“Do you have anything that you’re hypocritical about in your own life?”
My mother just asked me this question. We’d been chatting angrily about the latest conservative homosexual coming-out, Ken Mehlman, “the most powerful Republican in history to identify as gay.” I’d mentioned this other conservative leader, a Baptist minister exposed hiring a rent boy, who claimed that “I needed to explore the psyche of a real live gay and witness first-hand what the lifestyle is all about so I could finally find the cure.”
“What do these people tell themselves? How can they justify themselves?” I cried, at which point my mother gently asked about hypocrisy.
I try really hard not to be hypocritical about things. But, like everyone, I’ve had my moments. It seems to me that hypocrisy almost always arises from conflicted emotions, rather than a straightforward intent to lie. The bigger the emotional conflict, the nastier the hypocrisy can get. For this reason, I think I have some understanding of people like Ken Mehlman, who clearly had a really difficult coming-out process, and whose sexuality drastically contradicts his perceived values. (I still think he should at least apologize, though.)
So here’s my biggest moment of hypocrisy. I’m writing about it to remind myself that sex and romance can be terribly difficult, that they bump up against nearly everyone’s morals at some point, and that when you’re really hurt and confused it can be legitimately difficult to know what you yourself are thinking.
I have always been a fierce, aggressive proponent of honesty in relationships. To me, the cardinal relationship sin has always been cheating. This is not because I think there’s anything wrong with polyamory or swing — in fact, polyamory or swing are the opposite of cheating, because they involve pre-negotiated, extremely consensual non-monogamy.
Relatedly, I think that another huge sin is deliberately interfering in someone else’s relationship. Being the secret “other man” or the “mistress” on purpose is wrong: you’re very seriously harming your partner’s partner. (The first guy I kissed turned out to be cheating on his girlfriend. As soon as I found out, I fell into a teenage rage, hunted him down while wearing a pair of extremely sharp high heels, and kicked him in the crotch. I acknowledge that I shouldn’t have non-consensually, vengefully hurt the gentleman in question; by telling the story, I’m just trying to demonstrate that I have strong feelings on this topic.)
Thus, of course, my biggest moment of hypocrisy involved fidelity.
I had fallen ridiculously in love with a gentleman to whom I sometimes refer as Mr. Inferno. And he had, to all appearances, been very in love with me. Our relationship was relatively brief, but we spent so much time together — and clicked so well — that I was incredibly startled when he suddenly revealed love for his best friend of 5 years. (Lest you judge my perceptions, gentle reader, let it be known that the best friend lived in a city several hours away from Chicago.) He felt like he was betraying her, so although he professed love for me as well, he dumped me and went straight to her. He cried when we broke up; I was too shocked to cry.
It might have ended up fine, if Mr. Inferno hadn’t felt conflicted about it. But he did, and he expressed that by remaining close friends with me … and by forcing me to set almost all the boundaries on our relationship. He also made the terribly traditional error of asking me for advice about his relationship. I spent lots of time with him, I gave him the advice he wanted, we tried to pretend nothing was different. All things I knew better than to do; all things I couldn’t seem to resist. The only thing I resisted was actually hooking up with him.
Until, one night, he’d been having a particularly rough time with his girlfriend, and I’d been sick and haunted with missing him, and we got drunk, and I let him kiss me.
I didn’t particularly enjoy it on a sensual level. The whole time, I could almost feel myself preventing what I was doing, and I don’t like drunk hookups anyway; so my body wasn’t especially responding. And I almost allowed myself to acknowledge the darker motivations behind what I was doing; I knew part of me (hell, maybe all of me) was participating not just because I missed him, not just because I didn’t think their relationship was good for him, but because I was angry that he’d so coldly and quickly turned away from me; because I wanted to force him to acknowledge that he was still crazy about me. Really, the whole thing had almost nothing to do with desire or pleasure, and everything to do with frantically trying to patch the rough-edged wound he’d left. Frantically trying to make myself feel just a little bit less sick, a little bit less haunted.
Needless to say, it didn’t end well. I ended up feeling furious at myself and at Mr. Inferno, and more miserable than before — ill with my and his hypocrisy. Afterwards, he immediately freaked out and called his girlfriend, which is somewhat honorable, I suppose …. The next day I informed him that I couldn’t stand the thought of ever being romantically involved with him again. Less because it was actually true, and more because I felt awful for harming his girlfriend, and I had to draw a line that made it clear I would never interfere again. A week later I stopped talking to him entirely. These actions, too, were somewhat honorable. I suppose.
I’d like to say it ended there, but it didn’t. Suffice to say that we both went through various phases of trying to patch up our friendship, and angrily hating each other. I was hardly innocent throughout this process, though I swear that I tried to stay honorable and open-hearted; still, I did small manipulative and hurtful things, just as he did. When I was last in Chicago, I accidentally ran into Mr. Inferno while I was out on a date, and he said a bunch of aggressive things (direct quote: “What are you doing in my café?!”), then literally stormed out. (Did he think I plotted to run into him, attempting to make him jealous? I’ve never been sure, but he was clearly pretty upset.)
I’m sorry to say that was the last time we interacted. I’d like to believe that we could someday be friends again, but it seems unlikely. Which just goes to show that once hypocrisy poisons a relationship, you might as well wave goodbye.
My hypocrisy was a result more of confusion than evil intent. I knew how badly it could end, yet I dramatically failed at controlling the situation. I still believe that I did something wrong, and it’s important that I acknowledge that I should have done better, but I figure that it’s also important to give myself space to understand how it happened.
There are communities out there dedicated to improving human rationalism, and one of the biggest reasons I think they’re important is that we can hopefully get better at knowing what the hell we’re thinking. And once we’re better at that, hopefully people will be less hypocritical — especially about sex, where it’s hardest of all to be rational.
Careful understanding and deliberate rationality: our major tactics to reduce the hypocrisy of people like Ken Mehlman, whose coming out of the closet will hopefully influence more accepting sexual attitudes across the Republican Party. And people like me.