I think of myself as an outstanding gift giver. Part of that has to do with the fact that I’m always shopping. But mostly it’s because giving someone the best gift ever makes me feel good about myself. Which is why I have a problem giving what’s widely considered the greatest gift of all: forgiveness. Because it doesn’t always feel good. Forgiveness requires sacrifice. Forgiveness means you have to take the high road. And the high road is bullshit.
Sandra Bullock agrees. In 2010, at the MTV Movie Awards, she made what might go down as the ultimate f-ck you to the high road. While accepting the Generation Award, she told the audience that “whoever established the high road and how high it was gonna be should be fired.” Sandra had just divorced Jesse James because the tabloids exposed him to be a cheater and a fraud. For several months afterwards, she stayed silent, while Jesse’s other women exploited their scandalous association with her to make a name for themselves. They covered magazines, they became spokespeople for Ashley Madison, they got paid. And through it all, because some asshole hundreds of years ago decided that the high road is the classier road, Sandra was praised for her quiet dignity, for tolerating the embarrassment without comment, without satisfaction. That’s the thing about the high road. Obliging the person who’s been wronged to take the high road is asking them to swallow betrayal, automatically offer forgiveness and, therefore, assume even more pain. This is why the high road sucks. Also, more often than not, the high road is sexist.
If roles were reversed, and it was Jesse James who’d discovered Sandra Bullock was cheating on him, and he decided to punch out every dude who’d been screwing his wife, he’d be cheered. That’s what happened when Orlando Bloom took on Justin Bieber at a party two summers ago. Rumour has it, Justin had allegedly hooked up with Orlando’s ex-wife, Miranda Kerr. Orlando was seen on video taking a swing at Justin’s head and was subsequently applauded for it. No one criticized him for not taking the high road. Similarly, after Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake broke up, he wrote “Cry Me a River” and used a Britney look-alike in the video, shaming imitation Britney for stepping out on him. JT went on to have a superstar solo career. Meanwhile, every time Taylor Swift sings about her exes and how they don’t deserve her, she’s called a petty bitch. Jennifer Garner just endured several months of humiliation after it was revealed that Ben Affleck was allegedly carrying on with their nanny. But Jen did not publicly blast both Ben and the nanny for being selfish assholes—which they so totally deserve. She has, however, been universally praised for keeping her head down, for internalizing her mortification, for mutely taking the high road.
Time and again, the high road seems to be reserved for women, the preferred path for how we should behave, an expectation that forgiveness is our duty, while revenge is a man’s right. Forgiveness, after all, is an act of silent acquiescence. Revenge requires a voice.
Recently, I used my voice on television to talk about the worst way someone broke up with me. During a discussion on The Social about whether it’s OK to end a relationship via text, I said I’d prefer that over being dumped by my boyfriend’s mom, which is an actual thing that happened. He was leaving for a job overseas; I was planning to follow him a few weeks later. During dinner one night with his mother, she told me that he didn’t want me to come along. Basically, he let his mom give me the bad news because he didn’t have the balls to do it himself. So, 15 years later, I end up the host of a talk show and I call him out for being a weak-ass punk. I did not take the high road. And it felt SO GOOD. It felt even better about a month later, when I ran into one of his friends who had watched that episode and teased him about it over email. So I’m finally over it. Not taking the high road and putting him on blast on national TV got me over it.
That’s my gift to you this season. If the high road doesn’t feel right, if it feels like a submission, if forgiveness means your voice is being suppressed, find another route. The high road isn’t the only way to get there.
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