I have a friend I’ll call “Mick.” His wife thinks we’re having an affair.
I have known Mick since we were 15-year-olds, and as an adult he was one of a handful of friends who almost literally carried me through the aftermath of my divorce and my heartbreak with Mike. At times in our life we have been very close, but we’ve also been completely out of touch at various times. We have never dated, and I have not seen him since a high school reunion in 1992. Oh, and he lives more than a thousand miles away.
But his wife, “Melanie,” is convinced that we’re planning a life together. So much so, that on Christmas Eve he returned from a quick trip to the grocery store and she announced that she wanted a divorce because of our “affair.” Seriously.
Melanie and Mick have been acquainted since college, and they rediscovered each other a couple of years ago when she was married and he was living with a former girlfriend. Unfortunately, they started their relationship while they were still committed to other people, and, partly because of that (I believe), Mel has always been terrified that Mick will leave her for someone else. They married in November, and Mick hoped that would quiet some of her insecurities, but it hasn’t. If anything, it has heightened them.
It is heartbreaking to watch her do this to herself and their marriage. Mick loves her; truly he does. He has used the word “soul mate” when talking to me about her. He loves her children as his own. He left our hometown — the only place he’s ever lived — and gave up a job he loved to move a thousand miles away to a city he hates, just to be with Mel.
The Christmas Eve row was precipitated by her hacking into his email account and seeing several chat conversations between Mick and I that Yahoo had obligingly saved, unbeknownst to Mick. There was nothing untoward in the conversations, but he did confide quite a bit in me about some of his concerns with Mel’s jealousy, and he said some things about his former girlfriend that, when taken out of a much larger context, would be very hurtful for Mel to read. And so, Mel deduced that he was more intimate with me than with her, misunderstood some of what we each said, and reached her conclusion, from which she will not now budge.
Yesterday, after she took a small, petty jab at me on his Facebook wall, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wrote Melanie a long, heart-felt email, swearing to her that nothing was going on, explaining some of the misunderstandings, and assuring her that I am positively convinced that Mick loves her dearly. I told her about James and my feelings for him and my sadness over our break-up last weekend. I explained that I understood her suspicions but that they are entirely off-base, and that I completely support her and Mick’s mutual happiness.
In return, a few hours later, I received an irate text from Mick, letting me know that, not only did Mel not believe me, but that she is more convinced than ever that we are sleeping together. (Just the geographical logistics of this boggles my mind, but I digress….) I told Mick that I have done what I could and I am sorry to have made it worse and I think it would be best if we simply didn’t have any contact for the foreseeable future. He argued briefly and then agreed.
It would be easy to label Melanie a psycho, jealous bitch and leave it at that. But I can’t. I am frustrated with her, yes, but I have too much compassion for her fear and her pain. She is truly torturing herself with imaginings that have absolutely no basis in reality, and she is likely to lose her marriage and the man she loves because of them.
Right now I can appreciate some of her fears. I am also wrestling with words I read in black and white… words whose meanings are unclear but loaded with powerful, dreadful possibilities. Unlike Melanie, I have refused to let my brain run off too far with those possibilities. I have reigned it in and insisted that it stick to only what I actually saw and therefore actually know. Speculation and deeper suspicion are pointless and will carry me no closer to the truth.
As a law student, I was always fascinated with the psychological studies refuting the value of eye-witness testimony. It is amazing how often what we will literally swear on a bible that we saw was not, in fact, what actually occurred. Even the “truth” as we witness it with our two eyes is colored by our own perceptions, fears, and distractions.
I have allowed my mind to run away with me before. Many times before, in fact. Sometimes that imagination has served me well… as a kind of “heightened intuition,” if you will. But other times it has merely painted me the worst kind of fool. And so, this time I have resisted the pull of my imagination as it tries to fill in the context of those words I saw and add texture and nuance to their tone. I have pushed away the images that have whispered at the edges of my mind, because — at this point — they are most truly figments of my imagination and nothing, nothing more.
But not poor Melanie.
No, she has not resisted the siren song of insecurity and darkest imagination. She has given herself over to the full complement of her worst fears. The scenarios that she is imagining and resolving to be true about me and Mick are so far-fetched and incredible that they strain even my capacity for understanding and compassion at times. Sometimes I want to simultaneously hug her tightly and smack her silly.
I fear for Melanie and Mick’s marriage, but not because of my involvement or Mick’s feelings for me or any history we have together. I fear for their marriage because the cold fingers of suspicion and mistrust and jealousy are slowing tightening, choking all the best that they’ve given to each other and built together. I have been there. I understand how it happens. But that doesn’t make any of it right. Or true. Or any less tragic.