I have written of the lure and power of confession before, the cost and benefit to confessor and hearer. Clearly some confess to atone, to bring on the flogging. That is what must be going on in this short advice column Q & A in elle.com, “Ask E. Jean: The Other Woman Etiquette.”
Surely there is a plea to be judged and condemned by the inquirer and E. Jean the advice columnist is only too happy to do so. Why else would a woman expose herself so when she could have easily kept it to herself or sought less public advice, like the therapist E. Jean suggests? I have to wonder at the authenticity of this piece. If not for self-flagellation, what motivates someone to seek an advice columnist, exposing herself publicly to disdain, being judged as someone so crazed or callous as to have committed the act for which she seeks atonement? Maybe it’s made up.
I am not judging (though it sure seems like it). Crimes of passion happen and are treated differently in the law from murder by reason of just that sort of mindlessness that negates intent to do harm, the lack of premeditative hurt and the acknowledgement that this state of mind is part of being human all too often. Some acts are far too provocative–say, catching your wife in bed with another–so that collateral damage is if not excusable then predictable at least.
But I always pause when I read about passion disasters, ponderous at those reported burns so deep that the blacked out mind ceases to direct the body’s actions any longer. Don’t get me wrong. I have suffered blind rage and mindless ecstasy. Perhaps I have been fortunate not to have utterly destroyed anyone or anything in my wake of near total obliteration, not that I know of anyhow.
Only near total obliteration. Somehow the little cricket conscience has chirped audibly enough for me to catch my breath, effect a re-set. The thought of destroying someone else in rage has no doubt occurred to me, but the gear shift from thought to action is sobering. Because sometimes it is just too late and too tragic to say I am sorry. That is what E. Jean and I believe about this mistress story. I have copied the entire short advice piece below.
Dear E. Jean: I have a question about the etiquette of being “the other woman.” The married man with whom I’d been having an affair told me I was “too needy” and that his “shoulders are not for [my] problems.” I was so angry that I texted his wife and ratted him out. I also called his sister and mother-in-law and told them I was pregnant with his child.
It was a lie. I was not pregnant. But I had reached the end of my rope when he ignored an important text I’d sent him. I was not only furious about being ignored, but I was hurt because he was emotionally unavailable to me. Now I feel terrible about what I’ve done. This is not the kind of person I am. How can I clear my conscience and move on from this? —Wronged Woman
Woman—Please: The man is a scoundrel. He was unfaithful to his wife. But you? What you did was so cruel, so half-witted, so dirty, so over the top, causing so much pain to so many people—and if any children suffer the slightest anguish because of your lie (if the man has kids and you cause a divorce)—I don’t want you to “clear your conscience.” Actually, I want you to go to a therapist.
Ask E. Jean: How Do I Make Peace With His Ex?
The shrink will help you understand that a married man is by definition “unavailable.” (I have the sickening feeling that you’re one of those sparkling Paula Broadwell–esque hotheads for whom “uproar’s your only music,” as Keats said. Hence, I’m not going to yammer all day about therapy. I just want you to give it a whirl and see if you can grok what’s going on and come to a deeper, truer understanding of your life.)
For your own honor, you must now write three letters. The man’s wife, his mother-in-law, and his sister should each receive one—handwritten in ink, on serious cream-colored stationery. Apologize for your heinous lies, take full blame for the affair, and say you led him into it. Yes, we know he’s a bastard. Yes, we know you’re not the Dalai Lama. But make this your one great, selfless act. Your remorse and honesty will restore your dignity, help three people deal with a catastrophe, and show what “kind of person” you are, really.