“Sometimes the truth isn’t the best policy.” This is the last text I received from the man I had divorced just days earlier, a few minutes before taking off on a 16-hour flight to Southeast Asia. Panic set in as the flight attendant told me to put my phone in airplane mode.
Eight months earlier, when my husband and I had decided to split, I thought it was amicable. He was an introvert, while I was always more outgoing, and over the past few years we’d become more like friends than partners. Though, in hindsight, our relationship had been eroding ever since I left the East Coast nearly a decade ago to move with him out West. I wasn’t ever really happy there, showing only a fraction of my usually bubbly, happy-go-lucky personality for the better part of a decade. Eventually I realized I didn’t feel confident anymore—I felt unattractive and uninspired. I knew I deserved better, and I felt OK about the mutual end of the relationship. We would have a “conscious uncoupling” or whatever the hell you want to call it.
A few months after we separated, I couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling in my gut that there was more to the story. A little digging, and I found a trail of hotel receipts that hinted at an affair. My ex admitted it, assuring me it had lasted only a few months and had long been over. I wasn’t happy, but I also wasn’t wrecked. During our marriage I had been unfaithful once; I knew intimately that no one is perfect. More important, I knew that affair or no affair, our relationship was already over. I was ready to forgive and move on.
By most accounts, I was handling our divorce well: I was feeling strong, going to therapy, and surrounding myself with a solid new group of friends for support. I’d even booked myself a two-week solo trip to Southeast Asia, an empowering adventure to process the finalization of our split and focus on finding myself.
I had no idea when I booked my self-care getaway the horrible truth I was in for.
As I prepared to board my flight, carry-on in one hand, phone in the other, my ex-husband admitted via text that his affair wasn’t just a fling—it was an ongoing relationship that had been going on for years. That betrayal, astoundingly, wasn’t the worst of it; our sex life had been nearly nonexistent. Now I finally learned part of the reason: My husband had been having regular BDSM-style sex with another woman who had been posting the evidence of it on social media.
I realized almost immediately that I knew who the woman was. She was one of my followers on Instagram, and when I searched for her, I found she’d created a second Instagram account. It was public but felt like it was made just for me: There she was with my husband, perched half-naked under our sheets, in our bedroom. Smiling as she sipped coffee out of my personal mug collection. Showing off her naked back, spiked with postsex scratches. And there was my husband, lacing her into provocative lingerie.
I sat on the flight in shock—with no Wi-Fi, there was nothing I could do but replay these images over and over in my mind, turning to the mediocre red wine and the sleeping pill my ex had given me in a friendly gesture just before my trip. Until this moment it truly felt that our marriage was ending on a high note; we had regular lunch dates and he still dropped in to check on me and our old house. Sobbing, I pulled out my journal, the one I’d planned to fill with hopeful entries of growth and self-discovery, and started writing to him. I didn’t have the words to describe this kind of hurt, so instead I was vicious and full of questions. Why would you allow her to be in our home, with our things? Why couldn’t you be honest with me? Why did you ever marry me in the first place?
By the time I landed, I discovered my ex had officially blocked my texts, calls, and social media accounts, anticipating the onslaught of messages I surely would have sent him. I was exhausted, weak, sick, hungry, and heartbroken, but worst of all, I felt totally alone. I was cut off from the world and cell service, isolated in a strange place with nothing but time to process. At the time I thought it was the most miserable scenario imaginable, with no way to make him feel the pain I was feeling.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any more disturbing, a friend reached out with an ominous link. Using spotty Wi-Fi at a local cafe, I clicked to find a kinky boudoir photo shoot. There was my then husband and his girlfriend in an elaborate spread on a photographer’s Instagram page. During our marriage he almost never let me post photos of us on social media, but here he was in bed with another woman on someone else’s public account. In some of the photos, he was wearing the shirt he’d worn on our wedding day.
An email from my ex followed. He said he’d never meant to hurt me. I thought long and hard about these words. I thought about all the moments during our marriage when I thought something felt off. I thought about how I’d stumbled upon explicit photos of him with other women when we first started dating and how he’d villainized me for snooping. I thought about all the moments I’d questioned him and he’d told me I was being crazy.
I dipped out of range of Wi-Fi before I could respond. That, as it turned out, was a good thing. I wanted to scream and rage. If we’d been in the same room, I would have slapped him. But I was a world away. Each day I sweated out my pain in the thick heat and humidity, and felt a little bit better. I prayed with Buddhist monks. I cried when I needed to cry. I ate to nourish my body. I started to believe that I could learn to let go.
My trip to Southeast Asia was supposed to be a celebration of a new chapter. In a very different way, it was. My self-imposed isolation taught me I don’t hate my ex-husband—mostly I feel confused about his choices and why I was buried under the shadow of his double life of kinky sex with another woman. I always viewed his behavior as that of a quiet introvert, but I think he was just using me to cover up the life he wanted to live.
My getaway also gave me the pause I needed to learn survival skills that would save me over the next few weeks when I returned to our former home, a home I now knew his girlfriend had pretended was hers. A few weeks after returning from my trip, I moved across the country with just three boxes filled with cookbooks, a few mementos, and my wedding dress—for some reason, I still can’t part with it. It took every last breath I had to go through our things, but it’s one event in my life that has truly made me wiser and more aware of my surroundings and the people I choose to keep in my life.
Aside from a few emails, I haven’t had any contact with my ex. For a long time, I thought I’d never get closure, but being halfway across the world on my own—without Wi-Fi to google for answers or girlfriends to commiserate with—taught me that I have the strength to move forward and that I could find what I needed on my own.
I got the opportunity to start fresh, to heal mindfully and slowly, to process the damage that had been done, to refrain from attacking him. I believe he thinks that I want revenge, but I honestly don’t. I want a life of happiness—out of the shadow of a double life.