Posted in the Categories Infidelity and Adultery. Some details have been omitted from these stories and some have been changed, for privacy reasons.
For months she has been waking every morning into fear. It takes some moments of confusion, rapid heartbeat and cold sweat before she’s orientated and can place herself in her own bed, white covers strewn with colourful cushions, next to the window through which she can see spilling dark pink bougainvillea and the kookaburra who lately has taken to sitting on a post staring at her for long periods at intervals throughout the day. The kookaburra’s stare is curious and indifferent, if the bird is a spirit guide, as one of her imaginative friends has suggested, it isn’t offering much advice. Nevertheless, she welcomes it.
She remembers the dream she’s just woken from in which she was, along with another woman unknown to her, held against her will by two men and required to sexually gratify them. The dream took place at the beginning of their captivity and the men were implacable but not yet physically violent. She knows this thing will escalate from the relatively simple to the incomprehensible, and she can see no way of escaping.
She thinks of the man who used to be her lover. Her fear increases. She takes the fear apart bit by bit. It is largely retrospective. She’s aghast that she let him into her life, a man capable of the emotional destruction of two women who loved him without understanding or caring to understand what he was doing. Realising both the extent of her lack of judgement and the total failure of her instinct for self-preservation makes her fear for her well-being. For months now she’s been trembling inside. The strong core of her is a fading memory.
She hasn’t known anyone in her adult life who so self-interestedly co-opted love as a means to an end. On an emotional, mental and spiritual level, it’s frightening and she wants a cleansing ritual that will rid her of the aftermath of his ambiguous presence in her mind, heart and body.
We are perfectly matched, he writes, sexually, sensually, intellectually, and as she reads this she wonders if his wife was in the house when he was writing it, maybe even in the room, and what that means. Who is he that he can comprehensively deny the woman he’s shared his life with, had children with, been supported by in all his ventures, and she decides again that she will not join her future with his when he is capable of such violation of trust. How can she care about him, love him even, what is wrong with her that she is in thrall to a man she knows to be deeply treacherous?
She also knows she is complicit in his treachery. She’s said as much several times and he’s said, no, no this is my problem, my choice, my guilt not yours love, but she knows it isn’t that simple. She feels her allegiance shift from him to the unknown woman whose life he’s in the process of comprehensively wrecking. You should not be deceiving your wife like this, she tells him, you must tell her. No, he says, it will destroy her. Your wife has the right to know her life with you is drastically changing, she tells him. Don’t you think she’s noticed?
I can’t hurt her, he says. You are hurting her, she tells him, and hiding the truth from her is hurt on top of hurt, she has a right to know these things, she has a right to make informed choices about what she wants to do, now you are moving away from her. Don’t you realise the implications of what you’ve said and done?
He doesn’t answer.
You’ve no right to deny her the truth, she persists. You’re treating her like a child, as if she isn’t capable of knowing the truth of her life with you. You aren’t lying entirely for her sake. You’re lying for yours as well.
It will destroy my whole family if she knows, he insists, I’ll lose everything. You don’t want me to lose everything do you? You said you didn’t.
Still she stays with him, party to his betrayal and appalling self-interest, the deceived wife pushed once again into the background. Nothing good can come of this, she thinks. Nothing.
In the hotel they stand naked together and he turns her in the direction of the full-length mirror. Look, he says, there’s Us. They stand holding hands, staring at the couple in the mirror. As they watch, he moves his free hand across them to fondle her nipple. He is much taller than her. He has to lean down to kiss her mouth. She has to stand on tip-toes, he has to bend his knees so their genitals can meet. Look, he says, my cock is kissing her.
I hope you never use your love for me to justify your betrayal of your wife, she tells him later. I wouldn’t do it for anyone but you, he replies again. She wonders how that makes it any better. Is he using flattery to blame her, the irresistible woman meme again? The alleged irresistibility of women is always found to be punishable by some men and their consorts. The fault lies not with the hapless man who falls under its spell, but with the woman who should have subdued herself and so not tempted him. Even if tempting him was never her intention, she should have known there is always the possibility and subdued herself anyway. The magical powers attributed to women are the inverse to the power they actually wield in the world. This is no coincidence, she thinks.
She remembers with a bark of grim mirth that her name, a derivative of Guinevere, means “White Enchantress.”
Women are responsible for what men do about their desires. Women are responsible for arousing those desires in the first place. If I were that powerful, she tells him, if I was that irresistible, you would be here with me now and there would be no more lies.
If only you weren’t so perfect in every way, he groans. I’m not, she says, alarmed. Yes you are, for me, he says.
He has, he tells her, complacently she thinks, always been wrapped in cotton wool. As he’s been raised by women and then coupled young, it’s evident that it is women who have always wrapped him in cotton wool. Once he said to her, this argument that it’s bad for a male child to be raised by two women is nonsense. It didn’t do me any harm. She doesn’t point out the flaw in his argument: that it depends on the nature and relationship of the two women just as it depends on the nature and relationship of the heterosexual couple. It isn’t a question of gender. I would never wrap you in cotton wool, she warns him, I only do that for babies and little children, not grown ups.
It is not in her to expect that an adult will wrap her in cotton wool or vice versa. There is a dark side to coddling, a lack of autonomy, of privacy, of independence and he complains of all of these, yet doesn’t seem to see any correlation between the cotton wool and his sense of personal deprivation. He has to ask his wife for money, he tells her one day when he’s taking her to lunch. She thinks of the implications of a man asking his wife for money to take his mistress to lunch. His wife gives him fifty dollars and says this will be enough won’t it? As he goes to pay the bill he takes the money out of his wallet and flourishes it at her, grinning. It’s his wife he’s mocking, an adolescent defiance. He’s trying to make an allegiance with her against his wife, as if there aren’t already enough.
She thinks that if she’d heard the same descriptions of domestic life from a woman she’d think of abuse, controlling behaviours, intrusion.
Once when she’s been annoyed with him and questioned his intentions and actions he tells her she has damaged his self-worth, and she’s astonished at this reaction. He can’t be asked to account for himself without his self-worth suffering? No one in my life has ever spoken to me like that, he tells her and unrepentant she retorts, well they probably should have.
The first emotion she ever felt for him was compassion. He was suffering, he was stoic in his ordeal, and she greatly admired that in him. It stirred in her a strong wish to offer him friendly comfort.
Before that she liked him. She liked the way he thought. She liked the way he wrote. She liked the easy friendship they had. She thought him patronising in a way she’d encountered before in men who acknowledged her as an intelligent woman, but never quite as intelligent as them. She thought the need of such men to presume superiority showed the limits of their intelligence and imagination. She knows she’s been spoiled. Her husband, from whom she learned how to best use her gifts, proudly conceded that she’d excelled him. This does not happen so often between women and men, she’s observed. She doesn’t expect it. A woman learns to choose her battles.
She met him in person because of the compassion. Without that, they would never have met. They would have remained friends who wrote to each other and nothing else. She was open to him in a way she wasn’t usually open to strangers, but she didn’t desire him. She wasn’t looking for love or sex. She didn’t flirt with him. She was deeply tired.
It was a difficult time in her life. For months she had been at her dying husband’s bedside. Because of his need she lived those months in a compassionate state, and it was stronger in her than anything else. It’s an extraordinary state in which to live. She doesn’t know how she found her way into it. It’s a somatic as well as a feeling state. She felt it throughout her body every time she thought of her husband, as a warm intensity concentrated in the energy channels through which her life force moved. It flooded her as she sat with him. She couldn’t heal him, of course she couldn’t. But she could give him this profound attention with her mind and her heart and her body, and sometimes calm him. She did this every day for hours, for months. She did it when she fed him like an infant, and wiped his mouth, and washed his hands and told him stories about their life, when she said that she loved him and stroked his forehead, when she sat silent by his bed as he slept. Strangely, it didn’t exhaust her. Other things in the situation exhausted her, but the compassion never did. It was an altered state, and she was still in it when she met her lover.
Looking back, she wonders if it was this careful intensity of attention she gave to her husband that her lover found so attractive. He knew what she was doing, even though they hadn’t yet met. When they did meet he told her what she’d done was above and beyond the call of duty, a comment she found strange and out-of-place. He didn’t know her or the situation well enough to come to such a conclusion, and she shrugged her shoulders and said, I love him. We do that for people we love. Don’t we? Then he held out his hand for hers with such assurance, as if he knew without doubt that she would give him what he wanted. And she did.
She learned from her grandmother to worry first about men then about herself. Women took on that responsibility. While you put men first, you also spoke disparagingly of them when they weren’t around. Even though they could hurt you they were useless and weak, and you had to do everything for them. That’s what women are supposed to do, she learned from the time she began to understand things. It took an entire two decades of feminism to set her straight. However, early lessons are not so easily unlearned.
Two women raised him, and now he has two women loving and nurturing him again. She is again putting a man’s needs before her own in a situation that can only deeply damage her, and calling it love. She is familiar with Freud’s theory of repetition compulsion, although she imagines it as one part of their situation, not the whole. There are so many lenses through which to view their situation, and each at times seems to be the one, though the desire for an overarching explanation is nothing more than a childish need for shallow reassurance, while drowning in the depths of oceanic complexity.
You have to stop this with me and sort out what’s wrong with your marriage, she tells him. There’s nothing wrong with my marriage, he protests. She laughs. OK. That’s why you’re telling me how perfectly matched we are and constructing this daily life with me, because your marriage satisfies you. That’s why you can’t think of anyone but me, and won’t engage in your family life anymore, because your marriage is so satisfactory. That’s why you’re lying to your wife on this massive scale, because there’s nothing wrong with your marriage. Really? she says. Really?
Later she understands that he has constructed a fantasy about his marriage that rivals even the fantasy he has constructed about her. Both women have allowed him these fantasies. Both women worry about the realities and leave him wrapped in cotton wool. He tells her that when he is anxious only her voice can soothe him, or her written loving words. She doesn’t always give them and then his anxiety escalates into panic. She sees these psychic attacks as reality smashing its way through the fortress of his fantasies, while he struggles desperately to prevent its emergence.
I love you, he tells her. I will love you until I die.