by Max S. Gordon
(This essay first appeared at Sapience Magazine, December 2005.)
“If he makes even one mistake,” Darren said, “I’m telling you right now, he’s out.”
Over brunch, Darren had just finished catching me up on the relationship he’d recently ended. We were now envisioning the prospect of a future lover. He’d been hurt severely by Gary, his boyfriend of eight months who he found out had been having sex with other men. It wasn’t the first time a lover of Darren’s had cheated, or attempted to cheat on him.
“Even one mistake?” I asked.
For the look he gave me, I might have been the offender. “I’m tired of being taken advantage of,” he continued. “And of ignoring the signs. Gary was constantly flirting, always letting his phone go to voicemail when we were out together. I gave him too many chances, as usual, but he’s the last, and I mean it this time. If the next man needs to use our relationship to figure out how to be honest, then he can go learn somewhere else.”
I thought about my relationship with my partner, the mistakes I’d made even that morning, and the ones I would probably make by the end of the day. Sometimes, when I was in a particularly cynical mood, my long-term relationship of twelve years felt defined by the mistakes — with the occasional reprieve of companionship and sex thrown in.
I considered men in relationships with each other, and fathers who said the same thing to their sons, whether it was literal or implied: “One mistake, buddy, and you’re out.” The sadness of the withdrawal of love from a partner who was imperfect, as all partners are, and yet the very real dilemma of trying to sustain a relationship with a man you were in love with and who couldn’t be trusted.
I knew from my own experience as a lover and a friend that it is easier to have a rigid, angry jaw like Darren’s than to feel fully the grief of another relationship’s ending in frustration, of calling your friends about your new boyfriend, introducing him and then having to call them all back months later to announce you’ve just broken up with him. When the next “I’ve just met someone” call is made…