Woman Confronts Husband's Mistresses: Modern Closure, Or Old-School Drama?

After her husband died, Julie Metz discovered he'd had affairs with five different women. So she tracked them all down.

Her husband, Gordon Lee Churchwell 3rd, was a handsome bon vivant who first asked her out in front of his girlfriend. In his memoir of his experience of her pregnancy, he wrote, "While the party line is that Julie remains ‘my beautiful partner to whom I am devoted,' to Mr. Weenie, she is beginning to look like Danny DeVito in ‘Batman Returns'. ..."

After he died, friends found emails to other women, including one in which he discussed "the mediocre sex he'd had with his wife." Evidence piled up - including that which pointed to a close family friend. Says the Times,

In an act of extraordinary cheating chutzpah (this friend) arranged for Ms. Metz and her husband to seek marriage counseling with her very own therapist. The women's 6-year-old daughters were also best friends. The morning Ms. Metz learned of the affair, her daughter was staying over at Cathy's house.

As a young woman, Ms. Metz had a brief affair with a married man. "When the man's wife, whom she knew slightly, learned of the affair, she sent Ms. Metz a Valentine's Day card with dead cockroaches. Ms. Metz kept it for many years," says the Times. Clearly, this made an impression, vis a vis the code of conduct towards Other Women. What she learned from the experience, she says, is that "you will pay for it if you harm someone else." And that, apparently, when you're scorned, anything goes? In her case, Metz called and confronted all the women. "What did you think you were doing, getting involved with a married man with a kid? You weren't really thinking about me, were you? How would you feel if some woman did this to you?"

Now, normally, we wonder, what about the husband? He's the one who had five known affairs, did so with your best friend, and seems to have been an asshole to boot? Of course, because he's dead, she "couldn't ask him." But what's interesting is, even when the husband is very much on the scene, this is how the thinking often goes: the Other Woman gets blamed. It becomes about an act of betrayal of female solidarity, a far worse crime than a man's peccadilloes. Ms. Metz's book, Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, has become a bestseller. I wonder if part of what appeals to people is the removal of the ambiguity: here's a case where it's appropriate to totally blame the other woman - because there's no alternative! And as a result, it places the blame squarely on their shoulders. Maybe in a world of chastened political wives standing dutifully on the podium, their faces masks of pain, readers get a vicarious thrill out of seeing a wife assert herself. But is there a more anachronistic kind of appeal for people, too?

None of this is to say that Metz's isn't a genuinely compelling narrative - or that the women shouldn't have been confronted. Nor is it purely an eye-for-an-eye story: Metz says she accepted all the women's apologies, is friends with one, has moved on and is happy in a new life, in a new town, free of bitterness and incidentally living with a new partner. But clearly people are drawn to the lurid. Take some of the reporter's very gendered language: Metz is "a tranquil and composed slip of a thing." When she confronts the women, she "tore their little hearts out." The "act of extraordinary cheating chutzpah" is recounted with incredulous relish. Plenty of people may gravitate to this as a story of strength, betrayal, and closure. But if this is any indication, no one can resist an old-fashioned girl-on-girl throwdown.

Update: Comments turned off. No one needs this drama.

One Dead Husband And 5 Other Women [NY Times]