Uncharted Territory

Four new notifications, and a new message. I click the small red 4, expecting the usual likes and comments.


She accepted my friend request.

My palms are suddenly wet, I can feel my heart pounding through my chest, for the millionth time in the past four days my cheeks have become uncomfortably hot. The internet is so slow, my fingers fumble, my mouse trips over the screen. Five seconds feels like a year, what does she have to say?

“Hi, of course I’d like to get to know you. Your husband and I are just friends.”

So it’s true.

If I am lost
This painting somehow describes my feelings, and when I get enough money, I’m going to buy it. But I’m not going to get enough money for a long time, so maybe you should buy it.


She’s new to this too, or else extremely inept. “We’re just friends” is not something anybody says, unprompted, about their just friends.


How does a feminist deal with infidelity?


I remember, vividly, the scrutiny that Hillary Clinton underwent when Bill so publicly cheated. “I would never stay,” people said. “I’d cut off his fucking balls.” I didn’t know what I would do.

Elizabeth Edwards left when John stepped out on her. The very picture of a strong woman – dying, but so self-sufficient, no man is worth her dignity. Feminists raised their fists in solidarity. I didn’t know what I would do.

I still don’t.


I loved my family as it was. Or – as I thought it was. But even if it was as it was and not as I thought it was – I fucking love my family. My kid adores her father. Her father cracks me up and supports me in my darkest moments. We’ve built a life together of memories and connections, love and laughter. Does that change if he expresses affection toward somebody else? Maybe not.

Does it change if he lies to me, keeps secrets? Maybe.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.


I don’t know if he knows that I know his passwords. I’m not telling him. I compulsively check his e-mail, his Skype. He says that just before I found out, they had decided to cool it, and all written correspondence backs this up. The reality is that their transgressions were minor, that they could have gone further but didn’t. Part of me thinks this situation could be a positive thing – he had the choice, tangible, tempting, completely within reach, and he chose me, he chose us.

Part of me wants to cut his fucking balls off.


It helps to talk to her. It makes me feel like we’re all in this together, like mistakes were made but we can move on. I have a fantasy of us all three being friends, laughing about this nonsense, sharing a beer and reminiscing.

I have a fantasy of leaving. I know that his life with me is better with me than it would be without me, I know that his life with her would be miserable, I imagine watching him crash and burn. I know my worth. I know that losing me would be a colossal fuckup.

I fantasize.


There is only one thing that I know for sure. I clamp down on every urge to drag our daughter into it. “Say goodnight to your daddy, give him a hug,” I say, it is nearly impossible but my teeth are not clenched, my tone is relaxed. She would choose me, there’s no question, she’s a mama’s girl, it would be easy and it would be satisfying, but the only thing I feel certain about in this mess is that she will not be asked to make that choice.


I am a feminist. I know that he is the one who made the promises to me, she did not. I am not mad at her, not at all. I want to reach out, want to connect, want us to move past this. Woman power, solidarity, We Can Do Thisâ„¢.

“If you want me to stop talking to him, I will,” she writes.

She is sweet. I think to myself that she is probably similar to me, that my husband wouldn’t be attracted to her if she were horrible. Apart from that original lie, the whole “just friends” thing, I feel sympathy for her. We can be friends. It was just a small misstep.

I log into his e-mail. “It’s been four days since we talked,” she writes. “I’m surprised you’ve been able to hold out for so long. ;).”

I want to kick her in the fucking teeth.


What would a Real Feminist do? If I stay, does that mean the patriarchy wins? That I have no self-respect, that in the end I’m that proverbial doormat, that I’m teaching my daughter that any man is better than nothing?

“Do you love him?” a friend asks. I don’t fucking know. I do love him. At least, I did. I do. Do I love him enough? I don’t fucking know.

“I love my family,” I respond.

And I do. This betrayal, this transgression, this misstep, it’s carving a place in the part of my brain that forgives, I can get past this for my family. I can get past this if there is a guarantee that my family will be as it was. Or as I thought it was. But there is no guarantee, and the only people who are offering that guarantee have proven themselves untrustworthy.

I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing.

13 replies on “Uncharted Territory”

Oh, man, this post just makes me feel all sorts of things. As a child of divorce (a dad who cheated on mom, she left him, he married his mistress) I so, so feel for you and your daughter. And I know this is not the accepted, feminist response, and coming from a self-proclaimed, proud feminist, its hard for me to wrap my brain around this, but, I HATE the “she didn’t take the vow, he did” excuse. I know we have to say it, because it’s true, but leaving the other woman with zero culpability makes me hotter than the fires in Hades. She is a sentient, conscious person, who doesn’t need to pursue (or accept the advances of) a married man. Period. And this isn’t just a one-night, I picked up a gal in the bar and we had sex and she didn’t know I was married sort of thing. She knew you, she knew your family, she KNEW what she’s doing. Yes, you should be mad at him, but yes, you can also be mad at her. (Sorry, I’m letting a lot of my personal feelings into this! Just want you to know that your anger is natural and no one would disagree with it.)

I’m so sorry you’re hurting, that sort of betrayal cuts so deeply. But thank you for keeping your daughter out of the middle. My parents went through a separation when I was about six (my dad went through a “life event” and to this day, I don’t know if that means he had an affair or not), and they never once used my sisters and me as ammunition. I think that, in the long run, it made us able to go back to being a unified family unit more easily.

Real Feminists tend to do what’s right for them and for the people they love and say stuff like “This is my decision, this is how I’m handling it. If you don’t like it, bugger off.” It’s okay to not know what you want, and it’s okay to find a good counselor to help you talk things through. Sometimes, you need a buffer, referee, whatever you want to call it to help build a space where you both feel safe talking things out so you can start to figure out what caused the cheating and how you can get past it (if you decide you want to). Good luck wrapping your head and your heart around everything, I hope you find some peace.

I’m so sorry. No one deserves to be put through this. The anger is justified, both at her and him.

In the end, feminism can’t decide what’s best for you and your family, because only you know if your family can get through this. It might be too early to decide that right now.

Whatever you do decide, there’s people who love you and will be there for you no matter what.

It’s okay to be mad at her, too. That doesn’t make  you a bad feminist, no matter what any websites say. It makes you human. She knows you exist, and she could have said no to your husband. Sure, he deserves the brunt of your anger, but you don’t have to give her a free pass because you’re not married to her. Messing around with someone else’s spouse is a shitty thing to do, and I think pretty much everyone on the planet is aware of that, including the woman who messed around with yours. Cheating on your spouse is worse, but cheating with someone else’s spouse is still pretty shitty.

I am concerned that you’re trying to have a relationship with her. I get the curiosity, I just worry that it could turn into a way to torture yourself, which isn’t going to help you or your family.

One other bit of advice, then I’ll shut up and offer nothing but my (silent, heh) support – you don’t have to make any decisions right now. It’s undeniably a BIG THING, and there’s no statute of limitations on BIG THINGS in a marriage. And it’s okay to let your husband know that you might just make a decision he isn’t going to like at any time in the future. He hurt you, and that’s not okay.


Aw, I’m sorry that you’re going through this. No matter what decisions you make, there will be challenges. If you do decide to work things out, then new boundaries are going to have to be built and firmly respected. But whatever way you go, I hope you remember that *you* are not a failure, that you need to decide what’s best for you without comparing/contrasting too much on others, and that however things turn out, you can always find ways to be supportive of your daughter and teach her to value and respect herself.

If I were to offer any advice, it would be to really examine if you can get everything you need from the relationship (and what it would take from each of you to get it), and go from there. I’ve been in situations where I’ve forgiven people only to have them then turn and make me the ‘bad guy’ for setting reasonable boundaries and expecting that my needs be met as well, but in hindsight I realized that they never really gave me what I needed to begin with. I hope things turn out okay!


I am so sorry.  I read your story, and every word resonated in a dark, awful place I have in my own mind from dealing with the same BS.

Honestly, I wish I could tell you that we worked through it, now we’re stronger for it, blah blah.  We don’t have kids (although we are married) and so I know your situation is about 1,000 times more complicated. However:

She lives several states away, and while I think it came close, they pulled back before things got physical (that I know of).  But, I felt it was still infidelity, and in some ways their talking was even worse than if they’d just done it once and never spoken again.  Reading the “It’s been four days since we talked,” line broke my heart – I remember reading through so many of those flip little cutesy notes, growing angrier and more disbelieving each time (and imagining hyperdramatic revenge fantasies, b/c it’s about all you can do in those situations).

I told him it was her, or me – feeling all magnanimous for giving him even a chance and not just walking out.  He then told me he loved me, but he wasn’t willing to cut her out of his life, because the friendship was too important to him.  He didn’t want to break up our home over it, but to him, demanding he cut off all contact was a dealbreaker.  I hated it.  And I was stumped – I’d never thought I’d get any answer other than “I’m sorry, I won’t ever again, please forgive.”

Grudgingly, I agreed that we could move forward, if he could respect some ground rules:

– He can’t talk to her about me, or anything pertaining to our (or her) marriage

– No in-person visits unless as a group or explicitly pre-discussed with me

-He would need to treat her as a real friend, as in, no hiding her from me, mentioning to me if he talked to her (just as he would mention a conversation with any friend), and not talking to her more than he talks to any other friend.

The rules seem sort of petty and ridiculous, but I decided they outlined a life I could live with.  I let him know that he was on a second chance, and any violation of these rules would count as a serious breach of trust, with major consequences.  He understood.

Years later, I still fight the urge to scream expletives whenever he mentions her name.  However, as I’ve agreed to “be cool if he’ll be cool”, I try to stay neutral.  It’s been several years now, and I as far as I know he’s been very respectful of the guidelines…but honestly, it’s still a breach of trust that’s hard to heal over.  We make do – as you say, I love our family fiercely and wasn’t ready to let go over this.  However, it sucks having to live with the choices you make. Deciding to forgive has emotional consequences all of its own, even though I sincerely wish it was a magic wand that could make the hurt go away and make everything normal again.  Solidarity, lady…sending you mental strength vibes.


If you asked me this a few years ago, I would have said “Leave him, no questions asked.”  But now, with my daughter and an actual family…Give him one more shot.  I had a girlfriend in a similar situation- nothing physical just on email.   She read him the “riot act” and told him to cut it out.  So far, he has.  If he still doesn’t cut it out – I am a huge advocate of counseling.  If you both want to make it work, go for it.  But if he shows no interest in fixing things…you may have to cut him loose.   You should come clean about checking his accounts, let him know you are coming clean so you can move forward.  Coming clean on your part makes it easier for him to come clean as well.

Good luck

Wow, this is such a sucky, sucky situation.

For what it’s worth, I have been ‘the other woman’ in a relationship – way back, in college. We were both his exes and he didn’t know who or what he wanted. It continues to be the worst thing I’ve ever done – but we are still friendly and there is now (5+ years later) little tension between me and his now-partner over what happened.

I hope you’re able to find your way out of this situation, somehow, whether that’s with professional help or not. I would guess it would start by cutting this woman out of your life and your husband’s life, but I’m in no position to give advice. I wish you and your family the very best of luck

Wow, I’m so sorry you’re going through this shit.  Do you have the ability to talk about your feelings to a professional?  She should be able to help you make some decisions or at least deal with all these emotions.

As an attorney who sometimes sits in on family court cases, kudos to you for making the enormous effort to keep your daughter out of this.  If you do decide to divorce your husband and you happen to live in the Chicago, IL area, I can refer you to some kick ass female lawyers.

Best of luck to you.  Your situation sucks and I’m sorry.


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