Ego is a funny thing.  It can buoy you in times of need but it can also raise you to dangerous heights from which to fall.  Deadly, even.

I’ve had an interesting life or at least I think I have.  I’ve learned over the past weeks to question most all of my self-perception and the colors of my memories.  I had thought myself a self-made – and therefore heavily scarred – survivor.  A man who started life as a violent borderline sociopath, emotionless and cruel, manipulative and opportunistic.  A man who then found love, turned his efforts to good and heroically carried himself and his bride to redemption.  Over the past month, I have found that I was, in fact, little more than a terrified, sensitive and brilliant child who became what he did to avoid the physical and psychological abuse that surrounded him and that preyed on such displays of weakness.  Who saved no one but was, in fact, saved by the woman he married.  And who, in fact, then victimized that woman, making her into a sacrificial lamb for his insecurities and fears.  My insecurities and fears.  My self-hatred and self-loathing.  My own Dorian Grey portrait.

Trust is an elusive thing.

It’s hard to know when to let down your guard with someone, to let them see who you really are. And when you’re hurt or betrayed by someone you love, it becomes that much harder to open up to someone else.

But what, exactly, defines betrayal?

In this particular case I’m talking about romantic relationships. What constitutes a breach of trust? Is it when your partner tells someone else one of your deep, dark secrets? When he or she makes a big decision without you? When they sleep with someone else? When they break up with you?

For me, sharing sensitive information with others is probably the biggest violation. If I tell you something that is understood to be sensitive, and you tell someone else, I will probably never again share anything important with you. And yet, there must be situations in life where sharing a piece of information like that would ultimately be the right thing. So how to know what is right?

What if someone leaves you? Breaks your heart? Does that constitute betrayal? Marriage isn’t the institution it once was. No-fault divorce makes it easier to end a legal union. Conservatives might cite the decline of marriage as damaging to society, but what is better–ending a corrosive relationship or suffering in it for years?

Why do some people claim they will never trust anyone again after being dumped? Is the person who fell out of love somehow guilty of betrayal? Is there blame to be placed when love simply dies?

And what about infidelity?

Many relationships end because a partner strays. Imagining the love of your life in the arms of another is enough to make anyone squirm.

If you found out your partner was cheating on you, would you leave them?

Based on the blogs I read, most people seem to answer “yes.” But when actually put in that situation, not every scorned lover ends their relationship.

Recently I saw a news story about spyware designed to help determine if your spouse is cheating on you. You can record every keystroke your lover makes on the computer, see every page they visit on the Internet. Read their emails.

Even before the Internet, suspicious spouses could review phone records, credit card statements, even follow their lover around in the car.

I did this sort of thing once. Read someone’s email. Listened to their voice mail.

Never have I felt so sneaky, so oily as a human being. It served no purpose except to enrage me.

If your relationship reduces you to espionage, is it worth it?

I’m not going to pass judgment on infidelity, either for or against it. Every situation is unique, and I’m uncomfortable with absolutes.

Personally, I’d rather be cheated on than play detective.

If you were in a happy, fifty-year marriage that fulfilled you in every way, and after your partner died you learned he had slept with someone else in the ninth year of your marriage, would it damage the love you’d felt for your whole life?

I mean, you’re not going to be happy about it.

But to characterize all cheaters as worthless humans misrepresents our animal ancestry. Our natural impulses. If infidelity is so wrong, why does it happen so much? Why are their web sites available to help you cheat?

Hey, you might say. If you can’t control yourself, don’t get married. I pretty much agree with this.

But if you look at the divorce rate, if you consider how many people cheat, it seems that marriage isn’t the right choice for many of us. In the U.S., 2005 marked the first year more adults were single than married.

Is marriage an institution that can’t keep up with modern society? And if so, what does that mean for children? Many of you grew up in fractured households. My parents are still together. Am I any better off than someone whose parents divorced when they were a kid?

What if you have ten five-year relationships instead of one fifty-year marriage? Are more relationships inherently worse?

I don’t know because I haven’t been in that situation. You can’t ever really know, can you?

What if medical breakthroughs allow people to live for hundreds of years? Does “‘Till death do us part” mean 150 years of marriage?

I am friends with both men and women who have cheated on their spouses. Men may be more prone to stray, but not by that much. It’s not just a disease of the man with roving eyes.

In the end, whichever side of the fence you fall on, no matter how much or little the possibility of cheating bothers you, isn’t spying on your partner kind of absurd? If you’re reduced to playing covert operative, why not just leave?