When I mustered the courage to ask my husband of 16 years if he was having an affair, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "It was just an escape. It will be over with one phone call. You and I are still going to grow old together." I accepted this explanation. He was crying, for God's sake. And then there was that line about love in our retirement years. The performance was totally believable.
In reality, our whole life was a performance. We appeared to be a wholesome, book-loving, middle-class pair. We had three beautiful daughters, ages 9, 6 and 2. One friend thought we seemed so compatible that she always asked after Jeff with the line, "How's your soul mate?" I guess you could say we were the perfect couple. But it seems my overly trusting nature enabled his excessive lying.
You see, my husband led a double life.
I don't know when he went off the rails. I do know that he got so good at lying that no one—not his family, not our friends, not our marriage counselor and most certainly not I—suspected that he had two separate lives.
On the surface, he was always smiling, well-dressed and charming to strangers and friends alike. Underneath, however, his life revolved around sex—affairs with real, live women, voyeurism and exhibitionism, and paid services that ran the gamut. Extensive business travel allowed him to pursue undetected what I later came to recognize was an unquenchable sex addiction.
There were warning signs, but I ignored them. The most significant were the interminable lulls in our love life. But I was able to rationalize them when he said things like, "I'm worried that I might not get that promotion" or, "I'm angry that you spent so much money on that dress." I never suspected infidelity. Jeff had intimacy issues stemming from abuse by a female teacher that began when he was only 9. He had my empathy, my kindness, my patience, my love. I believed he couldn't be with anyone but me.
I was jolted out of my ignorance when I stumbled across an awkward e-mail exchange between Jeff and a work associate named Molly. The conversation seemed innocent enough until I read, "After you brief me on the meeting, you can 'debrief' me again in my hotel room." How juvenile, I thought. Then I ran to the bathroom and threw up.
Leaning over the sink, I realized I was chanting out loud, "How could he, how could he, how could he?"
I jumped when I heard the tiny voice of my 2-year-old outside the door: "Who are you talking to, Mommy?"
"Just myself. I'm okay honey," I heard myself answer. No I'm not, I thought.
Suddenly moments of unease I had suppressed over the years threatened to rise to the surface: Finding the phone book open to "Massage" even though he professed not to like strangers touching him. Sensing how angry a friend was after the bachelor party Jeff threw her husband. Discovering him furtively peering into a neighbor's apartment window. Feeling hostility from certain women in his office.
Reality was seeping into my veins, but I wasn't ready to accept it. So I quickly returned to the sweet oblivion of denial. This was easy enough given my husband's ability to live out a lie. He did acknowledge what he called an "inappropriate friendship" with Molly, but then set about making things right in a textbook-perfect manner—couples counseling, elaborate dates and a brand new passion in bed. He could tell the most outrageous lie without flinching, fidgeting or looking away.
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