“Why are you doing this to us?” he asked her, feeling nauseous. His mind struggled to absorb the information that his body viscerally rejected.
“We weren’t much of a couple anymore…” she started to explain.
But, in Rob’s mind, that familiar refrain didn’t justify anything. “If you thought our marriage was that bad, then why couldn’t you talk to me about it before throwing yourself into the arms of another man?”
“I tried to, several times. But you just thought I was nagging you.”
Rob looked at his wife. Even with her disheveled hair and tired eyes, he still wanted her. In that instant, he felt ready to do anything to save their marriage. “Oh, God. I never thought it was that bad…” he responded, trying to recall if he had ever taken seriously any of Ana’s warning signals. A sinking feeling seemed to turn his body to mush. He couldn’t believe that his wife of ten years would pick up and leave him one day in such a backhanded and cowardly fashion, for another man. It occurred to him that he didn’t know anything about this stranger yet, presumably, Ana would expect him to trust him with their children. “How long have you known this guy?”
“For almost a year.”
“And you’ve been cheating on me with him this whole time?”
Rob felt the heat of anger rise to the surface. “Why didn’t you tell me about it earlier? I can understand falling in love with someone else. I can understand being unhappy with our marriage. But I can’t understand all the lies. Why did you have to deceive me for so long?”
Ana looked away, to avoid seeing the pain in his eyes. “I didn’t want to lose you or to hurt anybody,” she tried to convey her initial ostrich policy towards her affair. “Michael pressured me to do this.”
“What do you mean?”
“He kept telling me how hard it was to keep up the intensity of our relationship in these difficult circumstances. He complained that we’re hiding like prisoners. Basically, he made me feel like our relationship might not last unless we moved in together.”
“And you didn’t find his behavior in the least bit manipulative?” Rob prompted her, already starting to cultivate a negative impression of his rival.
“Not really. I could understand his perspective. He said that he loved me much too much to share me with another man.”
All Rob heard in her words was a selfish justification revolving around the pronouns “me” and “he.” “What about me? Where did I fit into your sordid scheme?” he demanded. “Did you ever stop to consider my feelings? Would you want to be deceived for a year? Or would you prefer to know right away?”
Ana remained silent.
“In depriving me of knowledge,” Rob pursued, “you’ve deprived me of the power of choice that both you and your boyfriend had.”
“I didn’t want to hurt you or the kids,” Ana said. “For the longest time, I thought I could handle the situation. I wanted to keep everything with Michael under control and our family intact.”
“Then why did you tell me tonight?”
She finally turned to him. The whites of his eyes glistened in the semi-darkness. “Because everything spun out of control. The pressure became too much. I wasn’t even planning to tell you tonight. It just came out.”
“It just came out? So you were planning to lead me on indefinitely?” For the first time since he could remember, Rob became conscious of an impulse towards physical violence, which he curbed by looking away from Ana.
Her temples pounded, like a heartbeat. “I don’t know. I felt pressure from all sides. In fact, I was torn from the start.”
Rob felt not only deceived, but also unjustly abandoned. I’ve wasted my life with a woman who doesn’t love me, he thought, regretting ever having met his wife. “All these years I’ve been a decent husband to you, Ana. I’ve provided for you and the kids. I’ve never once cheated on you. I could easily have done to you what you did to me. But I made a deliberate choice to build my life around our family.” He placed his hand to his forehead in a futile effort to stop a splitting headache, which emanated from the inner schism he felt: the sense that he had done the right thing but maybe he shouldn’t have. “That turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life,” he concluded out loud.
“No it wasn’t. You should be proud of your choices. You’re a better person for them. Besides, nothing that happens between us should ever make you regret your love for the kids. You’ve been an excellent father.”
“And husband!” Rob added, stung by her omission. This woman has never appreciated anything I’ve done for her. All these years, all my efforts to make her happy, were all for nothing. Wasted on a faithless… he had to struggle to repress the hateful word that was on the tip of his tongue. What would be the point of resorting to insults? They wouldn’t fix and they couldn’t heal anything.
“Yes, but we’ve neglected our marriage for several years,” she returned to the leitmotif that made her actions seem more justifiable in her own mind.
Rob looked at her with disgust. How easily she rationalizes her vicious actions! he marveled, incredulous that this was the woman he had loved for so long. “What makes you so sure that he’ll treat you better than I have?” he asked her.
Her demeanor became wistful. “Because he loves me. He always listens to me. He’s extremely affectionate and attentive. And he accepts me for who I am, flaws and all.”
Rob felt sick to his stomach upon hearing her words of praise. His anger veered off from Ana to her lover. “Is he also married?”
“No, but he’s been engaged for several years to a woman he doesn’t love.”
This formulation struck Rob as bizarre. “Then why did he stay with her?”
Ana shrugged. “Convenience, I guess. Plus, she really clings to him.”
What makes you so sure that he won’t do the same thing to you, once you move in with him? “ Rob countered. “He might very well tell the next woman he falls in love with that he’s been with you just out of convenience. It’s a very convenient excuse.”
Ana felt more confident about her reply this time. “Michael never felt for Karen what he feels for me. Our bond’s special,” she emphasized. “We’re much more compatible than he ever was with her. We have similar interests in art and literature.” She noticed that her husband looked skeptical. “It’s not that he criticized her to me or anything,” she hastened to add. “Actually, he told me that she’s a nice person. It’s just that Karen’s personality’s way too cold for him. She’s distant and not all that attractive.”
“Is that what you told him about me?” Rob asked her, recognizing in his wife’s answer the classic excuses people generally offer for cheating.
“No, of course not. Because that wouldn’t be true about you.”
Rob struggled for a moment to adjust to the new truth he had discovered about his wife. She’s a cheater and a liar, he reminded himself. “Since when has the truth stopped you from lying?”
Ana looked at him reproachfully, as if this allegation were somehow unfair. “I told him that we’ve grown apart. I also said that you’re a decent man and a great father and that I don’t want to divorce you. But he insisted. He said a love like ours couldn’t be shared.”
How disgusting! Rob thought, embittered. “Well then the two of you deserve each other!” I’m not going to give up until I open her eyes about that bastard, he nevertheless told himself, not sure why he remained invested in having Ana see the truth about her lover. “But you’re naïve to assume that he’ll treat you better in the long run just because you’re special to him at this moment,” he added, since his wife’s reasoning struck him as simultaneously self-serving and self-defeating.
Of course Rob would say something like that since he never saw anything special in me to begin with, Ana told herself.
“Has he told his fiancée about you?”
“Not yet. He was waiting for me to make the first move with you.”
“How considerate of him!” Rob exclaimed. Then he paused, still bewildered by Ana’s choice of partner. “You trust a man who’s been deceiving another woman and leaving her over you?”
“Karen’s not right for him, but she’s very clingy. She’s doing everything within her powers to make sure that Michael doesn’t leave her. He’s just trying to let her down easy.”
“It sounds to me like he’s stringing her along.”
“You’re interpreting everything I say so negatively,” Ana protested.
“That’s because it is negative!” It occurred to Rob that a guy who was so manipulative towards both his fiancée and his girlfriend could be stringing other women along as well. “Just how many girlfriends does this guy have?”
“He had lots. If you can even call them girlfriends,” she placed emphasis upon the past tense. “He was a bit of a player before we met. But he was totally upfront about it. He told me from the start that he had one-night stands and flings with dozens of women. About two hundred in all.”
“You mean twenty,” he corrected her math.
“No, it was hundreds,” Ana stuck to her original estimate. “He kind of overreacted when his first girlfriend, Amy, left him for another man.” Ana read the disapproval in her husband’s expression. “But ever since we met, he’s been completely faithful to me,” she hastened to add.
Rob’s eyes widened with dismay. “How can you trust a single word this guy’s telling you?”
“Because he’s changed. He acted that way before only because he hadn’t found the right woman yet.”
Rob marveled that his wife would even listen to such drivel, much less believe it. Something’s not right with her head, he concluded, seeing no other logical explanation for Ana’s uncharacteristic gullibility. “And you assume you’re the one? For the rest of his life? If you believe that, I have some ocean front property in Ohio to sell you.”
“Yes, I believe him.”
Rob couldn’t repress a skeptical snort. “Are you out of your mind? You’re leaving an honest and faithful husband for a cheating sex addict?”
“He was that way for awhile because the woman he loved left him. Then he ended up with a frigid fiancée. He feels extremely frustrated with their relationship,” she mechanically encapsulated Michael’s version of events.
“Nobody’s chaining him to her.”
“You don’t understand their situation. Karen’s so needy and desperate that he didn’t have the heart to leave her yet. He’s been giving her a chance to get back on her feet in Phoenix,” Ana continued elaborating her lover’s perspective.
“How considerate of him! I’m sure you’ll appreciate his kindness when you find yourself in his fiancée’s position,” Rob retorted, his anger being slowly displaced by indifference. Let her do what she wants. Why should I care? Soon, her fate won’t even matter to me anymore, he predicted, longing for an early liberation from the disaster his wife’s actions had created.
“He’s promised that he’ll never be dishonest with me. He says I’m everything he’s been looking for in a woman,” she insisted. She didn’t know anymore if she was trying to persuade herself or him.
Upon hearing the kind of cheesy baloney sleazy men feed credulous women to get them hooked, Rob looked at his wife like one does at a stranger. He felt like he had never really known Ana. Everything he had assumed to be true about her and their marriage turned out to be false. All these years he had believed that they had settled into a comfortable relationship, built on mutual love and commitment, even if the heat of their passion cooled off once the children were born. But, as it turns out, he now reflected, I’ve been worth so little to her that she’s ready to leave me for a jerk. “A leopard doesn’t change his spots,” he cautioned. “Who knows what he told his fiancée. She was probably the love of his life too. Until you came along.”
“No, she wasn’t,” Ana stubbornly maintained.
Rob looked at his wife once again with a sense of disbelief. Part of him was still hoping that this episode would turn out to be surreal: a nightmare that would disappear as soon as he opened his eyes. The new Ana he had just discovered was not only dishonest, but also completely delusional. What he found most depressing, however, was how strongly his wife seemed to feel about her decision to leave him. Her reasons for wanting to leave me, Rob reasoned, are premised on the belief that the intensity of her affair, in which she’s spent so little time with her lover, will continue unabated forever, after living together and marrying him. How could such a seemingly intelligent woman be so blind? he asked himself, scrutinizing Ana’s features in search for an answer. Her eyes glowed feverishly, confirming his intuition that she was must be overtaken by some kind of delirium. “Don’t you think it’s at least possible that this guy originally told his fiancée, and probably other women too, similar things to what he’s been telling you?” he asked her. “I mean, it’s all too convenient. He makes up some lame excuse to dump his current partner once he’s tired of her so he can hook up with the next woman he’s interested in for a while. This guy’s completely untrustworthy.”
“I believe in giving people a second chance. Especially since Michael hasn’t given me, personally, any reason to doubt him,” Ana stuck to her perspective.
“You’ve been completely brainwashed. Otherwise you wouldn’t be half as blind.”
Yeah, right, Ana answered only in her own mind.
Whether or not our marriage can survive this storm, I think she’s in desperate need of therapy, Rob observed. Then his thoughts traveled from his wife back to himself. Feeling deeply wounded by his wife’s attitude and betrayed by her actions, it occurred to him that, ultimately, he’d be happier if Ana carried through with her plans and went to her likely doom with her lover. But the next moment, when he thought of having to tell the children that their mother was leaving him for another man, Rob’s mood switched again. I don’t want to see our family broken, he told himself. If anyone had asked him before what he’d do in such a situation, he’d have answered that he’d never be faced with it because his wife wouldn’t be unfaithful. If that person had insisted on such a hypothetical, he’d have said that he’d be so upset that he’d immediately ask Ana for a divorce. But reality often turns out different from what you’d expect, in the abstract, before it catches you off-balance and hits you like a tidal wave with its brute force. Rob looked into Ana’s eyes and took her gently by the hand. “You’re taking a very serious step that will affect all of our lives. Please think about it carefully before we reach the point of no return. I love you and am willing to work with you on our marriage. But you must decide what you want: our family or that man.”
“No matter what happens, I’ll still be a good mother to my kids,” she replied, unwilling to acknowledge how much her children as they were now--happy, safe and innocent--belonged to the intact family she was about to sacrifice to her lover.
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