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.
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.
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.