A Deceptive Idyll

Wedding, 1980
Wedding, 1980, photograph courtesy of David Lebow

The scene above seems idyllic, a wedding in the Fens in Boston. The photograph was sent to me by a friend, Dave Lebow, who appears on the right with his former girlfriend Lorraine Lans. The occasion was my marriage to Corrin Fearn, a violist, the woman seen clutching my arm. Everyone seems happy.

The truth of the matter is that the marriage was a last-ditch effort to shore up a relationship whose supports were already crumbling. Corri and I had lived together for three years, first in Spokane, then Manhattan, Brooklyn and Boston. Shortly after moving to Boston, when Corri had returned from a symphony engagement in Virginia, she tearfully confessed her infidelities to me. She had gone to Virginia with the intention of having a sexual adventure, developed a crush on a fellow musician that was already involved with another woman, and with her crush unrequited picked up a total stranger that she was not particularly attracted to in a bar. She went home with him and fucked him, then spent time with him and his roommate in his hot tub. It was like she’d thrown a grenade into the middle of our relationship. There was really nothing left but shrapnel and body parts.

The immediate fallout would be familiar to anyone who has experienced something similar; anger, arguments, depression, humiliation, loss of trust. There was also hyper-arousal, an attempt to overcome the sense of loss through sheer, desperate erotic effort. The marriage was accompanied by a mutual exchange of surnames, as if smashing our names or bodies together could make us a whole couple again. Nothing really worked.

I had naively thought that I could be understanding, that I could find forgiveness with the passage of time. What came instead was bitter resentment that soured into hatred. For her part Corri compounded the initial humiliation by telling her friends and some of mine of her escapade. I could no longer look at her without recalling how she had stabbed me through the heart.

We were together for another three years. Her affair eclipsed the three years that had come before, and colored the three that followed. I grew increasingly distant, and eventually had my own affairs. These were in part from a cold desire for revenge, but also the result of a feeling of untethered loneliness. The first was with a young woman who swam at the YMCA in Cambridge, where I worked, She was a graduate student in the medical research department at Harvard. We dated several times, went to a Police concert, a party, a punk bar where the band spit on each other. We never became intimate, beyond a little making out, because she didn’t want to betray her boyfriend. In the meantime, I started staying out later, dreaded returning home and was looking for a way out of the relationship. I wanted to believe that I could find love where there was trust without betrayal. Eventually, in Spokane, I picked up a girl in a bar and spent a night of banging, skin-to-skin sex. She was the sister of an old flame. I came home early in the morning and immediately told Corri where I had been. She seemed indifferent. Our marriage ended about a month later. During our last year together, Corri and I still had infrequent and perfunctory sex that was devoid of passion or meaning.

Although I can barely remember anything about Corrin Fearn now, I can still easily summon a memory of the pain that her confession caused. It’s a scab that still bleeds when I worry it. It has leaked blood and pus into subsequent relationships. Breaches of trust damage Trust.

I know that there are those who advocate open relationships, the value of affairs in strengthening a marriage, or who simply wax poetic about the thrill of illicit erotic adventure. I’ve never been convinced by their arguments. The majority of people in relationships, even serial monogamists, recognize the destructive effects of cheating. Corrin herself was not interested in an open relationship. Cheaters don’t like cheaters. She wanted the stability that a faithful lover provides, but didn’t accept that one must give to get. If you eliminate the narcissists, the chronic malcontents, sociopaths and bipolar disorder from the conversation, I suspect that the number of champions of open relationships or deception is negligible.

Corrin Fearn and I were divorced in 1982. Although I’ve had other relationships since, I’ve never remarried.

Comments (1)

One Response to “A Deceptive Idyll”

  1. admin says:

    It is possible that Corrin was suffering from bipolar disorder. Many of the signs were present, e.g. hyper-sexuality, poor impulse control, etc. She was also subject to prolonged fits of depression. I knew of an earlier incident, when she was engaged to be married to another person. The wedding was called off because, shortly before it was scheduled to take place, Corrin took off with another man and spent several days in bed with him. It was actually through this man that I first met her. But I have read that bipolar infidelity is common.

    Whether or not she was bipolar, the narrative arc of this story is unchanged. It is no less difficult for the partner of someone engaged in infidelity, whether it be caused by selfishness, drunkenness or mental disorder, to process the resultant trauma.

    In retrospect there was an element of Corrin’s confession of her infidelity, both to me and to her friends, that suggested a call for help. I believe that she was shocked at her own behavior, and unable to reconcile it with her sense of self, or with her own personal views of appropriateness. Remorse and feelings of guilt are also typical of bipolar disorder.

    But just as when a schizophrenic wields a knife against a loved one, bipolar or any other infidelity is an act of violent, abusive behavior within the bounds of a relationship. It’s a traumatic event that can leave lasting scars. And with regard to bipolar disorder, as with any other sickness, it is the sick person that has to take the initiative and the responsibility to heal.

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