“When he came back from a business trip, he owed me a night out with the girls,” she says. “If I went to the gym, he got to go to a Phillies game. We should have been doing stuff together. Instead, at night, I ended up watching TV upstairs, and he was watching it downstairs.” They had separate interests, separate friends — and no desire to talk to each other about anything other than the kids.
Eventually, he stopped watching TV and started surfing porn on the Internet. She began logging onto Facebook, where she reconnected with an old flame from high school, which relationship counselor Alyson Nerenberg is hearing about during counseling sessions all the time now.
“On Facebook, they talk about memories of an easier time, reminisce about when life was a lot more carefree,” says Nerenberg, who practices in Chestnut Hill but sees many Main Line couples who don’t want to risk running into their neighbors. “Instead of working on the marriage, they go to Facebook for validation.”
After a month of Facebook flirting, Erika came clean.
“So, I’m telling my husband that I have feelings for someone else, and I think he’s going to be really upset,” she says. “Then he turns around and says he has feelings for someone else too, someone he met at the gym. Neither of us ever consummated those relationships, but even if he had, I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t pissed. I knew the road we were going down.” Her husband knew it, too. They were finally on the same page.
In the same business-like tone of their marriage, they divorced (despite Erika’s baffled mom asking her weekly, “How bad is it? He’s not beating you. He’s not bad to the kids”). They had no arguments over arranging custody, child support or alimony. He still had a key to the house; she had a key to his new apartment. He even waited until she got a job to file papers, so he could keep her on his health plan. The first thing she did when she got her own insurance? Get on birth control.
“I have enough guy friends to ‘take care’ of me if I need them,” she says. “People are very up-front: ‘You want to have sex? Okay.’ Some are also going through divorces or are already cheating on their spouses. Some appear [on Facebook] to be in perfectly normal marriages and say, ‘When I’m in Philly, I’ll call you.’ But I’m not going there.”
It was one of the most organized, calculated jobs he’d ever had — hiding his affair from his wife. Mike, 34, would set his cell alarm to ring like a phone in front of her so he could pretend a client was calling, and thus go out and meet his girlfriend. Or he’d tell his wife he had to go to Harrisburg for work, then head off on a plane for a secret trip with his mistress to Atlanta, obsessively checking the weather in central Pennsylvania in case his wife asked when he called to say goodnight. His girlfriend even bought a rope ladder for her second-floor apartment, so he’d have a quick escape on the off chance his wife figured it all out and came knocking.
But Mike was pretty sure she wouldn’t find out: “Having a kid made my wife brain-dead,” he says. Where was the woman, he wondered, who was smart and engaging, the sexy, fun one who could carry on a conversation with anybody about anything, not just rattle on about the latest milestone passed by her one-year-old baby girl?
On top of that, becoming a dad was nothing like he expected it would be.
“I had no clue how to interact with a baby. I was surprised I felt that way. I didn’t want to be around her,” he says. “It was all shocking to me.”