I'll never forget my first time.
It was New Year's Eve and we had just returned home from a romantic dinner at a catfish house. We put the kids to bed, popped open a bottle of champagne, and turned on the television just in time to see a man watch the video evidence of his fiancée's affair with his cousin. Hubs snorted and started to turn the channel.
"Stop!" I yelped. "We have to see the confrontation!" We waited.
"Oh yeah, this is so fake," I said when the cheaters emerged from a bar together. "He would never cheat with her." I took a swig of champagne.
"I don't know," Hubs mused. "It is a small town. The pickings may be slim." We continued watching as the jilted lover confronted his cousin. The two tussled, their tattoos a blur beneath the neon lights of the local Quik-N-EZ. Despite myself, I was drawn to the screen like Vic Lineweaver to a terrycloth bathrobe.
I sat, riveted, until the credits rolled, at which point I shuddered in disgust. I had just watched my first episode of Cheaters—on New Year's Eve, no less. It was safe to say I'd hit rock bottom.
It's not something we like to talk about, but nearly all of us have watched Cheaters at one time or another. The couples featured on the reality show won't win Nobel Prizes any time soon, but we can overlook Lurleen Dagstetter's two-toned hair and exposed muffin top and imagine how she must feel after watching her common-law husband make out with a sleazy waitress from the Top Hat Club. I mean, who's to say I wouldn't be cussing and crying and taking swings at the air if the same thing happened to me?
That's exactly what divorce attorney Bobby Goldstein was banking on when he created Cheaters a decade ago. Last week he happened to leave a comment on my blog, which got me to thinking: Does the creator of Cheaters still believe in true love? I set up a phone call to find out.
"I'm so much more protective of my love and romance than I might have been in the past," he tells me. "I've seen Cheaters for 10 years now, and it's just made all that stuff really ugly."
His attitude probably has something to do with the fact that his own wife cheated on him after the show started. For a while, Goldstein swore he'd never get married again. But time changed his mind, along with a redheaded secretary who turned the tables by pursuing him. "I knew I was loved," he explains, "so that was like the most powerful drug I'd ever taken."
Goldstein may have given love another shot, but he seems to view it now as more of a marathon than a walk in the park. "I think it's very difficult to resist temptation if the circumstances are right and the deficits are there," he says. "A couple should be in competition with each other to see who can be more wonderful to the other. It's very easy to take spouses for granted."
No one knows this better than a friend of mine we'll call "Evan." The discovery of his wife's infidelity wasn't featured on a television show, but even if it had been, you wouldn't have believed it. It happened on a day when he and his wife each were flying out to different parts of the country. His wife left in the morning; Evan left that afternoon.
"Halfway through my flight I pulled a magazine out of the seat pocket in front of me and started flipping through it and a boarding pass fell in my lap," he remembers. "It was my wife's. She had told me she was going to Wichita, but she went to Chicago instead and had sat in that very seat on that very plane that very morning and absent-mindedly stuck her boarding pass in that magazine."
Not surprisingly, Evan and his wife are no longer married. Years later, he's still finding it difficult to move on. "I haven't been anywhere near love since I married my ex," he tells me. "I haven't even been on a date in almost two years. It's not bitterness. I love women, in theory. I suppose it's self-defense. One tiny red flag and I'm not interested."
And that's reality, but you won't see it on any television show. Long after the lurid affairs, the explosive confrontations and the divorce papers, so many victims of cheaters still walk around with holes in their hearts, wondering if they'll ever really trust anyone again. As we chatted on the phone, Goldstein seemed convinced he'd finally found a relationship that can withstand the tests of temptation.
"But who knows?" he says, shortly before hanging up. "Anything can happen."
Read more Suburban Turmoil at www.suburbanturmoil.com.
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