Category Archives: Emotional adultery

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 13, Unforgiveable

Time, the constant traveler, walks with the Moon and rides with the Sun. Days and nights crumble and blow away. Months slide slowly by. It has been almost two years since that fateful night when Dan first told us he was leaving and Max and I first faced that he was done with us. It has been over a year since the day the dreadful divorce went down. And, it has been a full year and a half since the last time I saw Dan.

That was on a night just before he flew to Australia to join the woman he had met online, the woman he was leaving us for. I had not expected to see him. I knew that Max had spent the day helping him move his things from his apartment into a storage container in his parents’ backyard. But Max had gone on to see friends. I was alone when Dan messaged that he was bringing by a shelf unit that he wanted me to have.

A few minutes later, he was at the door. I was shaky and nervous as I fumbled to turn the lock. We said “Hello.” Dan looked tired from all the moving he had done that day. We stepped off the porch and over to his rental truck. Together we moved the shelf cabinet into the house. It was replacing an older, rickety shelf which he carried out to the garage for me.

Once his shelf was in place, and I had thanked him for it, Dan said, “Well, I guess this is goodbye.” I asked, “How long will you be gone?” He said that he did not know,  maybe a year. I shook my head and said, “It’s very strange.” He said, “Yes, I never expected anything like this.”

He reached to hug me. His manner, maybe because he was tired, lacked the happy-go-lucky style that he had shown in so many of our encounters since the Crack-up. We hugged, and when we pulled apart, I reached down and held his hand for a moment. He looked at me, more directly than he had in months, maybe years, and said, “Forgive me.”

That caught at my heart. I began to cry. “Oh, I do forgive you,” I said. “It’s just that I am so sad.” He nodded as if he understood, then he turned, and I watched him walk out the front door and out of my life.

A long and lonely hour followed. I was listening to music in the den when I heard Max’s car pull in. He sat on the couch and talked of his day helping his dad move. He said Dan tried to talk to him about the Stages of Grief. Max said, “I told him I reached ‘Acceptance’ the first week. I see there is nothing I can do about the situation, so I accept it. It does not mean that I like it or think it’s a good thing, especially for the family, but I accept it.”

Max told me about the container that Dan had bought and placed in his parents’ back yard to store all his possessions. He said that Papa, Dan’s eighty-year-old dad, was out there helping them that day. Max could see the strain and grief on Papa. He later talked to Dan about it, but he was oblivious.

Max said once again how selfish he thinks Dan is. He said that day Dan was going on and on about how bad it is for him that he could not sublet his apartment. Max said his dad has no idea of how more than bad everything has been for us. He only thinks of himself. He later said he doesn’t think Dan cares about us at all. He’s going to spend $5,000 on dual citizenship and more on a lawyer. Max said, “The $100 I got for helping him move today is probably the last money I’ll ever see from him.”

* * * *

Forgiveness came easy for me that night when Dan asked for it. I forgave him for what he had done to me. I bore him no anger or ill will, only a great sadness as I told him at the time. Max, too, on his last day with his dad, was able to speak of acceptance, which is his version of forgiveness.

I am a spiritual, loving person; I understand the importance of forgiveness. To live well we must be free of anger and negative thinking. But though I forgave Dan for his betrayal of me, I found I could not live in peace with his treatment of Max. It did not seem right or fair. I felt passionate about it. I felt unforgiving.

The night Dan announced the Crack-up, he walked out without leaving so much as a twenty dollar bill for Max. In the year and a half since Dan left us, college tuition for Max has come due six times. He has gone to the dentist and the doctor. The car he drives back and forth to school has needed gas, tires, service, and insurance. His health insurance sends bills regularly. Max has worked some part-time jobs and has usually been able to pay for gas and car expenses and his own spending money. But the rest I paid. Once he left us, Dan paid nothing to help Max with expenses as he completes college.

Two months after Dan left for Australia, Christmas came. He sent Max nothing. The next Christmas, again nothing. Birthday, also, nothing. No gifts. No contributions to help Max with school. Dan sent email greetings, but nothing else.

Dan’s disregard of Max seemed especially unfair considering how much help he was still–at his age–getting from his parents while Max is only in his early twenties and just beginning to make his way in the world.

It was as if Dan had turned his back on Max and disowned him. This was what held back my complete forgiveness. I felt that for Dan to cease altogether in providing for Max as a father was unforgiveable.

When I began this final chapter, I entitled it “Unforgiveable.” My heart was still breaking over the fact that Max does not have a father in any real sense of the word. But over the course of writing and struggling to get at the truth of how I feel today, of how I want to feel today, I find I have come to a new place. As I was writing about that day a year and a half ago, the last time we saw Dan, it began to seem like a long, long time ago. Dan has drifted into the distance now.

Max and I have gone on with our lives. Though we haven’t had Dan’s help, we have made progress with our goals. Max’s self-esteem was greatly damaged by what his father did, but he accepted it, and when I see him now, see how well he is doing, see his smile, I know that he is on his way. He is intelligent, hardworking, dependable, funny, loving, and loyal. He will make a success of his life.

As for me, I have been finding my own way, as well. I live now completely alone. Max took a job and moved into the city. It is strange and very quiet here sometimes. The nights are long and lonely. But I soldier on. I think of other women who have been in my position for a time in their lives, my mother, my Aunt Rene, even me in my younger years.

I am a hard worker, just as they were, and that helps. I work two part-time jobs and always have a renovation project going on here at my home. I love to garden and commune with nature. Inspiration flows into my writing and creative sewing and painting projects. And my friends are many and such fun and interesting people.

My life has not turned out as I would have liked. I wish Dan had loved me. I wish we could have spent this time of our lives helping Max find his place in the world and laughing, playing, and doing good work with all our friends and family.

But, as Max was so quick to see, Dan did what he did. It is done. It is over. Our only choice is to accept it. And as I close this Crack-up story, I am guided by my better angel to take the final step. This chapter began with “Unforgiveable,” but it will end very differently.  The writing has cleared my mind. I am still sad and sorry for what Max and I had to suffer, and yet I feel at peace with what remains behind and what he and I can build anew.  I breathe in a sweetness, a strength, a purpose, and a sense of being fully alive.

Internet Infidelity and the Ease with Which Homes and Hearts Can Be Broken

We might not think that a husband could meet another woman and form a relationship which moves from flattery, to flirtation, to infatuation all from the comfort of his easy chair and within sight of his wife as she cooks his dinner, but with the Internet and digital devices this is just what can happen. As Brendan L. Smith, writing for the American Psychological Association, has said, “The typical affair used to start in the office and move to a seedy motel room, but the vast reach of the Internet has brought infidelity into many couples’ homes over the past decade.”

Dr. Al Cooper with his ground-breaking research at Stanford University illustrated the profound effect the Internet is having on relationships. He defined the special power of the Internet both to plant and to nourish the seeds of infidelity with his term The Triple A Engine: accessibility, affordability, and anonymity.

Accessiblity: Through the use of computers and social media, individuals have access to an unlimited number of potential partners. Once the partner is found, the same computer, tablet, or smart phone provides around the clock opportunities to connect and communicate. The problems of time and geography are overcome. Nor is it necessary to sneak around. The affair can often be carried on right in the same room with the unknowing spouse.

Affordablity: Computers, Internet service, and smart phones are affordable for much of the population and considered almost an essential of modern life. Infidelity does not add to the cost of the devices and services that most middle class people already pay for as part of their basic budget. Nor does Internet infidelity carry the cost of real life extramarital affairs. One does not have to so much as buy a cup of coffee for the potential partner. Online dating requires no wining or dining. There will be a cost to be paid, but it will be paid by the victims of the online affair, the betrayed spouse and children.

Anonymity: Of all Cooper’s Three As, perhaps anonymity is the most powerful and beneficial force to the online affair because in the virtual world the partners have much more control over how they present themselves than is possible in real world dating. When getting to know someone in person, many nonverbal cues are perceived that influence opinion and response. In addition, the visual information is vastly more complete than the carefully chosen photographs that are presented to the online prospect. With the Internet, both the personal information and the visuals can be edited and enhanced: one can, in effect, become a different person.  This is especially appealing to those who are unhappy with who they are in real life. It is perhaps this cloak of anonymity which affects the findings of K.S. Young who, writing for the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy, says that individuals feel less inhibited when communicating online. For this reason, they more readily share personal information than they would in person, and this can build feelings of trust and connection with the other party more quickly than would happen in real life relationship building.

While the pioneer work of Dr. Cooper laid the foundation for research on the effects of the Internet on relationships, many researchers are now adding to the body of knowledge in this field. Recent writing by Katherine M. Hertlein and Armeda Stevenson for Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace provides a meta-analysis of the impact of the Internet on infidelity by incorporating the work of other psychologists with that of Cooper. From this research, four additional A’s can be added to Cooper’s original Triple A Engine. They are approximation, acceptability, ambiguity, and accommodation.

Approximation: M. W. Ross, M.R. Kauth, and R. Tikkanen argue that the Internet experience goes far towards approximating the pleasure and excitement of getting to know someone and even falling in love that can happen in real life. The stress management benefit of real life relationships is found to be simulated by online relationships. M.T. Whitty’s research has revealed that the flip side of the approximation coin is that once the affair is discovered or revealed, the experience of being betrayed is just as painful to the spouse as a real life affair.

Acceptablity: The findings of S.A. King, K. Daneback, A. Cooper, and S. Manssoon reveal acceptability as an especially insidious contributor to the power of the Internet. Real life behaviors that are not accepted by the individual or by society are often found to be acceptable through the use of the Internet. For example, someone who would never go to a casino and engage in gambling may well do so online. Typing, chatting, and befriending people online is not viewed as inappropriate in the same way as going on a date with someone other than your spouse would be. If the online friendship is allowed to develop into an online affair, it will take on the negative judgment that real life infidelity carries, but, at least at its inception, it can begin with more innocence. It is this apparent initial innocence that enables some to begin a virtual affair when then would not so easily begin one in real life.

Ambiguity: The fact that different individuals vary in their view of what constitutes unfaithfulness contributes to internet infidelity according to researchers T.S. Parker, K.S. Wampler, K.M. Hertlein, and F. P. Piercy. It is as if there is a spectrum that begins with conduct that would be viewed by all as innocent and ends with conduct that all would view as unfaithful, but the precise moment or exact conversation or act when innocence tilts toward guilt is difficult to pinpoint.  M.W. Ross is quoted as saying, “When the definition is diffuse, the involved partner’s likelihood of being accountable for their behavior drops, thus maintaining the problem the couple is having.”

In order to alleviate ambiguity and aid clinicians in their work with those whose relationships are affected by Internet infidelity, T. Docan-Morgan and C. A. Docan have developed a widely accepted definition which defines Internet infidelity as follows: “An act or actions engaged via the Internet by one person with a committed relationship, where such an act occurs outside the primary relationship, and constitutes a breach of trust and/or violation of agreed-upon norms (overt or covert) by one or both individuals in that relationship with regard to relational exclusivity, and is perceived as having a particular degree of severity by one or both partners.”

Popular media has also weighed in on the subject. For example, Andrea Miranda in an article for CBS Houston dismisses ambiguity and concludes that online affairs are emotional adultery. She goes on to add that “The problem with emotional adultery is the cheater is no longer actively securing the emotional bond with the spouse. In many cases of traditional and emotional affairs, spouses spoke to counselors about being treated worse shortly after the affair began. The need to be online or on the phone became more important than being physically present for real world activities.”

Accommodation: The final “A” in the list of contributors to Internet infidelity is accommodation. K. Hertlein and A. Stevenson draw on the “self-discrepancy theory” of E.T. Higgins when they make their case for accommodation as a contributing factor in online unfaithfulness. This theory holds that some individuals feel a strong conflict between their real and their ideal self or self image. Because they feel their own life is limited or lackluster, they turn to the Internet in the hope that it can provide the fantasy and excitement they crave. K.S. Young has found that, because contact through the Internet can be international and diverse, it can seem more “glamorous” than that of everyday life.

Heather Dugmore in her article “Divorce by Facebook” takes the Accommodation argument to its logical conclusion. The more the online relationship is seen to fulfill a fantasy and the more perfect its intimacy is perceived as being, the more the real life relationship will pale and wither in comparison.

The Rolling Stones once told us that murder was just a shot away. Research is now telling us that with seven powerful “engines” driving Internet infidelity, the destruction of home and family is just a click away.

 

References

Cooper, Al. Sexuality and the Internet: Surfing into the New Millennium. CyberPsychology & Behavior. SUMMER 1998, 1, 187-193.

Docan-Morgan, T., & Docan, C. A. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing views of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55(3), 317-342.

Dugmore, Heather. Divorce by Facebook (2014). Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://www.biznews.com/opinion/heather-dugmore/2014/09/20/divorce-by-facebook-why-online-affairs-dont-end-happily-ever-after/

Hertlein, K., & Stevenson, A. (2010). The Seven “As” Contributing to Internet-Related Intimacy Problems: A Literature Review. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 4(1), article 1.

Miranda, Amanda. Online Affairs Are Emotional Adultery (2011). CBS Houston. Retrieved February 19, 2015 from http://houston.cbslocal.com/2011/10/10/online-affairs-are-emotional-adultery/

Smith, Brenden L. Are Internet Affairs Different? Journal of the American Psychological Association. March 2100, Vol 42, No. 3, p. 48.