Review: ‘A Beautiful Terrible Thing, A Memoir of Love and Betrayal’
Jen Waite woke up in the middle of every woman’s nightmare. The man she fell fast and hard in love with, her soul mate, the father of her newborn daughter, was a cold, lying, cheating manipulator. A psychopath, she says.
His lies began to unravel when she found a suspicious email that led her, after much incredulity, to find that her husband was involved with another woman. To make matters worse, he vehemently denied the affair. To this day, he neither has admitted his betrayal or myriad other lies.
Waite writes about the “before” and “after” of her relationship in “A Beautiful, Terrible Thing,” from their courtship to the black hole she plummeted into when she realized she’d been living a lie and how she slowly emerged from it as a better person.
When the truth starts to come to light, Waite takes her infant daughter from their New York home and goes back to Maine to her parents’ home, where she grieves and learns more about her husband’s other life. She sees a therapist, conducts her own research and determines she was “love bombed” by a psychopath, seduced by him as prey. She takes a hard look at herself to find out why she was vulnerable to being love bombed in the first place.
Waite’s story is one you don’t want to be true, yet here is an intelligent, put-together woman telling you it is. Her honesty as she tells of her struggle to believe her husband and explain away his behavior is cringe-inducing. But, Waite writes it “for every woman who has been cast aside like yesterday’s trash after placing her life in the hands of a man she trusts.” “A Beautiful, Terrible Thing” should be required reading for any woman seeking a romantic relationship.
Just a few years removed from her nightmare, Waite, 31, is happily single, working in Portland and living in South Portland with her daughter. She spoke with Maine Women Magazine about her memoir.
Q: You’ve said it may sound “cheesy,” but that this horrific experience was the best thing that ever happened to you. How does that manifest itself? How have you changed?
A: I had a really great childhood in Maine … nothing “bad” had happened to me and so I had a very happy-go-lucky, optimistic attitude—not that there’s anything wrong with that! But my optimism verged on delusion—I refused to see the whole picture and I filtered out a lot of negative data in order to fit my paradigm; I am much more open now and I think more realistic about the human experience in general.
When I found out that I had been living a lie for five years, and that the most important person in my world was not who I thought he was, it forced me to re-examine everything I thought I knew. It shattered my reality. I had to put that reality back together, but this time with beliefs and thoughts that were mine, instead of my parents’ or society’s. It was extremely liberating, throwing out a bunch of beliefs and constructs that I had internalized but didn’t actually align with my empirical data. A huge part of my process was uncovering how the way we raise girls and boys has created this enormous gender problem that reverberates across every aspect of our culture. Women are taught to value (or devalue) themselves according to inherently sexist societal standards. On the opposite side of the same coin, “toxic masculinity” (manhood defined by dominance, control, aggression) is ingrained in our culture. I believed my self-worth relied heavily on having validation from a partner and so I ignored signs at the beginning of my relationship with my ex-husband that something was not right.
Listening to myself, trusting my gut instincts, and disengaging when someone or something does not feel “right” have been the most simple, yet most difficult, actions I have ever taken.
Q: It took some months before the “haze lifted” in the wake of discovering the truth about your husband. At what point did you decide to write this memoir?
A: I started writing about four months after finding out that my husband was leading a double life. I was writing almost in real-time, and getting it all out on paper is what ultimately lifted the haze. When I started writing, I did not intend to write and publish a book, I only knew that I had to figure out what happened. Putting it all down on the page was part of my process in understanding how I had gotten to that point (from married and pregnant in New York thinking everything was wonderful to living with my parents in Maine as a single mom).
I know that the general sentiment is “write from your scars, not your wounds,” but I wouldn’t have done it any differently—it was vital that I wrote about this experience while it was happening. I wrote for myself, not for an audience, because I was desperate to understand what had happened and through that process the “haze lifted.”
Q: Is the anger gone? Do you/can you forgive your ex?
A: I have no anger, but I wouldn’t use the term “forgive” in relation to my ex. I learned from the experience and I grew as a person and for that I am grateful; however, I don’t think it makes sense to forgive someone on the psychopathy spectrum—it’s important to keep in mind what he/she is and how he/she operates in order to protect yourself in the future. I look at my ex clinically now, and when I think of him, I feel nothing, not anger, not sadness, just a bit of wariness.
Q: What has been the reaction to your book from other people who knew you, both of you, during those fairy tale years?
A: So many friends have written or called to say that they’ve read the book and have been incredibly supportive. … It helped in a strange way to have other people be almost as shocked as I was; to know that I was not the only one who was completely blindsided.
Q: What feedback have you heard from readers in general?
A: I’ve received hundreds of messages, both heartbreaking and awe-inspiring, from other people (mostly women) who have been through similar experiences. Obviously not every break-up involves someone on the psychopathy spectrum, but I think most people have been in a toxic relationship that left them feeling broken for a time and the memoir seems to be resonating. I’ve also been surprised to hear from therapists who are now using the memoir in their practices as a way to gain a deeper understanding into the gaslighting and cognitive dissonance that occurs in these types of relationships.
Amy Canfield is a writer, editor and bibliophile. She lives in South Portland.