The Online Other Woman: Chapter Four: That’s Greta Garbo–Not the American Male

Word of the crack-up drifted out among our friends and family on a slow and muddy river. The closest learned the soonest. Others I called one by one, week by week as my strength would permit. I called one dear friend about a month after Dan’s desertion and said that I wish I could have called sooner but telling about it was so difficult.  She immediately understood. “When you tell it, you relive it; you re-experience all the pain of it.” So wise, these friends of mine.

Diane was one of the closest who heard soonest. I emailed her instead of calling because she and Jules, her mad philosopher husband, live far away in the Tuscan hills just outside of Florence. We have always been close, but my tragedy would bring us closer still. They adopted me with constant contact once they knew, and not just email contact, but phone calls, long calls sending big love, positive vibes, and mantras which Jules designed using his experience as a business consultant. He gave me a two-handed set of mantras and said the left hand protects and the right hand projects. There was a mantra for each finger. Some of the left hand ones were “I remain free from overwhelming details,” “I will protect my family,” “Dan is not himself right now but will one day gain sanity.”  For the right hand, I had “Dan had time to plan, but this is new to me,” “I need time to plan my and Max’s new life,” and my favorite, “I will develop a new career integrating previous experience with long-held visions.”

During subsequent calls, we would practice the mantras together and discuss the steps, the jagged steps, for sorting out the change of ownership of my home and many other financial concerns associated with the crack-up. I worried through the line to Tuscany. They consoled on the beam that bounced up and back down to me in my now-strange home that I used to share with my husband.

And so it came to pass that one day, a heavy morning, I answered a call and Jules’s voice came through from faraway in a sudden panic with no hello, no how are you,  just an immediate, “Do you and Dan have joint checking accounts or charge cards? Can he get to your money? It is vital, di vita o di morte, molto, molto, importante!”

I replied, “No! We always kept our money separate and have our own accounts and charge cards.”

Jules breathed relief and said that he wanted me to be very careful about my money, my accounts, my finances. He had known of women, he said, who had been ruined by their husbands. He told of one good friend, Isabella, who lost her house and all her savings. Her husband said he was taking a teaching job in Benin. After he was gone and there was little she could do, she learned that he had taken their savings and borrowed money that she would have to repay. She also learned that he was cheating on her with another woman. As time went by, Jules and Diane would refer to Isabella and her plight of poverty and sorrow. Her story became woven into my story. I mentioned her once to Dan as a reason why Jules and Diane were so concerned for me. He became infuriated. We were wrong, he thought, to compare him to a lying, cheating, “going off to another country and another woman” type of man!

The morning phone call from Jules was not over. He had more to tell, and the blows fell like a pendulum in the pit of my lost life. “Last winter Dan began an online relationship. She is 15 years younger than him, has a six-year old son, and lives in Australia. They have been making plans for her to come here. There have been delays in her coming because she said her father had a heart attack and needs surgery.”

Jules was not trying to rat Dan out, nothing so venial as that, but rather he was too good a man to stand idly keeping a secret that could ruin me. While I did not think Dan would set out to harm me, I did know that a man who gives himself over to another woman would be under her influence. This other woman would have no loyalty to me whatsoever, and it would just be a matter of time before any loyalty Dan had could be wiped out by her. I knew in an instant that, yes, financial risk along with financial hardship had now sneaked onto the crack-up stage and would be chewing my bones until the curtain came down.

How did Jules in faraway Tuscany know all of this? Here’s how: Dan and I had been together for 30 years, his friends were my friends, some of his friends had been my friends before they were his friends, and it would turn out that many of his friends were the best kind of men, the kind who feel protective toward a woman who is alone and in trouble. Though Dan did not tell me, his son, or his family the truth about this other woman, he did tell his friends. Did he think they would be impressed and slap him on the back with, “Hell, yes. You the man!”? Instead, “What the fuck!?!” would be the most common reaction, with the occasional “An online girlfriend? That’s just pathetic,” and many “Of all the couples we know, you two would be the last that we would ever think this could happen to!”

And so it was, the day came when Jules confirmed what I had suspected all along. As my friend El so wisely observed when I first told her of the crack-up, “You can bet he has someone else. They never leave in order to be alone. That’s Greta Garbo–not the American male!”

Indeed, the first question Dan’s father, a mature man who had run his own business and supervised many a sinner, asked the night Dan told him was “Is there someone else?” Dan had answered “No,” which meant that on top of everything else he had now lied to an 80 year old man who has the personal integrity of a saint.

At the time, however, Dan’s answer was not directly challenged by his family or by me. I lived those first two or three weeks following the crack-up thinking that Dan had somehow so fallen out of love with me that he would go sit alone in a one-room apartment in the city in order to get away from me. Those were the days when Diane and Jules were calling me almost daily to give pep talk mantras and big love. Those were the dazed and crazed days before I learned of the online other woman.

But now with this call from Jules, I knew. Or more correctly, it was now impossible to pretend that I did not know. I had been right from the the first night. There was another woman.

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