by Leslie Morgan Steiner
Here’s a timeless subject that drives most women nuts: Why do men leave women they once adored?
Statistics suggest at least one in three married men cheat. That’s a lot. Naturally we’d all like to avoid the philanderers and stick with the two-in-three good guys. Sadly, single men don’t walk around wearing buttons declaring “I Cheat” or “Faithful Guy.” It’s bewildering and gut-wrenching to place bets on your own potential partner.
Much better to read about others’ mistakes.
Isabel Gillies’ memoir, Happens Every Day , catalogues a sudden, excruciating abandonment by a husband who clearly once considered his wife his soul mate. The fact that Gillies is a beautiful, smart, skinny blonde actress adds to the intrigue. The detail that she was left behind with two young children compounds the heartache. Add in her spouse’s decision to seduce and marry Isabel’s close friend, and you’ve got a best-seller filled with shock, betrayal and schadenfreude. I gasped after every line: “Thank god that’s not me!”
Laura Munson’s recent New York Times Modern Love column  describes a different abandonment – and resolution. Laura, who lives with her husband and young children on a 20 acre ranch in Montana, describes their happy partnership as “still friends and lovers after spending more than half of your lives together.” The idyll dissolves when her husband announces one day that he’s leaving her and their kids. “I don’t love you anymore. I’m not sure I ever did. I’m moving out.”
Ouch! Devouring Munson’s story, I kept thinking: Could that happen to me?
Surprisingly – and fortunately – Laura Munson is no pushover. “I am handy with a chain saw,” she explains. Like a good mother watching a toddler’s tantrum, she steps back from her spouse’s crisis, recognizing that his turmoil reflect his own growing pains, not her failings.
“I don’t buy it,” she declares dispassionately, again and again. She doesn’t sob or beg; she doesn’t seek therapy or revenge. She sets guidelines. Go ahead, she tells her husband, play out this crisis, find yourself. Just don’t openly hurt me or the children. She holds the family together, takes them for picnics and pony rides all summer, and gives him his space while still loving him from afar.
He’s back by Thanksgiving.
Both Gillies’ and Munson’s tales of infidelity have proven immensely popular among women – the appeal is universal despite the dramatically different endings. Happens Every Day was a New York Times best-seller. Munson’s Modern Love piece led Sunday’s most-emailed list for the site; Oprah and the morning talk shows are surely after her for more advice about how to keep your man.
With good reason: women are utterly fascinated by male adultery. Infidelity sells, as talk show hosts and publishing houses know well. Whether we’re victims who crave comfort, or we desperately want to avoid loving a cheater, no woman easily shrugs off the subject.
What I learned from Isabel Gillies is that adult women need to keep our eyes open -- WIDE. Years before wooing Gillies, her husband began an affair and left his first wife – who was expecting their first child. Ambulance-level alarm bells should have been clanging over this clear indication of narcissism. But Gillies, ambushed by love, thought infidelity wouldn’t strike twice. Big mistake. I know what it is to love a troubled man – my first husband physically abused me. You’ve gotta go into love with a steely assessment of your beloved’s character, especially if marriage and kids are in your dreams.
What I HOPE I’ve learned from Laura Munson’s tale is how to act like an adult, not only before you fall hopelessly in love, but also once you are married and a mother. If a boyfriend betrayed me (and they have) I would rage and walk away, probably weak-kneed and sobbing hysterically. But if the father of my children confessed he’d never loved me and was leaving, whether it was for another woman or another life, I sure hope I’d have the resolve to remain composed, mature and dispassionate, as Munson did.
I’m keeping Laura’s wisdom, and Isabel’s heartache, in my head and heart.
Thank goodness they both had the courage to share their private love stories with the world.
For after all, despite all the best-sellers and talk shows exploring why men cheat, it is not infidelity women (or men, for that matter) seek. We don’t want merely to avoid betrayal. We want its polar opposite: true, lasting, loyal love.