Jack was strong, stubborn, and full of energy. He was absolutely gorgeous, with soft, silky ginger hair, which would swing with every effortless toss of his head. He had the biggest brown eyes I’d ever seen, with impossibly long eyelashes you couldn’t help but notice. As soon as we were first introduced one summer years ago, we were inseparable. I loved him instantly, and I quickly grew to trust him with all of my heart. Then, one day, when I reached out my hand to graze the side of his face, he flashed his beautiful white teeth and bit the $*#& out of my armpit.
Jack, a purebred Palomino horse, had never hurt a fly in the years I went to Pounds Stables, a farm near where I grew up in Dunwoody, Georgia. That summer day over 20 years ago, though, he bit me so badly that he ripped my size XL Target-brand button-down right off my torso. The fact I wasn’t wearing a bra only made things worse. I bled terribly, getting stitches that would leave a scar along the inside of my right arm.
I decided to return to the stable a couple weeks later. I was terrified and tense when I mounted Jack, and he felt it, too, bringing our ride to a stop immediately. The head of the stable then decided it was best to introduce me to a sweet, mild-mannered pony named Clover. After a few uneventful laps around the ring with Clover every day for a week or so, I turned in my reins and never came back.
Many of us have had both Jacks and Clovers in our lives. There are those that hurt us, leaving us completely stripped bare and exposed (though hopefully not literally, like I was!). Then, there are those gentle, defenseless souls that come along afterwards, oblivious to the damage that occurred before them.
This past week, a friend told me her boyfriend violated her trust by secretly staying on dating apps months after they agreed to both delete them and be exclusive. A colleague also told me she just found out her partner had been at the forefront of a criminal court case for almost two years. When I didn’t think I could take another heartbreaking story like these in only a few days, it happened to me. I discovered a person I loved had hidden something I considered very significant. I knew what to do to help someone whose armpit had been ripped out, but what do you do when it’s your heart that gets ripped out? For the first time in awhile, I had to dispense advice for others as I figured it out for myself:
1) Calm down. Take a deep breath. You just found out something. You don’t know all of the details. It is not the end of the world. Watch what you say, and watch what you write. No, do not send that text or email! Be strong, and breathe….
a) Have you both spoken clearly about the breach of trust and why it happened? Does each person know how the other feels? Try to give yourself a little bit of time to prepare your thoughts and questions and to investigate the situation on your own. Set a time and place where you’ll meet to talk it out. (I know it sounds formal, but please don’t send a Google calendar invite, k?!) Pick a public place you don’t love too much, because you may never want to go back… trust me. (Shout out to Argo Tea in Union Square!)
b) Don’t just communicate with your partner about it; talk with a trusted friend, AND, even more importantly, with a neutral third party – someone who doesn’t know either of you well. Listen to their advice and take some time to clear your head. Do a workout – boxing is the best! Meditate. Go for a walk.
3) Review the track record. Has this person lied or hidden something from you before? Has your partner cheated on an ex? To quote my boy G.W. Bush: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on — shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
4) Consider forgiveness. After you’ve talked out the issue until there is absolutely nothing left to cover, ask yourself: can you completely, 100% forgive that person? If even the smallest lil’ sliver of bitter, angry rage remains, it will eventually turn into full-blown resentment. Even worse, confirmation bias will rear it’s ugly head, and you may turn into some super suspicious stalker freak and grow to hate yourself. You know yourself best – if, ultimately, no matter what you try, you cannot fully forgive, you must move on.
So, maybe I should have gone back to Jack at Pounds Stables, who had no track record of evil nor the ability to communicate with me. (P.S.: Watching The Horse Whisperer didn’t teach me anything but how to sob uncontrollably while suppressing bizarre hormonal urges for Robert Redford’s sexy old ginger bod.) In any case, I was just a kid, and I couldn’t get over Jack’s betrayal of my trust. Had I gone back to him, we’d both have been walking on eggshells, trying to catch our rhythm, which would never be the same again. Have I ridden a horse since that summer? Once or twice, years later, and not without COMPLETE AND UTTER FEAR. Walking away then was the right call for me, and I’ve neighhhh-ver looked back!
Of course, loving a person is definitely different than loving an animal. Getting hurt by someone you love is a pain much greater than a physical bite to the armpit, and I’d trade heartache for a pit-ache any day. For those of us out there that are hurting, rest assured that, ultimately, you are the one who knows what you should do.
I can tell you this, though: if you do decide the breach of trust was too great to get back on that saddle again, just make sure that you give the next stallion that comes along a fair ride;) Yeehaw!!!