Adultery and the Clock: tick tock

This Labor Day weekend is the sixth anniversary of the day my ex-husband invited me into our garden to “show me something.” I assumed it was a flower or a hummingbird. It was, instead, a 2 1/2 page letter telling me, first, that I was his soulmate and he could never love anyone else as much as he loved me. Second, it told me about the other woman and the apartments he had with her in San Francisco and Beijing. Third, it told me that from that moment on he would spend half a year with her and half a year with me.

Fourth, it expressed that he understood I might have an “initial period of upset.”

What he did not understand – it had never crossed his mind – was that I might leave. I was out of the house with a packed suitcase inside of 30 minutes.

It turned out he had misconstrued my nearly a decade of work advocating inclusiveness across cultures and dialogue across differences. I pointed out that meant between rebels and governments, not between adulterers and spouses.

It went downhill from there.

Yet, I would not be writing about this except for an odd thing that happened. Yesterday, at a birthday brunch I was placed next to a stranger. When we went around the table to tell how we first met our mutual friend, I realized she most likely had worked in an academic program with the second husband of the woman my husband chose and presumably is still with. After the chocolate cake infused with raspberry juice, while people were leaving, I asked.

The shock on the face of this mild-mannered woman soon gave away to not only did she know him but she disliked him. She also knew the woman (the one presumably still with my former husband) and felt the two were a match in duplicity, fraud, and opportunism.

Fourteen years after experience with either of them, she became visibly upset. While I referred to them and my ex-husband as “bad news bears,” she used more explicit words to describe the two people she knows as “deserving each other.”

Their saga reached across to China and he wrote a critically-acclaimed book of their “love affair” that this woman, and others, say is filled with fraudulent information.

While I’ve never met him face to face, he found me on Facebook five years ago. His version of that story (he used even more explicit words to describe his ex-wife) is that he trusted his interviews with her, and that when the book was questioned after publication, they had already separated. She, however, asked to get back together, spent the night, and when he returned from buying groceries the next morning, she was gone and his computer was stripped of the interviews. (There was a second copy with his editor.)

The cast of characters is both juicy and boring. Three people who met her with my husband – people who did not know each other, two of them his friends more than mine – contacted me separately to say she was wearing see-through blouses with no bra underneath and combat boots, which sort of tells you her approach to life.

Note: she was in the first small group of young Chinese women trained as spies, I was told, against American men. While in the group, she secretly and against the rules married a Chinese soldier, had an affair with a married military Colonel, and became involved with the future American husband who would write of their love affair. She was also kicked out of the group. (One touch I like is that she told the American that the Colonel and his wife were her parents and that he should buy the Colonel a watch.)

Point is, if you, dear reader, male and female, are contemplating adultery there are four vital things to do first.

1) Deeply and thoroughly examine if you’re ready to chuck your marriage.

2) If you do not wish to chuck your marriage, then do the work of telling your spouse of any malcontent, and have real conversations. Force the issue. Be a grown up. Good and exciting things might happen.

3) Do due diligence on any prospective “adulteree.” My husband was apparently the only person in Silicon Vally not to get the memo. The number of strangers, including ex-lovers, who found me in order to warn me and to vent about her was impressive. In fact, I had avoided her for years as bad value after I realized she was trying to hook me in with fabrications. At the same time or shortly after he privately committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to her even before the affair began.

4) Get a medical examination to make sure your mental capacities are up to snuff and you’re not predisposed to bad decisions and moral slippage. I am serious.

IF you have wended your way through the above, check in with your moral compass. I am not against ending marriages that are harmful and painful, but I believe ethics have substance and to abuse them can damage not only someone you vowed to love and honor, but yourself.

By the way, her third husband was offered the same deal a few months before me. Half a year here, half a year there. He declined. He didn’t tell me because she told him I knew my husband was having an affair and didn’t want to know who with.

This is actually a sad story. It is a King Lear story, and “King Lear” is a sad play. It is a “power corrupts” story, and power corrupts silently, insidiously. I think it is hard to discern when it is happening to you.

She is unimportant to me, except in that I wish he had chosen more wisely. Strange, huh?

It is a story of lust and greed and privilege and betrayal and love lost. I try to make it a comedy, but the best that can be done with it is a tragic-comedy, one too often played out in one form or another around us.

He was my college boyfriend returned to me after decades of absence. We were together for 18 years. I’ve seen no evidence of that person for the last six years. Betrayal has a strange kind of grieving, but it does run out of steam.

I no longer believe in soul mates. But I believe in love – and feel love – more than I ever would have thought possible, and it is partly due, in ways I cannot decipher, to expecting to see a hummingbird and instead meeting the end of what everyone, except my husband, thought was perfect. Or maybe he did, too, but he wanted even more.

The clock keeps ticking, and things come round. I was less upset than a stranger I met at a birthday brunch.

Compassion is a choice, and pity is unacceptable.