Did infidelity play a part in your marriage?
I was even more surprised by my quick, definitive response, but maybe that was easier because it was a stranger asking.
I’ve written extensively about my marriage in its happy days. And then I wrote about the slow avalanche of problems that finally gave way, the mountain of my marriage collapsing around me while I carried a toddler and laundry basket full of clothes and books and toys and fled to my parents’ house. I’ve written much, much more about the divorce that took 16 agonizing months and the years of dating and finding love and being a stressed but blissful single mom since then. I’ve told the story in many ways, many times, and to many people.
I have been asked some very intimate details. And I have been asked this question, the one about cheating, by people close to me, by men on a first date, by readers and by people I don’t know at all. I am not a stranger to responding to the accusation of infidelity. It’s just that I have not publicly written about it. Until now.
Sometimes skipping over that part of the story was hard. I wanted to to talk about the gut-plummet that happened when I realized what was going on, confirmed it in minutes, scoured the house for evidence and then dropped it all in the middle of the floor in a marriage counseling session hours later. I wanted to write about the internal conflict as I considered staying, trying even though I’d always said infidelity was the one relationship deal-breaker I’d had — did it make me less of a feminist? could we survive it? would I find my way back to trust?
But I stayed relatively quiet instead. It was a legal choice as we entered and re-entered the courtroom during divorce negotiations. It was a self-protective choice as I turned away from that traumatic time, huddling myself and my son into certain safe corners. And it was a healing choice as I tended to the wounds that were easily re-opened.
Most importantly, it was a family choice. When it all went down, I decided to focus the story on my son and me, blurring my ex-husband out of the picture as much as possible.
What changed last month when a stranger emailed me out of the blue, asking me forthrightly if there had been infidelity in the marriage?
You might think that I answered, and quickly, because the stranger posing the question was a producer from a reality show who was interested in featuring the story in an episode on an upcoming season. But that’s not it. Honest.
I said yes because I thought there might be an opportunity to tell the whole story — not just the sad and dramatic cheating part but also the chapters that followed of crazy leaps of faith and living with my parents and rebound relationships and being one lady trying to teach a small boy to pee standing up and exhaustion and exhilaration and big-time happiness — to a bigger audience. Infidelity isn’t the end, that’s honestly what I thought as I hit send on the email response. And that’s the story I can tell.
Except that this producer wasn’t interested in the chapters that followed. He was interested in my side. And my ex-husband’s side.
And although I explained kindly to the producer that my ex-husband and I do not share a communicative relationship, he kept asking if I’d ask him to participate anyway or if he could contact him directly. I’d said yes to the question about infidelity, but the no-no-nos were quickly piling up.
The producer assured me it would be balanced, done tastefully, and no one would be designated “the bad guy.” Then he sent me a video of a previous show. It included the “other woman.”
I wasn’t even interested in hearing the words of the third person. I’d made an easy and conscious choice to never contact her. She was irrelevant. It was my then-husband who I was in the relationship with, not her. That’s when the no-no-nos became an oh hell naw.
The show, called Unfaithful, tells the story of infidelity through interviews with each of the participants. Oh, and with actors recreating scenes. I am sure you have seen these shows before, and so you know the ex-wife stomping on a cell phone and storming out of a party is one of them, and another is the hunkier-than-real-life shirtless husband making sweet love to his red-lacy-lingerie-and-pearls-clad mistress under the gauzy canopy of a four-poster bed.
Here’s a different episode than the one I was sent, but one that will give you a very good idea of what I watched.
This was embarrassing to watch. Not for me, not because I would be the stompy cell-phone destroyer. But because a story I am sure was exploding with emotion was reduced to filters and fake pearls.
And then there were the kids. The couple (+1) featured talked openly about their children, including footage and photos of the daughters when the family was in tact, then depressed looking when the parents were separating, then with the dad and new girlfriend, and finally with the mom and dad getting along while playing a board game all together. I saw that and knew there was just no way to entertain the request any longer. If I’d agreed to move forward there would have surely been interviews and casting whatnots, and this round of emails wasn’t a sure in. No matter. I was out.
I said no thank you to the producer. There was no other response. I’d be happy to share my story — mine -- I shared with the producer in one last confidence, but not his, not hers, and certainly not my son’s.
My story is not cheesy, not balanced, not tasteful. I’ve had enough therapy to know what I am accountable for in the crumbling of my marriage, and to understand that cheating was one symptom of some much bigger problems. I also know that I am not responsible for the infidelity manifested physically, emotionally, and financially. I know that that, in these five years, I have already given plenty of time and attention to the stories (true and otherwise) from the other party involved.
I said no to this offer to be on TV because of time. Not because enough time has passed since it happened, but because all this time has shown me what remains from those beginning moments and what is important — me and my kid. This kind of show wouldn’t tell that story and wouldn’t serve anyone in my family well.
It felt good to say yes, to admit aloud that infidelity was a part of my story. To release the shame and worries and self-protection and just say it. And when someone is interested in putting the really juicy, hilarious, thrilling, awesome adventures on television — the moments that have followed the unfaithfulness — then I will be happy to consider putting that all on air.
If infidelity was a part of your break-up, would you tell your story on TV?
Do shows like this help or hurt people who have been in cheating relationships?
Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.
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