By Mandy Stadtmiller
It's hard to believe we used to live in a world without Lemonade.
First and foremost, Beyoncé's masterpiece is a cultural and political anthem, a wrenching exploration of the "undeniable power of a black woman's vulnerability," the richness of Yoruba culture, the verse of Warsan Shire, and the glory of #blackgirlmagic.
But the album has had a secondary effect: It has allowed me and many women to hold a rawer, deeper, more honest conversation about infidelity with our partners.
"See, this is what I wish I could have done with my ex-husband when he cheated on me," I tell my second (and last) husband, Pat Dixon, as he watches Lemonade with me (his first time, my fourth). "You see how angry Beyoncé is? Do you notice anything? She's really angry, isn't she?"
Beyoncé is ripping it up onscreen, elegantly wielding a baseball bat in wicked style with a glint in her eyes: smashing windows, cars, security cameras, and, most of all, boundaries to what is stigmatized or what is too often left unspoken. And she hasn't even gotten started on the monster truck yet.
"It's even more than the anger, though," Pat observes as the visual album dazzles him -- how could it not? "She's like Woman Jesus. She got cheated on for all of us."
But then, as soon as the hour-long Beyoncé masterpiece concludes, my husband pulls a song up on his phone and positions the speakers next to his ear, exaggeratedly bobbing his head and nodding to the beat.
It is Jay Z's "99 Problems."
I quote my favorite Lemonade lyrics ("What's worse, looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy/ More like being walked all over lately, walked all over lately, I'd rather be crazy") as he counters with rival lines from "99 Problems" ("If you're having girl problems, I feel bad for you son/ I got 99 problems but a bitch ain't one").
I cue up Lemonade -- again -- and use it as a hyperstylized musical and visual backdrop as I relay my own saga of cheating and betrayal.
There is something so cathartic about witnessing a woman who is the absolute definition of flawlessness breaking down (and building herself back up). With Lemonade, Beyoncé provides the average woman with a pathway to open the floodgates of shame and start down the redemptive route to salvation.
I hadn't fully realized how difficult I found it to reveal the full extent of my utter humiliation in my first marriage -- to the love of my life in my final one.
Confessing to your husband the extent of the disrespect you tolerated as a wife can feel like telling a secret you always kept deeply buried. "Here's the story of how my first husband saw clearly my worthlessness," the secret goes, "and now I am telling you the brutal ramifications."
"The very worst moment in that relationship came when I woke up to my husband coming downstairs, wearing my bathrobe, sweat covering his chest," I tell Pat.
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At that moment in 2003, I already knew what had happened even though my ex denied it. He had been paying a visit to a friend of mine crashing on a couch upstairs in the house we were renting in Chicago.
"Or," I continue to Pat, "there was the time when we were in marriage counseling at night, but during the day he was busy fucking another supposed girlfriend of mine."
My husband is earnest when we talk about real things. And he is compassionate now, understanding in a way I've never known from men before him.
"That's the worst thing I've ever heard. I'm sorry that happened," Pat says.
It was a simple statement, but I know his empathy was sincere, and the kindness gave me a feeling of peace. And despite the damage inflicted during marriage No. 1, I don't worry about those things with Pat. He told me he wouldn't cheat on me. I've never had a day where I doubted him.
Because the last time he cheated, the woman was convicted of second-degree attempted murder after attacking him with a gun in a parking lot. That tends to straighten someone out.
As Lemonade plays behind us, overshadowing the wall of our small apartment, my husband then recounted his own affair.
In spring 2003, Pat was out of town, celebrating a friend's birthday at a dive bar in Nashville. His own Becky With the Good Hair approached him thusly: "If you weren't married, I would take you home and fuck your cock off."
Within ten days, he had begun the last affair of his cheating career. But as the relationship grew increasingly unhinged, Pat broke things off and refused to engage. After weeks of no contact, she surprised him outside of an IHOP in 2004 with a 9-mm semiautomatic police-issue Glock and a note explaining why she had to end things in a murder-suicide. He wrestled the gun away.
"It did cure you of cheating, though," I say, far too glib about the horror of the experience.
"No, it wasn't almost getting killed," he tells me. "I'm realistic enough to know that girl was a rare kind of disturbed. What changed me was that I hurt my wife and everybody in her family and everybody in mine. Gun or no gun, no one gets away with cheating scot-free. I decided, I would never get into a committed relationship until I was ready."
He was finally ready again with me.
Whenever Pat tells his story of how a woman tried to murder him during his comedy routine, someone in the audience invariably shouts out the question: "What did you do?"
"Thank you for blaming the victim, by the way," he responds. "Why don't you just ask me what I was wearing?"
So, yes, Pat says, he understands why I wanted him to watch Lemonade so badly. He's been the bad guy. The really, really bad guy. He takes ownership -- especially when I begin to take him down a rabbit hole of candidates for Jay Z's "Becky With the Good Hair."
"Who cares who the woman is?" he responds. "It's not the other woman's job to preserve the fucking sanctity of your marriage. It's on the guy. The only way to avoid falling into the cheating trap is to have a relationship with total transparency."
I point out that part of Lemonade is titled "Denial." This was the main problem for me in my past marriage: I had always hoped that the many awful lies I suspected were just my own paranoia.
"That's a problem for the man, too," Pat says. "The truth is, most guys aren't aware they need stuff in a relationship, like emotional stuff. If they knew, they wouldn't know how to ask. And if they knew how to ask, they'd still be ashamed or embarrassed. So when some woman is nice to them, it gets their attention and they need more, and chances are they never even knew anything was wrong at home."
That's how you get Lemonade.
"By the way," Pat says, returning to his conversation with an imaginary Jay Z, as if the hip-hop mogul might ring for some P-Dix advice at any moment. "This cheating? Be prepared to discuss this with Beyoncé ... forever. Bringing up this topic is now the nuclear option to end any other argument you and the wife have from now on."
I believe Pat when he tells me his cheating days are over. I believe him because I have never met someone so compulsively honest about his failings, something that drew me to him in the first place. Also, because he's 45, and he's done the fucking he wanted to do.
"I wonder," Pat says, unable to resist one of the many jokes to be made in the situation, " ... of Jay Z's 99 problems, how many do you think are now bitch-related?"
Then he tweets it.
Meanwhile, I begin to queue up Lemonade for the fifth time that day.
I just can't get enough of watching the most gorgeous woman in the world spread out her vulnerabilities like so much dirty laundry -- and exorcising her demons like a rage orgasm. It has made our own sprawling conversation feel so much less excruciating, less isolated. As Beyoncé playfully twirls her wooden weapon on the screen before us, I think about Pat's own real-life trauma.
"You know, it's too bad that your woman resorted to violence back when you were a cheating, lying asshole," I say. "I mean, don't you wish she had just dropped a visual album on you instead?"
Pat scoffs as the opening notes of Lemonade drift down from the screen.
"Oh God no," he replies. "The attempted murder was over a lot more quickly."
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