I'm a gay girl and had a relationship with a married woman for a year. During our year of being together I found out she is also seeing another person -- a man -- through her e-mail, which she left open on my computer. I also read an e-mail from her husband saying he is willing to give her another chance if she won't cheat again. But now she is doing it again.
Her husband is aware of my presence and approves of it but doesn't know of the man's existence and wouldn't allow it if he found out.
I acted normal even though I know all these secrets, but as time goes on I realize she gives more time and effort to the other man than to her husband.
What bothers me more is I know that she loves that other man more than her husband, whom she also has a son with.
It has been five months now since I last saw her, but she keeps in contact through the Internet.
I've found a stable and great new woman to be with, but every time I see myself being happy with this new woman, I think back to my ex, how she's still living a lie and her carnal relationship with her other man.
Should I tell her husband about it? Am in the position of saying something, or should I let fate decide it? Why do I even care if she sleeps around with anyone? Or is it a feeling of wanting revenge?
Married Woman's Former Girlfriend
Dear Former Girlfriend,
Your relationship with your former girlfriend is over. She is out of your life. Whatever she does now is up to her. I would suggest, frankly, that you cease all communication with her. Do not keep in touch with her via the Internet. Let that period of your life be closed. Let it drift away. Let it be gone. Do not concern yourself with it. It is over. If there is some ritual you can perform to make vivid this ending, then perform it. Burn the things that she has left with you. Bury any reminders of her in a faraway place whose location you will not mark, so they can never be found, even in a moment of weakness when you should wish fervently to unearth them.
However, if you were hurt by her, you may in fact desire revenge, no matter what pious advice I offer.
So it remains for you to decide if you want vengeance or peace. If you think vengeance will bring you peace, then consider what exactly this peace is. Is it a peace of serenity, knowing that you are on the best terms possible with all people? Or is a peace of momentary satisfaction, as you dust your hands off in glee at your victory, and then gird your loins against retaliation? Will she then not have a motive for wreaking vengeance on you? And will you not therefore have to worry about her vengeance, when it might come, and how? What secrets do you have that she might reveal in retaliation? What unflattering details about you did she learn in her year with you? Consider also how her husband might turn against you as well, treating your revelation not as a favor to him but as an unforgivable intrusion into the private life of a married couple.
In revealing this information to harm her, you may harm her husband and her child as well. So unless you are insensible to these dangers, and uncaring about the damage to others that you may cause, I do not see how you can justify the action you are contemplating.
The question of vengeance is not simple or easily settled, of course. For instance, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy gives us this: "(In response to the Enlightenment aesthetic of art as the imitation of 'beautiful nature,' Hamann's [Johann Georg Hamann (1730-1788)] ironic observation was: 'The thirst for vengeance was the beautiful nature which Homer imitated.'"
The Christian ideal of "turn the other cheek" is not the only defensible practice when we have been wronged. There is a role not only for passionate vengeance but also the related practice of punishment.
But have you been wronged? Or has love simply run its course? Erotic love is anarchic. Promises made in passion are hard to keep. It is wise to place little faith in them.
Revenge, or punishment, does have a purpose in groups. It maintains discipline. It raises the cost of betrayal. But if you are not to have further dealings with your ex-girlfriend, if you do not work together and are not connected by family, then revenge can only serve a private purpose, to satisfy your hurt feelings. In that case, you must ask if you are better served, privately, by the taking of vengeance or by the quiet acceptance of what has happened, and by turning to the sources of happiness in your current life. Rather than seek revenge, I suggest you admit that you have hurt feelings, that you have lost someone dear to you, and that you are sad about it. Seek to soothe yourself.
That is, undertake to protect your own psychic life. You may not have thought of it this way before, but you have a psychic life that you need to take care of. You have an innocent self. That innocent self was hurt by this involvement, and naturally it seeks some redress. But you can take care of this innocent, injured self without resorting to vengeance. You can take care of it by redoubling your resolve to have relationships only with other women who are trustworthy and sincere. You can say to yourself, In spite of my attraction to various women, it isn't worth the pain to be involved with people who cannot be trusted. You can live more warily, more carefully. And you can make certain vows to change your behavior.
For instance, you can vow never, ever again to look at someone else's e-mail.
There was a cardinal rule when I was growing up that one never reads the private correspondence of others. This rule was taught to us children when mail consisted of letters written on paper and delivered sealed in envelopes. Written correspondence was a safe and private way for people to communicate their deepest thoughts and feelings without fear of discovery. It was protected speech. One had some control over how one's words would be displayed. One could say, do not show this letter to anyone. Or one could say, read this letter aloud to everyone. One had some control.
Now that so much private correspondence is sent via e-mail, we have lost that control, and the cardinal rule that one should never read another person's mail is being eroded.
We now live under a state and corporate system that sanction spying on individuals. We understand now that our e-mail is not private. If we learned that envelopes were routinely being steamed open and their contents read, we would be appalled. But we have come to accept a certain gray area in the realm of e-mail. The novelty of the technology and our ignorance about its workings have contributed to this, as has, perhaps, the seemingly evanescent nature of e-mail. This seeming evanescence is in truth a great illusion, as e-mail in fact is more long lasting than paper mail, leaving as it does traces on servers from its moment of sending, and being, in essence, a copy of itself from its inception, having no real permanent "original" like the original of a handwritten letter.
This has been a rather long aside -- on vengeance and on privacy! -- but I have been planning for some time to address the question of reading other people's e-mail, because so many domestic troubles arise from the unintended disclosure of secrets. People read each other's e-mail and it leads to trouble. It's as simple as that. So don't do it. If you want to know something, ask. And if you want privacy, whisper!
(I'm kidding! You know that, right?--ct)
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