The Incredible Lightness of Cheating [trigger warning]
So recently, a partner of mine cheated on me.
Not a very enlightening start to this blog but bare with me.
For the last year I have been living polyamorously, the purpose of which was to explore my patterns around serial monogamy as well as my self-esteem issues. One of the women I was seeing and I decided in November to take a break from the more serious aspects of the relationship. She needed time to sort herself out apart from the context of being in relationship, and with me being in school and attempting to build a Sangha out here, it was incredible busy. We still met occasionally though and were intimate. That intimacy was contained within a social contract of communication and honesty that had been mutually agreed upon. If you like someone, speak to it. Do not just jump into bed. Speak about your attraction and what you want from this person even if the answer is “I am not sure.” My understanding was that during that time, she would be not be seeking out partners anyway— a sort of pseudo-celibacy to work on herself — so I thought nothing of it.
As we all know, life gets in the way sometimes. We get busy. We disconnect to be productive. As my mentor in Hollow Bones might say, we all go through seasons of life. Relationships can be hitting their fall or winter while work and productivity might be entering spring. During the last month, my partner and I drifted, and only spoke infrequently, with me being busy, and she doing something else (see below).
Sunday night I was checking my e-mail when I noticed a friend had sent me an invite for friendship on a website called Fet Life. It is a social network for those living within the BDSM community. I had an account on there from years ago when I had started to explore things with a previous partner. But for a long time, it remained unused and dormant. While I was on Fet Life, I went to my partner’s page to see what she was up to because I noticed her profile picture had changed to something very provocative.
Based on a post I had found, I learned that she has been intimate with someone 25 days ago. I knew this because she mentioned feeding on someone who she was very attracted to and it wasn’t me. Side note is that this partner identifies as “Psychic Vampire.” It isn’t important to the story save that I knew that her feeding preference was sexual, which is why I knew something was up.
Tangent: One can conceive of a Psychic Vampire as an individual whose subtle body/soul/energy doesn’t seem to replenish. This creates all sorts of physical issues as well as mental ones, as far as I understand it. For more information, check out The Psychic Vampire Codex by my friend Michelle Belanger.
Anyway, this discovery brought up a significant amount of anxiety. I am not ashamed to say that I was definitely in fight or flight mode. I tried to contact her, but no response. I tried to sit, and while that settled me, I was still disturbed. After an hour or so, I finally reached her on Facebook. I cut right to the point: Here are my concerns in order…
What I discovered over the next few days was devastating.
For the better part of the month, my partner had been seeing someone behind my back. She had not only violated our social contract, but she did so premeditatively. Apparently she had gone to a friend’s party and met a cute guy. They didn’t hook up or anything, but they did exchange information. Later that week, they met, they flirted, and to put it bluntly, they fucked. Roughly, I might add, but I’ll explain why that is important below.
Over the next 25 days until this last Saturday, they had met up 6 times and had “sex.” I don’t say they were intimate because what she described was far from it. Apparently as the relationship continued, he got more violent. The relationship shifted from kinky to hurtful, to the point where my partner had bruises all over her body. He would shove her into walls, onto the floor, and against counters. He would hit her on the back, face, and rear far harder than any playing I am aware of. Apparently, just before I found out, she was planning to break it off with him and hadn’t found a way to tell me yet.
A positive aspect of this situation — if you can call it that — is that she was careful with him. So biological safety concerns fall to the wayside.
Now, though, there are the emotions and the lying to deal with. As I am about to type this, I feel myself wanting to cry. I will do my best to stay present as I write.
To understand this situation and how it relates to the search for Enlightenment, I ask you, dear reader to view it from a few complex levels. The first is the closest to me, that being my own emotionality. At first upon hearing this news, I was livid. Barely staying present and non-violent. I wanted to scream. To yell. I know that part of myself well: the violent part that wants to make the feelings of inadequacy go away. To paint the other as corrupt or bad so that I do not have to feel hurt. But through my personal work and my training, I was able to stay present for the most part.
My anger and the underlying fear and sadness was unending. The sex didn’t bother me that much, not really. There were pangs of discomfort and irritation but my real focus was on the lying and dishonesty. She and I had been through something like this before. She was playing online with someone while we were spending time together. When I noticed, I intervened and we discussed it. Having this happen again was gut wrenching. As I explored this with her I became fully present, with my violent anger being transmuted into fierce compassion. I probed to find out more, how this had happened and why.
That brings us to another level. My partner, through the course of her life, has suffered through serious neglect and emotional abuse. Those experiences manifest as a profound desire for attention, specifically sexual attention. I am not a fan of slut shaming, and I think counting numbers of partners is generally bullshit. It stood out to me, however, that her number of partners were nearly 4 times mine and I am a little over 10 years older than her.
After a lot of discussion, meditation, and probing over the last year, I was pretty familiar with the pattern. Real intimacy is scary, but so is loneliness. Rather than reach out to her partner, she sought out others to kill loneliness. This situation with this gentleman was no different, save for the fact that she came across someone dangerous.
Tangent: I realize that I am taking a lot of this at face value, or so it would seem. I am not. I am interacting with it as being real for the purposes of moving forward. It is my belief and experience that everything a person does is a form of communication. If this story is false (which I doubt based on the details, observed bruises, and her reactions to the trauma) this is all still something meaningful. Even if that meaning is that I have to eventually end the relationship. I also have a personal rule to give the benefit of the doubt to people who describe these types of assault/interaction based on statistics and a dislike of victim blame.
Nevertheless, the “gentleman” she chose to kill loneliness with turned out to be aggressive, harmful, and sadistic. Where things get problematic is why she continued the relationship. Shame is a powerful thing. In Mondo Zen, we often refer to Shame as a negative emotional reaction. One based on misinterpreting feelings of sadness and fear. My partner has this tendency and followed it during this interaction. Rather than realize that this person was dangerous, she chose to stay because of her shame. As she put it “I needed to be punished.”
It was at this time that my heart broke open, as part of holding the complexity of this mess of a situation. Not only was I justified in my hurt, my sadness, and my fears, but I was able to hold radical compassion for this woman, who I care for deeply, given the harrowing experience she had just suffered.
Over the course of days I was able to — and now still continue to — sit with my pain and my hurt. Not only did she cheat and lie. But aspects of our sexual play and exploration were done with another. Aspects of play that to me were sacred and that were to be done only with her. And because of her falling asleep into her patterns of behavior, she ended up with a person who not only helped her destroy that space, but who polluted it with malice, hurt, and shame.
The temple of sexual union had been trashed by Barbarians.
And yet, that sexual interaction (that existed in my mind somewhere between overly rough. volitional sex and some grey area form of sexual assault) caused her an enormous amount of physical, emotional, and spiritual pain. How could my heart not blow open?
My point with all this is that I am not a fan of overly New Age interactions with emotion. It needs to be hot, painful, and real for me. Otherwise we are just hiding in cliché as we are spiritual bypassing. Despite all the troubling things above, the situation yielded radical compassion, openness, and fierce self-love.
My partner in this acted as a Bodhisattva in that she showed me more of myself than I wanted to look at and she liberated me from my clinging to our relationship. I now can stay present and engaged with her, but should it become toxic again, I have made it clear that I will leave, and that this leaving will be based on more firmly agreed upon rules of conduct.
I want to be clear. I am in no way infantilizing her. She is an adult and made some shitty decisions. But as an awakening being who also has struggled with endless toxic behaviors from a maligned family of origin, I can resonate with her choices and what happened.
So, to finish up, even in the midst of pain and chaos, we can show up as awakened. We can show up as fiercely compassionate and ready to engage, showing love to the other and experiencing love for ourselves.