by Laura S.
The week after my husband told me he thought he was in love with someone else, I e-mailed a group of close girlfriends with the news. The very next evening they stopped their busy-kids-husbands-making-dinner-supervising-homework-lives and I met them at a local café where we sat and drank tea and I wept and wept and wept. And they listened.
After that night, I decided that I simply had to tell people. Everyone. Anyone. My friends, my family, his family, a few co-workers, the woman in front of me at the supermarket, the moms of my daughter’s friends. I remember thinking that if I tell enough people, it won’t hurt so much. If I tell enough people, no one will blame me. If I tell enough people, they will nod knowingly when we get divorced (or when I kick him out, which I inevitably did, in my rage. He came back though. That’s for another blog post).
Soon after hearing the news, friends and family reacted in ways that told me more about them than about me and this infidelity experience. My closest girlfriends (all married) phoned to tell me they loved me, they were here for me. An invisible army out beyond the house where I couldn’t see them, rows and rows of people who supported me unconditionally, waiting there to hold me in their arms if I needed holding or walk with me to happiness when I was ready to walk.
My mom, in an atypical expression of outward emotion, told me she would be there for whether we got divorced or stayed married. A few friends, both male and female, told me they’d happily get in line to kill, maim or strangle my husband (one of them sounded uncomfortably serious). A couple of girlfriends admitted they were so angry with him that they didn’t know how they were going to work through that (they are still struggling, I think, because their manner is different around him now). One friend never mentioned it, not for the entire five months of the affair nor the following two years of recovery; to this date she does not bring it up or ask me how I am.
I know that my story – and telling everyone so openly and forcefully – was terrifying to many of our friends. If this could happen to her, could it happen to me? went the unstated refrain. Would my husband do this? Is he capable of such a choice? No one ever spoke those words but I knew they were there. My experience was a threat, something “other” that loomed on the edge of our nice middle-class world.
There was more. While this support was so beautiful, so unwavering, and so key to my eventual survival, there was something missing. No one said, “Hey I’ve been there.” No one ventured, “My sister has been through this.” I felt as if I was the only human on earth whose husband had betrayed her. Of course I’d heard about infidelity – in movies and books, with celebrities and politicians – but I did not know anyone else like me who had been through it. Anyone else like me: educated semi-suburban wife and mom, married 20+ years, seemingly happy (though the marriage bore cracks) and basically successful. Feeling so uniquely marked in this way was like a scarlet “I” (for infidelity) worn invisibly on my forehead for an entire year. It was only later, once we began to rebuild our relationship and I started sharing with people too about that effort, that three girlfriends came to me with their own infidelity stories. Finally I was not alone.