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The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out. — Thomas Babington Macaulay

We suspected something was up. “We” being Corinne and the handful of close friends in whom she confides the details of her dating life. Corinne had been with the same guy for over a year, and for the past few months he’d been declaring his need for “space.”

“Space for what?” she’d wonder aloud over a glass of wine. “Maybe he just likes his ‘alone time,’” we’d suggest. “Maybe he can’t sleep as well with someone else in the bed.” Emboldened by alcohol, we might verbalize the unsavory: “Sounds like he’s not that into you.” But regardless of our endless hypotheses, one underlying fact was always understood and agreed upon — whatever the problem turned out to be, it’d be his fault, not hers. “You can do better” is our mantra. No man — or woman — is really ever good enough for a cherished friend.

In Corinne’s case, we thought we’d already imagined the worst — that Mike was not interested in taking things further. We worried that such a generic rejection might crush Corinne’s already fragile sense of self-worth. It would be ideal to find fault with him, thus sparing our friend the debilitating blow to her self-esteem. But though we hoped for evidence that would prove Corinne’s blamelessness, there’s no way we could have guessed the sensational truth, even if Corinne had told us the details had been revealed to her on The Jerry Springer Show.

I was responding to email one Wednesday morning when Corinne called. “Girl, you are not going to believe this,” she said. The feverish pitch of her tone compelled me to close my laptop and give my attention to her revelation, which she provided in a staccato falsetto.

I stifled the urge to tsk as Corinne explained how she “happened” upon the history tab on Mike’s computer. She told me Mike’s web-browsing history contained an overwhelming number of craigslist URLs, all of them under a category in the personals section called “Casual Encounters.”

“Oh to the Hell no,” I said. I could see where this was leading. I have a zero-tolerance policy for cheaters, even when I know their side of the story. I’m loath to admit that I need more than one hand to count the number of two-timers I’ve known. It’s not the cheating itself that bugs me so much as the perpetuation of a relationship based on lies. Say a married guy has an affair. This is nothing new — you need only look at the headlines. But once that guy finds himself in bed with someone other than his wife, he should take note of the huge red flag billowing in his face. Hmm… he should think (or should have thought before he broke a sacred trust), something is obviously lacking in my relationship or I would not be in this predicament — and for the sake of all involved, I must either find and fix the problem or end the relationship. The few men I’ve known who’ve done this — by which I mean those who brought the issue to light of their own accord (i.e., not just because they got caught) — have remained my friends.

But I slap the Despicable Coward label upon those who remain in broken relationships under false pretenses, aka “living a lie.” I find it impossible to muster respect for a man or woman who leads a double life with a lover in the workplace and a none-the-wiser spouse at home.

I was in the middle of a choice tirade denouncing Mike for his purported indiscretions when Corinne cut me off. “Oh, wait — that’s not the half of it,” she said. “All the links led to ads that specified ‘T4M.’”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Transvestite for male,” Corinne answered. “Don’t worry, I didn’t know either. I had to look it up.” This bit of info left me dumbfounded. Corinne told me she confronted Mike about her findings. She described how he deflected and then, like a cornered animal, lashed out: he hissed cruel taunts, such as, “I never found you attractive.” When she tried to keep him on point, he dismissed his web history as morbid curiosity born of too much time spent on the internet. He hurled insults at transvestites in general (“they disgust me”) and Corinne (“you’re not nearly as beautiful as my ex”).

“No way! What an asshole!” I said, rising to my feet so I could pace the room. I thought that was the end of it, that this was the part where I verbally shredded the guy and suggested an early liquid lunch as the forum for further cathartic condemnation. But there was more. Corinne told me that she went home after the fight and, that very night, placed a fake ad on “Casual Encounters.” Familiar with his taste in women, she described herself as a hot “Latina” looking for a man with all of Mike’s characteristics. Because Corinne is on the conservative side, I was impressed by her recitation of the explicit, raunchy terms she’d used in the ad.

She posted the bait at 11 p.m. and went to sleep. When she checked her inbox at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, she already had a response. It was from Mike, matching her raunchy tone and suggesting a meeting in person. I started to ask, “How do you know it was from him?” and she cut me off halfway: “He attached a picture of himself,” she said.

“So that’s why he wanted his space,” I said. “And? Did you tell him you were the one who placed the ad? That his mystery ‘hottie with naughties’ is really his girlfriend?”

“No,” Corinne said, to my surprise and disappointment. (I would have loved to hear about his reaction to her confession.) “I just went over there this morning and grabbed all my things and said it’s over.” Then, in a calmer voice than she’d been using thus far, she said, “It’s not what he’s into — to each his own. You’re gay? Fine. Straight but have a strong attraction for girls who are guys? Cool. I have no problem with that. We could have worked through it together. It’s that he lied; that he attacked me when all I wanted was for him to be honest with me.”

“He’s clearly not okay with his predilection,” I said. “Otherwise he wouldn’t have been so quick to bash the very company he seeks. Someone who hates himself that much is incapable of giving anyone the level of love a good relationship requires.”

“It’s just such a bummer,” Corinne said. “I loved him.”

“I know, babe,” I said. “But you know what? You can do better.”

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