A few years ago my fiancé cheated on me. Since it was about nine months away from the wedding, I had to contact quite a few people to tell them to ignore the Save-the-Dates we had just mailed out and to cancel any gifts they ordered off the registry.
I didn’t tell too many people the real reason I wasn’t getting married anymore since it was quite hard at that time to process everything I was feeling. I not only considered this person to be the love of my life, but my best friend, my confidant, and someone I had trusted with my deepest secrets, fears, and wishes. However, this relationship was also the first serious relationship I had ever been in, so I also had never experienced a serious breakup and had to process losing a girlfriend for the first time alongside a potential spouse. On top of all that, I also had a number of mental health issues I hadn’t fully dealt with, including anxiety, depression, and a chronic case of self-loathing.
The reason I’m telling you all this is because I had no idea how I was supposed to feel or who best to talk to about what I was going through. I felt betrayed and vulnerable, but I also kept switching abruptly from hating this person to hating myself and back again. To those I opened up to, I got a wide variety of responses, that overwhelming majority of which were completely unhelpful.
But the strangest responses I got were from my guy friends. When I told them exactly why I was no longer getting married, I got a lot of awkward silences and frantic attempts to change the subject.
And to a certain extent, this made sense. What do you even say when someone tells you something like that?
Now, if this was just a case of a couple breaking up because he said this and she said that and it turns out blah blah blah, there’s a typical response you get from close friends. The woman becomes the always-popular “crazy ex-girlfriend.” You call her a bitch, say she’s clearly nuts, and generally try to comfort the guy by putting down this other woman, whomever she is.
But the situation of the cuckold is a bit different, I think. Now, I didn’t fit the definition of a real cuckold, since the ye olde Englishe word…e refers to man whose wife has been unfaithful to his marriage, rather than just an relationship (It also refers to a cuckoo bird, but that’s neither here nor there). Regardless of the exact definition, the conceptual idea behind the word still remains engrained in modern culture.
The term itself was supposed to insult the husband, indicating he wasn’t “man” enough to keep his woman around. Even today, cuckold is still used to indicate a man who is weak, cowardly, or a pushover. Currently, the term “cuck” is currently being used by right-wing extremists against those they deem having weak ideals and values.
This concept of the “weak man” who cannot guarantee the monogamy of “his woman” persists to this day. It affects our thinking, as regardless of the circumstances, we think of a man who has been cheated on as deflated, a lesser man in a sense. I know this because I’ve thought it before; about others and eventually about myself.
I’m not saying I’ve been treated like less of a man because of this. In fact, I’m actually here to say quite the opposite. Because no matter how much weirdness I got from those close to me, it’s nothing compared to… well, hang on let me just change gears.
Years later, I was blessed to work for an non-profit organization that works with young women struggling with a myriad of life-altering issues, including self-harm, abuse, eating disorders, trafficking, depression, and anxiety. At a residential facility, these women would commit to finding freedom from their past burdens, and that included dealing with intense histories of past abuse, self-hatred, and addictive behaviours. I just worked on marketing and communications for the company, but once every few months I was privileged to hear a testimony from one of the women who had completed the program.
Oftentimes we think about success as ascending from the bottom (0) to a higher point on the scale (<100). It’s enshrined in both the American Dream and Drake’s “Started From the Bottom.”
But the stories I heard from these young women were far more impressive than any rags-to-riches success story. I saw young women who had been beaten and broken by bullying, abuse, traumatic events, and seemingly inescapable feelings of worthlessness. It was incredibly humbling to see young women face and overcome through faith the kind of struggles most men never even hear about in their whole lives.
Very few of these women have become extremely wealthy like Bill Gates (yet), or extraordinarily famous like Beyoncé (yet), or excessively powerful enough to destroy a planet like Goku (… yet?), but their successes are far, far more impressive than anything I’d ever seen before.
And like I said, it was humbling to hear these stories, especially as a man reflecting on how we tend to see the opposite sex. It’s so easy to see a person, whatever their struggles, and take their actions at face value, assuming they’re crazy bitches.
In truth, I don’t know what caused my fiancé to sleep other people before her wedding. In truth, I will probably never know. But I know that she, like so many, many women in the world was struggling with the kind of issues we like to keep silent. The pressures our society puts on women to be perfections of purity, goddesses of glamour, and skinny sex-objects that are pleasing to the eye but never too sleazy, emotionally in-control but never expressing any emotions that might upset anyone else, intelligent but always conceding to the knowhow of men (even if they aren’t versed in the subject at hand) put women, young and old, in the impossible situation of constantly having to apologize for their own existence.
So in theory this could be the part where I say how because I was treated like a cuckold, I now know what it’s like to be treated as the weaker sex, looked down upon because of my own instability. But I never experienced this. The worse I got was people shuffling around awkwardly and giving no practical advice when I was in an emotionally vulnerable state I wasn’t prepared to handle.
I don’t even know the half of what women today have to deal with on a constant basis, and I’m still trying to learn how to be more understanding and what I can do to help. What I do know is that no matter what someone has done or said, there are no bitches. There are no whores. There are no sluts. There are women, all possessing value and worth that cannot be touched by anyone.
The last thing I learned working at this non-profit is that no one’s struggles diminish or lessen the seriousness of someone else’s. Some of the young women went through hell and back in a very short period of their lives, while others dealt with inner issues that grew gradually over decades. No matter the situation, however, they learned to put their faith first, to lift one another up, to work together, and know how important it is to not suffer in silence.
What happened to me opened up quite a few mental health issues that I am still dealing with, and will have to deal with in one way or another for the rest of my life. But to see these young women face things I can’t even fathom and coming out of them not only in one piece, but stronger, freer, and more whole than they’d ever been is mind-blowing.
Cuckold is just one of many words used throughout history to disparage those who are hurt, and the biggest issue with the word is it makes the issue of hurt one-sided. Human beings betray each other, lie to each other, and cause pain to one another every single day, and although sometimes those hurts can be so deep they take a long, long time to heal, that doesn’t diminish the worth of either person. I believe God created men and women, every single one of them, to be loved by Him. It’s that special immeasurable love that defies all boundaries, all hurts, and all actions. It gives infinite worth and value in equal measure.