Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)
  • Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)
  • Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)
  • Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)
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Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs)

3.1 7
by Wendy Plump, Sara Stemen

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Monogamy is one of the most important vows we make in our marriages. Yet it is a rare spouse who does not face some level of temptation through the allure of other people. Sometimes the issues are resolved before anyone is hurt. But sometimes, as with Wendy Plump's marriage, the fallout is confronted head-on-when not one but both spouses cheat.

In early 2005,

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Monogamy is one of the most important vows we make in our marriages. Yet it is a rare spouse who does not face some level of temptation through the allure of other people. Sometimes the issues are resolved before anyone is hurt. But sometimes, as with Wendy Plump's marriage, the fallout is confronted head-on-when not one but both spouses cheat.

In early 2005, Wendy Plump found out about her husband's second family. They lived just a mile from the home she shared with her sons in the farmlands of Pennsylvania. But the discovery followed betrayals of her own, earlier in the marriage. Most discussions of infidelity focus on one side and therefore provide a skewed perspective. In this unique, 360-degree look, Plump delivers a searing, confessional story about the challenges of marriage that reads like a conversation between old friends.

From the view of both betrayer and betrayed, Plump looks at the ordeal of finding out, the recovery, the ebb and flow of passion, the daily play of personality that can lead to fulfillment or disillusionment, family and friends and therapists, illicit attraction, the lovers, the lies, the alibis, even the undeniable pleasures affairs gave her as a younger woman.

As she explores the wreckage of her own marriage, Plump offers a beautifully told narrative of hope, recovery, and wonder for the pull of couplehood that reawakens a belief in the value of fidelity and commitment.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A painfully told autopsy of her chronic unfaithfulness throughout her 18-year marriage becomes in the hands of freelance journalist Plump an excruciating exercise in self-realization. The discovery in 2005 that her husband, Bill, a corporate financial manager, had a mistress and small child living one mile from their home in Brandywine, Pa., moved Plump's already shaky marriage "into a new circle of deceit." Married in 1987, Plump had, early on and before the birth of her two sons, fallen into a pattern of infidelity with three other men, even revealing at one point her transgression to her husband. The marriage remained intact even after subsequent affairs by Bill ("He had an affinity for strippers"), culminating in Bill's 10-year relationship with Susan and out-of-wedlock child whom he managed to keep secret for a long time. Plump gradually reveals the degree of self-deception the two married people practiced over many years, as mismatched needs and gnawing mistrust fed their mutual appetite for risk, sex, and guilt. "What I wanted most, what drove me in every affair I had," she writes, "was the drug and energy of passion, of new intimacy." Plump manages in this frank memoir to fully capture her life—and woman, wife, and mother—who leaves nothing unexamined and has nothing left to lose. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Journalist Plump delivers a blow-by-blow report of the slow-motion destruction of her marriage after several bouts of infidelity on her part and a colossal example of disloyalty on her husband’s (think second family). The corrosive effects of these behaviors on a marriage and a family are examined from all angles in this emotional record of what happens when wedding vows are used as guidelines rather than guarantees. VERDICT Plump spares and excuses no one in this catalog of petty slights and brief lusts throughout the course of a long marriage. Interested readers may feel as if they are stepping into the aftermath of a tornado.

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A woman's account of discovering her husband of 18 years had a second family and her confessions of her own affairs. Freelance reporter Plump opens her book with an epigraph by W.H. Auden: "Hunger allows no choice." She then goes on to describe the terrible choices she and her husband, Bill, made for the duration of their union. In 2005, a close friend of Plump's disclosed to her that Bill had another house nearby, and he often stayed there with a girlfriend Plump didn't know existed. The most gutting news was that Bill and his mistress, Susan, shared an 8-month-old baby. When confronted, Bill offered confirmation but no explanation. Partly for the sake of their two sons, the author tried to save her marriage despite Bill's repeated lies about having ended his affair. As Bill, who traveled frequently for business, evaded his wife, Plump pieced together the timeline of his infidelity (it started 10 years earlier) and communicated with Susan. She writes candidly about her own indiscretions, recounting details about each of her three affairs. She began cheating on Bill during their first year of marriage. "Romanticizing adultery seems an unfair thing to do," she writes, "but the truth is that it can be transformational on every level." She finally separated from Bill after his duplicity became unbearable. In the final third of the book, the author examines the differences between having an affair and being the victim of adultery. Readers may vacillate between finding Plump's behavior indefensible and feeling sympathetic toward her. Voyeuristic and base but surprisingly engaging.

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Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
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5.88(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.95(d)

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Copyright © 2013 Wendy Plump
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-60819-823-8




From a friend. From the cell phone. From a neighbor. From e-mails left on the computer. From hotel receipts. From a homemade sex video tragically left out in the open. From the bank account. From the dog sitter. From the nanny. Especially if it is the nanny. From the spouse. From the lover. From an offhand comment on the playground. From the monthly expenses that don't jibe with anything you did or received or gave. From the cashier at the lumberyard. From some weird supermarket encounter. From your mother, whose antennae have been tuned to this frequency much longer than you realize. From the accumulation of doubt. From walking in on them in the office. From walking in on them in the bedroom. From walking in on them.

So many ways to find out. So many ways.

Four months before I found out my husband was having an affair, a school in the North Caucasus in Russia was stormed by Chechnyan separatists, and over three days eleven hundred hostages were taken, including eight hundred schoolchildren. It ended badly—even, I imagine, for those who got away with their lives.

The Beslan hostage crisis still pierces my awareness many years later because of the small, stubborn role it played in the unveiling of my husband's last affair. The events were unrelated and on two different sides of the world, but they are conjoined in my memory of them. Details fall into the crevices between life-altering knowledge and your reaction to it. These details take on their own significance by filling up the space between, adding buffer and firewall and salt indeed to the whole mess of finding out.

A friend came over one morning in early January 2005 because she thought it was time to tell me about Bill. My two sons were at elementary school. It had been snowing hard for two days, almost canceling school and a party the previous weekend during which our friends hotly debated the merits of marriage. I recall announcing to the dinner table with stupid conviction, "Even if I thought it was the best idea, I would never get a divorce." I have always been a fool in the court of conspicuous declaration. I remember once telling someone in eighth grade that I would never smoke pot, never have sex before marriage, never sneak out of my bedroom window in pursuit of a guy. I was a holy horror of sanctimony. Within five years I had done all of those things.

I wish I had had my wits about me more back then, and now. Things happened that I was oblivious to even as they were happening to me or because of me, including the folly of my own behavior. I knew nothing solid about myself as a young woman, right up to and possibly including yesterday.

When my friend came through the front door that morning in January—letting herself in without knocking because that is how we operate—I came out of my bedroom and looked down at her from the top of the staircase. She was agitated, out of sorts, as if she were holding herself upright against a heavy blast of wind. This was not hindsight. It was an instant telegraphing of something critical, something disturbing. Are you okay? was my first question. And her reply, pressed into my very veins: It's not me. It's you.

Here's where the Chechnyans came into it. I thought she was there to tell me that my sons' elementary school had been stormed by insurgents. This was partly ridiculous and partly terror, the wild but typical response of an overanxious parent. You are always in reconnaissance mode once your babies are on the ground. My oldest son was born one month after Timothy McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City. That horror and its attendant crowd of loss jump-started my mother-fear. The worst of the world's events are seared into my psyche more so than before I was a parent because tragedy echoes through my concern for my sons. That January morning, it took my friend several minutes to calm me down by repeating over and over, It's not the boys. It's not the boys. It's not the boys.

Until finally, and no doubt partly out of exasperation, she blurted out: It's Bill. He's having an affair.

This news fell into place with an almost audible click. Like a bullet revolving in its cylinder and lining up with the chamber. The violent image fits because it was a kind of violence that I lived with later on. But right then, right in that moment, what I most remember thinking is, This makes sense. It wasn't shock. It was relief that I felt. There were no Chechnyans at my sons' elementary school, where seconds before I had visualized them storming art class. That was not the case. What else was there to worry about?

There had been so many holes in our marriage over the preceding years. Late night movies that Bill attended apparently on his own. Claims that he had been driving around smoking a cigar—"Just thinking"—until late into the night. Evenings when I would find him alone outside, staring into the fields behind our house. I felt such a deep disconnect from him, a hum of disturbance not far below the surface of domestic routine. When I heard the news of his affair, the disconnect was blown away. The news explained a lot. Everything, really.

People are incredulous when I say that I did not suspect anything before this discovery. They think I must have been aware that Bill was having an affair, as if suspicion were linked to some primal instinct we all have. I have no idea what imperative suspicion would serve Neanderthals such that it would repeat upward through the species to find its expression in us. Would it make you more accomplished in sacking cavepeople? It seems unlikely that Java Man had the neural complexity to doubt. Doubt is a scourge of incipient sophistication. Life would be pleasanter without it.

In any case, this was not even remotely true. Despite a history of affairs on both our sides by that late point—my own affairs were earlier in the marriage, and Bill's affairs were later—it hadn't occurred to me that Bill was fooling around. One time I looked for his movie ticket stubs and duly found them. Once I wondered why he never let me borrow his cell phone. Once I asked him where he had been until two a.m. the night before. I always got answers that did not exactly satisfy, but that worked.

They worked because the explanations you most want to hear are also the easiest to deliver. They require so little evidence. One sentence will suffice, something short and offered up by your spouse with a surfeit of confidence. After which you can go on with the laundry or the homework or the purchase of cleaning products. There is a lot to do in a family.

The acceptance of a lame alibi is part of the larger web of complicity I share with my husband. I am aware of not having suspected. But I am also aware that I would not have wanted to suspect. At its worst, suspicion will eat you alive. At its least, it is a bore. It interferes with life itself. Each time I felt the edge of suspicion crowding me, I would ask, and he would answer. And I would exhale and take the answer in hand and go about my day. I did not suspect any more than that because that would have been inconvenient to all the things I wanted to do. Continuing my marriage being one of them.

So, again. When my friend said Bill was having an affair, everything made immediate sense. I did not doubt it. I knew I would feel like hell later on. But right at that moment, clarity, even of something terrible, was an odd but certain kind of rest.

The news did in fact go downhill from there.

At what point in my life did the concept of Finding Out take a continual turn for the worse? It used to be that Finding Out was a kind of gift. It's how you grew up, learned, started to pick your way along the more ragged edges of your experiences. When I was younger, I found out all manner of useful and happy things. I found out that my parents loved me. That my grandfather was a masterful storyteller. That dogs spun around three times before lying down.

I found out that the little box my parents brought home from New York City when I was ten held a kitten. That horses could in fact drink from a hose. That I could boss my little sister around, but just until she grew taller than me. That you could in fact sit in a tree during a thunderstorm and not get struck by lightning.

I found out there was fun to be had with the opposite sex in basements and in laundry rooms. That sex was strange and astonishingly good. That men actually do want to make you happy. I found out that Bill wanted to marry me. That honeymoons were precious. And that no matter how incompetent I felt as a mother, my infant sons preferred me to all others.

Somewhere along the way, though, Finding Out became a massive drag. Maybe this is what it is to be an adult, moving along the arc of your life's luck and misfortune and accumulating its downers. Now we Find Out about cancer, about infidelity, about a child's sickness, about a school shooting, about a neighbor diagnosed with leukemia, about an insurrection that leads to a war that leads to young soldiers dying. These were present when we were younger, but not so searingly. They were not about us. They happened in Scotland or Da Nang or Wisconsin. But as we age, the odds increase that we are standing on ground zero.

I imagine Bill would say the same thing, for he experienced shock and betrayal at my hands, too. How did he Find Out about me for the first time? I told him.

I had three affairs before I had children, early in my marriage—with Tommy, who came into my life through a girlfriend; then with Steven, whom I met on a marina dock in South Carolina; then with Terry, a local hunter who taught me how to practice archery. Each affair knocked into the next, like dominoes, and for a little while took down everything and everyone in the vicinity. Bill was anguished over the discoveries of them. And since they came one on the heels of another, I'm not sure how he slogged through it. He did not ever wish to discuss anything with me in great detail. He recovered without the trickle of dialogue. But he recovered. He stayed in the marriage, is my point.

In time, however, Bill would trump that history. He betrayed me with several women. But while those earlier discoveries were hard to bear, they weren't devastating to our marriage. Each time I found out about him, I wanted our marriage to survive and continue. I learned after each one to live with the realities of his affairs and then just went on. I would not have ended it under the earlier circumstances.

Finally, though, Bill had one of those affairs that shock the whole pond and change all the life forms in it. So that nothing could thrive there afterward. I know this to be true because we had experienced so many scenarios of adultery already. We were a full-horizon couple. We had a 360-degree view of infidelity. We knew it from every angle.

Now that I look back, I can see how much of my life's energy has gone toward infidelity, from both Bill's side and from my own, almost as if I were on a mission. To give in to it, to get past it, to understand it, to force its influence from our marriage. I am dismayed that this is one of the guiding patterns of my life. In the way that the ancient Silk Road is marked out across the planet from space—though you cannot see it from the ground—adultery has carved its own passage through my life, made most visible these days through perspective and distance. It looks like a blast corridor.

Mine is not a strict cautionary tale. It is one tale. Or one version of a tale. There are more versions, more stories, of infidelity out there than there are married people, since you tell the same story many times and change it according to mood and audience, editing for effect, both magnifying and playing down the details. It also reflects the experiences of just two adults, and one of them more than the other. It is a very specific story. I am not an expert in the subject apart from what happened with us. There are millions of different unions, and they all have their own DNA. This is ours, the story of our marriage and all the hopeful and misguided behaviors we brought to it. So while it reflects just one couple's union, it enters the stream of all marriages, weighting the whole institution with its lessons.

I can lay claim to this general truth, though: Of all the things there are to do on the planet, my husband and I picked one hell of a pastime. If we had it to do over again, I imagine the very same things would happen once more. Had we been able to change ourselves early enough to make a lasting difference, we probably would have done that already.

Bill and I met in college when we were nineteen and were married eight years later. We were barely a year into our marriage and had just moved into our first home in Pennsylvania when I met Tommy. I was ignorant when I married Bill. I assumed the gravity and laws of marriage—not to mention the love I felt for my husband—would be enough to prevent me from desiring anyone else. I was wrong about this.

By that point I had been in love twice: once with Tim, my boyfriend from high school, whose sweet relationship I carried with me into my freshman year at college; and then with Bill, who would become my husband in 1987. In love, I desired no one else. All the attraction, all the compulsion, all the hope for the future, went to one man. These seemed an effective demilitarized zone against temptation, and they are. They keep the enemies of the marriage at bay. But they weaken over the years without any siren going off to alert you to that fact. Their half-life ticks past silently. So I was thrown off balance when I first met Tommy and felt an attraction so compelling I no longer cared that I was married.

Like everything else, infidelity has its own learning curve. If you want, you can become proficient. You can stake out the signs of your vulnerability and indulge or ignore them depending on your moral position. But this was early in my marriage. No one close to me had experienced anything like it yet. There was no trusted ally to go to and ask, "What the hell is this feeling and why do I have it?" There was no playbook for temptation and its sudden, indisputable appearance in my life.

Tommy was the beautiful twin brother of my friend Sarah's fiancé. Sarah's brother-in-law-to-be. We met at a pub in Brandywine, Pennsylvania, amid a crush of people gathered to celebrate the couple. I recall meeting Sarah's fiancé and thinking, Oh my, an Errol Flynn look-alike; Sarah's done well for herself. Then I met his twin brother and thought, Oh my, another Errol Flynn look-alike. And this one I can in fact have. Tommy had a wicked white smile that flashed a message. It said, I want to take you home. It said, Forget your husband and come with me. It said, Of all the people in this town, I want you. I abandoned myself to the scene and to the man. We ended up later that night in some grassy field, drunk on vodka and crazy to get at each other.

Bill was traveling constantly in those days. Russia, China, London, meant weeks of being alone and unmonitored. For both of us. In the days before the ubiquity of cell phone use, not being reachable was a fair excuse. I was at Tommy's apartment often. I was not reachable. I should have been concentrating on our new house, our new jobs, our new dog, Rogue, who kept biting the neighbors. The early days of domesticity should have a wide-eyed sweetness—where should we put the butter dish, how many pillows do you sleep with, why do you have six sticks of deodorant—but all of it was compromised by my affair. The first years of our marriage carried a blight, and I had smuggled it in.

A few months into it, the stress of the affair with Tommy actually started to hurt physically. I felt as though I had dysentery. At home I was anxious and ill at ease. At Tommy's apartment I was passionate but distracted. At work I was bitchy and unfocused. The fear that I would be found out was all-consuming. I wanted to put an end to it.

I don't know that Bill was noticing the same gaps I would notice years later, those absences created around adultery when you are not where you say you are. His endless travel made both of our deceptions easier, but you can't always have an alibi or your life starts sounding like someone's billable hours: "I was at work and then I went out for coffee with a whole bunch of people and then I stopped at the gas station and then I bought dog food and then I stopped to buy you your favorite brand of cookies. Oreos. Double. You believe me, right?" Sound overly earnest and you will draw the wolves of suspicion out of the woods.

Lies are easy to forget, too. Or, put another way, it's easy to forget what you made up in the thick of the moment to cover your absence. After a few days you can't recall if you said you were out with Jean or out with Jean and Babs, or out with Sarah and her fiancé or if you were just at the movies by yourself. Or with Jean and Sarah at the movies. Or with your sister. Or what movie you had seen. Or you were supposed to meet someone who bailed so you never actually saw the movie. You were driving around smoking a cigar—"Just thinking"—until late into the night.

It becomes too much to keep track of unless you plan on scribbling everything down in your infidelity ledger. I would build just enough truth into my excuses that they would be easier for me to remember. I would say where I had been but not precisely whom I had been with. Or I would use the phrase "a whole bunch of people." This Bill came to hate. It was a red flag for him even before he knew why. This is easy to understand. Any spouse who is even half-awake would prick up his ears at such defiant nonspecificity.

One night I came home from that bar in Brandywine where I had been with Tommy and a whole bunch of people. It was three a.m. This was Pennsylvania, not Rio. Nothing was open that late. So being out until that hour was a blazing flare shot into the night sky, illuminating the situation vividly.

Excerpted from VOW by WENDY PLUMP. Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Plump. Excerpted by permission of BLOOMSBURY.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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