My husband claims the thing that most “offends” him about my lover (“offends” is his word, versus something more predictable, like “upsets”) is that Adam’s favorite movie is Love Actually.
How could I fall in love with someone so stupid, so generic, so crass? my husband rants (“rants” is my word, because it’s accurate).
Which of the stupid subplots is my lover’s favorite? he demands.
There is, obviously, no right answer to this question; any answer will make my husband scoff, including the least ridiculous answers, which I briefly consider providing (the Emma Thompson/Alan Rickman infidelity subplot, or the sad storyline with Laura Linney, her love life hamstrung by her brother’s mental health issues). There is no way to ease the sting of betraying him, no way to stop his retaliatory attacks about what a moron my lover is, how ridiculous/insane/inexplicable it is that I would have sex with this idiot when I have my husband.
I understand the impetus, just as I understand the impetus to know exactly when and where and how Adam and I had sex—my husband ordered me to enumerate each encounter, which I did as clinically and briefly as possible. (#3: hotel room on South Van Ness, missionary position; it’s like a fucked-up game of Clue). I sympathize. Believe me, it’s the only thing that keeps me here: the authentic pain I see behind his rage-and-control Wizard of Oz velvet curtain.
I understand it, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling thunderstruck: after reading hundreds of our emails, is Love Actually really what my husband chooses to fixate upon? What about the sexual play-by-plays, as if typing everything down could preserve our afternoons in amber? What about the relevant confessions? Is the indignity of Colin Firth falling in love with the Portuguese cleaning lady who speaks no English really more significant, more worth fixating upon, than me emailing “I love you”?
And if so, why am I married to my husband?
He intellectualizes everything, my clever husband. There’s a strategy to fixating upon Love Actually that has to do with shocking my system, applying cold water: my husband wants me to see Adam as mockable, embarrassing. It’s a junior high tactic, how my friends Samantha and Lindsay shamed me out of my (real, authentic) crush on Ben O’Connor in seventh grade (“But he’s such a dork!”), and it’s effective now just as it was thirty years ago. I feel ashamed, just as my husband intends.
But also, perhaps it’s not (or not merely) deflection. That is, perhaps my husband isn’t merely attempting to humiliate me. Perhaps the larger issue is an existential crisis: my husband is trying to understand what it means that I am in love with someone whose taste he disparages as “bad.” If Adam loves me, does that mean that I am somehow akin to the subplot where Colin Firth falls in love with his Portuguese cleaning lady? Am I, that is, a human incarnation of a dumb subplot of Love Actually?
And if so, what does that then say about my husband, married to me for twelve years? What Venn diagram indicates the overlap between his cultured self and my idiotic lover?
I understand how these questions might grip and clutch, especially someone who is used to working out the dilemmas in his life as thought problems, versus, say, raking up the piles of dried leaves in our yard. I understand why my husband has landed on the conundrum of Love Actually, as the Chinese finger trap that, if extricated from, will allow him to understand, solve, and finally forgive me. I get the lure.
But what it occludes: now I will go to my friend Jen’s house (so my husband won’t see the rental on our Amazon account) and we will rent Love Actually, during which Jen will first tease me for crying and then say, “Sarah, are you okay?” and I will nod, though I am obviously not okay. I will be thinking of my corny, sincere, and passionate lover, fantasizing moving in with Adam. I will imagine how Adam and I might watch this movie every Christmas, how I will tease him about how silly it is, how I will be the intellectual in my relationship, for once. I will long to actualize these fantasies. In essence, I will realize that what I emailed Adam, and what my husband has inexplicably not fixated upon, is still true: that I love Adam, actually.
© Kim Magowan
[This piece was selected by Sommer Schafer. Read Kim’s interview]