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Coupling

Who, me? Jealous?

An unfamiliar feeling brought my marriage back from the brink.

By Robin Regensburg
July 24, 2011

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When the topic of our conversation turned to books, I told the couple with whom my husband and I were having dinner that I’d just finished reading Swann’s Way. What captivated me most, I said, was the way Proust described a feeling, like jealousy, in sweeping exposition, and then just as descriptively in one or two sharp lines.

“I should read it to know what it feels like to be jealous,” my friend’s husband said. “I don’t think I have it in me.” Married for 25 years, I didn’t think I had it in me either.

My husband and I met in college, moved cross-country for grad school, got married, had kids, and started a business in the Boston area. It was the beginning of the tech bubble and soon we expanded to an office with 28 employees. But by 2000, the bubble had burst and the lucrative deal we’d negotiated to sell our business had fallen apart. For the next seven years, there was no escaping the pressures of running an unstable business and a home with young children, or the knowledge that my mother was in New Jersey, losing her battle with cancer. In the past, if either my husband or I was down, the other managed to lighten the load. But during this rough period, when one of us finally manifested optimism, the other darkened the mood.

Then I accidentally discovered that a female acquaintance of mine had invited my husband out for coffee and he’d accepted. I’d been working from home, and my printer had jammed, so I e-mailed a document to my husband’s home computer to print. Right underneath my own message was an e-mail from the female friend, subject line: “coffee.” It was the most recent in a string of e-mails, confirming their plan to get together the next day. Like a dormant gene switched on, jealousy surged.

We’d been to dinner with this woman and her husband a few times, and her tendency to hang on every word my husband said had seemed harmless. I often teased him that she had a crush on him. He agreed that she seemed to feel a connection with him, but attributed it to their both being commercial artists.

During lunches I’d had with just her, she’d pointed out my husband’s finest qualities: “Paul is so warm and smart and mellow, and he’s always talking about spending time with the boys. You are so lucky. Do you realize how lucky you are?” The honest answer was no. I didn’t ?–? not anymore. I used to appreciate the traits she’d admired in my husband and the way they balanced my more impulsive, outgoing personality, but now they’d begun to bore me. Instead of relishing our differences, we’d started to fight about them. I was “too intense,” he’d say. If he weren’t so mellow, I’d argue back, I wouldn’t seem so intense.

I waited for my husband to tell me about the planned meet-up, but by the next day, he’d still said nothing. I called my best friend to ask if I was making too much of a cup of coffee, out in the open, at a local cafe. I wasn’t, my girlfriend said, and suggested I call the woman to see if she mentioned the upcoming rendezvous.

I made the call. After a good five minutes of listening to this “friend” say, “How’s your mom, the boys, work?” and eventually, “We should get together for lunch soon,” I said, “Why wait? Let’s meet for coffee this afternoon.”

“I’m actually having coffee with Paul today. Would you like to join us?” she finally admitted. Smooth. Proust could have articulated over 20 or 40 more pages how I felt at hearing this woman invite me to have coffee with her and my husband. I will say only this – what I said back was anything but smooth.

Paul and I now credit that woman with saving our marriage. When I told him how I felt, he cared much more that I was hurt, angry, and jealous than he did about having coffee with her. And I was relieved to have found myself devastated at the possibility of losing him. It was our own quadruple shot of espresso -- a wake-up call to who we are and why we’re much better together, until death do us part.

Robin Regensburg is a writer and business owner in Newton. Send comments to coupling@globe.com.

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  • July 24, 2011 cover
  • July 24, 2011 cover
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