We worked at a cell phone company, so of course it would be a text that would signal the end of our marriage. I thought we'd be that storybook couple, hiding from the public eye to dodge an HR issue, then getting married secretly and everyone referencing us as an example of successful office courtship. A few text messages later, and we were proving why HR was so uptight about inner office fraternization.
The hints started a year before. The ding of his text message alert going off more often than normal, the stance he took when he angled his body slightly away to read them. If it was his mother, he relaxed and slouched back. If it wasn't, there was always some casual explanation of why a colleague would be reaching out on a weekend. Then, it was seeing a name on his lock screen that he'd never mentioned before. I thought we knew all the same work people. As the messages increased, my concerns grew.
He responded with anger, resenting the fact that he couldn't have female friends like an adult. I was often accused of being paranoid, controlling and jealous. He was probably right. Having just had a baby, I was insecure, and things had not been stellar between us, but surely that would pass. I couldn't stop snooping though. I was addicted. Each time I was caught, he became angrier. I was the problem. How could I not trust him?
My heart raced with every attempt to pry into his electronic devices. Hurriedly, I would check his emails while he was in the bathroom, frantically returning the screen to normal when I overheard the flush. In the middle of the night, I, an educated woman in her late 20s, was caught trying to be stealthy by walking on all fours in the bedroom in order to make it to his phone resting on the night stand. He was clear: I was the problem; I needed to stop. What had I become?
I had my good weeks, where I put all my suspicions aside and we lived somewhat normally. Each time I heard his phone, I repeatedly told myself it was something mundane. You will ruin this if you open your mouth, Heather. It's nothing. But one fateful day, I fell off the wagon. I saw his phone on the table where we placed the mail and keys. He had let his guard down since I had. I saw her name on the notification screen, and there was no stopping me after that. He was playing with the baby ten feet away. I opened up the phone, and there was the text that set the tone for our divorce.
Her: I wish it was with you.
Him: Me too.
That was it, nothing more. He had months of messages in the history from me, but everything between them had been recently cleared. The questions began flooding my mind. I had to lean against the door jam to remain upright. Wish what was with you? What are you both agreeing "you wish you were together" for?
The confrontation went about as expected:
"What does this mean?" My hands were shaking as I gestured to the phone.
"What do you think it means?"
"I think it means you are sleeping with her!" I was the queen of escalating things quickly.
"Well, then, that's probably it. Go ahead and think that."
"Why don't you tell me what it means?" I asked, more calmly.
"Why bother? You'll just assume the worst in your paranoid mind, and there will be no convincing you otherwise."
After a good hour of arguing, I wore him down, and he said that she had previously indicated she was at dinner with her boyfriend, but she would prefer to be at dinner with him...my husband. He concurred. I never got more proof. Just more snippets of conversations that were a little too intimate for a married man to be having with a woman other than his wife. A few charges on his personal bank account that weren't for us. Nothing that gave me the definitive confirmation I so desperately needed. Nothing so indisputable that it validated my concerns, and proved I wasn't this green-eyed, crazy woman.
As I constantly second-guessed the catalyst for the ending of our marriage, I found myself thinking the women who caught their husbands in the act were the lucky ones. I'd learn much later about emotional cheating versus physical cheating, and to this day, I can't tell you if they ever did so much as hold hands, but in the end, that text was all I really needed to take a good, hard look at my marriage.
In the early days post divorce, I would play out several alternate realities in my head. Those early nights alone; the days where you have to explain to a toddler where daddy is -- that's when a scenario where a text that reads: "I wish it was with you," is just that and nothing more.
Somewhere there is a woman, married ten years and for all intents and purposes happy, who didn't think such a text was much of a violation. Her husband has several female friends, but that's healthy. Maybe they text frequently, sometimes at unusual hours, but that's nothing to start an argument about. I'd think about this alternate reality and question whether I threw away an entire marriage over jealousy and distrust. Then a little more time passes, and I remember life before I was trapped in a cycle of distrust and insecurity. I remember who I am, and what I want. I am so grateful for the reality I carved out for myself, and I regret nothing.
Some of my old demons still haunt me. To this day, I can't hear a text notification, even in public, even sitting next to my own mother when she gets a text from my father (to whom she has been happily married to for 37 years) without getting a sick feeling in my stomach. I'm like one of Pavlov's dogs. I hear a notification, and I feel bile rising up in my throat. It could be a reminder about dry-cleaning; it could be a tweet; but I hear a cell phone beep and I am brought right back to that place.
Thankfully, in my second marriage, I have found someone who had also been burned by electronic communication. We bonded over our mutual distaste for privacy within a marriage on our very first date. And now we are helping each other heal. If you have never felt the sting of that tiny little voice telling you something is off, while simultaneously telling you that you are a paranoid, possessive person who will drive your partner away, I envy you. For us, transparency keeps the demons and the memories at bay.