My reliable support system. June 20, 2008Posted by phledge in black bile, family, fat, feminism.
I’m in a tailspin, y’all.
I just confirmed on Wednesday that my husband has been cheating on me, in a manner of speaking. I now know that he has at least engaged in phone sex with a coworker, kissed her, fondled her, and expressed the sense that she understands him in a way I cannot because they are both survivors of sexual abuse. I had my suspicions beginning a few months ago that something was amiss between us, and then a few weeks ago it amplified. Last week I had no doubt that there was a huge problem, and this week I did the footwork to get a clear picture of what has happened. I’ve done some snuffling around the ‘toob for support for infidelity, but I need to tell my story and hopefully someone here can assure me that I’m not crazy.
Long time ago, say, within a few months of us having become a couple, I ask him if he’d ever cheated on anyone. He says, “No, but if I did I wouldn’t admit to it. I’d rather bear the burden of guilt than hurt someone intentionally with information that they didn’t need to hear. Nope, I’d keep it completely secret.” Strangely, I find this comforting. How thoughtful, protecting me from his dalliances, sucking it up and letting the guilt gnaw at his insides rather than mine. He actually doesn’t seem like he has the impetus to look elsewhere, and I take that at face value.
Fast forward to the weekend before our wedding ceremony, and his pals have planned a bachelor extravaganza. He says, “I don’t know what they’re planning or where they’re taking me.” I reply, “Welp, I don’t care what you do, because we aren’t married yet, but under no circumstances are you to a) tell me and b) bring anything home. I don’t want to have to bathe you in Clorox.” We laugh heartily. He later confesses that he was taken to a brothel (yeah, we live in Nevada), but keeps his story to the description of the place and the people there; no evidence in demeanor or tone that he actually took me up on my generosity of spirit. We laugh heartily.
I am now in school, finding myself in a crush over a female classmate. Mr Phledge and I have titillating conversations about it, joke about a threesome, discuss the ways in which men and women are different in so many, many ways. I warn him that I would not want him to share my bed with a woman, and he admits that he would feel threatened because he could not give me what this amorphous She could. “No worries,” I say. “I’ve been bisexual for almost fifteen years and I still haven’t drummed up the courage to do anything about it.” He stops, considers, then says, “Well, if you did do something, I wouldn’t want to know about it. Y’know, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.'” I am confused. He explains, slightly exasperated: “You know, remember that cheating only hurts the person who does it if they don’t tell anyone about it. And the spouse doesn’t ask about it. We’ve talked about this, right? Don’t you agree?” I do not want to be the clingy dependent wife. I do not want to admit that this would potentially tear me in two, that my ego is that fragile, that my self-esteem is in the shitter because I’ve gained 15 pounds in ten months since starting classes. I want to be open, loving, European, cosmopolitan. I want to accept that men just cheat and how did we come up with the foolish idea of monogamy anyway? Fuck, do I really want to be faced with only my husband’s awkward, ineffective sexual skills for the rest of my life? (Yes, she says, yes yes yes I love him we can do better) So I grin nonchalantly and say, “Right, of course, ‘don’t ask, don’t tell,’ that’s how we roll. I’m cool with that.”
He confirms that this is, indeed, the rules, about six months later. I confirm, flippantly, that this is, indeed, the rules. He loves me, right? Why would he need the protection of these rules? How fucking stupid am I?
We have discussions about how he is “concerned for my health,” that he is afraid he will not be attracted to me if I “get up to 500 pounds,” that maybe I am deluding myself by embracing this new “fat acceptance” idea, these radical online friends telling me I can weigh whatever and still be a worthwhile human being. We argue about his loss of sex drive, how I am worried that it is my appearance and how he insists it is his antidepressant. I am going to be a doctor and I think he is right. He begs me to, ahem, take a Brazilian vacation—laser, wax, shave, Nair, whatever—and I consider how people make compromises in sexual relationships so that everyone has a good time. I also consider the rise of the porn star standard, the objectification of my genitalia, the discomfort of growing that shit back. I verbally acquiesce, but inside a feminist momentum is building. Fuck you and your pretend pussies, your raunchy talk during sex, your persistence in doing things to my body that don’t make me feel good. Fuck you and your Zoloft excuses, your fucking concern about my health. Fuck your—it hits me. I am so angry with this man, and I don’t know how to express it. We are going to Reno for the weekend, and then he will return home while I stay with my family, because I worked hard for this vacation and I need some time away from him and he doesn’t have any paid time off left so he has to come back to Vegas, to the heat, the crowded streets, the entitlement. He hates it here. I do too, but I manipulate my reality so that I may spend time in Northern Nevada.
When I come home, I am surprised that I am not surprised that he is not excited to see me. He is happy I am home, but there is no fanfare, no rushing to kisses at the door, no reunion sex. I have only been away without him for five days, I rationalize. But I still tell him that I would have liked to see him be a little more demonstrative. He apologizes and we watch Mythbusters. The next day he has an appointment with his psychiatrist and she tells him to increase his Wellbutrin. That should perk up the ol’ libido. We fuck like wild rabbits over the weekend, two out of three nights, a rate heretofore forgotten since long before we married. I am both suspicious and delighted. Maybe it was just the drugs. What if it’s not? Shut up and enjoy the ride, you idiot.
Monday evening he asks, yet again, if DADT is still the rule. I am driving home, and he tells me that he is telling his best friend about the DADT policy. I say, “Oh.” It wasn’t just the drugs, I muse silently. When I get home, I say, “You know, I’m actually starting to think that it might not be such a good idea.” He balks. “What if you wanted to sleep with a woman? Don’t you worry that you wouldn’t, I dunno, live out your life fully if you felt like you couldn’t take that opportunity?” We are in bed, and during this conversation I have stopped reading the Penguin compilation of the Dalai Lama’s works, watching my out-breath, like my life, pass from me in short wisps, scraping the bottom of my panicking heart looking for loving-kindness, swallowing slowly so I don’t throw up. “No,” I answer, “I’m really not interested right now. I don’t think ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ is so much a good idea anymore.” He is crestfallen. We turn off lights and go to sleep; I roll away from him but my eyes are wide open and I am nearly panting, like a small mammal that has found refuge from the cat, but knows that the feline can be patient and its claws can be very sharp, knows that at any second it will feel weight and agony and will only hope that this cat is not a playful one.
The next day I have a small epiphany: I don’t want the freedom he is offering! No no! I like the sense of distance generated by my wedding band (which I don’t wear because I have now gained an additional 10 pounds, making that a grand total of 25 since we moved here and 45 since we met, and now the band is nearly impossible to take off, and I have horrible visions of being that woman who had to have her rings cut off of her sausage fingers because she didn’t take them off as she gained and gained and gained). I like having male friends, knowing that if I decline or if they don’t offer it’s not because there is no attraction, but because I’m off-limits! Takes all the guesswork out of wondering if I’m hot, wondering if someone would fuck me. Takes most of the pain out of the possibility that I’m not, that they wouldn’t. I take solace in my fidelity; it is a shield from these things. No no, I do not want to be “on the market.” Are you fucking kidding me? After how hard I worked to get off the damn thing? I tell my husband these things; well, most of it. He regards me, incredulous, as I tell him that this is why we do not need DADT. “Okay,” he mumbles. There is something driving me, some outrageous panic, and I think, ‘this is what OCD folks must endure—this vigilance, this terror, all for something that is harmless, right?’
That night we go out to dinner and she calls him. He calls her “baby” and a tremor, must have been visible, felt like an eight on the Richter scale, whips through every cell in my body. When he hangs up I feign lightheartedness and whine, “Heyyyyy, I thought I was your baby,” and he shrugs and says, “Eh, everybody’s ‘baby’ to me—but you are my only lovemonkey.” We eat and the food sits like a sleeping anaconda in my panicking bowels.
Wednesday he goes to work. I am left to my own devices and sit down at his computer. I am disgusted with myself for rationalizing this breach of his confidence, his privacy, and I savor my self-hatred for a moment, feeling my heart pound in my chest. Then I dive into his IM archive with his very closest friend, knowing that he would probably confess, or should I say brag about, something to him; I head straight for the Monday night transcript. Ta da. It’s not even particularly juicy, but it redefines the way I have been feeling for a few months now. It validates me, fuels my fury, tears my fucking heart in a million tiny pieces and I suspect that the empty heavy feeling in my chest is actually my wise body descending on this ruptured organ with macrophages and cytokines, the janitors and Pine-Sol of the viscera, and I can imagine the looks on those little janitors’ faces, like “Whoa, holy SHIT, will you look at that! What the hell was that?” and then, “Welp, gotta clean it up anyway.” I can hear the creaking of the mop bucket wheels as my heart is devoured because it has exploded inside me. I read that she has sent him topless photos and my husband has forwarded them to his friend, so I try to find them. I need to see this, that it’s real, that it’s not some t-shirt with bare breasts painted on it, not out of my own puerile curiosity but maybe it is. I click on the wrong IM button—or maybe it was the right one, I don’t know—and alert Walter, the friend, to my presence. Fuck fuck fuck “Oh, HI, sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. How are you?” We exchange the usual pleasantries, as we are actually mutual friends, he and his wife are good people, sort of, might be part of the problem, but I’m not ready to think about that yet, and then I lean in. “Look, man, I know that you’re his wingman and that you’re loyal to him first, but has he been cheating on me?” A briefer pause than I expected, then, “I’m gonna take the high road here: if you suspect, then you should ask. You’re not going to get anywhere by stewing with assumptions.” Nicely done, I say, and thank you.
When Mr Phledge calls that night, an hour after he was due to get off work (this happens a lot, it doesn’t mean anything, right?), he asks me what’s wrong and I say a lot is wrong, and he begs me not to hang shit over his head like that, so I tell him it’s about DADT. And I hear the fear in his voice and he says he’ll be home soon, but that he hasn’t done anything. I make a horrible, horrible face. When he comes in, I ask him to tell me everything that he has done with her, everything, don’t skimp, I want bloody fucking details, I have to know because I know something’s up, and in midstream have a brilliant flash of inspiration not to tell him HOW I know these things because I will be following up on him and what kind of stupid fuck leaves written evidence of his infidelity? His cell buzzes and he picks it up from the table, then puts it back down. “That was Carla,” he states, “and she knows we’re having this conversation.” I lose all composure knowing that this person has a window into my intimate life, and while I’m crying I realize that they text frequently and I make a mental note to go digging through their text messages as soon as I can conveniently manage it, and he confesses to most of what I know already, with a little prompting from me. I apologize profusely for this anger and wildness that I should be controlling because he was only following the rules and now look at me breaking them by asking. Bad wife. He convinces me to come to bed with him, begs quietly to touch me, and he sidles up for a few minutes then retreats because he is uncomfortably hot. I am wearing a nightshirt and I am not used to clothing constricting my limbs while I sleep but that’s the price I’ll pay for not having to deal with my sexuality right now.
Maybe I should try to sell this book.
The next day I am hungover, raw, in no better shape than I was the night before. He is quiet but upbeat, pecks me on the lips like a child would kiss his mother; the “I love yous” are piling up pretty deep and high but they simply add to the detritus on the floor, something over which I would trip instead of settle into and feel comforted. I evidently give him a horrible, horrible look, and he says, “What’s with the look?” and I say, “It might be there for a long time.” Later in the afternoon he accuses me of making him feel awful for something he did within the construct upon which we had agreed. I grovel on the inside because he’s right, so right. I say that what really hurts is that he took action on permission, that he wanted permission to begin with, that there is very clearly something wrong in our marriage that led to these events. “Do you want to stay married?” I ask, and he without hesitation says yes. I cannot say that I am without hesitation. Later I try to fall asleep but cannot. I get out of bed and continue reading on the couch, naked in so many ways, reading the Dalai Lama’s soothing words of wisdom, of escaping suffering by knowing life’s true nature, and at the same time my heart skips a beat every couple of paragraphs because ha! his cell phone is sitting on the side table and I cannot help my masochism, this profound and disgusting curiosity to know exactly what has happened, to gain enough knowledge that should I challenge him again to tell me the whole truth I will know how much he is withholding, his filthy sins of omission. I am reading and plotting, reading and plotting, when he emerges from the room, and while my brand new heart is doing its best not to explode itself this time out of fear of getting caught—is this what his life has been like? My god, he’ll die before forty at this rate—he blandly mutters, “Too hot. Leg cramps. Where’s the Benadryl?” I medicate him, and he goes back to bed, and I pounce on the phone promptly thirty minutes after the drug has been swallowed. I feel like God overhearing Adam and Eve’s conversations post-Eden, the stark disconnect between this perfect creature I thought I knew and the real one moaning through text messages about someone else’s tongues and nipples and smooth pussies. I kick myself mentally for not having given in to the Brazilian. I find the pictures, a pleasantly plump woman in a bikini bottom and sunglasses, one hand holding the phone camera, the other holding her left breast. I read her messages, to see who started what, how resistant she is to the concept of his advances, since she knows he is married, and yet she also knows about the DADT policy that if I had my life to live over I would run screaming from fingers in ears yelling no no no no. She is no angel, either, but I feel sorry for her that one of the last messages is, “dont ruin your marriage for me im a big girl.” Of course, she also writes, “we havent fucking DONE anything” and I laugh a wry, silent laugh for this person who actually has told my husband she wants to meet me. And I am surprised by my fury upon considering this, that if I were to meet her now I would tear her throat out with my bare hands and stomp on her perfect breasts, something I’m fairly certain the Dalai Lama would not approve of. I look at my own breasts, marred and dysfunctional after reduction surgery, a process through which my husband accompanied me because he was as concerned about my back problems as I was. I look at my fat belly, sweaty against my arm where it is resting, hating my body again; like an old heroin-addicted friend, is that hatred. Pity, disgust, inertia. I make sure all the phone’s settings are back to their previous status and set it down where I found it, then play my piano for about an hour (headphones on), then sit at his desk because my laptop’s in the bedroom and start writing my feelings. It takes me an hour, and I print it out, put it in an envelope, seal it, and write, in impeccable angled cursive, “Please read this before you come home from work tonight –me.” It is now four in the morning and I settle in on the couch, with my intellect telling me I should be exhausted and my body saying we just fucking got started. He emerges from the bedroom at 6:15 and sadly notes that I have slept on the couch. I shrug and say it seemed the thing to do. He asks me if I’m going to continue to stew. I say, “I wish I could stop.”
I emailed my family physician to see if she had recommendations for marriage counselors, and upon her reply put in a call. I’ll make an appointment, and if we can’t make it we won’t make it. I don’t often say things like this, but if you’ve read this far I take it that you care and I’ll ask that you pray for us, and for me.