat will die eventually, we know that too.
I’m not going to assure you that everything will be okay and they will live forever because that’s not true. And you knew that. That’s what happens when we love something. That’s the bargain we strike would be at a pet or a person or whatever. That’s, you’re opening up. You’re becoming vulnerable to loss because to love something is to risk losing it.
And I wish there was a different way. But there isn’t. And that, if you can just understand that instead of fighting it, instead of trying to grip harder, your life will maybe not be easier, but at least you won’t be making it more difficult. And he’s like breathing. He’s like, I know, I know. And he wanted to talk through a couple things and I could see it was easier for him, like instead of fighting like, Oh, well this happened.
Well, let’s think. And I used to do this a lot. Yeah. I don’t like to walk through worst case scenarios, but I do think to a certain extent it’s helpful. And sometimes we’re not walking through them in theory, we’re walking through them in reality. And like you said, to have
people surrounding you and saying you’re not alone, that’s really the best you can hope for as a human.
Beth: [00:22:44] Yeah. And just similar conversations with my girls because of my mom’s health. And, you know, Ellen looked at me and said, does gran have coronavirus. And I said, yes, she does. And she just collapsed. And she said, is she going to be okay? And I said, right now, I don’t know, Ellen. What I know is that all we can do right now is love her.
And that that’s very powerful and I don’t know what will happen here, but we love her so much. And that means something.
I wish that there was a way to neatly fold up what support looks like for someone like M too. Like I wish I could say right now, here are the things that M’s immediate circle need to do for her. And I don’t think that that exists other than just being more present than it feels appropriate to be.
Because I feel like in some ways the spell of solidity also contributes to that sense that I don’t want to intrude. Mm. And I feel like the best friends in my life are people who are very much willing to intrude people who are very much willing to say, like, Hi, I’m showing up here again. Have you taken a shower today?
Are you okay? Are you eating? What’s going on? And so I hope that the people around M will break out of their spells enough to be really in it with her.
Sarah: [00:24:25] As long as I live, I will not forget an interview with Joan Didion. Who was an amazing author and experienced, incredible tragedy with the loss of her husband and her daughter.
Very close in time, wrote a book called a year of magical thinking and they did a play based on it. And she came every day to the rehearsals and the interviewer said, isn’t it hard? To come here every day and think about this. And she said, “What, because I wouldn’t be thinking about it otherwise?” That’s right.
And I thought, that’s it, that’s it. We think, Oh, we don’t want to make it, we don’t want to bring it up. It’s already up. Y’all it’s already up already all the way up. It’s all the way up. Um, the idea that like, Oh, we’ll make them think about this person and they’ve just lost or this tragedy they’ve experienced or this heartbreak they’re living through.
It’s already there. It’s already in every moment. To try to avoid it is creating another trauma instead of just to acknowledge the pain that someone is in that to me is, you know, and it’s, it’s a thing we all try to do and it’s hard and you’re going to get it wrong and you’re going to stumble. But I think as long as you are showing up for another person with an open heart and really for them and not to make yourself feel better, then.
You’re on the right track.
Beth: [00:25:41] Yeah. I think part of this spell of solidity depends on minimizing other people’s pain, because if other people can be in this much pain, then, so can I, if it’s this precarious for other people than it is for me too, and that’s just really hard. And so, I mean, a
lot of grace for everybody who struggles with that, but if you’re listening and you have the capacity.
Show up for your people who are in M shoes and show up in a way that recognizes that yes, this could be you also.
Sarah: [00:26:10] Well, it reminds me I’m reading right now, Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times. She’s so brilliant. And she has this chapter because, you know, in a part of her letter and it says, should I keep holding out hope?
And in this chapter, Pema Chodron says that we have an addiction to hopefulness and she encourages this sort of leaning into hopelessness to break that addiction to hopefulness. Right. Which I think is an, a different way to articulate the spell of solidity. Right. She says suffering is a part of life and we don’t have to feel it’s happening because we personally made the wrong move in reality.
However, when we feel suffering, we think that something is wrong. As long as we’re addicted to hope, we feel that we can tone our experience down or liven it up or change it somehow. And we continue to suffer a lot. And like, I spent a lot of time with that, because hope is something that’s important to me.
And I think envisioning a better future is an important part of a lot of the work we do as individuals and as a society. But I thought that she’s right, the idea, because it’s so hard to hope and not let it morph into a belief that our individual action caused the suffering and our individual action can get us out of it.
And I think, you know, carefully walking that line, you know, Because hope can be the cornerstone of suffering. We talked about that, I think a few episodes ago with Andrew Solomon and far from home, that like hoping that something can be different can prevent us from accepting the reality we live in. And acceptance is, you know, accepting that solidity does not exist and that suffering is a part of life, I think is really the first step to self-awareness, a higher form of consciousness, a lot of things. And so, you know, I would not let hope be the cornerstone of suffering. I would not, I would embrace the reality in which you find yourself in. That you are separated and that he has stated clearly he does not want to move forward. And you deserve someone who wants to move forward with you.
So, I think hope is really, really tricky in moments like this.
Beth: [00:28:33] I think that hope and contentedness, or beauty are different things to my favorite Pema Chodron thing is from The Wisdom of No Escape, the story of a woman running from tigers, and she runs to the edge of a cliff and the tigers are pursuing her and she sees vines and she grabs a vine.
And then she realizes that there are tigers below her too. So if she drops, she’s going into tigers off the edge of the cliff and the tigers are running at her and she’s holding the vine. And then she notices a mouse chewing on the vine, and she sees a little bunch of strawberries growing out of a clump of grass, close to her.
And so she looks around and like takes in the whole situation. And then she just pulls off a strawberry and eats it and enjoys it so much. And Pema Chodron writes, “tigers above tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life. It might be the only strawberry we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the precariousness of every single moment of our life.”
Sarah: [00:29:44] So what we wish that for you, and we’re holding your hand, we hope you have lots of support.
And that you gain self-awareness and strength through this experience and that you can be present in this moment and eat the strawberries, I guess.
Beth: [00:30:01] And for Ann too. M and Ann holding you so close in our hearts. Thank you all so much for sharing your stories and your lives with us. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have something you’d like us to discuss here, we will keep you all very close. And until we talk again, keep it nuanced, y’all.
Sarah: [00:30:34] The Nuanced Life is produced by Studio D Podcast Production. Beth: [00:30:38] Alise Knapp is our managing director.
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