"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When we first practice to deceive."
~ Sir Walter Scott
Come close, and I'll share a story of a quest for love, but there's intrigue and deceit, with many surprise twists and turns.
I'll call her Chantelle. She was childhood friend who grew up to have a fat career and bank account. I can best describe her as somewhat short, plump, having a pretty face, and looking like an Italian even though she's African-American.
In our youth, I thought her major barriers to finding a long-term boyfriend or husband was her excess weight or the scarcity of men who matched her education and prosperity. DC has more than it's share of successful black men, but the male-female ratio is also skewed in their favor - there's a surplus of available women. They also have a reputation for being pretty picky. Thus, her difficulty in finding a mate wasn't surprising.
Chantelle announced on her 39th birthday that she was going to be married before she turned 40. In her mind, this was the single woman's dreaded number that would indict her as a failure.
"How ya gonna accomplish this?", I asked.
"I'm going to call and tell everyone I know that I seriously want to find a husband, and if they know of a single man, to introduce me. I'll also go out more."
Indeed she did. In the end of her search, she found a boyfriend through her realtor - her married real estate agent she was having an affair with to shorten those long, lonely evenings. I asked her why she was seeing a married man.
"At first he said his marriage was bad and he planned to separate, but then that bitch got pregnant. I'm really pissed off. She only did it to keep him."
I couldn't believe my ears. Here she was, mad that a woman 'had the nerve' to get pregnant by her own damn husband.
"How in the hell did you get in a situation where you're cheating with someone else's husband?", I asked.
"I honestly don't know," she said, "My parents never cheated on each other and they'd die if they knew. So would my sisters. Charles was my realtor. By the time he showed me dozens of houses, we had a mad crush on each other."
She waved her hand away dismissively. "It doesn't matter anymore," she said, "because we stopped seeing each other like that. Now we're just friends, and I told him I wanted his help in finding me a husband. He knows a lot of professional men, and I told him he owes it to me for all the time I spent with him."
"He owes it to you? That's wild. What he say?"
She smiled happily. "He invited to me to church with him. He introduced me to his friend Greg, and we've been dating ever since!"
Well thank goodness for that. Then I did what women always do: I asked her what Greg did for a living.
"He owns his own business," she said excitedly. "He's also been divorced for a little over a year, and has three adult kids. Bought himself a nice townhouse, too, after his wife took their house."
Chantelle would call and give me updates every now and then. She worked long, hard days, then drive nearly an hour in traffic to Greg's house even when he brought paperwork home, and all she could do was watch tv.
"Why go through all that five days a week?", I asked. "Sounds exhausting."
"Well, that's why you don't have a husband," she said. "One has to go that extra distance to stay visible to them. They appreciate it. But noooo, you're lazy and want them to come to you. You have to go to them."
Fuck that, I thought, since she sounded like she was doing most of the driving to keep this thing going, but we all have our strategies. I didn't knock what appeared to be working for her. It was kind of funny; suddenly Chantelle was an 'expert' on snagging a man.
A few months later, I almost accidentally destroyed their relationship by asking her the simple question, "Are you making him wear condoms?"
Her face grew dark and sad. "No," she answered.
"For God's sake! You of all people should know better! What if he has HIV?"
She nodded. "I know," she answered. "I didn't want to bring that up. We might not have gotten this far. He'd have thought that I'd have thought he was nasty. Odds are, he's clean, since he's only been single awhile."
It is this kind of thinking and fear of rejection that is partially responsible for teen girls and grown women taking risky chances. It's not an inaccurate assessment, either. A lot of men refuse to get tested.
I was dying to sleep with a guy I met in the '90s, but suggested we get an HIV test together first. He was livid.
"That's what you think of me?", he yelled. "You think I'm a fag or sleep with whores? What? Are you out of your mind?"
He walked out my house and never spoke to me again.
Anyway, a week later Chantelle called me in tears. "He refused! And then he said our relationship 'won't work out'. Greg broke up with me!"
I felt so guilty.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
I really was; I knew how badly she wanted a husband and a family. I had just adopted my beautiful daughter who was six and half months old. I could see the yearning for a child in her eyes. Her biological clock to have a baby was just about up.
Chantelle didn't give up on Greg. She wrote him a long letter, declaring her love and how she couldn't imagine life without him. She read it to me before she sent it.
"What do you think?," she asked.
"It's very flattering to him," I said. "He may go for it, especially if he has a big ego."
Greg called her immediately and relationship heated up. They set a wedding date, just weeks before her 40th birthday.
I was astounded at the list of expensive shit she wanted as a wedding gift. Crap like $40 dinner plates. No, not the set, just for one plate. I guess they'd be $80 or more now. I bit the bullet and bought her the damn plate, even though I know fine china doesn't get much action.
Her small, bridal shower was nice. It was held in a gorgeous house that would easily go for over a million dollars now. The woman who owned the home was obviously very fond of Chantelle, and had a pregnant daughter who was friendly with me when I sat next her, but otherwise quiet and reserved.
I met a few friends of Chantelle's for the first time and was a bit surprised she had some since she's pretty much an all work no play kind of girl. I also got to see her sisters who I hadn't seen in years.
I was one of the last to leave, and she walked me to my car. Her face was glowing with happiness.
"You look radiant," I said, looking at the gorgeous home that overlooked a woodsy park, "and that was very nice. That lady was really kind to give you this party. Are you friends with her, or her daughter? I think she was the pregnant girl?"
"The mother threw the party for me," she said. "She's great, isn't she? She just loves me to death!"
"How did you meet her?", I asked, wondering about a friendship between the two since they were so far apart in age.
"She's my realtor's mother," she said.
Her eyes cut away from mine. She slipped up and told me too much, and knew it.
"Um, yeah," she answered guiltily.
I said, "You mean to tell me that you allowed the mother of the married man you fucked around with throw you a party, with his pregnant wife there?"
"Well, they don't know! And his mother was so persistent about giving me this party. I couldn't say no to her."
"Oh shit!", I said. "Do your sisters know about this?"
"Hell no! They'd be horrified. Keep your mouth shut about it, okay?"
"Of course," I said truthfully. "Does Greg know you used to sleep with Charles?"
"No, I wanted to tell him, but always lost my nerve."
I shook my head as I made that tsk-tsk-tsk noise. Like a bad omen, this did not bode well.
It suddenly made sense that the pregnant daughter was emotionally cool and quiet during the party. She must have wondered about the relationship between her husband and Chantelle.
"I'm not telling you what to do," I said, "but if you don't tell your husband to be, you better hope this doesn't blow up in your face one day."
"Yeah, well, if somehow he found out, I'd just explain it all happened before I met him and was too embarrassed to admit it."
We hugged and said goodbye. I love Chantelle like a sister, and I wished her luck. She'd need it.
The wedding was nice. I met Greg for the first time.
Charles was his best man.
As requested, I took a lot of pictures.
Chantelle called me a week later and demanded that I bring the photos because the wedding photographer was slow. She just had to see mine immediately and have the negatives.
WTF? Hell, she had the man to look at right there in her house, and I had just gotten in from work. I was wiped out and had to attend to my young son. She read the riot act to me, complaining that how selfish I was. It was weird.
A few days later, she was still pissed. I brought over the pictures. She oohed and ahhed over the wedding day that finally came true.
Afterwards, I asked, "Are you and Greg going to live in your house or his?"
"Mine, since it's nicer," she answered, "and he'll sell his townhouse."
"That makes sense," I said, but I wondered if he'd share the profit from his with her. I didn't ask.
After that day, she always had an excuse of why she couldn't talk long or get together. I got the unspoken message that our friendship had been dumped. That was painful.
Time and tide wait for no man, or woman either. Chantelle discovered in the first two and half years of her marriage that having a child was no longer possible.
Some women can at 40 or so, but they're few and far between. Since I had two adopted kids, it was natural she'd call me for advice when she was ready to adopt. I had missed my friend so didn't mind. We grew close once again.
Her husband was resistant to adopting a child. "He complains constantly that he has grown kids and doesn't want to start over again. Greg especially doesn't want to raise a kid not his own. He's been really difficult about this, but he's finally going along with it."
They got a brand new infant boy from a private adoption agency. Greg and Chantelle hadn't had the baby for more than a few months when she called me in tears and said her marriage had been a nightmare from the beginning.
I was shocked to hear the truth come out of her mouth.
"He's beyond mean," she said. "He's emotionally cruel... selfish... goes for days without speaking to me when we disagree about something... even his grown kids say he's an asshole..."
Her list of complaints went on and on. She was a wreck and I felt sorry for her. Her attainment of the dream of love, a happy marriage and starting family at 39 had hit the rocks hard by 42.
A few days later I checked up on her to suggest a different marriage counselor to save it.
"It's beyond that now!" she cried. "He wants to send the baby back to the agency and a divorce!"
"No!", I screamed.
"Yes!", she wept. "He doesn't want to wait until the adoption is final!"
"Why?", I whispered. "Why is he doing this to you?"
"Because if the adoption is finalized, he says he'd have to pay child support for the next 18 years. I promised I'd never ask for it and I'd put this in writing..."
"What he say?"
"He dismissed the idea!"
She boo-hoo-hoo'ed while I sat helpless, passing her tissue for her tears.
Over the weeks, things got grimmer.
Greg wrote the adoption agency and alleged that Chantelle was 'mentally and emotionally unstable', that she had attacked him once, and would be unfit as a mother.
Shocked, I asked, "Well, did you attack him?"
"Of course not!" she said with disgust. "We had an argument and I threw my purse at him. He called this an attack."
What an asshole.
In some ways, however, Greg's fear of getting stuck with supporting a child he didn't want and wasn't his made sense, but given her promise of no strings attached and the possibility that the agency would take back the baby, her request seemed reasonable.
It didn't occur to me then that if she died while raising this child, he'd still be stuck as the legal father. I'll bet a lawyer told him this. At the time, however, I couldn't believe her husband would go to such lengths or would be so cruel to paint her so horribly with the adoption agency, which could prevent her from adopting after they divorced.
"Chantelle, did Greg ever find out you were screwing his best friend?"
"No way!" she insisted. "Absolutely not! Impossible!"
I shook my head. "I don't know," I said, "You should ask your former lover if he snitched."
"I did! He denied ever saying a word about it to Greg. He has no idea why he's acting this way either!"
"Who else knew, besides me?"
"Your husband is into high tech hobbies," I said. "Check your phones and the wiring. Maybe he's been secretly recording or listening to your phone conversations."
I could see her thinking about this. I know she talked trash about to him to her family and other friends.
"Check his checkbook too, and his credit card statements," I said. "If you see that he's paid a detective agency, maybe he's been trying to dig up some dirt on you."
"There's no dirt to find! I've been faithful!"
A few more weeks went by. The adoption agency sided with Chantelle and agreed she could keep the baby. They'd send the paperwork to court to finalize the adoption as soon as her divorce was final.
I celebrated with her when it went down. At least she got to keep her baby boy.
I saw little from her over the next nine years, usually at her home when she had her kid's birthday party or a family post-holiday gathering. I never heard about or saw a date or boyfriend at any of these.
Chantelle had never been lucky in love. Never. In college she got stuck in a competitive relationship where she and a classmate were vying for the same guy.
After two or three years of this love triangle, he married the other girl. She was crushed, and boyfriends were few and far between once she got into her career.
She called me out of the blue about two weeks ago. I hadn't heard from her since late last year. We chatted about the kids. I asked, "Are you dating anyone?".
"No," she said. "I just broke up with someone yesterday."
"Yesterday? Really?", I asked. "Why'd y'all break up?"
She paused and sounded reluctant to get into the details. "It just hasn't worked out," she said.
"How long had the two of you been going together?"
"Nine years," she answered reluctantly.
"Nine years? How come I've never heard of this guy?"
"Really?", she replied. "I thought I mentioned him."
I knew she was lying and could hear the lie in her voice. I wondered if she was making up shit.
I said, "No. That's weird. I would think I would have run into him at least once at your holiday or family dinners."
She was silent, then finally said, "After dating him all these years, I felt that he could make up his mind about whether or not he wants to take our relationship to the next level. Since he's still not ready, as he says, I had to end it."
"What's his name?", I asked.
She paused too long, as though she might be wondering something. She took the gamble. The name rolled out of her mouth slowly, as slowly as the rolling of dice seen in slow motion.
Finally, she answered.
Nine years with Charles would put her at the time of her marriage breakup and when her now 9 year old son was placed with her. I'd bet the bank that her husband Greg found out about her affair long before their divorce. He was just too damned progressively hostile in their three years of their marriage.
Rather than confront her and dig out the truth, he sat on this toxic secret and it festered like an infected wound. He was amazingly vindictive in a way equal to her own treachery.
It had been nine years since I heard the name Charles.
"Well, that's too bad it didn't work out," I said.
I could have said, 'Charles? The realtor?', but I didn't. He clearly slid back into her bed before the ink was dry on the divorce papers. She'll tell me more if and when she's ever ready.
There's another twist in this story.
These three's a crowd, triangle relationships are often passed down from generation to generation. When it's conscious, you might have a fighting chance of dealing with the same kind of behavior that you grew up around, since you have some awareness of it - but even then, not always.
Chantelle's parents and mine knew each other. They lived two blocks apart. We grew up together.
Her father had a reputation for being upstanding in the community and utterly faithful to his wife, who stayed home and raised their kids.
My dad was a helluva businessman too, but everyone knew he was a ladies man, including my mother and me. I got a clue to this at the age of six, but knew all about it by ten after they had been divorced for a year.
I met many of his girlfriends during my weekend visits. He was decent enough to never let any of them sleep over, but he would take me to their homes where they had fixed dinner for him, and then look disappointed when I showed up with him. During the meal they'd fawn over him like he was a prince.
Afterwards, he'd hold my hand as we walked to his car, and I'd have a bag of leftovers in the other hand.
"Daddy, that woman wants to marry you. I can tell."
"They all do, honey."
"But you don't?"
"No," he said. "I just like a good home cooked meal and little company from time to time."
That's a clue, ladies.
It was a good lesson on how many men think like this, and how a woman can end up holding her bruised heart in her hands, but it didn't sink in until I was 30.
My mother's reaction to my father's many years of philandering was to take a lover. As an adult, she told me about the details of how her affair began before I was born, but I found out who her lover was at 16.
I had returned home too early when a school dance abruptly ended. There was a shooting in the building left one person dead but I didn't see it or the body.
When I got home, my mother was dressed in her nicest robe. I could smell a man's cologne in the living room. I impulsively tried to pull her robe open and got a peek of her nakedness underneath before she could close it.
"You have company!," I said, grinning like an idiot. "I can't believe it!"
"I do not!", she lied.
"Yes you do! I can smell Old Spice! And you're naked! You gotta man here."
(Don't ya hate kids when they do this kinda shit?)
"Why are you home early?", she demanded.
I quickly told her. I was far less upset about the shooting than being excited that my pristine mother had a secret sex life.
"Whose here, Mom?"
"No one!", she yelled. "It's late. Go to bed!"
She was angry. I went to my bedroom. Moments later I heard our front door close. I ran to my window to see this man emerge from our building.
It was Chantelle's father.
Powerful secrets are hard to keep in a family. Often they are transmitted almost through osmosis, and people know things without knowing how they know.
When Chantelle's father passed away shortly before she married, neither I nor my mother attended his funeral. Mom didn't want to go out of guilt or respect to her former lover's wife. Chantelle was pissed at my flimsy excuse that I couldn't miss work or drive my mother there. She wanted us both there, and she adored my mother.
A few weeks later, out of the blue while talking about her late father in a phone call, she asked me, "Did my father leave you anything in his Will?"
"No," I said, shocked. "Why would he?"
She said nothing. Neither did I. Our mutual silence said it all. I guess that someone snitched at the funeral, or maybe something just clicked in her brain and she figured it out on her own.
I'll never tell Chantelle the reason she was born because my mother got pregnant with me. It freed up her father to have sex with his wife, who got pregnant immediately. Her dad told my mother this. I've timed it on the calendar and it works out.
Chantelle was the youngest and daddy's favorite in her family. This put her in a bad position. She re-enacted the games her father played by unconsciously taking the role of the Other Woman. She began this in her early college days, maybe sooner for all I know.
Unconsciously, what better way to show a parent love by becoming what he loved?
Unlike her, I avoided married men like the plague. I had seen too many women waste years with my father, believing his sweet lies. I watched the games he played with them while married to his next two wives.
One lady hung on to him for exactly 50 years, as their photos date back to 1948. It was 1998 before she finally told him to go fuck himself. Hell, by that time they were both in their 80s. Game over.
As a result, I spent years of my youth being insanely attracted to the kind of man a lot of women in the room desires: deeply masculine, sexy, handsome, super smart - but totally unable to be sexually monogamous - just like my daddy.
All were single or divorced, except one fling in my early 20s with a bored husband. It didn't feel right and I damn sure didn't want to get hooked on him, so I didn't do that again.
Roller coaster relationships cause you to miss opportunities for real love because you confuse stability with boredom.
Love don't always come knocking on your door when you're ready to settle down. Like many other young women, I missed out on more than one *possibly* great lifetime relationships - I say possibly because one never knows for sure.
There are always reasons why love isn't convenient, ie., you're too young, in college, starting a demanding career, he/she lives in another city, has military duties, etc.
I'm convinced that love is something that finds you, rather than you finding it. You're not likely to find it if you only go to work and come home, but there are plenty of people who go out all the time and can't find it when they want it. I didn't know this.
Neither did Chantelle who tried to 'force' a situation of love when she really just wanted to get married.
My late 20s to very early 30s were tough: like a lot of young sistas, I tried to find and 'create' love in a relationship, and when those failed, had bitch sessions with my girlfriends where we cried how men are heart breakers because they can't keep their flies zipped. I simply hadn't figured out why I was attracted to them (some were similar to my father), or that love either comes naturally or it doesn't.
I began to study evolutionary psychology. This taught me that the way the human species evolved - psychologically and emotionally - is the primary reason why men, more so than women, are severely challenged when it comes to monogamy, which I wrote about in Evolution is a Bitch. I stopped being mad at men after this. The sexes are what they are.
Generational baggage is good when it's stuff like striving for an education, but hard to carry when it's negative. This includes infidelity and anything else that makes relationships or individual happiness hard.
Because of our parents' history, Chantelle and I are like sisters with a past that proceeds our births.
We never speak of this.