Betrayal a rite of passage

By Claire Martens

Betrayal has been on my mind a lot lately. It began with the blog by my fellow feminist writer and was reintroduced with a vengeance by my own latest betrayal, this very day. I felt the writer’s bitterness and pain as I read through her story, knowing too that she may never get over it, and I felt that same familiar coldness rising up inside me, making me feel disconnected from reality. It’s an old method of dealing with issues in my life. Having gone through the same, many times, I look upon betrayal dispassionately, almost scientifically.

Psychologists talk about the necessity of betrayal. Sandy Blackburn-Wright, in her book, Holding up the Sky: a African Life, says this of the necessity of betrayal:

“[it’s] the moment that moves us from child to adult, the moment we understand that we live on this earth with humans, not heroes.”

Essentially, the belief is that being betrayed, and in turn betraying, is a rite of passage to adulthood because it allows us to understand and accept the weaknesses of being human.

When I think back of my first betrayal, I think about meeting my friend on the way to seeing the boy who had hurt me. I was gushing tears on the walk there and he happened to pass by. When I told him about everything that had taken place he said something that has stuck with me every time it has happened again. He said, “It’s not how you fell down that matters, but how you get up.”

I do not wish betrayal on anyone, but I also know that it happens so often. Whether it’s simply a lie or omission, or cheating, or loss of trust or any other kind of betrayal, it quite simply sucks. Is the necessity of betrayal justification for it happening; that it is necessary to know betrayal in order to get a more adult perspective on life? I am not so sure. What are the lessons betrayal is supposed to teach us? To get up and carry on with dignity and strength? Well, yes. That we need to accept that this happens and that we shouldn’t focus only on the negative feelings; instead our focus should be on how to deal with it adequately and humanely? Perhaps. There are no easy answers, are there? There are just stories; many stories.

Have you ever cheated on someone; I have. I did it because I did not have the maturity or guts to deal with the problems I had in the current relationship. After the betrayal I realised that no one can ever promise that they will never do it to someone else. I realised that people mess up. That’s because what betrayal doesn’t teach us is how to refrain from betraying others. Betrayal is just so easy and it happens for a number of different reasons. Loss of control, alcohol, relationship trouble or even just because it is seemed like a good thing to do at the time, I think I have considered the varied and unhappy nature of these excuses for as long as I can remember.

I am tired of those excuses. After my own betrayals I lost a lot of faith in men. I started to believe that it would always happen to me, that I deserved it because of the way I was. It took me a long time to trust that not everyone will hurt you and that no betrayal is deserved. That doesn’t mean that I don’t despair. After today, I will have to [again] rebuild the trust I used to have. The problem is that, while I do this, other men in my life will bear the brunt of my own insecurities.

Having said this, I think that there are different degrees of betrayal and different ways of dealing with it. Some women live with betrayal and even bounce back from it. Some relationships can even flourish after betrayal has happened. I don’t think it is fair to judge people by this, or trivialise how difficult it must be do deal with something like betrayal. But I think it is fair to suggest that people understand betrayal for what it is, how it happens and what it means. One thing I have tried my best to do is not be bitter about it, not feel like it is my penance and try to trust again, as much as I can.


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