BY BRANDON MINIA
For the first time in the almost two years since I finally broke communication with my ex, I feel like I can now fully sympathize with her for something she did that I never thought I ever would.
I understand now why my ex cheated on me with my best friend.
Granted, she’s still a monster. It’s still despicable the way she deceived me for months, with my best friend at that, and that when it was finally convenient for her, she disposed of me and almost pretended that our relationship never happened. But there were a few moments in the months leading up to discovering their secret affair that I have never understood until now.
I’m going to reference an anime I finished last night (Thursday morning to be exact) called White Album 2, so for anyone who cares, there’s some major spoilers for that show coming up. (I also hesitate to recommend it, because as good at it was, it was the first piece of media I ever consumed that really punched me in the gut).
In White Album 2, the main characters were exactly how me, my ex, and my former best friend were. We were a trio that would go to class together, watch the same movies and anime, talk about the same video games, workout together, and go to dinners together. In a way, as TV-sitcom-like as the three of us were, it was probably also inevitable that the eventual love triangle between us would happen. And I’m not trying to romanticize it, because it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, but that’s exactly what it was: a love triangle. It’s the easiest way to understand it, even if it’s something you thought you’d only ever see on television.
Similar to us, the three characters in White Album 2 became a close group of friends who went to school, hung out, and played music together. The piano player, a prodigy daughter of a world famous pianist, meets the guitarist, a studious model student leader protagonist, and immediately the chemistry between them ensues. Then, the student leader, who also happens to be in the music club at their school, meets a kind girl with a heavenly singing voice, and I only say heavenly because of how the anime portrayed her to be some sort of angel. Eventually, the three of them, under the determination of the guitarist protagonist, join forces to create a musical trio that would later set ablaze the stage at their school festival. Evidently, the three get along really well, but this was the beginning of the group’s demise.
The pianist and the guitarist were attracted to each other. There was no question about that, and even the singer knew about it. Yet, the singer acted on her feelings anyways, and eventually made the first move on the guitarist. The guitarist, despite his feelings for the pianist, accepts the singer’s advances, and immediately after their performance, the singer and the guitarist become a couple.
The next few episodes illustrated the guitarist’s thoughts as he realized the magnitude of the dilemma he was now in, and even though at that moment I knew that I hated him as a protagonist, I couldn’t help but appreciate how human the show made him out to be, despite how cruel and despicable he was being to these two women. Yes, as you could probably guess, the pianist eventually opens her heart and admits her feelings to the guitarist, and the guitarist acts on those feelings. It’s no surprise, as he was shown to visibly be torn between the pianist and the singer. And yet there was something tragic in the way he moved between his two lovers. It wasn’t anything blatantly demonic. It was a struggle. You could see how much he hesitated to tell the pianist how he felt, you could hear the regret in his voice when he skipped out on a birthday dinner with the singer just to see the pianist, and you could feel his pain based on the way he would cry alone in his room. There was no doubt in my mind that, despite how absolutely abhorrent he was acting, he was tormented.
In my own situation, I never was able to make sense as to why my ex tried to convey remorse despite what she had done behind my back. I was convinced (and to an extent I still am) that she simply wanted to hurt me. And though I refuse to draw parallels and risk simplifying my own situation, I can appreciate the magnitude of the decision she had to make between me and my best friend. She tried her best to let me off the hook, and she genuinely wanted to figure out a way to make a decision without putting me through misery, because she knew it would break me. As much as I resent her, my realization of this feels like a small ray of light. It’s not a saving grace for how I perceive her, but rather than seeing her as a full-fledged monster, I can appreciate just how human she acted in those dying moments of our relationship. She still failed, but she tried her best to do good.
White Album 2 doesn’t give us a happy ending, something I appreciated because there was no happy ending in my own situation. At the airport, before the pianist departs from Japan to her new home in Europe where she will study to become a world class musician (and, for purpose of dramatics, will be gone forever), she runs into the guitarist and the singer for one last goodbye. On the way to the airport, the guitarist explains to the singer exactly what he was doing behind the singer’s back; in fact, the night before this, the guitarist and the pianist have a very emotional one night stand.
But the singer doesn’t get angry. In fact, she makes up excuses, explaining that it was her that got in the way of them – that she was only acting out of her own selfish volition to keep her friends close.
The guitarist even calls her out at one point for being too nice about the situation, for not being honest about how hurt she was, and this was one of the many moments that struck a chord with me.
Being cheated on with your best friend is an experience I want no one to ever live through, because it’s not the same as being cheated on with a random stranger. I’m not trying to say that one is worse than the other, but in the context of White Album 2, when you realize what your significant other and your best friend are doing behind your back, you’re in denial.
No, you just outright pretend it’s not as bad as you think.
You start making excuses, trying to justify to yourself that the pain you feel is not as bad. You want to make the situation seem less painful than it already is, because the pain of it all is something you don’t want to go through. And it’s something you have to do because you’re not losing one person, but two people; there is absolutely no way you can keep both your best friend and your significant other after something like this.
In some cases, such as my own, you lose both.
Going back to the airport in White Album 2, the three meet in one intense and dramatic final stare down. The guitarist, keeping true to his despicable form, runs from the singer’s side to the pianist and embraces her. Here is where you appreciate just how awful yet human these characters are; not only do you see the guitarist, despite knowing he is morally wrong, acting on his feelings, you see the pianist, who sees the singer watching intently as they both embrace. And almost unexpectedly, perhaps out of hope that the pianist would push the guitarist away for the well-being of her friend, she yells an apology and begins kissing the guitarist intimately, right in front of the singer.
This scene obviously ripped me apart inside, but it also made me realize something about my ex and my former best friend. Again, they were monstrous for acting of their volition despite me, but just like these two characters in the anime, they were both just as tormented, or so I would hope. But I felt like I could finally appreciate the sort of turmoil that the situation brought onto them, despite how despicably they acted. The situation wasn’t pretty for anyone, and it made me realize that there were still losses on their end. A person can be abhorrent in their actions, but it’s still something a human being can do, not necessarily just a monster.
As if this ending couldn’t get any more tragic, the last scene is the singer desperately clinging to the guitarist’s back, promising to stay by his side now that the love of his life is on the plane and flying away. And that’s the reality of how it feels when someone rips your heart out; you want to feel hurt and angry, but instead you find yourself trying to still be close to them because you are just that in love with the person.
In no way am I justifying infidelity. Considering what it has done to my mental and emotional well-being, there is no way I could ever take that stance. Cheating is such an abhorrent act because it makes the victim feel like they just aren’t enough to keep you happy, but also that they weren’t worth the amount of trust they gave you. Worst of all, when it’s with a best friend, it makes you realize that you’re an easy target to manipulate, and that you’re just not capable of standing up for yourself to a group of people. And even though I am saying I ‘appreciate’ the pain that the villain in this anime goes through, that pain is no way on the same level as the pain that the victim feels. The torment you as a cheater feel in that situation is the cause of your own selfish actions.
In fact, White Album 2 shows that all three of these characters are awful human beings. The guitarist, perhaps the worst of all, accepted the feelings of another woman despite knowing that he was in love with the pianist. The two female characters are a little easier to sympathize with. The singer knowingly disrupted the chemistry between her two friends, although it can’t entirely be her fault for acting on her feelings when they were so freely accepted by the guitarist. Likewise, the pianist allowed herself to fall into the guitarist’s impure advances, although she was very much played by that asshole just as the singer was. It’s clear that the guitarist is the villain, but as for who we should sympathize with more, it’s a clear toss up between the two females. It’s complicated.
And that’s why I refuse to draw parallels between this show and my own situation. Both of our scenarios had very complicated nuances. Yes, the cheater in both scenarios is very much the loathsome one out of the three, and the best friend is just as at fault for acting on their feelings despite knowing how it would affect their friend. But how much of that is pure selfishness, and how much of that is due to being pulled in by the selfishness of the cheater? And how much of my pain was due to my own stubbornness when there were many opportunities for me to leave the both of them? I stayed because I just refused to believe they would hurt me despite the overwhelming evidence that they were having an affair.
Should we even be making justifications? Aside from the guitarist being a straight up bastard who couldn’t decide between the two of them, the singer has had problems with emotional intimacy in the past, and so her actions could be seen as her doing what she could to make sure her friends and the one she loved was close by. The pianist also has emotional intimacy problems, but only because her personality disallows her from being close to people, so seeing her best friend date someone that she “saw first” and felt like she could open up to for the first time must have really hurt. Do any of these backstories justify being a part of the guitarist’s wicked schemes and ultimately hurting each other?
It’s a cliche statement to make, but everyone has their reasons to do what they do, right?
So to answer why people cheat: it’s not clear. Or maybe it is. Who knows.
It’s not simply “one isn’t happy with that person anymore” or “one is bored.” It can’t be that simple, otherwise if it really was such a trivial affair (no pun intended), we wouldn’t be so confused and hurt when these situations do arise. As for me, I’m not going to divulge my own situation more openly than I have, but I will say that watching this anime has helped me to understand the motivations of both my ex and my former best friend.
I want to close with the point that cheaters are in no way off the hook despite how human they act during the whole turmoil. You can cry, lose sleep, throw up, get incredibly sick for all I care, but your pain is in no way as bad as the people you are affecting. There is a reason cheating is frowned upon in society. If you want to avoid the pain and the guilt for putting someone through that pain, the solution is simple: don’t cheat. And if you do plan on moving on to someone else, have the decency to break up and let them retain their dignity, because I can tell you that having your significant other break your trust for someone else is outright humiliating.
As complicated and difficult as these situations are, they honestly really don’t have to be. The very simple act of remembering to act like a decent human being can still go a very long way.
24OurMusic – http://www.24ourmusic.net/author/brandon/