The Truth About Homewrecking Ogres

hayley_troll

I have often wondered what kind of person knowingly goes to bed with someone who is married. Is it a power trip to seduce a taken man (or woman), or is it simply about the thrill of no-strings sex (though there are always strings attached)?

A good friend’s wife announced that she was in love with someone she’d been having an affair with at work. She made the decision for them both to end their 15-year marriage, move out of the home they shared with their children and start a new life with her lover. My friend was angry and had every right to be. Although he had never personally met the lover, he despised this individual for ripping their family apart and referred to them as “Shrek” – a slur against their perceived nastiness, yes, but also their selfish, ogre-like behavior.

According to mythology, an ogre is a hideous, clumsy creature that takes what it wants without regard and, horrifically, feeds on the flesh of its victims. So really, my friend wasn’t all that far off base. In both of our cases, ogres deliberately pursued and pounced on our spouses in the workplace, despite their being in a marital fortress clearly surrounded by a moat of family photos and clad in gold-banded armor signifying ineligibility.

Come on. It isn’t like they didn’t know our spouses were married with kids. They knew and didn’t care.

Unbeknownst to each other, my friend and I had separately contacted our homewrecking ogres once we discovered their existence, emailing them photos of our sweet children’s faces in an attempt to shame them into realizing that this affair wasn’t a game. There were real consequences to their actions, with real families with real hearts as collateral damage.

The only responses we got back? Silence. Shrugs.

Going forward, we directed a lot of our bitterness and resentment toward our respective ogres. We villainized them for intruding on our fairy tale existences and callously stomping all over our happily ever afters. Worse, when an ogre plays the innocent victim, telling your 16-year old that “you can’t help who you fall in love with” (which might be true, but you are certainly in control of whether or not you act on it), it makes it very easy to detest them.

If you’ve been cheated on, you know how deep the trauma of betrayal goes. It gnaws at your sense of security and self-worth. You begin to suspect that ogres are lurking all around, because they are. I know that’s true because at least half a dozen of them (that I’m aware of) were able to penetrate and plague my marriage. Naturally, it erodes your trust in people, more specifically, women without boundaries or acceptance of the moral girl code that says to leave other women’s husbands alone.

It took some time, but I eventually realized that it’s easier to make the affair partners out to be monsters because we don’t know them. On the other hand, we know our spouses better than anyone; we love them and we trust them. We share a history, children and a life together. We know that they would never cheat or lie to us so surely, they were coerced by some evil entity into leaving their senses and breaking their vows, right? Wrong.

Villainizing the other woman/man is merely a distraction from the truth. The person who broke their vows is truly the guilty party – they allowed the ogre into the marriage fortress. Ultimately, I came to the realization that for healing to take place, the focus should not be on the outsider. Instead, the rage and blame should be on the person who decided to ruin your marriage long before they took their pants off. It doesn’t matter if they were happy or unhappy, lonely or fulfilled, drunk or sober. When it comes to infidelity, the responsibility always lies with the person in the committed relationship.

No, it’s not easy questioning whether your marriage was a sham and if you’ve been clueless about who you’ve spent the past two decades of your life with. It certainly forced me to stop seeing my spouse as who I thought he was or wanted him to be and start looking at the ugly truth after he showed his true self.

Hey, don’t get me wrong, ogres still need to own up to the deplorable part they played in the affair; they are the desperate creatures willing to jump into bed with a married person. They made their choice; they are not a victim of the heart (or any other body part). Yes, I know that there is a school of thought that says berating the other woman is akin to “slut shaming” but I like what Chump Lady has to say about that that: “You shouldn’t ever be ashamed of your sexuality. You should be ashamed of treating people like shit.”

My anger toward the other woman has somewhat softened into empathy. I have met her on a few occasions and she is, in fact, quite unmonsterlike. She seems to be an intelligent, level-headed, and dare I say, good person. I have little reason to believe she intentionally set out to inflict pain on me and my children. Of course, that does not excuse what she did. But let’s face it, if she hadn’t been one of my ogres, another would have been right around the corner to snatch away my happiness.

I really don’t know what damage in her past would cause her to choose the destructive path that she did, but her selfish decision will always define her presence in my life. I feel bad for her in that way. I also feel bad that she is now married to a man she knows is unable to stay monogamous, but once again, that was her decision. While I do not wish her ill will, I do wish her luck.

My Ex is Getting Remarried. Yippee.

lg6qf6jldixeb4mqcojk

I would have celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary this week. Instead, my ex-husband is getting married to one of several women he had affairs with during the years we were together.

As much as I have been trying to grin and bear it in preparation of this moment, the truth is, it sucks. I guess you never really know how you’re going to weather the storm until you’re in the midst of it.

To be totally honest with you friends, I’m dealing with a little angst this week. Okay, so maybe it’s more of an Alanis-sized “you told me you’d hold me ‘til you died, ‘til you died, but you’re still alive!” kind of angst, but it suits the occasion. This wedding has been a jagged little pill to swallow.

It’s unfair that infidelity gets a big party. Putting a ring on it does not pardon unacceptable behavior (“See? It really was true love after all.”). Marriage is something that I honor and value as sacred, so yeah, it  aggravates me to see a serial cheater who blatantly disregards the meaning of commitment be celebrated for making more empty promises. Unless he has miraculously undergone a scruples transplant recently, he is the same phony I discovered when our marriage finally buckled under the weight of his deception.

That being said, when it comes to my ex, most days I am contentedly floating in a state of “meh.” It’s not quite forgiveness, but basically an acceptance of yes, this happened to me; yes, I now see him for who he really is; and now I’m going to put the focus back on me, my healing and my new life. It means I don’t think of him much.

Yet, when something this momentous happens, it’s hard not to feel like your emotional Band-Aids are being scraped off with a cheese grater, opening up old wounds and causing anger and resentment to ooze out. It’s hard not to hurt or to feel self-pity.

So I’m making a “vow” of another kind, right here and right now. Whatever comes at me this week, my job is to accept what I am feeling, then let it go. I know that when I am down, the best thing I can do is to refocus. Refocus. Refocus. Refocus. So this week, I am going to try to take a deep breath, surrender my angst and put energy into finding gratitude.

I am grateful for perspective. After all, their wedding has nothing to do with me. I must remember that these people are in my past and have zero impact on my future. I have my own hopes and dreams to look forward to. I am responsible for creating my own happiness and I am successful at doing that.

I am grateful for having moved on. I am completely in love with my partner and our life together. In fact, he and I are taking a well-deserved beach vacation this week in a place that makes us feel wonderfully relaxed. He knows just what I need.

I am grateful that my kids’ circle of love has expanded to include new people in their lives who adore and appreciate them the way their biological parents do. And yes, I am grateful that my kids are able to see their parents happy.

I am also grateful for having been able to connect with others who have experienced (and survived) hard things like this before me and have words of wisdom to pass along so that I, too, can find acceptance. One example is this blog excerpt from First Wives World titled “How Will You Feel When Your Ex-Husband Remarries”:

It has taken years to re-establish my life with confidence and courage, on a journey to find and accept and love myself, for all my strengths and weaknesses.

I can honestly now wish my ex-husband’s “new marriage” well. Good luck to both of them! I hope they find their way! But I can do that now because I became proactive and took the time to truly learn and understand why and how relationships happen at all. It’s because of that understanding that I started to see the BIGGER PICTURE. From there, I began a true spiritual journey for myself. I gained clarity and insight into human nature. It also became a task about learning to see others in a new light. I began respecting people in a whole new way.

I am not the same person I was while I was married to my ex-husband. I have personally grown and matured, and if the ex and I met today, I probably wouldn’t like nor be attracted to him. He’s no longer my “type.” My personal interests and goals have changed. I am different. I enjoy my freedom and love all the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for myself.

I can’t say I’d be happy for the newlyweds, as I don’t believe they are happy with themselves as individuals. They are starting off a partnership together that is built upon a desperate and weak foundation. I’ve gained wisdom here – that guy was stealing my light. I am equally grateful for the lessons I learned while being married, as I am for the lesson I learned through divorce. I’ve gained far more than I’ve lost.

Actually, upon hearing the news about “their” wedding day, I know I will feel peaceful and almost relieved as that will finally “close the door” on that chapter of my life. I expect a few tears, based upon sentimentality and the sadness for what “should have been” a good marriage for me. I was a willing and able wife. But the reality is, the man I chose CHOSE not to be a committed and faithful man. That said, maybe just maybe, there won’t be any tears. Maybe I will actually enjoy the moment when I remind myself of just how free I am and how strong I am!

This week marks a big milestone. It is a relief to know that it will come and go and then I will never have to pass this way again. I am already looking forward to the kids returning home next week so that life can get back to normal and I can resume my state of meh.

Q&A With The Chump Lady

chumplady

Lemonade, anyone? A new research study by Binghamton University reveals that women betrayed by unfaithful partners end up in stronger relationships later in life.

After surveying more than 5,000 women in 96 different countries, researchers found that although a woman may “lose” her mate, she actually ends up the winner in the long run. Not only will she experience personal growth, she overcomes being cheated on with a higher mating intelligence that allows her to make better decisions in the future.

That “winning” is the foundation for an empowering new book called Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life by journalist, cartoonist and relationship blogger Tracy Schorn, aka The Chump Lady. Chump Lady is a wildly successful blog that combines sass and satire with solid advice that champions self-respect. Think about it. Much attention is focused on serial cheaters’ unmet needs or their challenges with monogamy. Chump Lady has changed the conversation by lampooning such blameshifting and putting the focus squarely on the cheated upon (“chumps”) and their needs.

I was thrilled to have an opportunity to interview Tracy about the origins of her blog and her new book – a fresh voice for “chumps” seeking a new message about infidelity as they find the courage to start all over again.

How did “Chump Lady” begin? Was it a way of dealing with your own betrayal and if so, what was the turning point for you in deciding to turn pain into something positive that could help others?
Chump Lady: My experience with infidelity was in 2006. I’d been married six months. Eighteen months and several more D-days (the ugly surprises known as Discovery Days), separations and false reconciliations later, we were divorced. When I went through it, online support was hugely important to me, however, it was unfocused. The blind leading the blind, really. The happiest and sanest people I found were divorced. Even when I was healed up and remarried (in 2010, to a fellow chump) — I was still out there trying to give advice to other chumps. The why isn’t my own making sense of it (I had made sense of it – he sucks), but more from a sense of injustice that the advice for infidelity out there was so universally AWFUL and assumed reconciliation.

chumplady_400x400My husband said, “You should write a book.” That seemed like too much of a commitment, so I thought, I’ll start a blog. Just a brain dump of everything I learned about infidelity and chumpdom, so other people wouldn’t repeat my mistakes. I initially thought of it as a clearinghouse. Hey, I’m done with this crap, but please skip ahead. Hope it helps you. The blog became very popular quite quickly. Within 3 months, I was invited to write for Huffington Post Divorce and that in turn, brought more readers. People wrote to say how much it helped them, so I kept at it.

Do you think “Chump Lady” comes from a place of anger or acceptance? 
CL: Both. Anger at the Reconciliation Industrial Complex, which assumes entitlement as natural and that chumps’ default position must be winning back cheaters and Making the Marriage a Good Place to Be – AND acceptance. I had a MUCH happier life after I left a cheater. I’m very happily remarried. Yes, as a squidgy, middle-aged, twice-divorced, uber-chumpy woman in her 40s. If I can get to the other side and have a good life, anyone can.

I wouldn’t have thought being a “chump” was a badge of honor. How do you define it?
CL: “Chumped” is how it FEELS. You feel stupid, conned, played for a fool. The term “wayward partner” is offensive to me – cheaters do not lose their way; their manipulations are deliberate and chosen. Adults have agency. “Chump” is also a way of taking language back; to take a slur and make it a term of empowerment. Okay, I got played. I was a chump. And now I’m mighty.

Chump Lady is very funny – is it important to get over betrayal with a sense of humor?
CL: I don’t know how to write about infidelity any other way. It IS absurd and comically pathetic. Also, humor is a way of asserting power; of turning things on their head and looking at them differently and laughing.

cake

You have a colorful vocabulary, like “cake” for instance. What does “cake” mean?
CL: Cake-eating or cake means having the marriage AND the affair, and trying to maintain that position of advantage. But I didn’t make up “cake” – that one is on all the infidelity boards. I do have other terms that are uniquely Chump Lady — kibbles, untangling the skein of fuckupedness, etc.

One of your most popular features is the UBT (Universal Bullshit Translator) which debunks articles about infidelity. Why do we still buy into myths like “he cheated because you didn’t give him what he wanted?”
CL: Because it gives chumps a sense of control. When your world has fallen apart, control is a very seductive commodity. If I did something wrong, then I can FIX it and stop that terrible thing from ever happening again! It’s much harder to feel vulnerable and powerless because you trusted someone and got played.

You must receive a lot of mail. Have you heard it all or are you still surprised by things people tell you?
CL: I’m still surprised. I do get a ton of mail, but certain telling details still catch me up. Like the cheater who took his mistress to Disney World instead of his kids; and the chump had to spend the Disney savings in the money jar to buy groceries. I still get pissed off at those things. Which keeps me writing and lampooning narcissists.

What would you say you’ve learned most since becoming the Chump Lady?
CL: That people are very, very resilient. I’ve read tens of thousands of stories, and people bounce back from the most horrific stuff. I think the saddest stories I read are from people who were cheated on while pregnant, and divorced cheaters with infants or high-risk pregnancies, or toddlers at home, who are physically and financially vulnerable on top of everything else. When those people make it, I cheer. I LOVE the “tell me how you’re mighty” stories.

holly_petraeusI’d say my other takeaway is that no one should ever be a stay-at-home mother unless they have a trust fund. I hate to come down on the mommy wars; I worked part-time when my son was little. I just think to take yourself out of the workplace is a terrible risk. The odds of divorce are 50/50. Now factor in disease, disability, early death? You should always have a way of supporting yourself. (And before the Men’s Rights people beat me up — I think stay-at-home parenthood sucks for men too: she cheats and gets alimony because she was out of the workplace.) Chumps who are financially vulnerable have fewer good choices. I want everyone to have good choices. Infidelity and divorce can still be overcome, but in my opinion, it’s much harder without a safety net. You gotta be very scrappy in court.

What do you hope readers get from reading your book?
CL: I hope my book is exactly what it advertises itself to be — a survival guide to infidelity. I want chumps to protect themselves after infidelity and focus on THEIR needs over those of cheaters.

Lastly, what are your thoughts on monogamy? Is it achievable?
CL: Of course it is. Cheating isn’t a monogamy problem, it’s a character problem. The reason people feign monogamy and then cheat is to maintain an unfair advantage — you invest all your resources in THEM, you play by the rules, and they keep their options open (cake!). That’s a character issue. Don’t use and abuse people. We are created to bond with one another, and trust is the social glue that holds us all together. I don’t think that’s ever going to change. And I think it will always be aberrant and painful when people violate those norms.lovemonkey

I think everyone should love again after infidelity. I don’t necessarily mean being coupled up again in the traditional sense; I mean don’t let a cheater be the last person you ever invest in. Go engage with the world, give of yourself and “gain a life.”

 

Tracy Schorn’s book Leave a Cheater, Gain a Life: The Chump Lady’s Survival Guide (Running Press) is available now.