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Love in the Time of Matador: Drawing Our Own Ghosts

by Angela Tung May 17, 2010
Angela Tung explains how a Buddhist monk helped her leave her cheating husband.

Joe and I had been married four years when he slept with someone else. It was a one time thing, he said, but it took just that one time to get her pregnant.

We didn’t have the happiest marriage. We hardly had sex. He was always angry. I was always nervous. We spent every weekend at his parents’ house, taking care of his sick mom. In the beginning we talked about the kids we’d have – two boys and a girl – but now we didn’t want any.

But still I never thought he’d have an affair.

Should I stay or should I go now?

To this day my mother says I should have left right away. But it wasn’t that simple. Like a nincompoop, I still loved him, as I had since we met when I was 21. He wasn’t the most handsome guy, but he was smarter than anyone I knew, and he liked me for me. He didn’t expect me to be more outgoing, or sexier, or anything I wasn’t. He wasn’t afraid of my silences. He thought I was the coolest girl he’d ever met.

How could I be on my own again? How could I tell my parents? Admitting to what happened meant admitting I had failed.

For a while I convinced myself I was okay with it. Maybe we could leave the affair behind us. Threatened with loss, we treasured each other even more. But it wasn’t just an affair.

There was a fetus growing in that woman’s belly. Soon it would be a baby, then a toddler, then a child. It would be an ever-growing reminder of what Joe had done.

Leave, stay, leave, stay. I couldn’t decide.

A horrible reality

Then one day I turned on the radio and I heard a Buddhist monk talking. “Reality is neither pleasant nor unpleasant in and of itself,” he said. “It is only pleasant or unpleasant as experienced by us, through our perceptions.”

Only through my perceptions? But my reality seemed horrible, no matter how I looked at it. Not only had Joe cheated on me, he was having a child with someone else. The child would be in our lives forever.

“Reality…is only pleasant or unpleasant as experienced by us, through our perceptions.”

The monk went on. “We are like an artist who is frightened by his own drawing of a ghost,” he said. “Our creations become real to us and even haunt us.”

What did that even mean? I closed my eyes and tried to change my perceptions. My situation wasn’t awful. I should feel sympathy and love for the mistress, for the child. Breathe in, breathe out. Love, sympathy, love, sympathy.

I couldn’t do it. I still hated her. I was still miserable.

Only altering the situation would make it tolerable. If Joe changed his mind about raising the child. If we took the child and pushed the mistress away. If I were like the child’s second mother. If the child didn’t exist. If Joe had never had an affair.

If, if, if.

Towards healing

I went to Prague. I needed to get away. “Come with us,” my friends said. I told myself not to think of Joe.

I’d only enjoy what I saw – Prague Castle and its stained glass windows, the Charles Bridge at night, the Jewish Quarter and the temple where the Golem’s remains supposedly lay. Golem, the wonderful and terrible monster molded from mud and magic, protector turned destroyer.

In Karlovy Vary, a spa town outside Prague, my mind crept towards Joe again. My friends and I stood on a little bridge over the canal. The sun was strong, and the water sparkled. I went silent.

“Are you okay?” one of my friends asked me.

I took a breath. “I don’t think I can do this,” I said.

My voice was quiet but the words loud. I said them again: “I don’t think I can do this.”

Later I’d realize it was my perceptions that needed changing, from rejection to acceptance, from anger to love. But what I needed to accept wasn’t the situation. It was the fact that I couldn’t accept it, that I needed to leave, and that I’d have the strength to tell my parents and bear their grief. The love and sympathy I needed to feel was towards myself.

My misery and rage were ghosts that I had created. They were monsters out of mud. Because I had created them, I could destroy them too.


Have you ever received advice or help from an unexpected quarter when you’ve had a tough decision to make? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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