Snow White Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Laughter, pleasure, malice, and the pursuit of adult fun

Who She Is: The Betrayed Wife

When do you realize you've suddenly become his first wife?

Women who can’t attract men like him disapprove of men like him. You married him--got him, won him, caught him, however you want to describe it--you’re his wife.

His only wife. That means everything. You never want him to have another one.

When you’re next to him in bed you want to make sure he’s not dreaming of someone else. Sometimes if he sighs or moans you want to nudge him with your elbow or kick him, ever so lightly, in the shin. You don’t do that, of course, but you look at him so intensely that, even in his sleep, he turns away. This happens even after thirteen years of marriage and three children, all of whom look like him.

Sometimes you worry. You stay awake looking out the window and into your own reflection most of the night. You’re worried that, yes, you’re his wife, but that other women will be, might be, already are, his lovers. But surely that wouldn’t change anything? How can it matter? After all these years, after all you’ve shared, after everything you've been through, how can it matter?

You’ll be buried next to each other, you’re his only wife, and you have children and will one day have grandchildren, how can anything else matter?

You don’t even want to let him know how much he means to you. You kid him, tease him, push him away, ask him who else would ever put up with him? But you know that there is a waiting list. Other women would indeed put up with him, even now.

He is the cool moon blocking the heat and light of normal affections. He’s the penumbra, the licking edge of fire around the black circle of blocking surface in the eclipse. He’s the one who usually gets away. You know this even, or especially, when you’ve got him, even if you’ve had him for thirteen or even thirty years. Especially.

You know him, like song lyrics, by heart. He’s the man the in the songs of Billie Holliday, Edith Piaf, and Patsy Cline. He’s the lover of Emma Bovary, Anna Karenina, Nurse Hathaway, and every woman in endless movies where bombed-out bombshells give it up for him in all his incarnations.

No wonder your friends disapproved thirteen years ago. They all disapproved, even as  they circled him, sniffing around his scent the way wild dogs circle a fierce but trapped animal. Your mother, however, liked him. So did your father, although your father seemed a little suspicious at your good fortune. Your mother drank a little too much at the wedding and told you that you’d have to keep a tight hold on a man like that to keep him home at night. This did not reassure you, but it made you feel good nevertheless.

Here, finally, was praise from your mother. You won first place. In your marriage, the most important rite of all, you did better than your mother. Certainly you will have a happier marriage, a more devoted husband, than she managed to have. Right?

Right?

He saw you and smiled and that was it. You rolled up your sleeves and made a life together. You’ve done a good job.

So why isn’t it easier? Why all these doubts?

The phone rings and when you answer, the person on the other end hangs up. He has a locked drawer in his desk. He has a code to his email that you don’t know. He has a bank account without your name on it. He spends part of each day away, even on the weekends when you’ve told him over and over he needs to be there for the kids. There are parts of his life you know very little about. He stays up later than you, or goes to bed much earlier. One way or another, you don’t fall asleep holding hands and talking over the future the way you once did.

He’s too tired now, and so are you, and there is mostly silence.

You hate to hear yourself nagging or whining or complaining, but you can’t help it. You get the feeling that he’d like to walk out on you. To tell the truth, there are days you’d walk out on yourself. You feel like a bully, like a punitive grade-school teacher, like his mother, like a wife from an old situation comedy or even an old-time movie drama. You feel like a wife.

Like a first wife.

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Gina Barreca, Ph.D., is Professor of English at UConn, and author of It's Not That I'm Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World.

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