When did I become the star of the Lifetime movie, “In Love With A Stranger”? (This movie does not exist yet, but it should.) Was this the way “General Hospital”‘s Elizabeth Webber felt when she found out her husband, Ric Lansing, had kidnapped Carly Corinthos and was keeping her locked up in a secret room in their house? Was this kind of betrayal what Janet Jackson was singing about on the song “What About?” How many songs, movies, and books have been penned about deception? Countless, I think. But there are two people I’ve been thinking about in particular, who seem like they would get what it feels like to find out you’d been lied to for years by the person you loved. They are Julie Metz, author of Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, and my ex-fiance’s college girlfriend, who emailed me yesterday out of the blue.First, Metz. According to Publisher’s Weekly, her memoir recounts her “discovery of her husband’s long trail of philandering well after he died [and] reveals the state of willful ignorance and comfortable self-deception that reigned in her marriage.” I’m looking forward to reading this book for a number of reasons — first, I read a piece she wrote for Glamour on this subject and found her story fascinating. Now I can relate to it, at least in some ways. Though my husband didn’t die, I feel like the person I loved did, or maybe he never existed. It’s a very strange feeling and it makes the concept of “moving on” more complicated. Metz’s story is far more tragic of course, because she had to deal with the physical death of a loved one, coupled with the grief and anger of finding out he wasn’t who she thought he was. How do you do that when you don’t know what you’re moving on from?
Late last night I received a message from my ex’s college girlfriend. Though she gave me permission to write about our interaction, I’ll call her Sarah* to protect her privacy. A friend of hers, who reads The Frisky regularly, sent her a link to my “Dating Amelia” column and Sarah decided to write to me. But it wasn’t the first time. In the early days of my relationship with my ex — after we had decided we were exclusive and even after we had said “I love you” — he and Sarah had an argument. They had been broken up for awhile, but still kept in touch on occasion. One night, while she was in town for work, they had some sort of upsetting phone conversation. He gave me one side of the story — that she had wanted him to come to her hotel for sex and that he had refused. The next day, she emailed me her side of the story — that he had tried to see her and she had refused. She also warned me about him, and told me some of the things he had done in their time together that were worrisome. I won’t get into the details, but at the time, I freaked out and demanded that my ex explain himself. He said she was a liar and that she was only out for revenge. He went as far as to put me on the phone with his mom, who attested to the fact that he seemed to really care for me and that she knew he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize that. I chose to believe him.
Fast forward five years and there’s a second email from Sarah, reiterating everything she told me then. The strange thing is, after I found out that my ex had lied to me about his relationship with his coworker, I started to suspect that Sarah had been telling the truth. That HE had been lying to me from the very beginning and that there was no way of knowing how many other lies he told while we were together. I started to write Sarah a note myself, planning on asking her to please just tell me the truth. I never sent it, but 12 hours later she wrote to me. And I believe every single word she said. We talked this morning over IM and she seems lovely. It was strangely therapeutic talking to someone who knows my ex the same way I do, at least to a certain degree. And she has really reinforced my belief that women should look out for each other. Strangely enough, for the last few years she’s been nearby. We’ve worked for the same company twice. We even have a mutual friend. She has popped up on my “People You May Know” list on Facebook. Maybe these were signs that I was meant to seek out the truth eventually.
I feel so sorry to have doubted her, and even more sorry that I actually wasted a second hating her for something she didn’t do. But at the same time, I’m glad I didn’t believe her and chose to ignore my instincts by believing my ex. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been with Michael and, despite all the lies, the relationship was a part of my life I wouldn’t want to ever take back. And most of all, without him, I wouldn’t have my dog, Lucca. Lastly, I wouldn’t have learned the hard way that I should never doubt what my gut is telling me again.
[Note: I have received some incredibly kind comments and emails in the last few days, as well as over the course of writing about this whole experience, and I really want to thank each and every one of you for that. It has meant a ton.]
* As mentioned, this is a fake name.