Lemonade and Infidelity and Becky
by Rula Al-Nasrawi
Beyonce dropped a visual album a week ago and the world nearly imploded. Nearly. But we’re all still here so it’s fine. There is too much to unpack in terms of themes and cultural significance, I promise I’m not even going to try to go there. But one major glaring theme that really had the Beyhive buzzing was that of Jay Z’s rumored infidelity. People are angry; angry at Jay for allegedly cheating on his goddess of a wife, angry at Rachel Roy for allegedly being Jay Z’s mistress, angry at Rachel Ray for having a name that sounds kind of like Rachel Roy. Cheating makes people angry. Infidelity makes people angry. Witnessing betrayal among the beautiful and the seemingly perfect makes us realize that it can happen to anyone, and it probably will.
For people that haven’t been on any side of the infidelity trifecta, there are only two colors; black and white. For them, we cheat because we are unhappy, and we are unhappy because we are flawed. We are cheated on because we are weak or boring or not present. These things may all be true sometimes, but in the cases of the disruption of a monogamous norm, the lines are always blurred, the color always a cloudy gray.
Who do we choose to point the finger at? Who do we choose to resent? Who do we shame?
Some say that monogamy is dead. That it’s a fairy tale our mothers read to us while we lay in bed drifting off to sleep. That it’s the stuff of lucid dreams that aren’t lucid enough to fully grasp in reality with our own hands. I’m not sure if that’s true; if monogamy is a heavily made-up corpse. With monogamy or relationships in general, two people walk the same path, and some can stay on that path together longer than others. I just don’t know if that means that people can stray from the path for a while, get lost in the woods, and feasibly make it back. Is a broken compass a guarantee for every life? And if you say that your compass has never tempted you into murky waters, are you telling the truth?
In Lemonade Queen Bey alludes to broken trust followed by redemption. But that’s not always how it works.
Columnist Dan Savage says that “people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.” I’m being honest when I say that boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted all sound like perfectly valid reasons to dream of greener grass. I’m also not the first person to say that marriage and monogamy and spending all of your time with one person often seems lackluster, that it's human nature to grow complacent with routine. But then when boundaries are made and crossed and made and crossed time and time again, do we also just accept that as part of human nature? That’s not an easy card to play when love is on the table. Because love fucks people up.
Have you ever glided your hand through an open flame and felt like you and that flame had an understanding? Glide fast and swiftly and you won’t feel any pain, but hesitate even for a second and you'll be burned bitch. Now I know what people mean when they say you’re playing with fire. I’ve been on different sides of the infidelity trifecta. I’ve experienced doubt, I've developed insomnia fueled by jealousy, I've dwelled on the other women that I knew he wanted too and I wondered if I was more like them, would I be enough? Teeth like confetti, Bey said. It's easy to become fixated on everything you're not, everything they need to fill the holes to mold the perfect partner. There is no perfect partner. But we are constantly trying to carve one out of flesh anyway.
Along with the aches of doubt, I also know the feeling of deep regret. Early morning dry heaving away memories from the night before. Mama said there’d be days like this. Maybe not quite like this. Days where I would rather be a broken Beyonce but instead I was Becky. And the high wasn't worth the guilt. I would rather feel the flames lick my own skin then watch someone else slowly get burned. Wouldn’t you? I’d rather be crazy.
Why do people cheat? Why do people believe in fairy tales and destroy them themselves? I can’t answer that. There is something to be said about how humans time and time again create homes that even they cannot reside in. We are a masochistic species. We welcome misery or at the very least tolerate it for the Snap content. When life gives us lemons we don’t always make lemonade. Sometimes we hold the lemons up to our eyes and squeeze until the juice burns into our corneas. We want to set the bar high, we want higher expectations. But then we relish the moment those expectations are let down so we can say “I told you so” to no one but ourselves.
Have you ever flirted with a married man and liked it? Sometimes we become magnets for people who belong to other people. They find comfort in you. Your breasts are his pillows, your hips are his blanket, your legs the legs of his bed, your ass his headboard. You are free and exciting and new and you don’t nag him about rent or dishes or putting a ring on it. My daddy warned me about men like you. We don’t know anything about these people, whether they spend their years looking without touching, or touching without looking. But we do know that men and women are the kings and queens of complicated promises, and marriage is the most complicated promise of them all.
When I see Beyonce’s hurt in “Lemonade” I see myself. We all do, even if we’ve never quite been there. A friend tells me over drinks that her partner now knows everything about her and she is now completely terrified. We are all scared shitless of someone knowing everything about us and still asking for the return policy. We are terrified that we are not enough for the one we want the most. No amount of self-help can prepare you for the sickening realization that someone does not fully belong to you. But no one will ever really belong to you, except yourself. You belong to you. That sounds like something my mother said to me once. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old and I spent about a year in and out of therapy asking shrinks what the point of marriage was if the divorce rate was so high. I wasn't even being cynical, I was too young to be.
Monogamy isn’t dead. Not yet. But monogamy is certainly flawed. We are bound by the confines we place on ourselves, that a desire for someone outside of that confine should be repressed and repressed and repressed until something snaps. No one wants to admit that they may not be well equipped for 30 plus years of commitment to one person. Because admitting that means admitting failure. But the failure doesn't lie in divorce, the failure lies in the lies, the deception, the absence of open communication. I believe in love, I believe in finding someone special to walk the path with you. But if someone strays you can’t veer off to find them; you have to keep going in the direction you’re headed in and just trust that if they fix their compass they’ll find you again. And if not, tell that boy bye.
We are pained when something we thought about ourselves turns out to be untrue. We'd like to think we are past lying to the ones we love, to looking at someone but seeing someone different, to letting someone else’s partner come in and out of our own world through a revolving door, to surprising ourselves with our ability to disassociate from the wrongs and the yes’s that should have been no’s and the nights where you looked in the mirror and didn’t see a face at all just a blur of dots waiting for you to connect them.
People suffering from love lost often bounce back faster than they realize. The grieving process is similar to grieving a death. It’s an internal feeling of loss that lives somewhere crammed beneath anger and deep sadness. Of realization that the only thing in your life you have control over is your perception. What is worse, telling the lie or being lied to? Perhaps both leave you with a hunger that can never be satiated. No amount of tears are enough. No amount of women is enough. Will I ever be enough?
It isn’t just black and white. There is an entire universe that exists in between two people full of past relationships and future lovers and childhood home movies and college drinking games and driver’s license tests and standardized tests and pregnancy tests. The truth is in the murk, not in the monogamy. And sometimes if things don’t work out the way you planned, if your moral compass has led you someplace you don’t recognize, all you can do is take a deep breath, get the fuck up, and make some lemonade.