If you’re a married survivor of infidelity and the marriage means anything to you at all, you immediately became obsessed with knowing the details of the affair(s) – and if the details are not made readily available to you (which would be the norm), your ‘life’s mission’ becomes to unearth them yourself. You go through moments when you think you’re going crazy – because your partner almost convinces you that you are, or because of the sudden change in your personality from a balanced individual to an obsessive human being.
Personally, I could not concentrate on my work for the first four months. How God managed to cover me during that period, I will never be able to fathom. With my workload, you simply can’t get away with blanking out for a couple of days, not to mention a four-month period. During that time, I moved through my days in slow motion. My brain just seemed to be in a fog when it came to work. I would spend the first half of the day trying, struggling, fighting to maintain enough presence of mind to at least respond to emails. I was terribly unproductive. The remainder of the day would be divided between staring blankly at my computer screen with my mind far, far away, and googling about ‘marriage,’ ‘Christian marriage’ ‘Christian marriage and infidelity,’ ‘Christians and divorce,’ ‘When The Other Woman is your friend’ – any permutation of words that came to mind and that I hoped would bring answers.
I understand that unfaithfulness is a really difficult issue for erring Christians to admit to. The implications of unfaithfulness are far-reaching, and it seems logical enough for the erring party to want to avoid causing any further damage – to want to just put it behind them and everyone else and face the future. I cannot emphasize enough, though, to anyone in this situation, that there is no real future without the truth. Withholding the truth does not spell the end for the marriage, necessarily – if the marriage in question is built on outward appearance only. Sure, it’s possible to grin and bear it and limp along. But I’m talking about a real marriage – the kind worth fighting for, the kind we all hope for. In a real marriage – the kind worth fighting for – the truth can, will, and does set you free. The truth is more powerful than the pain. The truth is the starting point for healing.
I’ve run into the other woman (the only one that I really know well) thrice since I found out. The first time, it was by appointment and the other two times, we just happened to bump into each other. The first time, she asked if she could meet with us both to have a discussion. Her sister and another couple, close family friends of ours who stood with us all the way during this ordeal, were also invited. We met at a neutral place, a coffee shop in the neighborhood.
I arrived at the venue eagerly, exhausted by all the deceit and so ready to let them know it was tough, but I’d forgiven them, and I’d get through it. We sat directly across the table from each other on wooden benches in the garden. She talked for at least forty minutes, uninterrupted. I looked her in the eyes, but she wouldn’t look back. Her eyes flitted everywhere as she talked – everywhere but toward me. I continued staring at her in consternation. What was wrong with my friend? How had she changed so drastically? She was here to finally tell me the truth, wasn’t she? Why was she avoiding my eyes – something she had never done in my history of knowing her?
My mind tried to follow her long speech. She talked of all the respect she had for me and my family, about how she looked up to me and my then husband, about how we were the model Christian couple, about how much she loved us … I was getting lost. Why didn’t she just get to the point? My gaze wandered from her shifting eyes down to her lips. I could no longer hear what she was saying – my mind was no longer following. I watched her lips moving, wondering what she was talking about. My eyes moved back up to her eyes, which still refused to meet mine. The sound of her voice switched back on. She was saying that she had been falsely accused, that this was all a malicious scheme to ruin our close friendship.
I was disappointed. I had left my house and come out here for this? She could’ve told me this on the phone. We didn’t have to meet in person for this. Why wouldn’t she look at me? I took deep breaths and silently chided myself for expecting too much, for expecting anything at all. When would I stop being so naïve? When would I ever grow up?
Our family friends moderated this difficult meeting with skill and maturity. I was grateful to have them involved, to have solid people in this land where I have no relatives. My then husband was asked if he had anything to say about all this.
‘Well,’ he began, shifting in his seat, ‘On behalf of my family, I just want to apologize to her for all the pain that she has suffered as a result of being falsely accused. This whole ordeal isn’t fair to her.’
WHAT??!! No, he didn’t!
I honestly could not believe my ears. I immediately burst into tears in spite of myself. Our family friends – the wife – rushed around the table and handed me some tissue.
That was the first time I cried since I found out.
I sat defenseless next to my then husband and across from my friend of just a few weeks prior and simply cried my eyes out – tears, snot, gasps, shudders, and all. They both responded with silence, neither looking at me: my then husband, staring straight ahead of him, looking like an indifferent statue chiseled out of stone, and my former friend, avoiding my eyes, staring beyond me.
I felt naked, exposed, and ashamed, without a covering.
Well, this is just peachy, I thought to myself. He often complained that I never wanted to allow myself to be vulnerable enough to cry. Now that I was crying, I hoped he was finally satisfied.
We finally dispersed after everyone else said a few words. We all trudged into the parking lot, a defeated party of six. It had been a waste of time for everyone concerned. There were no winners.
I didn’t come face to face with my former friend until probably a couple of years later or more. I rushed into my office building that day, almost late for a meeting. I caught a glimpse of a figure standing awkwardly in the parking lot as I rushed past, and glanced behind me briefly, feeling like I was being watched. Not noticing anyone in my haste, I entered the building and waited impatiently for the elevator by the reception desk.
A figure suddenly approached me. Hesitantly, shyly. I looked up and recognized the figure as the person I had seen standing in the parking lot, but hadn’t recognized. As I finally realized who it was, she greeted me nervously. I greeted her back, not bothering to hide my surprise. I asked politely how she was, as the elevator opened up. She was fine she said, as I entered the elevator. As the elevator doors began to close, she suddenly stepped forward courageously and asked if I could please call her sometime. She had been trying to reach me on my phone for quite a while, but I simply never answered it and she eventually gave up.
‘Please call me,’ she pleaded urgently, desperately. ‘Do you still have my number? I lost my phone, so I don’t have your number anymore.’
‘I don’t have yours anymore, either, but I know how to get it. I’m not sure if I’ll call, but I promise to think about it.’
The elevator doors closed. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror along the elevator wall as I reeled over what had just occurred. I was glad I wasn’t looking bad. The mirror reflected the image of a confident, well-dressed, attractive woman in a hurry to get somewhere - far from the portrait of the miserable, 'abandoned' wife.
Don’t be silly, I said to myself. This wasn’t a competition. It never had been.
She was looking good, too. Thinner, and different in a few other subtle ways, but still essentially the same.
I debated for about a week over whether to bother calling her or not. Call her for what? There was nothing to talk about. But the temptation was strong. She had pleaded with me to call her. Maybe she was finally ready to tell the truth. Although my then husband wasn’t ready to break down yet, maybe she was. Maybe she was as tired of it all as I was.
And so I called. In a nutshell, the phone call was a disappointment. I didn’t get what I wanted. Rather, I got an abridged version of what I got at the coffee shop a few years prior. And so, I hung up, finally accepting that it was time to move on. I had to learn that I would probably never get what I wanted (what I felt I needed) and that this was okay.
Not long after that, I bumped into her in the parking lot of my office building again. She had a doctor’s appointment at one of the clinics in the building. Unlike the last time, when I didn’t have even a split second to think about how to react, this time, I saw her approaching and I thought about it. I decided not to carry on with the charade, pretending like nothing ever happened. She came toward me with hope and eagerness in her eyes, a greeting forming on her lips. I averted my eyes haughtily and openly shunned her. She immediately got the message and made her way into a different elevator.
‘There,’ I said to myself, feeling victorious as I got to my floor and headed to my office.
The feeling didn’t last more than a minute. I was overwhelmed by conviction as soon as I sat at my desk. ‘There, what?’ I asked myself. What had I achieved? There were no victories here, no winners. The minute I sat down, I got back up and marched back to the elevator. I knew which floor she was headed to. I got there and found her standing at the reception desk. I walked up behind her with a message from my heart on my lips. ‘Look,’ I was about to say, ‘I’m hurt and I don’t understand, but I don’t hate you. It’s hard for me to know what to say to you given all that’s happened, but I don’t hate you.’ She turned around just as I reached the desk and immediately began narrating the predicament she was having with her appointment, almost as if she was expecting me.
‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ I replied. ‘How are you doing? How have you been?’
‘I’ve been fine. Things haven’t been easy, but I’m fine. I was fired from my job and I’m about to move. I had an accident and broke my leg. Remember my car? It was totaled during the accident - here are the pictures. I’m being kicked out of my house. Auctioneers came by and threw all my stuff out. It’s been really rough.’
‘Oh …’ I was speechless.
I stared at her, taking in the single crutch she was leaning on. I stared at her, thinking of the friend I had known so well. All the responsibilities she had in her family, and how giving she had always been toward them. How much we had shared and how close she had been to me. How on earth was she going to manage in this crazy city without a job? How could things have gone downhill so fast?
There was no room for gloating here. No winners, no victories. This was an all-round tragedy for us all. None of us had come out of this wreck unscathed.
‘I’m sorry,’ I said simply and sincerely.
There wasn’t much more to say. This time, she had looked into my eyes, and if she still knew me at all, she knew exactly what I was trying to say, what I was trying to do.
I went back to my floor, to my desk and sat down with a sigh. The important thing was to be able to live with myself, and this I could now do comfortably.
What a way to begin the day!