07/09/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"I Had to Talk to My Dead Husband's Lovers to Learn What Happened in Our Marriage"

Some books don't end when you finish reading them. Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal is one of those books: Soon after her 44-year-old husband dies, Julie Metz discovers that he was bedding every woman who would have him. Brokenhearted and baffled, she decides to track his lovers down and confront them --- starting with "Cathy", a neighbor and friend. (Metz changes all the names, including that of her husband "Henry".)

"Perfection" is honest, and then some; I winced more than once at Metz's candor. After I wrote an enthusiastic review, I started to wonder: Yes, but how is Ms. Metz now? How is her daughter? Would she change anything in her book? In essence: some of the questions sure to come up on beach chairs and in book clubs. So I arranged to talk with Julie Metz...

Jesse Kornbluth: Terrible things happen, but few of the victims write books. How did you come to write 'Perfection'?

Julie Metz: I like writing letters, and after my husband died, I started writing long, sometimes frantic e-mails to friends who were worried about me. I saved them, and they became a journal. After I found out about my husband's affairs, a writer friend took me out to lunch and said, "You should write a book." Then another friend said the same thing, and I began to feel the need to write a book for me, because there was nothing I could find to read about what was I going through. So I wrote a book I needed to read.

I can't imagine your friends and family were wild about the idea of contacting every woman your husband slept with. Did anyone support you?

I didn't ask for opinions, I just did it. There was no other way to find out what had happened in my marriage. I felt like I couldn't make a new life for myself without understanding what had happened.

Was it cathartic to write?

Cathartic and at times excruciating.

Have the women in the book --- your husband's lovers --- read it?

They're aware of it. I don't know about Cathy, the neighbor who had an affair with my husband.

Your daughter is now 12. What have you told her about the book?

We've had many conversations about her dad and the book and how she feels. She hasn't read it. I've told her, "If this were a movie, it would be rated R." I imagine she'll read it --- but not soon. It's a book I wish I'd had at 22: the perils of the charming man.

Are you being too hard on yourself? In the book, your husband was an Olympic gold medalist at messing with your head.

He was really good at that. I wish I had been able to see what was happening. I do think he loved me; he was just really complicated and very flawed.

Chris Rock: "A man is as faithful as his opportunities." Discuss.

Agreed. Opportunity is what it's all about for most men. My husband flirted with almost every woman he encountered. If she responded, he pursued.

But what could you have done to thwart him --- put him under house arrest?

At the time I was the mother of a young child and I was also working and taking care of a house. I was afraid to look at what was going on because I had so much at stake in my marriage. I believe many women are in this situation. I think he was going to do these things because that's what he wanted to do. The solution is to not be afraid to really look at your life, to be more aware of how you really feel about it.

"A woman is as faithful as her opportunities." Discuss.

I agree. It takes two.

Your husband's been dead for six years. Your book's published. Do you have closure --- or do you just "live with" what's happened?

For me it was important to face the truth so I could move on and make a new life for myself. I assume there's still a lot I don't know. But I've found a way of living peacefully without knowing everything.

At the beginning of the book, it's clear you're oppressed by your husband. But you didn't connect the dots. Makes me wonder about your therapist...

Oh, Henry gaslighted her too. He came to a few sessions and convinced her to prescribe another pill for my "depression." I think many women end up in this situation. You've invested a lot of love and energy in your marriage and you don't want to really see the problems.

I'm surprised he never suggested a threesome.

I was the wife. The other women were "hot." I think he wanted to see if he could get away with his affairs --- remember, in my therapist's office, he said he saw his life as all about risk.

Ok, then I'm surprised you didn't find pornography on his computer.

I didn't. Others did. I think he was going through a crisis of his own. And we shouldn't have been living where we were living; In the end I am a city girl born and raised, and I think he also felt out of place and bored. Boredom often leads to bad behavior.

I've written, "When the sex goes, it's over." In your case, no sooner does Henry die than your sexuality returns.

Yes, but by the standards of many of our married friends, we had a good sex life --- we were having sex. So that red flag didn't present itself in the alarming way it should have.

You write that Henry died before he had a chance to undo the damage. But according to the evidence you offer in the book, he seems irretrievably lost.

We weren't going to make it as a couple. But he never had the chance to apologize and reinvent himself. And I like to believe he might have done better with someone else.

How do you feel about Henry now?

On a good day, I can think about him with compassion and remember our good times. On a great day, I don't think about him at all. But I don't hate him any more.

Would the book have been weakened if you had dialed back some of the sex you had after Henry died?

I'm now in a committed relationship. I'm in love with my partner, we've been together five years. The book is about two unusual years of my life; it was like going through adolescence again. I thought it would be useful for women to see that parts of you that have been locked away may resurface --- and there may be explosions.

Of course if a guy wrote about sex after his wife died...

No one would notice. But a widow and a mother...that's shocking for some people. The irony is that I'm quiet and shy and work mostly alone in my apartment. But I'm definitely braver now than I was in my marriage. And the irony of infidelity is that the victim often feels more shame than the perpetrator.

[cross-posted from]