My husband sought casual sex before he died. How do I mourn him now?

Posted Aug. 11, 2012, at 4:39 p.m.
Emily Yoffe
Emily Yoffe

Dear Prudence,

Several years ago, after accepting that I’d be alone forever, I met a wonderful man. He was kind, compassionate, intelligent, hilarious, and widely respected. We were true soul mates. Shortly after we married he was diagnosed with a terminal illness.

He fought bravely for several years while I gladly worked full time, cared for him, and basically took care of everything so that he could focus on his health and the things he enjoyed. He recently lost his battle. While searching for information on some loose ends, I stumbled across email responses he had sent to singles and couples seeking casual sexual encounters. The three instances I found were a few months after we’d met and were falling in love, shortly after we’d declared our love, and earlier this year, after we’d been “happily married” for some time. I am destroyed. I’m now grieving for the relationship I thought we had and the man I thought he was.

I gave everything I had to him, and now I want to flush his ashes down the toilet. I am very close to his family, and my family loved him. We still have to plan his memorial. I can’t stand the thought of planning, attending, or acting sad at his memorial. I don’t want to keep his last name. I don’t want to see his family. I don’t want to scatter his ashes in places he loved.

I don’t want to tell our families what he did and destroy their vision of him. But I don’t think it’s fair that I bear the brunt of this pain alone and live behind the facade of grieving widow.

—Betrayed Widow

Dear Betrayed,

The box in the attic. The papers in the back of the drawer. The unlabeled videotape. The odd email string. This is the detritus that’s sometimes left behind that can upend how the living remember the dead. Certainly it’s infuriating that your husband, probably out of oversight and certainly not out of malice, didn’t scrub his email so that you couldn’t stumble on this loose end. But here you are, unable to confront him, unable to leave him, and having to wonder if everything was a lie.

I don’t think it was. Let’s take what you’ve found. It’s three emails spaced over several years. From your description, it’s not clear whether these encounters actually took place. Yes, you have evidence of interaction, but it doesn’t appear you have confirmation of consummation. But let’s assume the worse case.

Sure, it’s possible you’re only seeing a sample of his extracurriculars, but you might be seeing the extent of it. If so, then your husband had three casual sexual encounters after he knew you. Two took place early in your courtship, and one was as he was facing death. Maybe before he met you these kinds of activities were his predilection, but he reined that in because of his love for you.

The final episode (if it even took place) could have been a last bit of sexual bravado for a dying man. I understand you feel bitter and betrayed, and he did hide an unappealing aspect of himself. But none of that cancels out what you had or makes it a lie. You’re in shock and you should not handle this alone, nor do I think you should spill this to those who are also mourning. Please consider seeing a therapist who specializes in grief.

Talking this through in confidence with a neutral person will allow you to work out this complicated loss. That should allow you to plan the memorial, and know that when you hear the many people there attesting that you were the love of his life, feel secure that they are telling the truth.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,

I’m a tremendously lucky woman engaged to a guy who fits basically every requirement that I could possibly want. He’s brilliant, emotionally open, hilarious, gainfully employed and supportive of me.

He has one fault that is making me crazy: He peppers his sentences with “like” more often than a 14-year-old girl. It’s gotten to the point that I have to tune out when he’s explaining or describing something because I find it so irritating. I’ve brought it up to him, but he says that’s the way he gets his thoughts out.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed. My mother frequently calls him out for this habit, which embarrasses him deeply. His friends and colleagues have eye-rolled about it to me. Is there any way to break him of this before we get to “Uh, like, I do” at the altar?

— Snarky Speech Police

Dear Snarky,

Let’s say you never do break him of this habit. I’m trying to imagine how your marriage is going to work if for your sanity you must tune him out whenever he is engaged in “explaining or describing something.” Nearly every time he opens his mouth you’ll be saying to yourself, “Like, like, like, like, can’t hear you!” By your own description you are about to marry a paragon.

Surely you’re aware of some of your own flaws, ones that he simply accepts. I could argue that you should just love your Valley Boy. And if he had a condition like Tourette’s Syndrome, it would be cruel not to embrace that as just a small part of him.

But someone who habitually spews endless verbal filler would drive me crazy, too. This tic is also likely to have a deleterious effect on his career. Caroline Kennedy’s brief bid for the senate was in part derailed by her endless string of “ums” and “you knows.”

You’ve had unproductive talks with your fiancé about the way he speaks, so it’s crucial that you change the tenor. First, tell your mother she’s being rude to your fiancé and you won’t stand for it. Don’t return his friends’ eye-rolls. If you’ve been annoyed and abrupt with him, apologize.

Then say that you’re concerned this piece of verbal baggage is going to hold him back, and you’d like to help him get rid of it. There are many places on the Web that give practical advice on making one’s speech crisper, so look at some with him.

Most of all, I suggest you both sign up for Toastmasters — tell him you could improve your speaking skills, too. Sure, the video on their website is cheesy, but they’re cheap and effective. Each meeting has someone designated as an “Ah Counter” who notes each instance of verbal fluff. Getting feedback from objective strangers should allow your beloved to lower his defenses and leave the Valley-speak behind.

— Prudie

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Questions may be edited.

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