On Being Special

By Tania Rochelle

And didn’t we all believe our husbands were different, our families were special, our ability to salvage our marriages was exceptional? So many of the partners I meet imagine that they are different from the rest of us. That our families must not be as wonderful, that our husbands couldn’t have seemed as deep-down good as theirs. I get it. I did it.

Yesterday, driving in the car, I heard an old song I hadn’t heard in ten years. I was listening to an Apple 00’s Love Song playlist when The Luckiest, by Ben Folds, came up and I was transported back to 2001. I remember running to that song on my iPod, early in my marriage, in the evenings, taking a break from my four kids, everyone safe at home as I jogged the five mile route through three neighborhoods. 

That song was my anthem. After a horrible first marriage, I was now married to a guy I felt could have been my brother, if not for the strong physical attraction. I was so comfortable with him, so able to be completely myself. I felt loved and supported. I imagined we must have known each other in a past life. 

There’s a verse in the song that reminded me of one night when Greg and I were dating. While walking from his apartment to a restaurant up the street, we passed an old man, the hem of his pants puddled around his shoes as if he had shrunken several inches. He wore a hat and used a cane. Greg told me he felt sorry for the man, that he saw saw him every day, that he apparently lived alone and no one ever visited. Greg said his own biggest fear was to be a lonely old man. I laughed at the thought. He was too likable, too creative, too funny to ever be alone.

More than twenty years after we met, I realize it was just his conscience talking. He was already keeping secrets from me: the 30k credit card debt he had from watching cable porn in grad school, the fact that he had been addicted to porn since he was eleven years old. Now I understand that he meant to use me and my children to guard against his being a lonely old man—to make him look like a normal person, a family man, a man who was solid and trustworthy.  

So-called sex addicts are not run-of-the-mill cheaters; they haven’t made the “mistake” of a one-night stand or fallen in love with someone else during a challenging time in the marriage (not that I excuse those things). No, these men victimize their families in a carefully planned and executed fraud, hiding behind those who love them as a cover for their insatiable quest for progressively novel and illicit sex .They pretend to hold the same values we do or, worse, they appear to be more righteous. When a woman has been betrayed in this way, the cognitive dissonance between who she thought she married and who he has been revealed to be is nearly impossible to overcome. She keeps going over everything from the past—the births of her children, the family vacations, the holidays and anniversaries. Decades of mental snapshots. She cannot believe this new reality is real. 

When she’s at her lowest point and in the most immutable disbelief, he claims he’s sick. Then the treatment professionals explain to her just how sick he is and promise her a “better than ever” marriage. So she’s got a choice: believe he’s a sex-driven monster, capable of long-term treachery at the expense of her and his own children, or believe the sweet, funny man she married has a disease that can be cured. 

Of course she chooses the lie.