I thought I had it all: three beautiful kids, a CEO husband who took care of those beautiful kids when I traveled to East Africa to run a nonprofit, a big house in an affluent suburb in Silicon Valley, a vacation house at the lake. But little did I know what was going on behind my back or how radically my life would change when I discovered my husband’s secret.
My relationship with my husband began to fall apart three years ago. Couples counseling wasn’t working and our fights were getting worse and worse ― until one day, after more than 20 years of marriage, my husband told me he was leaving and not coming back.
I was devastated. Numb. I hadn’t been on my own since my early 20s. I was graying, had a sagging body, and had been a complete stranger to the traditional job market for more than two decades. I was also coping with chronic depression and anxiety, and the thought of online dating terrified me. The internet didn’t even exist the last time I went on a date. Can you even remember what life was like before the internet? I certainly can’t.
Picking up the pieces and moving on seemed like an impossible task, but curling up in the fetal position and staying there was just not an option.
My husband and I never followed what could be considered “traditional” roles in our marriage. He cooked, did laundry and mostly shared the kid-rearing responsibilities. But, like an old-fashioned wife, I left all of the financial matters to him. I didn’t even have the passwords to our bank accounts and credit cards. Ridiculous, I know.
Not long after my husband left, I realized I needed to sit down and create a budget for myself. I was prepared to start from scratch — I didn’t even know how much our family spent on monthly bills. Surprisingly ― considering what I was about to unearth ― my husband provided me with the passwords for our joint bank and credit card accounts.
After I logged in and began scrolling, I noticed a recurring charge I didn’t recognize. It appeared to be from a tech company, but I didn’t understand why it would be listed in our personal account since my husband put all of his work expenses on his company card. I googled the name on the statement and discovered it was related to something called seekingarrangement.com. “WTF is seekingarrangement.com?” I wondered out loud.
I typed the address into my browser and what popped up on my screen stopped me dead in my tracks. Seeking Arrangement is, according to its “About Us” page, “the leading Sugar Daddy dating site where over 10 million members fuel mutually beneficial relationships on their terms.” In other words, it connects men, or “sugar daddies,” with women, or “sugar babies,” who accept money or gifts in exchange for providing companionship and/or sex.
“Oh my god, my husband is a sugar daddy?” I gasped.
When the shock wore off enough that I could operate my hands again, I began to research this so-called “sugar world.” I read about college students using the site to find men who would buy them expensive clothes, take them on lavish vacations and even fund their college educations. But, wait, I thought, we have a daughter in college and we’re shelling out big bucks for her private university tuition. Was my husband also paying a stranger’s ― or even several strangers’ ― tuition? Was my husband giving money — our money — to these women in exchange for sex? The possibility alone turned my stomach.
I closed my laptop and, still in my PJs, hightailed it to Target to get file folders, highlighters, printer paper, paper clips and any other office supplies I thought I might need. Once I got home, I began to scan our bank statements in search of suspicious charges. I didn’t log off of my computer for the next 12 hours. As I found more and more charges for hotel rooms and expensive restaurants, I started to feel like I was living someone else’s life. How could I have missed all of this? A hotel room in San Francisco on the night before we left for a family vacation? A charge for $1,500 at Louis Vuitton just before Christmas? I’ve never even stepped foot in that store! Some other woman got an expensive bag for Christmas that year and I got… a soft-sided cooler.
The charges went back at least a year. I logged into my husband’s PayPal account (as neither he nor I were particularly savvy in these matters, he used the same passwords for everything) and found payments he had made to these women. “Enjoy the shopping spree,” he wrote in one message. “Have a great weekend!” he told another. Each transaction was for at least $1,000 ― and there were many, many transactions.
My numbness gave way to a variety of other emotions: anger, disgust, shame. I called my husband and told him what I had found. “How could you do this?” I demanded. “How could you take another woman to that hotel that we had stayed in together? And why did you do this?” He didn’t answer my questions. He just told me it felt good to be appreciated by these women and claimed I had brought this on myself. Then he rubbed my face deeper in his cruelty by adding, “And I took her there because it’s a great hotel.”
Once I finished tracking and recording all of the charges related to his infidelities (I hadn’t made a spreadsheet in over 20 years, so that was no small feat), it dawned on me that I was never going to get the answers I wanted or needed. Instead, I realized after I had given all of the documentation I had to my attorneys, I needed to dust myself off and do whatever I could to take back the dignity my husband had taken from me.
As a devoted yoga practitioner and teacher, I know the value of self-inquiry. If there was ever a time to “go inward,” as we say in the yoga world, this was it. I bought every book I could find about surviving divorce, signed up for seminars and workshops about self-acceptance, read up on the science of shame and resiliency, and started wearing a necklace that read “strength” as a reminder that I was strong. I slowly began to believe that I could survive this and that I could even come out the other side of this nightmare in a better place.
I took charge of my own finances for the first time in over 20 years. I opened up my own bank accounts and credit cards, purchased my own home, learned to manage a monthly budget and, most importantly, created a business plan for a new job. I successfully pitched it to the principal of an elementary school, where I now manage and teach a weekly yoga and mindfulness program to over 300 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Some days this new independence feels wonderful and some days it feels overwhelming, but I know I’m on the right track.
As I was rebuilding my life, the same message continued to present itself to me in all of my readings, workshops, therapy sessions and talks with supportive friends: What my husband did had everything to do with him and nothing to do with me. Of course, I’m not saying I had no part in the dissolution of our marriage — I certainly played my role and played it with gusto — but I came to understand that my job was to acknowledge that part, forgive myself, learn from the experience and move on. I didn’t cause my husband to cheat on me. That happened because he made that choice.
It’s been almost a year since the sickening day when I realized my life was not what I thought it was. I still get angry and sad, and I still shed more tears than I care to admit. But every day I get up and go to my new job and fix a leaky faucet in my own house or hang up a picture wherever I want, and I realize that I’m going to be OK. Like the lotus flower I had tattooed on my forearm shortly after my husband left, we all have to go through the mud in order to access the beauty in life. Although I don’t believe it every day, I tell myself that I am enough, that I have a bright future ahead of me and that bright future has not been diminished my husband or the choices he made.