tortured by our imaginings

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.



Filed under dating, love, marriage, relationships, single mom

16 responses to “tortured by our imaginings

  1. It’s so weird that Melanie would think you’re having an affair with Mick–given the distance if nothing else–that maybe she’s thinking it’s an “emotional affair”?

    As you suggest, perhaps the answer is simpler. Perhaps she is not capable of comprehending the duality of intimacy in relationships, that we can be close in overlapping but different ways to people other than our partners.

    If the world were run according to my rules (and, sadly, I’m still waiting for this Supreme Authority to be assigned to me), Melanie would be thanking you for providing friendship and a sounding board to Mick. With that now shut off, Mick has lost an outlet for frustrations or misunderstandings, an outlet that can diffuse friction in his marriage to Melanie. Which only makes the problem worse. Melanie is compounding her problems…

    • Yes! That’s the case with my friend also! His wife has shut down three friendships now, and he has fewer and fewer friends to confide in and bounce ideas off. It’s only hurting their marriage further. And what’s more, since we all backed off out of respect for their relationship, who is going to be left for him to talk to? Only a woman who is actually interested in him will be persistent enough to stick around through that, and that is a much greater threat to their relationship than we are.

      • That occurred to me, as well… that as she chases off his female friends, he’s going to be less and less understanding. We do a pretty good job, as a group, of talking him off the ledge when he’s being too much of a “guy” and not seeing her side of things. Who will do that now? Sigh.

    • She does think it’s an emotional affair at this point, but she doesn’t believe that we haven’t seen each other recently, before he moved to be with her. She seems to imagine me jetting around to see him (which she did, but she makes a lot more money than I do!).

      The duality of intimacy is a big part of it, I think, SD. She is of the mind that one person should complete you and satisfy all your intimacy needs. Mick is not (nor, as you know, am I). I always want my guy to have a good female friend or two; they’re the ones you count on to give him some perspective when he thinks you’re being unreasonable! 😉 But seriously, in this particular case, she really is compounding her problems. I’ve known him a long time and without his female friends hitting him over the head once-in-a-while, he can be a real ass.

      But it’s not my problem anymore. For better or for worse. 😦

    • SD…kinda the whole concept of supreme authority defies the need for the assignment of it.
      Just take it. It’s yours.
      I just want to be assigned Supreme Authority Court Head Justice.

  2. Argh, I find that so sad and frustrating! I wrote about my own experience with this (well, a bit) in this post: Turns out that it’s most likely the wife of a friend of mine who sent me the letter. My friend and I have no interest in each other, never have, and have basically ended the friendship because his wife is so worried about me. It’s really too bad, and I can see how it’s destroying their relationship slowly.

    I do understand it though, long ago I was a really jealous person, and giving that up and just letting myself trust was a huge and freeing gift I gave myself. Really hard though, and every once in a while little bits of it sneak back in, but I’d rather live this way, that go back into that thicket of misery and fear.

    • I love how you phrase that — “that thicket of misery and fear.” That’s exactly it, isn’t it? It’s so horrible, and most of us have tortured ourselves this way at one time or another. I feel for Melanie. I really do. It’s all very sad.

  3. Guilt could play a role too. Not knowing the situation of course, but she cheated on her husband. Maybe her husband was very trusting….and she has seen what happens that way too. She strayed so she knows that it can be pretty easy to do….and people that have that tendency often see it in others. That is also a himan trait….we project on to others what we are ourselves.

  4. Wow. And he’ was upset with you because she’s psycho?

    Please give her my email address so I can have a word with her. Thank you.

    I’ve had wine, expect silliness okay? That having been said, my god woman, this young lady is off her rocker! WOW … wow. That’s all a’m saying about that right now.

    You studied law? No wonder I like your brain. And the whole psychological thing of it all? Oh yeaaa!

  5. They are doomed. They are doomed, and not because they were with others when they got together. I know people married to each other who were in similar situations and it’s been 20 years and they aren’t going anywhere. She needs to make the conscious decision to trust him, even if her neuroses are screaming not to. And when he says he’s not, she needs to let it go- REALLY, actually, truly let it go.

    They are doomed because she can’t get rid of the guilt and suspicion. Some relationships can overcome the way they started and have a solid foundation of trust. Obviously, theirs can’t because she can’t trust.

    Is she cheating now? Does she have a guilty conscience because she’s the one doing it now? Might be a possibility, given her reaction.

    Bottom line is this: if she can’t trust him to tell her the truth, it doesn’t matter if it’s you or if it’s someone else of if it’s no one at all. Her insecurities will drive him crazy and drive him away. If she can’t let go of her paranoia, they are doomed. No man (or woman, for that matter) will ever be able be able to put up with that long term. At some point, he will go from wanting to prove himself to her to being really really pissed that he’s done nothing wrong and she still doesn’t trust him. And then, he might even start to think that if he’s going to be constantly accused of wrong-doing, he might take that leap and at least he’d be getting some or have otherwise “earned” the scorn.

    I am sorry for him, really. She needs help. She needs help to deal with her insecurities, and maybe to help her understand what it would actually take- what things can he concretely do- to help her feel secure and trust him. Imo, there won’t be anything HE can do (as in, SHE is the one who needs to change her thinking and make the conscious effort to believe what he says)- and going to therapy can help her come to that place where she can understand this about herself.

    If she can’t trust him now in the beginning of the relationship, my .02 is that they are doomed. How long he’ll stick it out is anybody’s guess.

    Sorry you are caught in the middle, though. That sucks. You’ve done what you can. I’m pretty sure that you and he will continue your friendship at some point. And honestly, when you really love someone, you don’t make them change the friends they’ve had through the years. She needs therapy at the very least. I am not sure medication could fix what is wrong with her. 😦

    The road will be long- this is an issue that won’t ever go away; it will periodically rear its ugly head, and again, she’ll have to do battle, no matter how much time has gone by…..

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