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Amanda Duarte found freedom in divorce
After she left her cheating husband, she rediscovered her identity, and the joy of sex with younger men
On October 28, I sat on a Soho stoop with writer and performer Amanda Duarte to interview her for Cruel Summer Book Club. A mutual friend connected us because Duarte was going through an awful divorce, and writing a show about her experiences—she might have something great to say for the newsletter. Buckle up.
Today would have been Duarte’s 17th wedding anniversary, if she hadn’t discovered her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. Again.
Duarte’s solo show, Your Mom—about the women in Duarte’s family, internalized misogyny, and learning to love yourself—premieres at Joe’s Pub on Tuesday, March 17. (You should get a ticket; I’ll be there.) Here, she shares an essay, and we speak about women’s emotional burdens, having the confidence to ask for what you want in bed, and watching the woman your husband had an affair with live in your dream house upstate. (And finding that woman’s period blood stains on your bedsheets—a painful anecdote I won’t soon forget.)
Duarte; Photograph: Mike Bryk
When you catch your husband texting the much younger woman that he’s cheating on you with while his parents are sitting ten feet away at your dining table, finishing up your chicken parmigiana, the moment is transcendent. It’s blue-white. It’s a mineral fire. The world burns.
When you catch your husband texting the much younger woman that your body has been telling you he’s been cheating on you with for months, it’s actually great. Everything finally makes sense. He’s been telling you that you’re crazy. You finally know that although you are crazed, you are not crazy. You knew it when you saw them together. You knew it when he couldn’t get it up to fuck you. I mean, look at you. You look good for your age. You look good for any age. And you fuck like that feral cat that screams in the garbage can outside your Brooklyn window.
When your husband of 20 years abandons you for a much younger woman, you wake every day with the feeling that you just found out that someone you love has died, and that person is you. Every day is like a waking nightmare in which you’re attending your own funeral, you’re standing over your own casket, and everyone assembled—family, friends, strangers—is pointing and laughing at you. You think about killing yourself, but you’re already dead. You’re a corpse that can still feel. You’re buried alive.
It’s quiet. The silence is magic. Your apartment is a below-market-rate Pompeii. You hear yourself think for the first time in years. You can’t speak. You can’t move. You can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You lose 25 pounds in a month. It’s okay, you had them to spare.
When your husband abandons you for a much younger woman, your dog dies. You hold her heart in your hand as it presses its last beat into the world. You feel her spirit leave her body and enter into your physical heart. The world is made of dead pets. You are no longer afraid of death.
When your husband abandons you for a much younger woman, he tells your friend that he’s “really proud of you for finding your voice, and coming into your power as a feminist and a woman, but that it doesn’t really work for the dynamic of your relationship.”
You can’t talk your way out of this. You can’t wit your way out of it. You can’t feminist your way out of it. You can’t outsmart it. You know that it’s because he can’t you anymore, he just can’t you. You know it’s because you are, as the kids say, “a lot.”
Yeah, you’re a lot. And it’s fucking incredible. Who the fuck wants to be a little? You’re a lot. You’re more than a lot.
You’re the most.
We need to talk
Amanda Duarte: I’ve been having a lot of sex since the last time I saw you.
Jillian Anthony: Great! With who?
Like, much younger men that I see only for that purpose.
You just go to their house.
No, I don’t go to their house. They come to my house.
Why don’t you go to their house?
Have you been to any 28-year-old straight guys’ houses lately? I am lazy. I’m not going to see trade in East Harlem or Hoboken. And my place is nice. They should be so lucky. I have a fridge full of La Croix. I’ve got snacks. I’m a grown up! Recently I slept over at a guy’s place—he didn't have olive oil or salt.
Tell me what you’ve been going through the last couple of years.
Almost exactly two years ago I caught my husband cheating on me for the second time that I’m aware of, and I’m pretty sure it was the third. The fact that he was lying to me about the second affair in therapy while we were trying to fix the damage from the first one is something that I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from. After the volcanic eruption there’s an obsidian of pain deep in my organs that I don’t know will ever go away. I try to figure out what the healthiest way to manage it is. Sometimes it is 100 percent distraction, sometimes I sit with it.
I’m learning that too. It’s a hard balance.
It is, especially because part of what is so difficult when you’re in pain like that when you’re grieving is that you can’t see to the other side of it. You think to yourself, This is my new life. I don’t see that this is ever going to end. I just want to end it. I need this to end. And all of that energy and friction makes it worse. When the person who is supposed to be your most intimate partner and almost a part of you betrays you like that, it feels almost like you’re being murdered every minute of every day. You have to really accept that you’re going to be changed by this pain and experience. If you can’t find the positive side of the change in you, you’ll be in pain for the rest of your life, and you’ll be angry and resentful. I threw up every day for like a month. I couldn’t sleep for more than two hours at time and I’d wake up at 4:30 in the morning and not know what to do with myself so I was like, fuck it, and I’d smoke a bowl and watch SVU. You can’t be a soldier all the time.
Yeah, because in the end you’re the only one that’s in your head every day, and it’s scary in there.
Especially when it’s not just pain of loss, it’s also the pain and fear of questioning every single thing you ever thought was real because, suddenly, you realize your reality has been severely tilted. And that’s the worst part of betrayal and gaslighting and being lied to and being cheated on, because you then think that everything you ever thought was real is not. You can go crazy.
It’s especially sickening that when you’re cheated on and you’re not told about it, people take away your ability to make choices for yourself. And the double betrayal of what you went through and him lying to your face.
I saw them together six months before I caught him texting her and I knew it. I confronted him about it and he lied. I kept saying, “You can stop this now, you can honorably exit our relationship,” and I begged him to leave, to do it without hurting me this way again. The hardest thing that I’ve done in the face of all of this is to continue to open myself up to the kind of rejection and betrayal that caused me so much pain in the first place.
Which is a brave thing to do in life.
It’s what I have to do to have the life I want. I have to continue to be open and vulnerable to other people because that’s humanity. And honestly, in my new dating life, I find that so many of the men that I go on dates with are unable to do that. And it’s usually because they’ve been betrayed and hurt, and they haven’t been socialized to have the kind of emotional language and emotional resilience that we have, so they’re completely closed. And they’re probably going to be like that for the rest their lives, and it’s horribly tragic.
They suffer, but we suffer for it more.
Because they take a lot of shit out on us.
How long were you married?
We were together for 20 years and married for 15. It was a huge part of the dynamic of my marriage that my husband was very distant and checked out and wasn’t affectionate. If you want to talk about attachment theory, it’s very common for men to be avoidant and women to be anxious. Now I try to assess the situation as objectively as I can and say, “Okay, there’s a huge part of this that is up to me to change, but there’s a part of this dynamic that is up to them to change. And if they can’t do it, I’m not the person for them and I need to move on.”
And to learn to ask for what you want. I’ve been thinking so much about the “chill girl.” That’s never been a huge problem for me. I have always been very clear about, I want this, can you give me this? But I have definitely hung on to relationships too long or been afraid to say “I’m upset about this,” and I think that’s something so many women struggle with.
And we have to practice. I’m so embarrassed to even say this is a struggle for me, because I feel like my brand is, I’m this feminist who is like, “I’m a fucking badass who gets what I want and eat men and then floss my teeth with their pubes,” but I still find it hard in those moments where I need something and I’m not getting it to speak up. To number one be like, you know what, you’re not needy. You need something in this moment that is completely human and normal. And then being like, Okay, I need to ask for this. The other night I was with this guy and we had sex, and he came and I didn’t, and he was like, “Do you want to go watch a movie?” And I was like, “No, I don’t. I want to fucking come.” You know, I’m not labor intensive in this department. I've climaxed from, like, eBay auctions. You gotta give me five minutes. And he was like, “Oh, um, I was thinking we’d just come back to this.”
No. We’ll never come back. And also, I’m ready now.
I’m naked now. But it hadn’t really occurred to him. But you never see women come in porn. And learning how to really speak up about that has been challenging for me.
Duarte performing at Joe’s Pub; Photograph: Bridget Badore
Because you were married for so long, what has it been like rediscovering who you are?
I have found that the person I am now, I’m 1000 percent better in every single way, and that was not something I anticipated at all. In the day to day I’m much happier. I feel free. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me.
How long did it take you to get there?
It took a lot of work and a lot of time. And it was gradual. There would be moments where I’d be like, Wow, this is actually great. I remember the first time I felt that way was about six months after we split up, and I was having sex with the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen, and there was a moment when he rolled over toward me, and the moonlight was hitting him in this beautiful way.
It was cinematic.
Oh, it was so cinematic. And I was like, Oh, this is alright! And I never would have experienced this if I had been in this marriage that was very stagnant and dead and not good for a very long time. And it’s not just sexually. Emotionally I feel better because I’m not constantly bearing the weight of living with someone who’s very unhappy and who sees me as being the source of their unhappiness. It infected every moment of my life. I had severe back pain for a really long time, and within a month of him not living in my apartment anymore, one day I was like, Oh my god, my back doesn’t hurt anymore. Since I split up with him I’ve lost 35 pounds. I eat healthier. I feel so much better. I have so much more energy. Weirdly this whole experience has made me better at prioritizing myself and just feeling like I am a person who deserves joy and fair treatment. I don’t have to work that hard to be worthy of love or friendship. I don’t have to cut myself open and donate all of my organs to somebody in order to be a valuable person.
All that energy you put toward him you put back into yourself. That energy is finite. Would you say that you are still actively grieving?
There’s something every day. The hardest thing for me has been the fact that the woman lives in my house [upstate] now. I had to go pick something up from the house that I still own, and I went into my house and I saw her clothes in my drawers and her books on my bookshelf and her shoes on my shoerack and her hair dryer in my fucking bathroom. It was such a violation. She’s growing plants in my garden. There’s almost not a day that goes by that I don’t have an image of that in my head. I have to remind myself, when you lived in that house, you were unhappy all the time. My dog died at the same time and I always think to myself, I don't miss having a dog, but I miss my dog. I don’t miss my husband, but I miss having a husband. I miss that sort of familiarity with someone, someone you have such a shorthand with.
The day to day intimacy.
Even though it was totally toxic, just the feeling or idea of having that sort of intimacy. I miss having a really boring night with someone where you just sit on the couch. Maybe you watch TV. Maybe you order in, maybe you cook. Just to stick your feet under their thighs when your toes are cold, and they don’t make you move them, and they’ll maybe scratch your back and absentmindedly play with your hair while you watch some boring show. I miss that so much.
It’s hard to find. But you can have it again if you want it.
Duarte and myself on a Soho stoop, looking chic as ever; Photograph: David Goldberg
More about Amanda Duarte:
Amanda Duarte is a writer-performer who lives in Brooklyn. She has contributed to the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Out New York, and many other publications that do not have “New York” in the title. Her show Staying Alive had a residency at Joe’s Pub last spring, and she is the taint end of the itinerant The It’s That Time of the Month Show with Snatch Adams opposite Becca Blackwell, coming soon to a theatre near you. Recent TV appearances include High Maintenance, “High Tea with Miz Cracker,” and Chris Gethard Presents. Her new show, Your Mom, premieres March 17 at Joe’s Pub.
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