POSTED ON DECEMBER 30, 2009:
THE ADVICE GODDESS
Want Lies With That?
My boyfriend of six months revealed that he's never been faithful to anyone, not even his wife of 10 years, whom he cheated on constantly because he married too young and made himself stay for the kids. Once he divorced, about a year ago, he decided never to lie or cheat again. He said he wants a future with me, wants to be honest about everything, and if there's anything I want to know, I should just ask. I believe in loving someone unconditionally and without judgment, and I have a lot of respect for him for telling me the truth. I'm just not sure if the chance is worth taking: whether he'd be unfaithful and break my heart into a thousand pieces.
- Loving Cautiously
In a new relationship, any guy can put his best foot forward, but maybe it takes a guy who really loves you to put his worst foot forward: warning you that you could be waiting for the other shoe to drop--off the side of some other girl's bed.
Of course, he could also be warning you so that if he does cheat, well, you were warned. Commendable as it is that he's resolved never to lie or cheat again, he's been divorced a year and seeing you for half that time. That's a seriously short stretch of never--especially for a guy who's never been faithful to anyone (presumably, even running around on some pigtailed 14-year-old with the junior high school hussy). And while he talks a remorseful game, he still explains his marital infidelity with the howler "I did it for the children." Paternal sacrifice is admirable, but more so when working three jobs to keep a roof over the kiddies' heads is what a father's been doing--and not a string of bar floozies.
While many are quick to blame their cheating on a bum relationship, there seems to be a cheater personality. As I wrote in my column "Charlotte's (Tangled) Web," researchers Todd Shackelford and David Buss found three personality traits common to people prone to getting some on the side. There's narcissism--being self-absorbed, self-important, lacking in empathy, and predisposed to exploiting others. The other two are low conscientiousness and high "psychoticism," clinical terms for a personality marked by impulsivity, unreliability, and an inability to delay gratification. So...any of this seem familiar?
Clearly, the last thing you should be engaging in is "unconditional love." Sounds beautiful, but that's love minus discernment, which isn't love at all, but projectile sentimentality. Seeing whether he's turned over a new leaf takes ongoing discernment--even beyond the two-year point. On average, that's how long the happiness high people get from marrying seems to last, according to social psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky. For you two, the hot new thing phase might end sooner or later, but this at least gives you some sort of marker to go by. You know, seasons change, leaves fall...panties drop?
It's a good thing and a bad thing, having your relationship front-loaded with news of his zipper management issues. For day-to-day peace of mind, you want "I wonder if he'll ever cheat" to maybe be a footnote on page 33 of your relationship story, not in bold type at the top of page one. On a positive note, you should be less likely to let monogamy slip into monotony. And, while most couples take for granted that both partners will be on their faithful best behavior, having this out in the open might help him focus on what really matters to him, and how he'll deal, should temptation slide its hotel room key down the bar.
Making Leave Last
Why do exes always make return appearances? My ex-wife showed up at my door one night after a crisis with her husband, and two ex-girlfriends came back for a fling. Most bafflingly, a girl I really fell for (who's now married) just texted me out of the blue.
People always want to make something out of patterns, which sometimes have meaning but often don't. If, whenever you eat a peanut, you blow up so big somebody tries to stencil Goodyear across your side, then attach a passenger cabin, it's wise to get checked out for a peanut allergy. But, just because four of your exes reappeared, you can't make pronouncements about exes in general. If this isn't a coincidence, you're either a pushover or a guy who doesn't end things ugly. (Or, maybe you have a peanut allergy.) These women probably feel they can count on you to mess around without messing things up with the man in their life. If you don't want late-night therapy calls, get caller ID. Beyond that, what's the downside? Sure, home invasions are alarming, but maybe complain when the perp's shoving a gun in your face, not pushed-up, half-naked cleavage.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com.
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