I used to have this boyfriend who was a total prick. But I liked his mum – and every now and then we’d go round his mum’s for dinner and she’d stare at me over the boiled carrots and say, àpropos of nothing, ‘be a clever woman, Kate. Be a strong woman.’ At the time, I found this unsolicited advice baffling. I considered myself wise and strong and utterly without naïvety. As the young do – especially when they’re having sex all the time. With hindsight, however, and the experience of age, I’ve decoded the subtext of her words. ‘Don’t take his shit,’ my boyfriend’s mum was telling me. ‘He can’t be trusted. Watch out.’ Only she couldn’t say that out-loud because she loved her son, despite his badness, which is the mother’s curse. She was doomed to endure his crap forever – whereas I, she was reminding me, had an escape route. It was years before I worked that out for myself. I should have listened more carefully.
My mate Becky had a similar experience. One night her mother-in-law drove her home in the inky darkness and pulled over the car, turning to look Becky right in the eye. ‘Just be careful,’ said the mother-in-law, cryptically. ‘He’s like his Dad,’ (a notorious philanderer) ‘he won’t make you happy.’ And with that, she looked back at the road, drove away and they never spoke of it again. A few weeks later Becky heard a rumour that her man had slept with a prostitute. He denied it and she played dumb for a while – but a year or so later she dumped him, finally, moving on to less wankerish pastures.
All women will play dumb at some point in a relationship. We pretend we don’t know what we do really know, because accepting the truth is just a massive faff. We are conditioned to default to stupid. Relentless cultural fantasies of blissful monogamy mean that we assume our partners will do their best to make us happy, and behave decently, like the lovers in sitcoms and movies and story books. Thus, women (and sometimes men, but women mostly) turn a blind eye to terrible behaviour, pretending, even to ourselves, that we don’t believe it when someone tells us our lover has been gambling the mortgage money, or taking coke at work, or shagging his ex behind our back. We surf on the waves of our disbelief, until the truth smashes us in the face and we are forced to confront what we knew all along, really, but were just too scared to acknowledge.
Playing dumb is all well and good when you are very young and beautiful. Post-adolescents can flutter their eyelashes, powder their noses, drink cheap white wine and embrace naïvety to their heart’s content. When it all comes crashing down the pain and the torment and the tears will provide a valuable life-lesson, and they’ll be young enough to move forward, carrying the hard-won wisdom like a mantle.
But here’s the thing: if you are over, say, 22, you are too old to play dumb anymore. You’ll do the rest of us no favours if you keep pretending to believe that he really was working late, that his ex is a crazed liar, that he did do a tiny bit of coke that one time, but he was stressed, it’s nothing really, he hasn’t touched the stuff since. The simplest explanation is almost always the true one. If someone told you he spent your savings on the horses, it is because he did. If your friend’s friend says they saw him with a hooker – he slept with a hooker. It isn’t complicated. Thirty-seven million men and women, worldwide, have signed up to a dating agency that facilitates extra-marital affairs. We are not honest, as a species.
The least you can do for yourself is to heed the advice of my ex-boyfriend’s mother. Be strong. Be clever. Be wise. Don’t take his shit and remember, there is always an escape route – there is always something better, waiting just around the corner, so long as you face the truth head on, like a warrior.
*Image is “Close Up Shot Of Couple Making Love” by photostock at freedigitalphotos.net