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Defensive

February 9, 2010

A friend just called me neurotic, and while she didn’t mean to insult me (she was, rather, trying to cajole me out of my particular present state of neurosis) I’m torn between agreeing wholeheartedly with her, and attempting a point-by-point refutation. Specifics are not necessary: let’s just say that I, known in the past for having a skin so thick it’s almost impenetrable, with an anthracite heart buried somewhere within, have suddenly become uncharacteristically…fragile.

I used to be bewildered by my disinclination to cry. I worried about it, wondering what it would take to reduce me to tears. “You don’t even CARE,” more than one boyfriend accused, mid-argument, as I sat there dry-eyed. It wasn’t true–I did care, but for some reason I never disintegrated. I’d choke up, but that was as far as I got.

Even as an emotionally volatile teenager, I was not the type to fling myself on my bed and sob. Once in a great while something would set me crying for a moment or two, which was a massive (if short lived) relief. I wept, years later, when my mother was seriously injured, and I cried, helplessly, when I was in labor with both my children–but crying when you’re giving birth is like crying because you’ve skinned your knee. It hurt a lot, so I cried. Somehow that didn’t seem to count.

When my ex-husband first confronted me with evidence of what was, to him, unforgivable perfidy, he cried. I did not. For one thing, I did not consider a brief but intense crush (with a couple of thrilling kisses thrown in) quite the marital crisis that he did. We had been married for thirteen years by that point–I assumed he, too, might have had an extramarital infatuation along the way, and even a stolen kiss would not have been a dealbreaker for me. I would have been curious. I might even have been jealous. But I would not, after so many years together, have considered a brief attraction to another woman totally beyond the pale.

In his defense, he heard about the dalliance in an unnerving way; several months after it had flared up and flamed out (my co-dallier left his email open on his home computer, whether by accident or design I’ll never know), his justifiably angry wife contacted my ex-husband. She told him she thought her husband and I had had an affair. (We had not. And the kisses were never disclosed. Sum total of accusation: a few racy emails.) However, I knew the kisses had happened, even if my husband did not, and I also knew that I was, in heart if not in deed, completely guilty of the betrayal I was accused of. I knew that the crush, if allowed to flourish, would certainly have led to more than kissing. And I’m pretty sure my ex-husband knew, too.

The whole thing spun quickly out of control. There were weeks, then months of accusation and refutation, during which my ex-husband alternately wept and raged, and I pleaded and cajoled and begged to be forgiven. In retrospect, my overreaction was as much to blame as his. I could probably have shut the whole thing down if I’d kept some perspective–this was not an affair we were talking about! It was a brief infatuation with a person I swore never to speak to or communicate with again! But I felt guilty, so I acted guilty, which escalated the whole thing. My ex-husband would be placated for a while, then suddenly explode in anger and resentment again. Anything–a song on the radio about infidelity (and do you know how many songs on the radio are about infidelity?), a movie, the mere mention or sight of anything to do with my co-dallier (and we live, remember, in a very small town), too much to drink, too little to drink, a chance comment by anyone at all–could lead to hours of confrontation: accusation, denial, apology, détente. I lost so much weight I looked horrible, developed a nervous twitch, and commenced drinking gin at four thirty every afternoon. Finally, six months later, my ex-husband had what can only really be termed a nervous collapse. Unable to stop crying, he admitted he had gone completely off his rocker, and came home from an emergency shrink visit with an armload of anti-depressants, chagrined and silent.

I keep coming back to this as the moment the marriage really failed, though it’s pointless to pinpoint something so nuanced as the demise of a fifteen year marriage. I think I knew, that day, that whatever had or hadn’t happened with the guy I’d lusted after wasn’t precisely the issue any more; that something was dreadfully, dreadfully wrong, and that the man I was married to was no longer the person I’d fallen in love with.

I did not cry, even then. Writing this, I’m glad I’m pseudonymous–I picture all you nice readers and commenters storming off into cyberspace, slamming virtual doors. I feel a little bit better when I remember that you don’t know me, can’t really judge me. In fact, were we to meet accidentally someday, you would notice nothing out of the ordinary. Except, perhaps, the merest whiff of brimstone as I passed.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2010 5:53 am

    No judgment here. The world, it is a complicated place. Besides, perfect people are really boring and make me feel bad about myself. Seriously, what fun is that?

    I can’t tell whether you’re arrived at any sort of peace with it, but I hope you do.

  2. February 10, 2010 10:53 am

    My door remains oh-so-very much unslammed.

  3. Linda permalink
    February 10, 2010 1:28 pm

    God, I love the way you write. “The merest whiff of brimstone.” Wonderful!

  4. Sheri permalink
    February 10, 2010 2:40 pm

    you give me hope that my own life might turn out ok

  5. February 10, 2010 5:01 pm

    No judgement at all. In fact, gratitude. Am a number of stages behind you and your writing has helped me tremendously. In fact, if it weren’t for you, it would be a much more terrifying process than it already is. So keep going, and be kind to yourself.

  6. February 10, 2010 5:23 pm

    I am so thankful that I found your blog. My eight-year marriage is breaking down. I am a novelist (unpublished). About a year ago, my husband found some notes that I had written to my crush. But I never even sent him the notes! It was fiction. And there were no kisses! And my husband totally overreacted, much like yours did. Because I was fantasizing about another guy. I do flirt with guys over IM and email, but I like to think I would not have actual sex. (The opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet.) When we started having problems, I asked my husband for an open relationship, and I encouraged him to have an affair. He said no. It’s just fascinating to me, fidelity. Is thinking cheating? Not to me. (BTW, my husband looks at porn, and I’m fine with it. What’s the difference?)

  7. Sheri permalink
    February 10, 2010 6:04 pm

    you make me feel like my life might turn out alright….

  8. Smumzie permalink
    February 11, 2010 10:08 am

    I once read, “It doesn’t take infidelity to ruin a marriage – only the suspicion of it.”

    A few months ago a (female) friend sent an email out to 7 or 8 other women friends asking for our definitions of cheating. Most of us replied to all and the responses were varied but of the same theme: doing something that you know would make your partner feel like you were cheating. For some of us that line was drawn at kissing another woman. For others, lighthearted flirting in the supermarket line with you standing right there next to him was unacceptable behavior. Many mentioned online communications with blatant or implicit sexual tones. In the end, I think all of us reflected on our marriages that day and many of us wondered if ours could withstand an incident we felt was over the line.

    Months later, the friend who wrote the initial email confessed that she had been having an affair with a married co-worker for 7 years. Two of the respondents’ relationships are ending (one long-term BF and one marriage -who we all suspected was doomed due to the husband “working” on Grand Cayman Island so frequently). None of us judges the other over it…none of us can…

  9. February 11, 2010 10:23 am

    Just for the record, not storming away. 1. Storming away would be super hypocritical of me. 2. Stuff happens. To everyone. You should be able to talk about it.

  10. February 11, 2010 5:41 pm

    I am not judging you. I am wondering what brimstone smells like. Anyway I would never slam the door, that is something that I never do.

  11. February 11, 2010 9:03 pm

    I find it interesting that we are expected to gasp in horror at what you described, especially as women. Life is not so black and white. Relationships are not either. I doubt I would recognize the smell as brimstone anyway.

  12. February 12, 2010 10:02 am

    i had a similar experience years ago. it wasn’t exactly comparable; the relationship was back in high school/college, not nearly on the same level, but it was my first really long-term committed relationship. despite having once been very much in love, i eventually had a flirtation much like yours. it occurred in the midst of an incredibly stressful and life-altering time, which i tend to think contributed to my committing what i then considered an infidelity. my boyfriend was devastated, heart-broken, utterly betrayed…and it just didn’t affect me. i felt terrible for being the one to ruin everything, but i wasn’t sorry about what i’d done, and i wasn’t really sorry the relationship was ending. i regretted hurting him, but mostly i wanted it all to be over. i spent the next year in a deep depression, mostly over the other events around that time, but i was never really sad over the breakup. you feel how you feel. you can’t make yourself feel something that’s just not there.

  13. Crale permalink
    February 8, 2012 9:48 am

    I know this blog post is now 2 years old, but I’ve just discovered you and sort of feel like I’ve arrived late to the party.
    I, too, had a communication going with someone that my husband discovered shortly after I had decided that it was not entirely appropriate. This was not the first time I had ‘dealings’ with people that I knew, in my heart, my husband would not find acceptable. There was never anything physical, I would not sleep around on him. But the flirting and banter was a salve to my ego. I felt like a moderately attractive knickknack in my house that he would notice only when it had been dusted off and moved to a different spot…”Oh, hey…when did we get THAT? It’s pretty.” Really?!?!
    Unfortunately, my past “indiscretions” have tainted everything in our marriage and he is unable/unwilling to see that they are merely symptoms of our underlying issues. I cannot express enough how, my being a child of a very contentious divorce has made me into a person who has done EVERYTHING possible to avoid it. I do not take lightly my decision to separate. He, like your ex, is much more open with tears and wailing….while I sit stoic, internalizing all my pain into panic attacks, lack of appetite, insomnia and their ilk. This also has caused him pain. “This doesn’t bother you at all.” “You must be enjoying destroying me.” “Do you think this is funny, what you’re doing to me?” I am not a vengeful, sociopath. I do not take pleasure in other’s pain…nor can I willingly inflict it. I would give anything to wave a magic wand and empower him with the ability to feel what I feel and perhaps see my side. I am sorry that he is in so much pain…but not as sorry as I am that he thinks all of it is my fault. So for now I take each minute as it comes and attempt to end, as painlessly as possible, eighteen years of marriage.

    Thank you again for your wonderful insight….you may never know how much you have helped me.

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