My French husband betrayed me!

I'd leave him but we own a restaurant together.

Published May 13, 2005 7:54PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm an American woman, living in France with my French husband, whom I have always thought of as just the greatest, kindest guy. In fact, that's kind of his rep, in his family and among his friends. I had absolute trust and confidence in him up until December. I was pregnant and lost the baby after two months and had to have a D&C, scheduled for early on a Saturday morning. He and I own a restaurant, and that Friday evening we had some regular (and very rich!) customers coming. They're also guys who drink like crazy and will often stay until very, very late. I opted not to work that night and asked my husband to promise me not to drink too much, and not to stay too late, to kick the guys out at 2 a.m. at the latest so he could drive me to the hospital the next day. He promised. He arrived home at 4:30 a.m., drunker than I've ever seen him (he's not at all a heavy drinker).

I sent him to bed, walked to the hospital (40 minutes) by myself, and went through it all by myself. So, anyway, we talked it all out, and although it still freaks me out that he could have done that, we've tried to work through it. Then, yesterday, I found out that he made out with the first friend I made in France, on our balcony after I -- and her husband -- had gone to bed (they live in another city and were spending the weekend with us). He claims that they didn't have sex, but did make plans to see each other again, until she told her husband and he called mine and bawled him out and said they never wanted to see us again. This was last June.

Not knowing any of this until yesterday, I had been repeatedly asking my husband, "Why do you think F. and H. never call us anymore? Is it something I/we did? Why don't they like me/us anymore?" Not once did he fess up. It was only yesterday when I picked up the phone and said I was going to call those guys to invite them to dinner (I knew they were going to be in our town for a social event this weekend) that he admitted what had happened. I am so freaked out I can barely hold it together. A kiss on a balcony is a kiss on a balcony -- I don't think it's worth ending a marriage for (besides, that's what French people do). But for nine months he led me to believe that my friends no longer liked us, or cared. He saw me agonize over it many times, and only told the truth once he knew he was going to be caught anyway. My question is: How can I trust him again? I think if we were in the States and didn't own a business together I would seek a divorce, but we have so much invested together, and, besides, he says he really wants to work it out. I just don't know.

Hurt in France

Dear Hurt in France,

Alone among the peoples of the world, the French possess an organ called the "foie d'amour" (sometimes corrupted as "petit pâté"). Similar in structure to the liver but smaller and tucked just posterior to the breastbone in the thoracic cavity, the foie d'amour (known to medieval clerics as the "passionatum") allows the French to digest a vast array of amorous betrayals and transform them into rare and delicate essences -- bitter beauty, somber acceptance, fiery pride, exquisite form, eternal resignation.

Events and circumstances intolerable to others are not only digestible but perversely pleasing to the French. When a kiss occurs on a balcony and is kept secret all summer, we Americans can only think: punishment, a righting of wrongs, banishment. What do the French think? I suspect they think "C'est la vie," which, roughly and loosely translated, means that life between a man and a woman is spiced not only by sweetness but by cruelty, that a man's pride is as much a part of him as the weaknesses it hides, and that sometimes to be bad and true is better than to be good and dull -- even if, to our eyes your husband has behaved like a royal dick (a term, incidentally, for which there appears to be no French equivalent).

So where does that leave the American wife? What would a French wife do? Would she even the score by indulging in an evening of scores (as I have indulged in a clumsy but irresistible pun)? I suspect that she would transform this episode into the peculiar melancholy fire of the wounded French woman. The question is, what can an American woman do, lacking that singular French organ of emotional alchemy?

I think that the best you can do is punish him with your eyes, give him grief and guilt and coldness, pile work on him at the restaurant, send him the bad, demanding customers, blame him for anything that's burned, flirt with the best-looking diners, and let the news reach him through a circuitous route that you may well be having an affair.

When you are satisfied that you have punished him sufficiently, then turn to yourself. Pamper yourself. Love yourself. Treat yourself to whatever will make you feel that you are on top again -- assuming that on top is the position you prefer. And then, when you feel you have reached a kind of emotional equilibrium from which you can serenely contemplate your options, make a plan. Clarify for yourself the point at which, if his indiscretions continue, you would leave him: One year, two years, six months? Become ready to let go of the things you are attached to -- the restaurant, the apartment -- so you will be free to go when and if he continues to mistreat you. Make concrete plans so if life with him becomes intolerable, you have a workable option.

Finally, if you plan to remain in France, keep this in mind: Although none but the French are born with an intact foie d'amour, the peculiar essence it produces, some scientists believe, can be absorbed through the skin.

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