Who is my husband's online mistress?

Could a private detective find her? I have to know what she looks like!

Published September 24, 2009 10:20AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I hope you can give me some of your gifted perspective on an issue I've been having since December. Right after Christmas, I was suspicious of my husband's old e-mail account popping up in our browser history ... so the next day at work, I checked his e-mail account. To my horror, I found the most explicit, sexually graphic e-mail between him and another woman. The string of e-mails went back only a few months prior, and yes, I'm the wife who believed "everything is going really great in our marriage! He is a loyal and doting husband!" After screaming/shaking/crying/yelling for a few weeks, I settled down, sought counseling, listened to "his side," yadda yadda. According to him, they have never met, it was only an e-mail "fantasy." He has apologized and gotten down on his knees begging me for forgiveness. Being the doormat I may be, I have decided to begin the process of forgiveness, and make our marriage stronger (for our two young kids, if nothing else).

Here's my own personal hell: I'm obsessed with this virtual woman. I've been e-mailing her to get answers, scouring the Internet to find her, and am in the process of hiring a private detective to find this woman. I have this aching, burning desire to know her, why he was drawn to her, what she was like, what she gave him that I didn't have. My heart is shriveled and these questions literally wake me in the night. Her answers are vague and noncommittal, as are his. He says they didn't meet, she says I should believe him. I don't know what to believe (this is not the first lie I've caught my husband in, for what it's worth).

Do you see my dilemma? I can't find that chunk of truth I need. Acceptance of the unknown is not acceptable to me. I'm searching so hard, I can't get it. They protect each other with their answers, and I can't track her down because of her common name. I sincerely feel like I'm losing my mind. Should I believe him and move on and keep letting him re-prove himself, or do I keep seeking until I find the truth? (Just for the record, this is affecting me physically too. I take antidepressants and painkillers to cope.) I appreciate any wisdom you can provide; I know your answers are truthful and well-intentioned. Thank you.

Midwest Crazy Person

Dear Midwest Crazy Person,

You feel you would be satisfied if you could just lay eyes on this woman.

I propose an alternative that will cost much less than a private detective.

It is going to sound pretty strange.

Yeah. But this column is nothing if not strange.

I suggest you begin by finding some time to be alone in your room with the door locked. Sit down, close your eyes, and imagine this woman. Picture her.

What do you see? What color hair does she have? How does she dress? How does she walk? What does her voice sound like? Let yourself examine her jewelry, her skin, the shape of her ears, the color of her eyes. Play at behaving like her. Walk like her. Sit at a mirror and look in the mirror at yourself and imagine that you are this woman your husband so desires. Speak like you think she would speak. Walk like you think she would walk. Dress up like her.

Lest you misunderstand me, I am not proposing that you put on some kind of erotic show for your husband in which you impersonate the object of his desire. I strenuously caution you against trying to be playful with him on the order of, Did she look like this? Did she look like that? No, this is not for your husband's sake. This is for you.

You may not get far on your own. It may be too strange, too awkward, and you may not know where to begin. It is the kind of thing that might best be done with someone to guide you. So find someone. If the marriage counselor you have been seeing is not to your liking -- and it sounds like you were a little dismissive of those sessions -- then find someone truly special, with whom you feel an immediate connection, whom you can trust with your most intimate secrets, and who seems to have a way out, a new way of seeing things, and ask him or her to be your guide. Say that you want to do some guided visualization so that you can realize, or embody, or create within yourself this image that torments you so.

Of course you also want to know what happened. But "what happened" in a relationship is not the same as "what happened" in a detective story.

In a detective story, when a crime occurs, we are satisfied when the perpetrator is found and punished. In the intimate sphere, when a transgressive event precipitates conflict, we treat the event as a sign of something that has long been failing, as the culmination of long neglect, and we ask, Wow, so the way we were living led ultimately to this? What is wrong with the way we have been living? What is missing from our lives?

That is the difference between social transgression and intimate transgression, between the detective story and the romance. In intimacy, we seek a rich emotional economy in which our desires become known and are met or at least acknowledged as legitimate, in which our feelings and ideas become known, in which the trend is generally toward greater knowledge of the other, and consequently greater comfort and ease and pleasure. When a relationship is not proceeding in that direction, ruptures occur.

The basic point is that as long as you focus on this other woman, as though she were the cause of your husband's behavior, you will not get the chance to come closer to your husband and actually find out what's going on between you. And the suggestion to imagine this woman within rather than search for her in the flesh is mainly to relieve you of the obsession. It is no cure-all in itself. It is just to pull your attention back to the sphere of your own imagination and the circle of your marriage.

There will be much to do after that. But first things first.

Married? Human? Living on Planet Earth? Yep, there's stuff in here about that

Makes a great gift. Can be personalized for the giftee of your choice. Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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