My girlfriend gets back from Australia today.
Of all the places for her to take a summer internship, she chose Sydney, half a world away. It made a lot of sense on paper. As an MBA from a top program, she had her pick of summer job options, and working for the best hedge fund in Australia for a seven-week term was going to be yet another gold star on an already spotless resume. Sure, the job was far away, but we could handle the distance, I remember thinking to myself at the time. I mean, we've got Skype and email.
We haven't been dating for all that long, maybe a year now, but it was the kind of love about which they write stories. Everyone could instantly see how deeply in love we both had fallen from the start. She is hot--Megan Fox hot--the kind of person that stops conversations in a bar. Which is how we met, of course, at a bar in Hollywood, ironically enough. And I'm not exactly clumsy in these situations, but even my Entourage group of friends with me were pretty impressed with this pickup; suddenly, I had the prettiest dance partner in the room hanging on my arm, on my every word, with complete and utter adoration. And even they were impressed that a guy like me could be with a girl like this.
She's amazing. Drop-dead gorgeous, the level that causes traffic accidents when people driving take their eyes off of their blackberries. Intelligent enough to get into a highly competitive MBA program and make honors her first year. And strangely humble, the kind of person you would feel comfortable bringing to any party or social engagement, equally at ease in upscale or low-brow environments.
My girlfriend is the kind of person that makes everyone around her feel special, everyone around her feel better. Including, of course, me; she made me feel like the luckiest guy in the room, just proud to be there with a front-and-center seat.
We met early enough last summer that we had many long weekend trips away, with just the two of us, before her first year of school began. And as I said, our falling in love was so quick and so natural, it was perfect. I mean, this must be love, right? When a relationship can go so smoothly that you don't even know why things feel so right. When you look around at others, and see them flailing around just trying to keep their heads above water, but you're swimming along smoothly with the currents. The cadence of our relationship was so lockstep, it was effortless. And there was a bright future together on the road in front of us, and there was sunshine and roses and happiness in sight.
Before she left for Sydney, I had some apprehensions. I'm not the best communicator over the phone, which sometimes makes the distance seem even farther. But I didn't want to tell her what to do, where to be; it's not like I owned her. I reassured myself by knowing we had a commitment to the relationship that transcends distance, that we connect in so many ways, others can only aspire to attain a fraction of the bonds. And in long-distance relationships, where you can't completely know what the other person is doing, thinking, feeling, the layer of unknown can only be bridged by implicit trust.
Before we knew it, she was leaving for Australia. As my girlfriend ran around the house packing, she had her Gmail account up on my computer, and I happened to walk by the monitor and noticed a number of emails from one particular address. I looked more closely. The two of them wrote frequently, multiple times a day, and the subject lines alone revealed indiscretions that went well beyond a casual friendship. No doubt about it, she was cheating on our relationship--enough damning evidence was there. And I suddenly felt like I had been punched in the gut and all the air had been taken from me.
It was all I could do to get out of the room before she walked back in. She knew I was in that room, so she knew I had seen it. She logged off of her email account and made no mention of it, and soon after we got in the car and left for the airport. There was a palpable tension already building between us on the short commute to LAX, but we said our goodbyes without incident and she was off for seven weeks, leaving me to my unanswered questions, to my lingering doubts, to my fears.
I could not process this betrayal. Effortless swimming and frolicking in the water obscured the danger in the depths below. While I had grown comfortable with this relationship, open, vulnerable, and trusting, I had left my heart so unprotected, that reading this seemed to stop my breath altogether. Was I so blinded by a the overall comfort of the relationship, such that I could have missed the tell-tale signs? And though I had done nothing wrong short of a furtive glance at an email inbox, should I blame myself for not being more cautious or guarded in the first place? Should I have tempered my happiness with a healthy dose of skepticism--and if so, would this I have missed out on being happy in the first place?
The friends with whom I confided this quandary gave mixed advice. Some thought I should jettison this relationship altogether; others thought she was the best thing to ever happen to me, that might ever happen to me. Some thought I should call her and demand an apology, but others thought I should wait for her to bring it up. And a few thought I should just let it go and forget about pressing for a confessional, which wouldn't resolve anything; I should just see how I felt when she got back.
So I searched my feelings, rather than forced any actions, letting the questions eat me up from the inside like the corrosive acids of a stomach ulcer. As the acids seeped through my body, affecting my mind, my heart, my soul, I wrestled with how I should respond, if at all. We never talked about it--it was the kind of conversation one would want to have in person--and our conversations were sanitized and cordial. I knew she had cheated. She knew that I knew she had cheated. But we never really talked about it.
Questions festered in my mind. I want so badly to love her just as much as I did before, but things are different, the facts have changed. Once she returned, could I learn to love my girlfriend to those depths again? Would I be able to feel comfortable and trusting in our relationship, if the issue were addressed and forgiveness was granted? Would I become so guarded and jaded, that I could no longer experience the manic joys and intense highs that I had in my state of ignorant bliss? Or are the cracks in the foundation of our relationship too deep to build anything else upon it at all?
Perhaps I'm not a big enough person for being able to completely forgive and overlook past transgressions. Or perhaps the magnitude of this betrayal was such that it didn't merit forgiveness in the first place. As I've matured, I've seen other relationships around me which have experienced a wide array of challenges, with varying degrees of emotional gut-wrenching, and equally varying degrees of responses. Sometimes the relationship can be repaired. Sometimes it can't. There is no black and white; there are infinite gradations of gray in between. And sure, time heals some wounds, but for some betrayals, the cut is so deep that all the time can't heal it enough. How people respond is personal, as there is no textbook for emotions of the heart. And people will respond differently. The question, then, comes down to how I will respond.
I have spent the last seven weeks stewing in my own juices. Some weeks, I do better than others. Sometimes, I can find solace and success in other pursuits and diversions, such that I don't think I need my girlfriend at all. Other times, I want to grab a hold of the elephant in the room and throttle it with all my might until all truths are revealed, emotions are raw and exposed, and issues are resolved.
When she gets back, and stands there in front of me for the first time in a while, I honestly don't know how I'll respond. I don't know if I can keep my own emotions in check. I don't know if I can be the better man and turn the other cheek. I don't know if I'm mature enough to handle this situation in the first place, with a flood of conflicting emotions happening all at once.
I am pretty sure I can be okay with it, and possibly just move on for now. I don't know, however, if I can feel the same way about her, deep in my heart. And maybe that conflict is okay, is good enough to manage; maybe, this is good enough for me. For now.
So here she is. There's a knock at the door. She's standing right in front of me, suitcase in hand, cute as a button, and she simply says with an ever-so-slight smile, "Hi."
Welcome back, Manny Ramirez.
photo credit: Nick Dolding/Digital Vision, Getty Images Osvlado Zoom