Why you should care
Because the world is, and remains, a crazy place.
When my best friend saw my fiancé’s picture, she gasped. He has those cruel, hawkish Old World features that are so intense you want to hide behind a fern, but you also want to do whatever he says. Then you see that his eyes are sad — melting gold-flecked chocolate. You feel him falling, and you want to catch him, save him.
My best friend lives 3,000 miles away. I don’t think my friends who met him in person were similarly impressed. He was nervous meeting them, jittery. He doesn’t belong in my world. He doesn’t belong in the world. He needs that other world that we create between us when we’re alone in order to get comfortable.
I don’t know whether you believe sex addiction is a real and painful hole in a person or just an excuse to cheat. Either way, being with a sex addict is a hell of a ride. They become everything in your arms — the world is on fire; it’s preverbal, postverbal. It’s … oh, man, it’s really something. And then after, it’s as if they were never there. Your arms are so empty, that’s all you can feel. Getting back there is all you can think about. Eh, I’m probably a sex addict too.
he’d be texting Frenchie when he was lying next to me, texting me when he was lying next to her and taking the ex-wife out to dinner, asking her to remarry him, in the moments in between!
Anyway, certainly no one guessed that this elderly, slight, anxious banker was managing to keep satisfied three to five energetic and wildly different fiancées concurrently.
So when I turned my phone back on after he left to find three long messages from a spitting-mad Frenchwoman claiming that he was a pathological liar, a beast and a devil who had “made love” to her that very morning and was now cheating on her with me, none of that sounded plausible. His explanation that she was his psycho stalker did. I blocked her number, and he talked to the police (so he said to me) about a restraining order. He said she’d threatened to make me commit suicide, like by witchcraft or maybe just by wishing really hard.
Then came his ex-wife sending him semi-nude selfies, suicide threats and presents. Texts began arriving at all hours from his realtor, who had taken up the unusual practice of moving into his house in Chicago that she supposedly couldn’t sell — in order to “safeguard his possessions.” I ascribed his inability to create boundaries with women to his being a devout Catholic (he was my very first). Some strange mess of gentlemanliness and guilt.
Then I began to wonder if these women had started off normal, and only when it was over did they go insane at losing his sweet, solicitous self. Maybe the day was coming when I too would turn into a vile, grasping creature drunk at midnight hitting redial like a maniac. I don’t underestimate the degree of self-respect a person will forfeit to climb back into the best bed in the world.
He was good out of bed too. Never criticized or yelled at me. Treated my daughter well, and I melted at his patience with his own teenage children. He made me laugh every day. It was a fine romance.
When I got fed up with his constellation of stalkers growing instead of evaporating, he let me pick out a therapist. He started going twice a month.
Two seasons passed. Then that persistent Frenchie found me again. On the one place I hadn’t thought to block her — Instagram. Her messages were cruel. She called me “fish face” and “once a hooker, always a hooker,” and predicted my next book would be a flop.
She claimed my fiancé had shown her my handwritten letters and mocked me, said his children hated me. I asked him how she knew so much if he’d had zero contact with her. He had an explanation for everything. For example, regarding the letters, he’d allowed her to use his address when she moved to Vegas from Jersey a year earlier, and she must’ve kept it, and used tracking.
Still. He’d said some of the same exact insults to me about her that she quoted about me. And no matter what, she appeared to be in genuine pain. She was a fellow woman. I wrote her back. I said, “Let’s clear up this mystery about who he’s with.” We exchanged a dozen screenshots, and oh … my … God.
Our merged timeline, combined with my spying on his ex-wife’s social media feeds (which I’d avoided before out of respect for her privacy), showed he’d be texting Frenchie when he was lying next to me, texting me when he was lying next to her and taking the ex-wife out to dinner, asking her to remarry him, in the moments in between!
Something was particularly odd: He was a completely different person with the girlfriend. He did baby talk, sent rows of emojis, smoked cigarettes (!). With me he had a sophisticated lexicon and was emoji- and smoke-free. How did he keep his different selves straight, never mind his women?!
I silently judged the girlfriend for a minute for being OK with him not introducing her to his children for seven years, while he took me on vacations with them and shopping trips for school. Then I realized I’d been OK with never having been to a work function of his, even though what he does at the bank is probably the most important thing in his life. She’s a data engineer/risk analyst like him. I just don’t care about data. Maybe she doesn’t care about kids. Not every woman has to.
And neither of us care about horses. Frenchie went into his phone and discovered a blonde equestrian too. The fifth fiancée, after the realtor in Chicago. And among the possessions that he left with that realtor were about $15,000 worth of musical equipment. He was classically trained, but never said a word about it or played a lick of music around me. He kept his interests separate along with his homes and his women.
What would you feel if you learned all at once that someone you trusted was living a quintuple life?
I suppose it’s odd how analytical I became rather than hysterical. What would you feel if you learned all at once that someone you trusted was living a quintuple life? It seemed unsuitable that I felt no pain or shame. All I could feel was relief that everything that hadn’t been making sense did now. I felt sane again. And I was laughing again. Including on my final phone call with him. He was very disturbed by that.
Frenchie was devastated. I don’t know why she was surprised. Their relationship started when he was still very married. I wasn’t surprised that he’d cheated. People do. But the scope of it did astound. The close calls, the finagling — he’d told her he’d give her an engagement ring on Nov. 11.
Why a Monday? Because my birthday is Nov. 9, and he’d planned a weekend trip to Italy with me.
He told her they’d buy a house together in March or April. He had to, as my daughter and I were moving into the old house when she graduated high school in May. She’d switched her college from Reno to Vegas for it. I guess he was planning on keeping this up for another 20 years, like he has with the ex-wife. And I guess he is, minus me. Frenchie stayed.
I went to his house when he wasn’t there to pick up my stuff. The house he’d called ours, the one in Vegas. It’s in a gated community on a plateau cut into the mountainside. It has an in-ground pool and trees that are not indigenous. The bones of the place are great, all arches and stained glass. But the guts are … just not there. Walls bereft of photographs, art, mirrors, even furniture.
I was intrigued by the bareness the first time I saw it. Like it was waiting for me to fill it. And it was. He was. Except the “me” who completed it, and him, was anyone — whoever walked in.
A long time ago, before I’d gotten help for the ways I was damaged as a child, when my alcoholism was still vibrant, I had a gentle, wonderful boyfriend who was asleep, maybe, in our bedroom while I fucked the asshole musician I’d just interviewed on our living room floor. This was in New Hampshire. I was married at the time. My husband was in our house in France.
People like to say that people who are hurt in turn hurt people. If you understand that’s really true, then you can’t get self-righteous when it happens to you.
This guy — the man with five fiancées — he’d often remark how alike we were deep down, and I’d ask him how, since we had zero in common on the surface. He never did answer.
I think it was that at our core, the only thing he and I wanted more than to be totally known and laid bare in the light of love was to be totally hidden — to the point of not even existing. I thought I wasn’t like that anymore. I thought I’d grown up.
But if that were true, I wouldn’t have just spent the happiest year of my life with a man who wasn’t there.