Three years ago, I discovered that the man I’d loved and trusted for 20 years had had a secret girlfriend on the side for the past 10, when he slipped up and left this text to her on my computer:
I love you and I’ve always loved you.
Besides all of the different varieties of wrong involved in Mike’s betrayal, in this particular case, there’s an additional layer of stupid: I’m a writer. So, for a decade you carry out a secret love affair behind the back of a woman who writes revealing personal essays for a living.
What could possibly go wrong?
When I confronted Mike, he lied and told me it was nothing. But even as adept and practiced a liar as Mike apparently was, he couldn’t explain away “I love you and I’ve always loved you.” Eventually he came clean.
And as he was explaining to me that he and Maggie have actually been madly in love since they first met 30 years ago, and how, even though she’s now married herself, they’ve been phoning and texting and making furtive whoopie in hotel rooms for the past decade, I was thinking, “This is awful. This is devastating. And unbelievable. And hateful. And…this is amazing material.”
I was reeling and gob-smacked and horrified and devastated. But I knew I was going to write about it.
For better or for worse.
Why? I’m a writer. It’s what I do. I write about everything that happens to me. It’s how I cope and how I understand my life. For years, I’ve been writing about how wonderful Mike is. He’s turned up over and over again in my essays. I told the world how funny and clever and loving he was. How I loved him. How much fun the two of us had together.
I once even appeared on the Today Show, where Savannah Guthrie interviewed me about an essay I’d written for The New York Times in which Mike was featured, being fabulous, loving, and supportive. When Mr. Wonderful turned out to have been Mr. Infidelity all along, why wouldn’t I write about that too?
But isn’t that too personal? Too private? Shouldn’t I keep something like that under my hat? To which I reply: Heartburn.
Heartburn, by Nora Ephron, is one of my favourite books. Ephron’s husband cheated on her while she was pregnant. When he left her, she was devastated. But she turned the experience into a hilarious comic novel. It became a bestseller. There was even a movie, in which she was played by Meryl Streep.
To readers like me, Carl Bernstein isn‘t the heroic Washington Post reporter who helped uncover the story of the Watergate cover-up. He’s the lying schmuck who betrayed Nora Ephron. Nora got the last laugh.
He did not have sexual relations with that woman.
When Mike assured me that he and Maggie had never had sex, it turned out that what he really meant was that they did everything together except actually have intercourse. I thought “That’s so dumb it’s funny.”