Category Archives: Online Affair

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.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 12, The Dreadful

Through the twisted danger of memory fades a day from long, long ago. It was a lovely day, sunny, with only a slight chill in the air, unusual for February in New York City. Dan and I rode with four friends on the Avenue B bus downtown to the municipal building where a grey haired judge with kind eyes asked some questions and said some words. I wore a purple velvet suit that I had sewn myself and carried a few lavender roses. Dan looked dashing in a black vintage suit. After the ceremony, we walked with our friends across a park to the old City Hall where Lincoln had lain in state in the sad spring of 1865. One of our friends took a photograph of Dan and me in our wedding attire that day. We were standing in one of the grand rooms under an ancient oil painting; we were looking out at an uncertain future. Hope, history, loss, beauty, betrayal, and terrible mistakes turn the tides of memory and all that was or never was is gone forever.

Some memories, though, are seared into the flesh and may never take their leave. Such was the moment that night at the Dylan concert when I noticed that Dan was not wearing his wedding ring. I did not speak. I only reached out and touched the bare skin of his finger. All he said to me was “I don’t want to be married.”

So soon! So coldly soon. Dan had told me nothing of his feelings until two days prior, but now, already now, so soon after his first announcement at the dinner table, here was the realization as to where all this must inevitably lead. I managed to ask, “But we’d have to get divorced?” A dizzy swirl of fear fell on me as I looked to him for confirmation but hoped for denial.

He said, “Yes, we’d have to get divorced,” and he began to tell me about cheapie, easy, do-it-yourself divorces that his buddies at work knew all about.

I sat beside Dan in the stadium seats of the concert pavilion, the arm rest between us, and over this I stared. I stared at what he was saying and that he could say it.

Divorce. The word ran through my veins, through my nerves. Divorce. I had always had a horror of divorce. It was one of the reasons I waited so late in my life to marry. Divorces were so dreadful.

When I was very young, my first job was working at a bank in downtown Memphis. I worked with thirty or forty other women. We took breaks together, and over the course of the three years I was there, I heard enough divorce sagas to put the fear of marriage into anyone: he cheated on me, he stole my kids from the babysitter and went off to Arkansas with them, he put his hands on somebody at his job and he’s in jail now. So many horror stories! I came to view marriage as a high-risk experiment with the odds heavily in favor of disaster to be followed by the doom of divorce and the deadly warfare that seemed to rage all around it.

It took my own marriage years to get there, but finally I was there, right where I had always dreaded to be. I did not want to call its name, so I just called it The Dreadful.

During the back and forth emails when we were working with the settlement papers, Dan had said he wanted to be present at our court date, but when the dread day did arrive, he said he would be working. A girlfriend said she would go with me because she remembered her own divorce and how it had helped her to have a friend waiting when she walked out of the court room. But when the date arrived, she said she couldn’t go because she had to babysit her grandchild. I considered asking Max to go with me, but quickly put that aside. A child does not attend the divorce of his parents.

I would have to go alone. Like Woody singing the old gospel song, there was a lonesome valley up ahead for me, and I’d have to walk it by myself.

The Dreadful was scheduled for a day in early October, a month that is usually gloriously warm and beautiful in the South. It was the best month of the season that had been my father’s favorite and mine. He used to say he loved the fall of the year because the weather was mild with very little wind unlike spring when, though the weather is nice, it is often windy.

Now my favorite month of the year would be forever tainted. And, strangely, this October, coming as it did during the season of the Crack-up, did not follow the usual autumn weather pattern. The whole week and especially the day of The Dreadful were grey and rainy and dark. There was a hopeless bitter wind blowing and the sun was gone forever.

The time I had been given was 9 AM. I had worried that I might oversleep because I was taking several prescriptions at the time, but I did not sleep at all, so waking up was not a problem. Driving was. Driving with a blur before my eyes, my chest compressing my heart that was breaking, and beating, and breaking like a lost cause.

I was so alone walking the sidewalk, the cold stone that led the lonely to the columns and the walls and halls of the county court house. I had no idea what to do. Courtroom B, I think I had been told. I went in, hesitated, and then sat to the side in the back on a very cold bench. Nervously, I wondered, where is the lawyer? Does she find me, or am I supposed to find her? Up front the judge was questioning a man and then granting him a divorce. Next there was a woman. She had two friends with her.

Finally, my lawyer came and spoke to me. A few minutes later, I was the one standing up front being questioned by the judge and being granted a divorce. It was not until I was downstairs in the clerk’s office that I broke down. The room went dark; I gripped the counter to keep from falling. My lawyer tried to comfort me, but I just wanted her to hurry up the filing process so I could go, so I could get out on that lonesome road and run and keep on running.

Finally, it was over and I was home. I felt so destroyed, so driven down to nothing that the only thing to do was go to bed. When I woke up, I remembered that Maria and Mark and several other close friends had planned a little dinner for me at a restaurant in Decatur. I began to get ready. The rain and dreary weather continued making for a dark afternoon.

Max came home from school and stepped back into my bedroom to check on me. I turned when he walked in; I was still weak and weepy. He looked at me without talking for a minute, and then said, “How are you?” I said, “I’m sad, so sad, but I’m going to be OK.” He reached out his arms, so very kind, I walked toward him, and we embraced. It was then that I noticed my son is now grown so tall that he can put his chin on the top of my head when we hug.

I told him that I loved him. He said, “I love you, Mom. I’m sorry this had to happen to you.” It was very sweet of Max, very generous, and very brave, because, of course, the loss, the sudden loss of love and of our old life had happened to him, too.

The dinner out on the rainy night with friends was darkly, somberly pleasant. Everyone wore their sweetest smile, their deepest hope that I would last through my sorrow. It was reassuring. It did help to spend the evening with people I had known and loved for so long. Although the lonesome road lay up ahead and was not to be avoided, although I was sinking lower as the unfamiliar aloneness of divorce crept nearer and nearer all around me, at least for this first post-Dreadful night, I would raise a glass to dear friends, and I would blink so no one could see the tears.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter 11, The Heart of Decay

Max met me after I got off work at school that day. Together we rode to the house closing at Dan’s bank. I was grateful for Max’s support. The house that was being sold was his house, too, the one that he had lived in ever since we moved from New York when he was two. And the seller in the dark heart of that market was his own father.

I arrived at the bank with a pounding in my chest, a breathless, strange unease, and a rock cold fear. After eight hours in a middle school, I was also tired and frazzled. On the way over, Max and I had made a quick run into my bank to my safety deposit box to pull the checks that had been prepared, amounts that Dan had told me would have to be paid to settle his debts on the house, and the balance in a check for Dan himself, money that he would use to pay for his three weeks with the Instagirl on her visit to the U.S. and his trip to Australia to live with her. And what was this money of mine that I was giving up? Hard-earned teacher pay. No one who has not been a teacher can know how hard-earned it is. But there I was walking into Dan’s bank with it in my hands for this closing and with my heart so heavy.

Property closings often involve ordeal both in the negotiating phase and on the actual day itself when papers are being signed and money changes hands. Ours involved ordeal, for sure, but that was just the business hassle of it. There was also the emotional side, the turning turmoil of my life going swirling, swirling down through a spiritual vortex.

With relief, I saw that Dan’s father was already there waiting for me. If my father had been alive, he would have been there with me to offer support. As it was, I had turned to Papa, as we called Dan’s dad, and he in his goodness had answered my call.

One more person was needed. Because Max and Papa were relatives, they could not serve as a witness on the closing documents. My dear friend Kate agreed to help me, and soon she, too, was with us.  I spoke to the mortgage banker Mrs. Simmons. She was ready on her end and placed us in a small conference room.  All that was lacking was for Dan to arrive. Meanwhile, my throat was closing up; it was all I could do to contain myself and sit as I knew the situation required. My heart was pounding so powerfully that I could hear the blood rushing through my ears. Would I be able to withstand the next hour?

Finally, I looked up and saw Dan enter dressed all in black. I wondered if he would actually sign the quit claim deed. I wondered if the check denominations that I had brought could be made to work once it turned out that Dan had given me incorrect figures for how much I would need. Since the closing papers had been typed using those incorrect figures, they had to be retyped. Kate volunteered to do this, so in the middle of the closing, she was in the office next door typing and coming back to me with questions. The tension was terrible.

Dan was so cold and remote, not like himself–not as I remembered him. I could no longer make myself stay in that little room. I rushed out and began to pace the lobby of the bank blinded by tears. The president of the branch came out and rescued me. She brought me into her office and gave me tissues and a few minutes of privacy to collect myself. Eventually, I was able to go back.

In the conference room the atmosphere was chilly between Max, Papa, and Dan, who had all remained in the room together while Kate and I had been out. I would later learn from Max what had created that cold and empty climate.

At last the papers and monies were ready. The notary was brought in and we all signed. I now owned the house that I had thought I already owned and would live in forever as Dan’s wife, and he and his bank had all my teacher savings.

None of that really registered with me at the time. My emotions were running so strong that perception and memory were disjointed. There were sudden vividly held vignettes and then gaps where I’m not sure how I got from one place to another. I don’t remember Kate leaving, but clearly I remember what came next. Max and I stood to bid goodbye to Papa. We were all three in tears; Papa’s eyes are blue and the sunset light in the crystal blur of his eyes, oh, I remembered that. Max and I hugged him, one of those three-person hugs. There aren’t many of those in life, so I remembered that. Dan just sat there, disengaged, a demonstration of how done with all of us he was.

The next that I can remember, I was rushing from the bank with Max right behind me. I was crying, moaning, feeling as much pain as I had ever felt in my life. Was I saying something? Was I moaning, “I can’t believe this is happening to me! I can’t believe this is happening to me!”?

As Max drove me away, I think I looked back and Papa and Dan stood together and watched us go. In that moment, Max saved my life. One more minute in that bank, one more look of pain from Papa or Max, one more look of indifference from Dan, and my life would have ended.

On the ride home, Max told me what had gone on in the conference room while Kate and I had been out. Dan had finally confessed to Papa the truth that he did have another woman and he told about her. We all, of course, already knew about her, knew, in fact, that she had arrived a few days earlier from Australia. But here, two months after the Crack-up, Dan finally, formally admitted his deception. He had waited until “the money was in the bank,” so to speak, his bank. All along he had feared that a revelation of adultery with the Instagirl would affect the financial part of our separation proceedings. Now that he could see how pitiful and cooperative I was being, he knew I was not in a state of mind to make trouble for him. He was going to have it all his way. I could feel the tension and the hurt in Max’s voice when he said that Dan had said he loved the Instagirl more than he had ever loved anyone. There was such hurt and anger coming from Max.

Dan was still married to me that day when he professed his love of the Instagirl, so one might suppose that Max’s anger was for me, for the faithlessness of his father and the betrayal of his mother. But I believe that his anger and hurt were for himself. When Dan professed a love for the Instagirl beyond anyone one else, Max took it personally. My life with Dan cracked that night at the dinner table when he told me he was leaving. I think Max’s life with Dan cracked that day at the bank. For Max, that day was a journey into the heart of decay. He witnessed firsthand what Dan could do so easily, so carelessly to me, to Papa, and to him. That day was the end for him. Dan would never get another chance to hurt Max. Max would see to that.

Our home–the home that Dan and I had lived in, taken care of, and loved for years, our son’s home–was broken. I alone now owned it, but with a price paid that would impoverish me for the rest of my life. My savings were gone.

Relationships were gone as well. That day marked the end of any hope Dan would ever have of a relationship with his son. The relationship between Dan and his father would be forever tainted by the fact that he had lied to his father’s face in response to a direct question about the existence of another woman. And it separated me not merely further from Dan himself but from any sense that he had ever loved me.

I long for a day free from the downward spiral, the sinking, the loss. I long for a day when the late light will shine on eyes of crystal vision instead of eyes of crystal tears. Papa’s heart was broken, Max’s heart was forsaken, and my heart learned that it had never been loved. On that day at the bank, we journeyed into Dan’s cave of lies, of forsaking, and the knifeblade of neverlove. We journeyed into the heart of decay.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Ten, Details of Decay

Crack-up nights were brutal, such as should not be retold. Mornings offered more promise. With the Sun and the day’s tasks to be done, there was a momentum to morning. Max made a pot of strong coffee each day that was my salvation. Once August came and I was back at my teaching job, breakfast had to be quick and simple. Sometimes, though, on the weekend, I’d prepare something special like my

Spinach Omelet

Slice a medium Vidalia or other sweet onion into slivers and sauté it in a little olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet. When the onion begins to be translucent, add handfuls of fresh spinach. Sauté spinach just until it wilts. Meanwhile in a bowl beat three to four eggs vigorously with a fork and add grated feta or white cheddar cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the sautéed onion and spinach and cook. Once the egg begins to set, stir the center. Then lift the sides of the eggs and tilt the skillet so that the raw egg comes in contact with the skillet. Add salt and cracked pepper. Once the eggs are set, fold one half over the over. Cut into half to serve two. This is delicious with sliced tomatoes from the garden.

It was so much more difficult to cope with my shock and grief once I was back at school. I told only three of my closest friends there what Dan had done. For all the rest, especially, the students, I had to keep up a brave front and show nothing. The strain was extreme.

Some of my worst worry centered around the need to secure my home from the fallout associated with Dan’s dissertation. Although it was difficult to face strangers with my story, I had no choice. I had to visit bankers and lawyers. I had to seek advice. The lawyers and bankers who I saw did not know Dan, so what they had to say was not based on any knowledge of what he personally would do. Still all of these professionals were unanimous in what he could do, and I felt that they had seen could shift to would enough times that to ignore their experienced advice would be foolhardy.

I did not even have to go into much detail. I had them on my first sentence: “My husband is having an affair with a woman he met online who lives on the dole in Australia.” That would be enough to immediately launch them into warnings on the legal binds of marriage, the liabilities of mutually-held properties, how I could be held  responsible for Dan’s debts, he could borrow more than he already had on the house, and if he went to Australia, I would have to pay or lose the house.

Dan has since shown anger that I or our friends who gave the same warnings as the lawyers and bankers, that any of us could have doubted or suspected him. He thinks he should have been trusted based on his “track record.” But he is talking about a record of honesty from before he met the Instagirl. Once he met her, he began a pattern of lying, deception, and disregard for the feelings of others that made it difficult to put anything past him. Trust in him had been broken irrevocably for me and for Max. In fact it was Max who was the first one to say “Get a lawyer” once he learned of his dad’s deception.

Obviously, I could not share ownership of my home with a person capable of deliberate dishonesty and cruel treatment to those who had loved him, still less could I remain married to him. The lawyer I had hired, Ms. Madison, was in the process of drawing up the dreadful divorce papers. I would sign. Dan would sign. A court date would be set, and our marriage would be officially over in the way it had been spiritually over from the minute Dan took up with his online other woman.

But the house? How to handle that? First of all, Dan and I needed some kind of agreement on a price if I was to buy him out. I had paid cash for my half of the house when we had first bought it 20 years earlier. Dan mortgaged his half and then borrowed more on that to pay off credit card debts. How much would he need to settle these loans? How much would he want in order to sell?

The next time Dan was scheduled to visit so we could go over separating the cars titles, insurance, utilities, etc, I brought up my buying him out on the house. I gave him a figure based on the county tax assessor’s valuation and the selling price of a house on the next street. He said he would feel “screwed” by that price. This flew all over me! Did Dan really get to feel screwed by anything after his sudden backstab to me and Max?

A few days later, I called a realtor from the neighborhood who came by and gave me an unofficial, but informed estimate for the value of our home. It was more than the amount that I had quoted Dan; in fact, it was more than we had paid for the house.

I had worked as a teacher for years and had been frugal. Unlike Dan, I had no debt. I had savings, yes, but that was for my retirement and to help Max finish college. My hard-earned savings were not enough to pay Dan half of the appraised value of the house. I brooded over the problem, but my heartbroken head could not think clearly. I was so alone.

Finally, Saturday came and there was time for coffee, a spinach omelet with Max, and time to get outside for a little yard work which always served to clear my mind. I thought, “Ok, I want to buy Dan out on the house, but what price? I should not have to hand him the top dollar, open market price. A sale on the open market would involve realty fees, closing costs, upgrades, and repairs.” But it was difficult to come up with a number that allowed for all those costs.

Then I had what I thought of as an epiphany. What about paying him half of the original selling price? I thought I could stretch my savings to meet this price. Doing so would seriously impoverish Max and me, but we would have a home, we would not end up on the street. With this deal, Dan would not make money, but he would not lose, and he would be getting all I had. If he wanted more, we would have to list the house on the open market. The downside of that though, he would have to continue to pay his mortgage until the house sold which would eat into any potential profit. If he took my buyout offer, he could have money right away.

I sent Dan an email with my offer to pay him half of the original selling price. I had learned that this would be enough to pay off the balance of his mortgage, his credit card debt, and he would still have $12,000 left over to spend on the Instagirl. In order to be fair, I did offer an alternative. If he did not like my offer, we could list the house and take our chances on the open market.

Knowing the hassles and delays of selling real estate, I had a feeling Dan would accept my offer and its promise of ready cash over the uncertainty of an outside sale. He kept me waiting in suspense for a few days, but finally I heard back from him. He would accept my buyout offer.

Although I was relieved to have an agreement on the house, I had never wanted any of this. When I paid my half of the house twenty years earlier, I had thought I was done; I had a home. Now, I was, in a sense, being forced to buy it again. The process was painful, involving fees for early withdrawal of my savings, endless phone calls, so much paperwork and running around to banks to gather the funds for the sale. I was falling apart. I was losing sleep. l was losing weight. My hair was falling out. I was trying to do my best at my job, but the effort, the effort was ….

I am trying to relay the details of decay: our marriage, our family, our home as it had been, and even the money from my life’s work, all lost, all over, all gone. I try to tell the story, but like Flaubert, I find my words are hollow beats on a cracked and broken drum when I wish they were a song that would melt the stars.

The Online Other Woman: Chapter Nine: The Eyes of a Stranger

Dan always had a lot of possessions. Even in his early Beat Pad days, he had tons of records, wooden crates stacked with decades of Life Magazines, huge speakers and lots of stereo sound equipment, band equipment and instruments, oil paintings, clothes a plenty, furniture, appliances, etc. When we moved to New York, we hauled it all up six flights of stairs to our sublet on Avenue B in the Lower East Side,.

Once we returned to Georgia and owned a three bedroom home with closets, an attic, a garage, a utility room, and a basement, Dan would accumulate even more. He worked in construction and came across things all the time that were cool or had some value or purpose, and he would drag them home. If something broke, it did not have to fear the trash heap. It would end up in our basement, saved to be repaired even though Dan had never in his life spent a Saturday repairing anything. His connection with music and former bands brought in more items to store such as towers, wooden risers, carpet, drape, recording equipment, most of it obsolete.

Everyone has stuff, right? But gradually, over the twenty years we lived in our house, Dan’s accumulating reached critical mass. Seriously. He even wanted to store equipment towers and unwanted tables in Max’s room. Why Max’s room in a home with a garage and a utility room? Because everywhere else was too stuffed with stuff!

Our home, I realize, was like that of a, if not a hoarder, a pre-hoarder. Was Dan filling a need, a gap in his life or just weighing himself down in dirt and clutter?

Was he hoarding out of unhappiness? I know he was unhappy with his limited success in music. During our last years together, he no longer had his own band. He played in a cover band; he liked it and his band mates, but it was not a vibrant creative outlet for him. As for his personal life, his life with Max and me, was he really all that unhappy? His mother has told me that she does not think he was. I don’t think he was either. I remember, for example, after a particularly good meal that I had cooked, and as we had sat there with Max talking, he said, “I love my family!”  And he looked around at me and Max and meant it. He would tell me of guys at work who were married to women they described as “psycho bitches from hell” and tell me how glad he was I was not like that.

Hindsight analysis to the side, he had, over the years of our marriage, filled our house top to bottom with junk. That was the setting, as he and the Instagirl spent the months preceding Crack-up Summer flirting their way into an online affection.

Once he had reached an understanding with her and she had agreed to fly to America to visit him, he needed a place for her to visit, he needed his own apartment. Fate smiled on him; he immediately found an affordable efficiency in an in town neighborhood. All very nice for love nest purposes, but note, I said efficiency.  Dan the pack rat could not pack much into an efficiency.

And sure enough on Crack-up night when he told Max and me that he was leaving and in minutes was out the door for the last time, he took very little. In the weeks prior to that night, he had secretly supplied his new apartment from our basement with camping pots and pans and household things left over from a yard sale. And, of course, he had culled through his closet and dresser drawers for the summer clothing he wanted and taken a few toilet articles. But much, much was left.

His announcement to me and Max that he was leaving came on a Thursday. Two days later was the Dylan concert that we strangely attended together, and the next day was Sunday when he had arranged to borrow a pick-up truck and his best friend Mark had agreed to come over and help him move. They took Dan’s L-shaped computer desk which was large, a chest of drawers and bed frame from the basement, and, and…. I don’t know what they took because I was in the middle bedroom, my studio, as I called it, sitting in a chair suffering and waiting for it to be over.

When it was finally over and Dan and Mark had driven away in the truck, I slowly emerged reclaiming the interior space of my home, and saw that in the middle of the living room floor there was a pile of Dan’s things. Not enough room in the truck? These things did not fit? I circled them. Stared at them. Dan’s things had such a presence for me. Now there was a pile of them in our living room the other end of which was our dining room where I ate most of my meals. How would I ever be able to stand this?

And still his closet, the hall closet, the foyer closet, the attic, the basement, etc., etc., were full, full, full of him, him, him. He was gone, but his stuff, tons of it, still remained.

Gradually, I began to add to the pile that he had left in the middle of the living room. If something of his was out and caught my eye and I thought he might want it, I added it to pile in the living room. From the kitchen, I added dishes that he had used more than me, like the Boonton Melmac serving dish that he used for corn chips with his cheese dip. Our cupboards were full; I added to his pile cans of beans and rice packets that he liked. I don’t remember all that I added or why I added certain things to the pile. If ever I was demented, it was in those days.

On day five after Crack-up announcement night, Dan finally got around to telling his parents. He called me saying he would stop by here after he saw them. I dreaded it. He had begun to act so strange and cold toward me. Once he arrived, we sat at the fateful dining room table and discussed some of the business of breaking up our marriage. He told me that his parents had been wonderful and very understanding. To be honest, that surprised me. They had always seemed to be people who valued the family above all else and what’s more to be people who knew right from wrong and tried to live accordingly. To think that they were OK with what he was doing was one more disappointment and blow to bear. They had always been kind to me. I loved them. But, of course, Dan was their son. They would side with him. I realized that here was one more Crack-up cost for me. I would lose my place with Dan’s family, a place I had held and enjoyed for thirty years.

After a few minutes of tragic, marriage tear down talk, Dan went to the bathroom and gathered a few more toiletries. He packed the pile from the middle of the living room floor into his car and once again was gone.

But still there were so many of his personal things left here in this house, surrounding me, over my head in the attic, under my feet in the basement, on his dresser, and in his closet in my bedroom. He even had stuff stuffed under the bed, the very bed I slept in every night. I talked to a few other teachers at work, my friends, my confidants. Of these, the ones who had been though a Crack-up were quick with what to do with stuff left by a “no good two-timer.” They said, with great emphasis,” I’d tell him, ‘Yo stuff is on the street. If you want it, you better get over here right quick and get it ‘fore someone else does!’ ”

Somehow, I just never was able to take that sound advice. But I did begin some symbolic shifting of Dan’s things, moving them, if not off the property, at least farther and farther away from my own most personal space. These shifts often occurred in the middle of a particularly sleep-spared night. One night, trying to see through the crystal blur of tears, I cleared all the many dusty things from the top of his dresser and put them into his dresser drawers. A few nights later, I took those same dusty possessions and the socks, underwear, t-shirts from the drawers, all his second-tier clothing that had not made the first cut and been taken with him when he left, and bagged and boxed it all, beginning a new pile in the living room. This time not in the middle of the floor, more over to the side where his desk stood.

On another noxious night while lying in the bed, I became acutely aware of all that was underneath it. I got up and began to pull his things from under our bed. So much of it was pure junk. There was even a bag of what could only be described as trash: unopened junk mail, used tissues, old bank statements. Creepy! Who puts a bag of trash under the bed like that? I knew what had happened. On a day when Dan needed to clean off the top of his desk, rather than go through and deal with things properly, he had stuffed them in a bag and then stuffed the bag under our bed. Voila! Clean desk! But under our bed—trash, actual garbage. Strange. Sick strange.

One day when I knew he was coming by to take me to the cable and gas companies to switch service into my name, I bagged all his dirty laundry from the hall closet, and his vitamins, cold remedies, shampoo, mouthwash, and whatever else from the bathroom. This was all by the front door, and he took it at the end of the visit along with some things from the pile in the living room. But still there was so much, so much.

For one thing, there were all his clothes, a huge closet full, and the foyer closet was full as well.  One night, I laid a sheet down along the wall in the living room where his computer had been and made trip after trip with his clothes in my arms. When I had removed everything of his from both closets, the pile along in the living room wall reached waist high and was ten to twelve feet in length. I covered the pile with a white sheet. It had a funereal appearance, like a draped coffin. The dining room table where Max and I ate was on the other end of this room. Soon I could no longer cope with this coffin of Dan’s clothes, and I transferred the pile to a side wall of the garage. I failed to cover the pile, and the next day when I pulled into the garage after work, right at eye level on the top of the pile was a dark green print shirt that I remembered him wearing the previous Thanksgiving. That shirt tore my heart. I burst into tears and went in search of a sheet to cover the pile. I could not look at Dan’s clothes. They made me so sad.

Gradually, night by sleepless night, I transferred as much of his stuff as I could first to the living room, then from there to the garage or basement. There were still some items of furniture in the house that were his and I knew he wanted, there were hundreds of record albums, books, video tapes. The bedroom and the bathroom were cleared of his things, but the garage and the basement were now more packed than ever, and there was still the attic and the utility room. I was constantly surrounded by so many reminders that could bring tears like the Thanksgiving shirt had done.  There was so much presence, and weight, and volume to so much stuff. It was hard to breath in the midst of it all. How could I ever begin to feel free of him, to begin to sever my life from his, as I would have to do, if I was completely surrounded by his possessions?

And it wasn’t just the suffocation problem. There was the realization that if he was leaving this stuff here for weeks and months after the Crack-up, it must not mean that much to him. He had cherry picked around the house for the things he most wanted and needed. Those cherished items had gone with him to the apartment that he was prepping for the arrival of the Instagirl. What he had left was the unwanted, the, in a sense, disposable trash. Since Max and I had been left, we were in that category, too.

But wanted or not, I needed his stuff to be gone. He was gone. His possessions needed to go. In August he messaged that he wanted to come by to leave me a check for his half of the divorce lawyer fee and to pick up a few things. It troubled me just to hear from him, but to get a check and to be rid of some of his things were incentives to agree. I was at work. The plan was for Max to let him in. Here’s what happened.

Max was in his room on his computer about an hour after the time when Dan was supposed to arrive. He said he looked up and was startled to see his dad suddenly standing in the room right beside him! He said to Dan, “Didn’t you want to ring the doorbell to let me know you were here?”

Dan said to him in a voice that Max described as creepy, “I still own this house.”

Max told me, “Mom, it was like your dreams.”

What dreams did he mean? Soon after the Crack-up, I had begun to have these dreams where I would be in the kitchen and hear someone come in the door. At first I would be very afraid, but I would look up and see that it was Dan. I would feel a sense of relief. But then, I would look at him, and he would look at me with the Eyes of a Stranger! A chill, a killing chill would run right though me, and I would try to wake myself from the dream to escape the horror.

When Dan suddenly appeared beside Max in his room that day, Max felt the same horror. A stranger suddenly stood in his room. A stranger dad.

Dan did not leave a check, of course, He later offered an excuse that blamed Max. He said he forgot to leave the check because Max was giving him the evil eye. What he wanted was our camping equipment from the basement. He had been telling us and his family that he was going on a solo camping trip on the Appalachian Trail. Although by this time, we all knew of the Instagirl, he was still denying her existence, thus his emphasis on a solo camping trip.

Max let Dan into the basement to get our camping equipment, but instead of taking one of the small tents, Dan took our large family trip. Maybe Max was watching to see if he would do it. Max told me that what he said was “So this is what you are going to commit the adultery in!” Dan’s response was to disconnect which is what he would do whenever anyone confronted him. He just did not answer. Talking to him was like talking to a misfiring robot in those days. He did take the family-sized tent and the rest of our camping equipment. Once again he went away with just the few things that would serve him in his affair with the Instagirl.

There was a real insult imbedded in his taking just the things that would furnish his efficiency apartment, readied for the visit of the Instagirl, and our camping equipment for the trip he planned to take with her, while Max and I were supposed to cooperatively and foolishly store and stare at all the rest of his mountain of possessions.

I reached a point of actually begging him to come get his things. I said, “You know you have to get this stuff eventually, why not rent a storage unit, get a couple of friends, and in a day or two you could have it all moved.” I did this one fateful day in front of Max and Dan’s father. I did it with tears, begging, pleading, saying, “This is breaking me down. I cannot stand to have this stuff here Any Longer! Please!!!” But Nothing I could say cut ice. By that time the Instagirl was in the country. He was not going to give me even a minute’s time or a half-thought of consideration.

I could drown in a sea of his castoff, unwanted piles and piles of stuff, and he just really did not care. He made that perfectly clear. He made it perfectly clear to me and since Max was there, he made it eternally clear to Max, too. Our interests, our life and death struggle, a small relief that could have meant the world to us, meant nothing, nothing at all to him.

He left us, and not only that, he left us to live, die, survive, or not, in the midst of all his things, his records, his clothes, his furniture, his empty boxes in the attic, and beat-up band equipment in the basement.

I was crazy enough to beg him to come get them, to help lighten my load, to free me from the detritus that was drowning me. He turned a deaf ear to all my requests, all my suffering. He, who had been my friend, my lover, my husband for thirty years turned and looked at me, and for a minute I may have felt relief. “He may not love me now, but he used to love me. Surely, he will help me. He will free me from being suffocated by his things, by all this that I cannot, cannot bear. He will finally move out and take his things away, he will have pity on me, and then Max and I can breathe and begin to build our new lives.”

But when I pleaded with hope and faith for him to still have some goodness, some care for me based on the old times, Dan turned and looked at me with the cold, cruel, chilling eyes of a stranger.
 

My Past from Crack-up Poems, Crack-up Songs

You broke our hearts.
You broke our home.
You left us with no choice.
We had to move on.
The keepsake box with its souvenirs
Of romance, of child, of home
Was smashed, left out,
Tossed on the trash alone.

The flood fell, the tide rose,
It was lifted, and lost from sight.
The heart and what it held bled, shed.
The place, the locus, the where,
All this was lost that night.
The home, the family, the history,
All adrift, no place, no center.

I stare at the dim light
In the distance as the
Storm still flashes and threatens.
I see only space and
A midnight sea that is so somber a silver,
So empty, so fearsome, so empty.

Where do I put my memories?

Chapter Eight: The Online Other Woman: The Instagirl

El had it right: no man leaves his wife and home in order to alone. Garbo wanted to be alone, married men do not. Though Dan had denied it and pretended it wasn’t true, there was, of course, another woman all along, someone he had met online as Jules had said.  With Dan so constantly absorbed in Instagram, I knew that was the starting place if I was to trace the paper trail of his betrayal.

A new character was about to enter the stage of my existence. I was soon to learn the identity of the woman who had been responsible for the great shift in my life.  As with many significant dramatic entrances, the elements aligned with ironic timing. The date on which Dan asked for my casserole recipe was July 27; this was the exact one-month anniversary of his Crack-up Confession on June 27 when he drove away and left me and Max behind forever. And now exactly one month later he had sent this text, this fateful casserole request that would lead to my finally uncovering the truth that he had been keeping from us for so long, the truth that caused him to leave us, the truth about his other woman.

Robbed, murdered of my sleep by Dan’s text and the disregard for me he showed by making the request, I had lain awake contemplating my predicament, alone and adrift with my plans and finances thrown into a state of chaos and a college-age son to finish raising. Whereas Dan was, according to what he had told me, living a free and happy life in the city where everything and everyone was very cool and inspired. He did not miss his life with us at all. Added to that as I knew through Jules, Dan was eagerly expecting the arrival from Australia of the online other woman.

The uneven balance of my lost soul and Dan’s happiness drove me into anger, finally, at least for this one night. In my lonely, late-at-night house, I left my bed and went to the computer, to the computer, of course, finally ready to use it as I could have any night this past month but had not, finally ready to see for myself what Dan had been up to with this online other woman.

I sat down and typed google.com

I then typed Instagram and V4 Vision which was the name of Dan’s avatar. A number of links showed up in a list. I chose the one that seemed the most likely, and it led to Dan’s gallery on Instagram. I recognized his work immediately, his colorful, abstract washes, the pieces and lines of color and no color. I saw the knowingly pretentious titles he gave his photos, rich in modifiers and foreign languages.

I knew his pictures received lots of likes and also some comments. The previous year he spent the evenings on his Iphone while I was in the kitchen cooking dinner or washing up. He would tell me about the comments he received and that he wrote back and forth with some of the commenters to the point that they became friends.

There was one called soulwindow who was from Vancouver, there was a guy in Italy who had access to much photogenic Renaissance architectural art, and a woman from Australia, Dox Dart Nellie, who was known for the profanity of her comments. I realized that his “special” woman friend would not be any of these. She would not be someone whose name he ever mentioned to us. No. This one would have been kept a secret from us.

Looking at the comments under his photos, I ruled out the ones that seemed to be made by men, and clicked on the ones that seemed to be women. I looked to see if he had posted comments to their pictures. Very soon one woman began to stand out as posting lavish praise to all of his pictures: “Brilliant,” “ gorgeous” (with seven r’s), “Killah.” His comments to her pictures were equally extravagant in their praise: “Awesomely C oooo l,” “Sweeeet! Love the tasteful edit,” “Exquisite,” and even just the one lone, eloquent word “Love.”

Most of the people male or female who commented on Dan’s pictures used for their avatar picture one of their photos, but this woman used a black and white head shot of herself. Jules has told me that Dan’s girlfriend was 42. The age looked right for this woman in the photo; she was a brunette with her hair styled like Farah Fawcett’s popular 70s do. Her Instagram name was Tundra. From comments to her it seemed that was her last name and Tammie was her first name. So there it was. I had told Max the night of the Crack-up that the whole time the question had been going through my mind: What is her name? Now I knew. Tammie Tundra.

For confirmation as a scrolled down through all Dan’s pictures, I found one that showed two different pictures of a rainbow that had been put together to make one complete rainbow. One picture seemed to have been taken by Tundra in Australia, and to it Dan had pasted a picture he had taken of a rainbow. He joined the two pictures in such a way that the two rainbows merged and his completed hers. It was an interesting effect and well done. He gave it the title, “Your Rainbow Song,” and I saw that only minutes after he had posted it, Tundra had commented with “Love” and ten pink hearts.  Noting the date, I saw that this had been done back in May while I was still hard at work completing my school year of teaching, knowing nothing of what was to come.

Their overuse of “sweet,” “cool,” “awesome,” heart symbols, and extra letters such as o’s and r’s in the spelling of their comments reminded me of notes I had taken up from my middle school students. The sentiments seemed equally like those of a teenage crush. They were, after all at this point, only pen pals or picture pals, you could say. They had never met in person. Soon they would meet, but as yet their entire romance had been carried out online, and the foundation of the affair, the Instragram part, was available for all to see.

Scrolling down through Tundra’s pictures, I could see that she was a good amateur photographer, not, perhaps as good as Dan, but definitely good. And she was prolific with lots of variety. There were many, many photographs going back for over a year. Her gallery had abstract close-up shots of rusted or paint-dripped surfaces similar to Dan’s, but she also depicted delicate nature images and even occasionally pictures of herself, her home, her son.

So she was a real person. When Dan had told his friends about the Instagirl, they had wondered if she might not turn out to be a scam. This was why Jules has first contacted me about her. Everyone has heard so many stories of people meeting someone online, falling for them, and then they turn out to be a man from Nigeria or some other scam artist who is not what they seem and is out for money or whatever they can get. This woman could turn out to be out for money, but from seeing her presence and her body of work on Instagram, I did have confirmation that she was a real person who took real photographs.

The pictures and the posts between Dan and the Instagirl dated back into the winter, our long, last winter together when Dan had had so little time for me and so much time for his Iphone. I now knew why. I now knew why he had had so little to say to me or Max for so long, no words of love, support, or praise. All of that had been going to the Instagirl. She was the obvious object of all that he had failed to give to me or Max. No wonder he had been so quick to anger, so quick to lash at us with unkind words. We had become nothing more than obstacles in his way, impediments to making his Instadreams come true.