How I Came to Terms With My Boyfriend's Infidelity -- and My Own
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“I didn’t mean him,” he cried after wrenching the identity of my other from me — a cute, gregarious friend 10 years my junior. “How could you?”
Immediately, I stopped. I hadn’t really wanted to go out with anyone else anyway, because I was in love with Ben. But now, dear God, I was a potential (though, thankfully, childless) Medea. The ax was sure to fall sometime. I had sinned, and now it was his turn.
The thought made me sick. The truth was I would be completely crushed if he slept with someone else. How could I have been so stupid as to propose this plan? I became obsessed with the thought of him in bed with almost every woman I knew. Would it be the intern? Or that blond student? What about that bitchy editor with the hip spiky boots?
Certainly, opportunity loomed large. Ben is a successful novelist. When you are a woman and you share your work at a reading, you can probably expect a free drink, if you’re lucky. Male writers — even mean, old ones — invariably end up surrounded by willing women between the ages of 22 and 30 in innocently bookish yet tight sweaters. (I still have a few leftover in my closet.) How could anyone turn away from those shining faces, those adoring nods at dial-a-writer gems such as: There’s no such thing as a happy ending! and When you stop writing, you die!
The stress was mounting. One evening, after patiently listening to my jealous wheedling, he left for a reading alone. I pitched “Anna Karenina” at the door, then passed the rest of the night with a bottle of Malbec and one of my very favorites: “Wide Sargasso Sea.” Ever read that one? The heroine gets so crazy over the loss of her husband’s love she sets herself on fire, along with Thornfield Hall, the home of the much less endearing Jane Eyre.
Ben returned, reeking of beer and innocence.
“Of course I could have,” he said to my tinny whines. “We always can. But why would I be out there when you’re in here?”
Reader, it was a night for the pages. I was in love, and I was loved back. I didn’t trust it, given the literature, but it was nice for a while, anyway.
And then, the big plot twist: I got pregnant. There was hysteria, there was hair pulling. It didn’t matter. The kid was real.
After a few weeks, the panic waned. We took stock of our feelings and, frankly, our ages. Over some wine in a hippie beach town, we decided to try the “happy family thing.”
(Though, going back to that canon of greats, there aren’t a whole lot of examples of those, either.)
You might not believe this, but the monogamy questions persisted. This time there were no good literary examples to follow. Adultery when there is a child involved is not only kooky, it’s inarguably selfish. OK, in some instances, when the offspring is well insulated by staff and governesses, it can work for a while. Pierre sort of gets away with it in “War and Peace” – at least, that’s what a friend told me, as I’ve never finished the damned thing. Brenda Last, too, in “Handful of Dust,” until her son’s head gets kicked in by a horse. But in our servant-less existence, the prospect seemed to have real “Ice Storm” potential.
“Wait. Does this mean we can’t ever see other people again?” Ben asked, calling from one of his summer writing conferences when I was about 10 weeks along. “I never thought about that. Wow.”