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When the Internet Is ‘The Other Woman’

After the WiFi goes down, a wife might as well disappear


At this point in my advancing years, I don’t expect wild, creative or frequent sex. I do, however, count on the morning kiss. By that, I mean the unarousing, but sweet, pressing of lips that my husband and I exchange to greet the day and each other.

On this Saturday morning, however, Bob has slipped out of bed before me. When I encounter him in the living room, he doesn’t offer his lips. Indeed, he doesn’t even bother to look up from his cell phone to acknowledge my presence.

Uh-oh. Did I do something wrong yesterday? Say something that offended? Leave some matter unattended that has festered over night?

I know from experience that when Bob is having a romp with his mistress, humor, reason and civility are not part of his playbook.

The internet is down,” he mutters. “There’s no WiFi.”

I hold my tongue, knowing better than to risk disrupting his train of thought. My husband is a faithful man, but ours is not a monogamous relationship. There’s Bob and me. Then, there’s Bob and her: the internet. This is an infidelity that I find tolerable most of the time. But when the internet goes down on Bob, so to speak, it’s so painfully clear which relationship stirs greater excitement that I might as well not exist.

What Does She Have That I Don’t Have?

At times like this, my role as wife shrinks to such a diminished and subservient role that I feel like an extra on the set of The Handmaid’s Tale. My job is to sit quietly and be at the ready to perform whatever tasks might help Bob mend his relationship with his internet mistress.

Right now, he’s agitatedly pressing his way through a series of phone prompts to find his way to a human being. When he finally gets one, his tone grows increasingly loud and angry. The conversation ends with an expletive I cannot share here.

Sure, I trigger Bob’s anger and agitation at times, too. But he’s a mild-mannered man, who is usually courteous and considerate, even when we are in disagreement. Now, as that cyber hussy arouses Bob’s passion to a height rarely seen, I can’t help but wonder: What does she have that I don’t have?

“Where’s the Spectrum (cable service) book?” Bob barks.

Dutifully and, I hope, unobtrusively, I open a variety of drawers and closets until I lay my hands on the manual in question. Bob has never been one to rip off my clothes, but the way he’s tearing through that book bespeaks an ardor that threatens to leave the pages in tatters.

“4$*!097Q,” he barks. (I can’t share that either.) Flailing a finger in the direction of the router, he commands, “Unplug that thing.”

Briefly, I fantasize a variety of responses. Perhaps take the parental route and suggest that he use his inside voice. Play it coy and say, “You talking to me, big fella?” Tell him sternly that I don’t appreciate being talked to in that tone.

I do none of the above. I do as I am told. I know from experience that when Bob is having a romp with his mistress, humor, reason and civility are not part of his playbook.

A Sense of Calm Is Restored

After Bob pushes a bunch of buttons on the remote and emits a few more unprintable phrases, he returns to his cell phone and starts jabbing at the numbers. I don’t need to hear the actual words on the other end of the line to discern that he’s hit another of those annoying voice recordings that offers a list of options, each of which requires that he select a number.

Foolish voice recording. Doesn’t it know this is no way to deal with a man who feels thwarted by his mistress? The way he’s stabbing those keys, that phone might break.

In hope of restoring a measure of sanity, I flip through the Spectrum materials, trying not to make any rustling sounds that might annoy.

“Bob?” I say meekly. “Have you tried this 800 number?”

As I offer the ten digits, slowly and carefully, he punches them in, all the while looking at me like I’m a complete idiot. Then — behold! — he’s talking to a human being. I do not expect thanks for this. (Good thing, because I certainly don’t get any.)

The frantic jabbing subsides. He slowly compresses one key. “Right,” he says. Bob grows calmer as he presses another. “Right … right …”

The mood is lifting. We can both sense it: his internet mistress is near.

‘They Rebooted Us’

When a colored picture fills the flat TV screen, Bob bursts into an ebullient smile. I try not to be jealous. But really, when was the last time I did something that made his face light up like that?

Now, he’s being all chatty and friendly with the person on the other end of the phone line. Who is that person, I wonder suspiciously. The brothel madam?

“Okay,” he says, hitting the ‘Off’ button on his phone. “We’re set. They rebooted us.”

Me, I’m ready to reboot him right out the door. All that drama, for this? A talking head I don’t even want to listen to on what’s supposed to be a relaxing weekend morning? Access to a bunch of emails that probably don’t require my attention until Monday?

Bob holds out the Spectrum manual. “Could you put this back wherever you had it so we know where to find it next time?”

Is that acknowledgment of my assistance in his moment of crisis? If so, it feels like too little, too late. It also makes me feel like a pimp.

Begrudgingly, I stand and walk across the room to retrieve the manual. When I try to take it from his hand, he holds onto the other end and tugs me closer.

“Hey.” He smiles and plants a morning kiss on my lips. “Good morning.”

I smile, relieved to be greeting the day and each other.

Relieved to no longer be reminded that I am not the one who stirs Bob’s deepest passion. Relieved to have that damn internet hussy out of our lives.

“Good morning,” I say.

Jill Smolowe
By Jill Smolowe
Jill Smolowe is the author of Four Funerals and a Wedding: Resilience in a Time of Grief. To learn more about her book and her grief and divorce coaching, visit www.jillsmolowe.com.

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