“What good is a menage á trois when you have a soulmate?” Great question, Jay Z.
Beneath the corporate sidekicks and the free-except-for-the-$10-every-month-indefinitely Tidal trial lies a compelling lyrical apology. Beneath the billion dollar music industry and the swaggy blame-driven attacks of rap culture that make our gossip-fueled hearts palpitate, Shawn Carter is just sorry for his mistakes. It’s a timeless conflict wrapped in brave, artful expression, demonized by fame, buried under stacks and stacks and stacks of dollars. It’s beautiful, difficult shit we can’t help but care about even though we have to hand over our credit card just to take it in. It’s enough sellout back and forth to make your head spin.
I used to be married. Our 5th anniversary would have been a few weeks ago, but the divorce finalized some time in the spring. A dusty note card with a Supreme Court stamp was tossed in my old Brooklyn apartment drawer for months before I officially knew in LA. We were soulmates once. We were best friends. We were fiery heat and song. We were grass-laying, bicycle riding New Yorkers who laughed, argued, and fucked each other to exhaustion (or all three) on any given day. We were flawed, beautiful love-dwellers tumbling through the last years of our twenties, full of opinion and pluck.
We were unfaithful. We were sort of faithful…in accordance with a piecemeal theory we conceived wearing sex goggles. We knew we wanted to be together forever (as if forever was a relatable concept), but like every overstimulated, hormone-driven millennial, we also wanted to keep things interesting, freely playing with desire and risk. We embarked on a no-turning-back sexual conquest. Craigslist fantasies, Blendr, sex clubs, home-written erotica. We willingly whooshed down a rabbit hole of porn-worship and during downtimes we awkwardly propositioned strangers and friends.
In wholesale honesty, I say to you: we really thought we had it figured out. How boring and brutal it must be for ‘regular’ married people! How sad they must be, missing out on such thrills.
How strange is a world that confines us to fidelity, yet every day turns out a poutier-lipped, better-breasted sex symbol. How jealous everyone must be of our carnal, promiscuous empire! What fun to build a throne of dirty secrets instead of a true, committed family—with whom we could never divulge such secrets…! A human mind in a messy world can justify any behavior. It all fell apart, and I bolted. Little pieces of us are still falling, despite over two years of separation and 2,802 miles laid between our front doors.
I left him for an entirely new life. He took a hammer of guilt and shattered his heart anew every single day. He might still… I don’t know. We don’t talk anymore. We have these memories of such potent adventure, such passionate love and equally passionate fear. We have true, lasting moments of belief in each other, despite the coat of freshly-dried sabotage we brushed over our marriage certificate when we decided to fuck other people. After everything, and even in silence, we continue to believe in each other.
Today I coughed up my Visa info and streamed 4:44 on Tidal, alternating between wanting to know as much as I could about the rift between Jay ‘n Bey, and annoying myself for caring about their business in the first place. Hashtag pop culture dilemmas. And there it was: “I apologize Our love was one for the ages and I contained us And all this ratchet shit and we more expansive Not meant to cry and die alone in these mansions Or sleep with our back turned We supposed to vacay ’til our backs burn We’re supposed to laugh ’til our heart stops And then meet in a space where the dark stop And let love light the way Like the men before me, I cut off my nose to spite my face I never wanted another woman to know Something about me that you didn’t know”
I was shaking and crying over a lukewarm coffee in my roommate’s Aladdin mug, thinking about all the pain I invited in when I might have been content; thinking about the ruthless ‘fun’ we had and never truly wanted. I was halfway through writing some rambling poem about mornings and realized I needed to start something new. As I groped for a title, the third verse began: “And if my children knew, I don’t even know what I would do If they ain’t look at me the same I would prob’ly die with all the shame “You did what with who?” What good is a ménage à trois when you have a soulmate? “You risked that for Blue?” If I wasn’t a superhero in your face My heart breaks for the day I have to explain my mistakes And the mask goes away, and Santa Claus is fake And you go online and see For Blue’s tooth, the tooth fairy didn’t pay”
And I thought of all the insane secrets we keep from the children in this world. And I thought about how no adult influence from kindergarten to high school properly explains that practically every relationship will have to answer the questions of fidelity and longevity. Cheating isn’t just some rare, horrible thing. Cheating in a vast array of different forms looms over everyone. People admit to cheating (who knows how many cheat but never admit it) in 40% of marriages, and the people who don’t are made acutely aware of the option at least once.
My husband and I got to a point where we knew most people, single or otherwise, would be down to play with us if we asked in the right way. We capitalized more than once on a busted system based on naughty secrets. Yet, we tell our kids that faithful is the true, obvious norm, and that a magic fairy is buying their teeth at night. We think we can lock away our secrets in the same tickle trunk of trust we can’t sustain. We think we can take our closeted skeletons to the grave and our kids will live better lives knowing we could never be flawed in those ways. I don’t have kids yet, but this haunts me sometimes. I always knew I would write about my marriage.
In the early separation days I attempted to type up cautionary tales about ‘swinger life’ that fell flat. I couldn’t articulate anything out of my fresh wounds, let alone advice. Years later, I can say this: though the purpose of 4:44 might appear to be more money for the Knowles-Carter empire, there is actually a very clear message about extra-marital pursuit… It’s not worth it. In my case, it wasn’t worth it even though we gave each other permission to do it freely, sometimes in the same room. Oh, how that time could have been better spent lifting ourselves up, building strength, rather than shoving insecurities and intuitions in some bottom drawer. Despite being the (only slightly) more enthusiastic participator in this game of sexual conquest, over and over my husband learned that he only wanted me.
Meanwhile I learned, piece by piece, that I wanted something/someone else. Sure, things happen for a reason, and I can see we are both on a higher, more compassionate path these days. We are both learning to find joy from within. We are both healing. Hypotheticals tend to suck us into a rather unhelpful anxiety vortex, but I wish every day there was a way for this not to have hurt so goddamn much. Maybe we got married too fast. Maybe the pain is a catalyst for some major life achievement—but that doesn’t mean he deserves to hurt like that. No one does.
So I am here now, healing in the messy way that people heal, whispering ‘we’re both still worthy of love’ and hoping he whispers the same. Here I am typing away, knowing that I’m supposed to deliver the same message as Jay’s self-produced, platinum hit.
Q. What good is a menage á trois when you have a soulmate?
A. Not much good at all.