by Marc H. Rudov
March 29, 2010
Window Dressing on Display
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This is the credo of every top entrepreneur, investor, inventor, scientist, athlete, and performer. After 10,000 unsuccessful attempts to make his incandescent light commercially viable, Thomas Edison finally received his US patent for it in 1880. Just prior to his triumph, he famously quipped: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Persistence, the willingness to take repeated chances, pays off for personal achievement. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work in romantic relationships — as we eventually learn through disappointment and financial ruin. Yet, most folks ignore these painful lessons, continuing to grant second chances to those who hurt and wrong them. Is this altruism run amok?
You’ve heard friends admit that, on their wedding days, at the altars, they knowingly entered bad marriages — under the guise of second chances. My coaching clients give these typical reasons for having done so: guilt from exhaustive planning and vast spending; fear of hurting gift-bearing guests; and dread of demeaning their parents, their betrothed, and themselves. They felt irreversibly committed to ill-matched, transgression-committing future ex-spouses.
On February 19, 2010, Tiger Woods delivered an awkward mea culpa, on global TV, taking full responsibility for cheating on his wife Elin Nordegren. According to widely published reports, she was planning to divorce him — and collect $500M. But, after Tiger entered “rehab” and evinced contrition to the masses, Elin granted him a second chance. Now, her friends are blabbing to the media, these two are living under the same roof but on opposite sides of the house. This marriage is over, regardless of the second-chance window dressing on display.
On the day of Tiger’s confession, I polled my married and divorced readers about infidelity to glean their reasons for choosing, either currently or in the past, to remain with unfaithful spouses. Their four choices were: fear of losing wealth, for the sake of the children, belief in second chances, and indifference to infidelity.
Women, who represented about 1/8 of my respondents, chose “second chances” as their chief reason (38.5%) and “for the sake of the children” as their second reason (25.0%). Men, who represented 7/8 of my respondents, chose in the reverse order: “for the sake of the children” (37.7%) and “second chances” (27.5%). Interestingly, “losing wealth” (tied at 23%) was the #3 reason for both men and women.
These results make sense to me, even though the poll wasn’t scientific. Women have a much harder time than men admitting mistakes or apologizing. As I wrote in “Chasing Pavlovian Sex,” you’ll never hear of a woman in the doghouse or buying a man flowers and jewelry to apologize to him. Granting a second chance is an excuse to mask a nuptial mistake and to kick the proverbial divorce can down the road.
That’s right: granting a second chance has nothing to do with the offender and everything to do with the offended. It’s not altruism or compassion for the transgressor. No, it’s all about vanity, saving face. Simply, one doesn’t want to admit — to himself or to his friends, family, and colleagues — that he erred, that he was stupid enough to purposely bring disharmony and dysfunction into his life, into his home. The second chance is a psychological smokescreen.
Worse, vanity — the urge to dig in one’s heels in light of a bad decision — grows exponentially when children arrive under the marital cloud. Children compound acrimony, expose discord, and make the inevitable divorce more humiliating, protracted, and expensive. As time evolves, the second chance becomes a daily staple of the toxic marriage.
The big question is, Why should a lying, cheating, thieving, gossip-spreading, conniving cad get a second chance in the first place? A second chance to do what — repeat the same bilious behaviors? It makes zero sense. Zebras, as they say, don’t change their stripes.
The evidence of malfeasance is right before your eyes. Yet, you pretend otherwise — out of vanity. When you see mold on bread, do you give it a second chance to vanish? Tomorrow, the bread will have more mold. Your ex-spouse didn’t exhibit a single objectionable trait during the divorce process that you didn’t see during dating, when you looked the other way to grant a second chance — you know, the one that ultimately bled your bank account.
Reluctantly, millions of voters now see Barack Obama as a socialist. What took them so long? He’s doing everything he promised to do on the campaign trail: fundamental transformation, redistribution of wealth, and government-mandated healthcare. Obama supporters constantly give him a “second chance” as the deficit and taxes rise. Why? Vanity. To make themselves feel good about electing him. They’re soothing their own egos, not forgiving Obama, while the “marriage” with this radical president sours.
Compounding the vanity syndrome is a condition called normalcy bias, an emotional state that causes one to dismiss warning signs of impending danger and pray that a grave situation will stay “normal.” An example: naively hoping that an unstable spouse or paramour with violent tendencies will not become violent — instead of instantly leaving this ticking time-bomb. Deciding to remain in a precarious relationship is not about altruism; it’s about vanity: reluctance to admit consciously choosing a dangerous, prevaricating, untrustworthy, unloving partner.
The NoNonsense Bottom Line
Recognize that granting another person a second chance is about you, not the other person. A second chance is about vanity, not altruism, and it’s a mistake — a costly mistake. Stop feeling guilty about preventing harmful people from entering your life, or ridding it of the ones already there.
Your gut tells you instantly when a liar, cheat, or thief is before you — and to bid this miscreant farewell, not grant him a second chance. Heed your gut. Second chances are expensive. Ah, the price of vanity.