[COLUMN] Common Sensual: When a Man Loves (and Loses) a Woman

I’d lost her. After an intimate, four-and-a-half year relationship with Angela, she was gone over a senseless bout of infidelity. We shared a trust I violated, and I lost sleep agonizing over who to be most angry at—myself for my indiscretion, society’s male double-standard for remaining faithful, my naïveté for buying into it all, or Angela for being so willing to throw it all away.

As college sweethearts in the Morehouse-Spelman community, we became each other’s best friend, in addition to committed romantic partners. We had countless late-night discussions on a multitude of issues (ranging from misogyny in Spike Lee films to the inherent contradictions with the Black Greek fraternities/sororities that we’d pledged), including male fidelity. Playing devil’s advocate (or so I thought), I more than once tried to explain away the male’s responsibility by blaming the human gene pool.

“Men have a mad sex drive to keep the earth populated,” I reasoned, believing it maybe more than I thought. “Being monogamous just isn’t consistent with our inner need to get all we can—an animal impulse going back millions of years.”

All the while though, I never really considered being untrue to our commitment…much. We claimed a love that was stronger than social notions of what is allowed, expected, or accepted from men. I still held a healthy attraction for other women, but not in a way that stood to jeopardize our future. I had come to accept those feelings as natural and not hazardous to my growing together with Angela, as long as they weren’t acted upon.

Then it happened.

On a spring break trip to Paris—visiting Simone, an ex-girlfriend of years past—I slipped. Since becoming involved with Angela, I continued a platonic friendship with Simone, the source of many love fights over the years. I always defended the position that Angela should trust enough in our love to allow my relationship with Simone to continue. I’d never cheated before, and I felt Angela had no basis for her insecurities.

Getting permission to visit Simone to profit in my first Parisian experience, I got swept up in unresolved feelings and the excitement of the moment. No, I never slept with Simone, but the way we carried on, I may as well have. (Let’s just say I was a cunning linguist.)

I immediately sought to explain it to myself by placing the blame. Were my unresolved feelings for Simone that strong? Had lifetime whispers in my ear of “boys will be boys” and the “seven-year itch” built up to this? Was this simply an urge, not a need, which I failed to have the strength to deny? When I got back to the States, Angela’s distrust surfaced (having allowed me to visit Simone, who she always viewed as a threat). Having lost her, I immediately confirmed her suspicions by revealing what had happened.

Free will ultimately separates the men from the dogs we’re so often accused of being. Sometimes behavior is based in biology, but we’re all responsible for our actions.

Angela felt violated and taken for granted, emotionally crushed over having been so betrayed. For years, she had strong reservations about my continued relationship with an ex-girlfriend, and having cheated—with Simone, above all—was a knife in her back. My friendship with Simone still continued on that level only, while my more treasured relationship collapsed.

As a student of Alice Walker, Pearl Cleage and Terry McMillan, Angela was independent enough to demand space from me after the incident, to seek liberation from our emotional bond. What hurt the most was realizing that, to rectify things, this was all I could do for her—leave her alone. Proving my love and respect would mean letting go of the one thing I still needed more than ever: our being together.

My endless theories on cheating provided no solace in the face of losing my one love. (Bear in mind, I was a 22-year-old romantic.) In fact, they seemed to taunt me. Males will have as much sex as they can get. Romantic love is a recent evolutionary development. Unfaithful behavior is biological, free will be damned. My innocent acceptance of childhood heroes like the comic book millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne or the philandering spy James Bond rang hollow, having taught all types of subliminal lessons. I severely disrespected Angela, and in the temporary heat of passion, didn’t really think twice about it.

So much pain was caused by my arbitrary fall that it wasn’t really remotely worth it. It was a personal baptism of fire that proved to me that I really didn’t want anyone else, that I wouldn’t get satisfaction from anyone else except Angela in those days, and the grass wasn’t greener on the other side of being committed. I started letting go of macho notions imbedded in my head all my life about men running around being okay. But poetic justice prevailed, since I alienated the very woman who would have benefited the most from my new points of view.

Free will ultimately separates the men from the dogs