On Forgiveness (Or Lack Thereof)
I don’t watch a lot of internet videos, but I happened to watch one recently that was making the rounds on Facebook. It was an interview with a woman — a pastor, I think — speaking about the power of forgiveness. Forgiving, she said, meant you weren’t allowing the person or act that hurt you to retain power over you. You're cutting the ties that bind you to them.
My boyfriend cheated on me with one of my closest friends. A year later, I’m still in a relationship with him, and I'm still trying to find my way to forgiveness.
What do you do when you don't want to cut the ties that bind you to the person who hurt you? How do you isolate just the right threads?
I’m not good at forgiving. I can’t quite seem to reliably wrap my head around what it means or how to do it. A boy in kindergarten told me that I shouldn’t be wearing a Ghostbusters costume on Halloween, because “Ghostbusters is only for boys,” and I never quite forgave him for that bit of childhood bigotry, not even by the time we graduated high school together. How the fuck, then, am I supposed to forgive a man I love and a friend I cared about for betraying me together?
My boyfriend doesn’t like it when I call what he did cheating. He doesn’t think he cheated on me.
I’ll admit that polyamory makes this equation a bit more complex. After all, my boyfriend and I are both married to other people. And secretly finger-fucking my close friend in my spare bedroom was not, it’s true, technically against the stated rules of our relationship. But like, come on. The phrase you’ll hear poly people repeat, over and over again, about how they conduct their relationships ethically and functionally is “open and honest.” This is the basic ground rule upon which we, as far as I understood things, were building our relationship. And my boyfriend secretly finger-fucking anyone in my spare bedroom seems to me to be pretty obviously outside the scope of openness and honesty.
To be honest, I’m not terribly interested in the technicalities. “He cheated on me with my friend” accurately reflects my experience and feelings.
I talked to a monogamous friend of mine about how she forgave her husband after he cheated on her. Step one, she said, was about him proving that he’d cut ties with the other woman and demonstrating his commitment to rebuilding trust with her, his partner.
My boyfriend continued to have a relationship with the woman he cheated on me with. She’s his other girlfriend now. She’s spent the last seven or so months claiming that I’m trying to ruin her life while actively fucking up mine.
You see, my boyfriend’s other girlfriend who used to be my friend sort of apologized to me, several days after my boyfriend finger-fucked her in my spare bedroom. She couldn’t bring herself to say what she was apologizing for, and she acted as though she were only talking to me because he’d told her she needed to. And then she offered to break things off with him if I wanted her to.
I did want that, very much. She and her husband have what I would describe as a rather messy history with nonmonogamy, and no, I absolutely was not comfortable having my boyfriend involved in it.
And yet that wasn’t a choice I had the right to make. I don’t get to choose his partners for him. I get to control my own choices, not other people’s.
And besides that, how could I possibly tell her to end it and not expect one or both of them to resent me for it?
So instead I sort of accepted her apology and tried not to resent them both for doing a shitty thing in my spare bedroom and then continuing to do it in front of me despite my intense discomfort about it.
I should not have accepted her apology, even in the halfhearted way that I did. I should have allowed myself to feel the anger and hurt I was trying to stamp down. I was trying to do what I thought was right for them, but it wasn’t right for myself.
So I sent her a message, when I could no longer stem the tide of my anger. I told her that I was still hurt and angry, and I told her why. I thought that, as my ostensible friend, she ought to hear those things from me.
Her response was (paraphrased), “I already apologized, you bitch,” and then she blocked me.
After that, she started accusing me of being out to get her. She has claimed I am her abuser (on the basis of that single message... after which I respected her desire to have no further contact with me). She has tried to control aspects of my relationship with our mutual boyfriend. She has tried to force him to dump me.
There’s so much to forgive. I barely know where to start.
I know I’m not ready to start forgiving her. I don’t know if I ever will be. I don’t know if it matters. I don’t have a relationship of any kind with her anymore.
But I still have this boyfriend. And I’m still trying to figure out what it means to forgive him for his part in all of this.
And I still break down crying now and then. About the fact that as long as he’s with her, I’ll never be able to build the life with him that I once hoped to, because how do you build a shared life with someone whose other girlfriend behaves as though you are the root of all evil? About how stressful it has been, just trying to find a way to survive intact. About how hard it is to accept his choice to remain in a relationship with her, given that she has tried to do to me exactly the things I knew from the beginning I did not have the right to do to her — that is, to dictate the terms of her relationships and the people she could be involved with. About how much it still hurts that my boyfriend and my friend got physically involved with each other in my home and behind my back. That neither of them had enough respect for their respective relationships with me to talk to me before finger-fucking in my spare bedroom.
I should say here that, when I did the same thing to my boyfriend that I did to my former friend — when I explained to him that I wasn't OK, that I was hurt and angry and here's why — he did and has continued to do a great deal more than say, “I already apologized, you bitch.” He’s owned that he fucked some things up, semantic quibbles aside. He’s worked to repair the broken trust. We've worked together to rebuild the damage in our relationship. We're going to couples therapy. It’s not perfect, but it’s a deeper and more deliberate relationship than it was before.
Still, how do you forgive someone for something that keeps finding new ways to cause harm to you? How do you fully rebuild trust with someone who keeps choosing to remain in a relationship with a person who keeps trying to negatively impact yours?
Sometimes I think that the best I'll ever do is just learn to live with the pain. Some days I'm better at that than others. Is that forgiveness? Or does true forgiveness mean finding a way to let go of the hurt altogether? Is it a single act? Or is it an ongoing process? Is it possible to have forgiven him on one day, and not forgiven on the next?
I don't know where to find forgiveness. I'm not even sure I know where to look.
Can you love someone and not forgive them? For how long?