The Women Who Cheat To Leave

And the roles narcissism and the Madonna-whore complex play in their decisions

A painting of a pale woman in a red gown,  the Madonna, cradling a machine gun in her arms, as the world burns around her.
Madonna with Machine Gun. Creator: Kārlis Padegs. Date: 1932. Institution: Latvijas Nacionālais mākslas muzejs. Provider: Europeana 280. Providing Country: Latvia. PD for Public Domain Mark

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TL;DR — Women Who Cheat To Leave examines the relationship Medium writer Greyson Ferguson had with his ex-wife. He was cheated on by her a week before their marriage, and then again afterward; he writes about it extensively. Using his words, it explores her story to present an alternative narrative through a lens of the Madonna-whore complex, misogyny, and the role narcissism may have played in their relationship.


Decoding Misogyny

If you’ve read anything Greyson Ferguson has written on this platform, you might think his heart-wrenching story of betrayal is almost perfectly told. It’s raw and honest. It is almost the perfect tale.

His ex-wife is the villain, and he is our hero. Our hero who loses it all, but comes back stronger for his pain. You pity him and hate her. And you laugh and cry with him in his humble retelling.

It’s part comeback story and part folk tale. A folk tale that began with Adam, and Eve’s betrayal of him.

Greyson tells the story of his wife, a woman caught cheating a week before their wedding. Who he then caught again after their marriage. There is no doubt she inflicted emotional trauma on him, but why was she cheating? And why so early in their relationship?

I won’t defend her cheating, but my first thought wasn’t that she was flawed.

Reading deeper, it occurred to me that she cheated to leave him.

For some women, it is the only way out of a “perfect marriage.” A relationship that looks so good from the outside society would never believe what it looks like from the inside. A relationship where they are so consumed and controlled by their partner, adultery becomes the only way out.

The cheater knows infidelity gives the controlling man a face-saving out by leveraging the Madonna-whore complex, against him. Knowing he cannot tolerate her as the whore her infidelity makes her, he casts her out. He casts her out in a way no one would blame or question him. He remains morally intact. Adam to her Eve.

And she gets away.

The complex has evolved since first coined by Freud as the Madonna-whore dichotomy. Initially used to describe a man who marries his Madonna, but cannot sexually function with her because it denigrates her in his eyes. It’s moved from there. In today’s try before you buy culture, it has less to do with sexual dysfunction, and more to do with the polarizing ideals it suggests.

The complex renders women into one of two personas, the Madonna or the whore. It is a popular storyline that doesn’t require a sophisticated audience. In many stories, the woman can be immediately recognizable as one or the other. There is never growth from one to the other, but only transformation. Eve’s apple. Cinderella’s glass slipper. Pretty Woman’s hooker-millionaire love story.

Enter Ms. Ferguson, Greyson’s former wife.

In reading their tale through his eyes, Ms. Ferguson is immediately cast as the whore.

But if Ms. Ferguson cheated to leave, what reason would she have had? Greyson seems affable enough, portraying himself as a hapless oaf caught up in something larger than himself.

All we know of the Ferguson relationship is what Greyson tells us. So beyond the basic facts of their story — she cheated, they married, she cheated again, they divorced — we can’t be sure where the truth lies in his telling.

This makes Greyson’s role in the relationship less clear. Is there more? Does he rely on Madonna-whore narrative to shift attention away from himself?

But what he reveals about their relationship provides some troubling clues. If we are to believe him, he gives us some insight into what Ms. Ferguson may have experienced.

Why Consider An Alternative Reason For Ms. Ferguson’s Cheating?

In the first instance, it’s not plausible to believe Greyson didn’t play a part in the dissolution of his marriage, no matter how small it may have been. In the second, his stories are told using the Madonna-whore narrative; a construct which is, at its heart, misogynist.

The unfortunate problem with the narrative is the plot relies on misogyny to hold it up. It is the only way this story works. Tarnish the man and the story falls apart.

Finally, stories told from a single perspective are rarely reliable in their facts or interpretations of them.

These things are enough to reconsider her perspective. We know what he saw, but what did she see?

And Then He Outed Her

In revealing her name, it becomes more important to know if his telling is reliable. Before outing her, she was his anonymous ex from ten years before. A reader wouldn’t have known if she had changed her name on marriage, reverted to her maiden name on divorce, or kept her married name.

When he revealed her name, she was no longer ‘a’ Ms. Ferguson, but ‘the’ Ms. Ferguson. Ms. Ferguson the cheating whore.

There was no need to tell us who she is to tell his story. So what motivated him?

Did Narcissism Play a Role?

The Mayo Clinic summarizes Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as,

“a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”

I experienced Greyson’s vulnerability to criticism first hand when I commented on his article, Three Ways Not To Confront Your Cheating Spouse. The first article of his I read.

In it, he describes how in discovering Ms. Ferguson’s second infidelity, he flew into a rage, “decapitated” their laptop, and smashed things until his hands bled.

He’d found evidence of her continued adultery in her email.

He says, “I struggled with trust so, to put me at ease, she offered the passwords to all of her accounts.”

I wondered what his struggle looked like and how the passwords were offered.

A man admittedly prone to the sort of rage it takes to decapitate a laptop wouldn’t struggle silently, I thought. Were her passwords the tribute she’d paid to quiet his struggle?

In an interview with the Daily Mail, we learn of Greyson —

With the goal of hurting her, he then asked what she would do if they broke up and he dated her ‘thinner’ and ‘better proportioned’ sister.

“Every physical comparison she ever made was always to her sister. And, in her own mind, she almost always lost,’ he explained.

“And in one little question, I reminded her of everything her sister had and that she didn’t. Including, hypothetically, me.”

Emotional Abuse

Was attacking her insecurities part of his struggle? Actively hurting someone in this way is emotional abuse, but Greyson seems to play it off as a joke.

However, his “jokes” would not be unfamiliar to the many Ms. Fergusons out there who’ve lived them.

My husband has called me a “pig” for years — as a joke, for adding pounds. I laugh. Not because it’s funny, but because it’s easier. Easier than being told I’m too sensitive.

So what did Ms. Ferguson face before she handed over her passwords? Was it something that made giving them up the easier choice?

Workplace Confrontation

Immediately after destroying their home, Greyson confronted Ms. Ferguson in her workplace — a university library.

With bandaged hands, distraught, and no doubt disheveled.

Knowing her co-workers aren’t blind, she recommended they move to their car for privacy, rather than have the drama unfold in front of them.

Some men intentionally cause drama in her workplace to humiliate her. The threat of humiliation is a control tactic.

It seemed to me as if she knew what was coming.

Overcome with uncontrolled rage once again, he smashed the car’s rear-view mirror and then its front windshield with his fists, as she sat there. This form of violence is used to intimidate intimate partners. The message it sends, intended or not, is —

Do you see this? I can easily do this to you.

Greyson excuses his violence,

“I’m not someone who enjoys confrontation. So confronting my wife about the affair she continued to have really didn’t fill me with excitement.”

Rage is not, ‘not excitement.’ He understates his emotions here, to minimize them. To deflect them.

He blames her, and begs the reader to believe, “it’s not my fault! I’m no good at this! She made me this way!”

Calling Him Out

I left the only negative comment to this story,

“…based on your response, I’m sure that wasn’t the first time you’d responded like that… although you had reason to suspect, you were wrong not to trust her.”

Intrusions into an intimate partner’s private spaces aren’t random acts.

He wrote in the article–

“Privacy is privacy, and I’d always been someone to divert eyes from a person’s digital screen. Not my device, not my business. So, the first time I typed in her email and password I felt a part of me die. Like not only had she cheated on me but I was willingly killing off part of what I stood for to make sure she didn’t do it again.”

In this, he blames her again, essentially saying, “I broke my moral code because she was a cheater.”

Greyson responded to my comment,

“Perhaps I didn’t clarify it well. She’d already been caught cheating once.”

Right, I must have missed the part where he told me everything was her fault because she cheated.

But Greyson’s article was unambiguous on this point and he knew that. Greyson wasn’t clarifying anything but admonishing me for daring to question his narrative.

I concluded his rage responses were likely known to Ms. Ferguson.

To me, his response was belittling. I read it as, “let me walk you through this because you obviously misunderstood that this is all her fault.”

I’d touched a nerve.

Sensitivity to Criticism

The Mayo Clinic provides, “people with NPD have trouble handling anything they perceived as criticism, and they can…react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make themselves appear superior.”

He belittled me just as he’d belittled her on their honeymoon. Twice isn’t much of a pattern, but it’s more of a pattern than — no pattern.

Regulating Emotions

People with NPD can have “difficulty regulating emotions and behavior…[and] experience major problems dealing with stress and adapting to change.” Destroying their house and car makes this an easy argument.

Why Did He Marry Her?

In Four Reasons Why I Married My Cheating Wife, he tells us in this order:

Money —

“I’d paid for most everything myself. Outside of flowers and her dress, most of the financial backing came from my bank accounts. And you can’t just call a week out and ask for your deposits back.”

He’d already spent the money.

Thinking of Others — He says the minister he was flying in couldn’t come back had he postponed because,

“dropping everything and flying to the United States, even with someone else fronting the bill, isn’t the easiest thing to do. I wanted him to be a part of my wedding. I didn’t want to lose that. So I thought of him when deciding to move forward.”

The minister was already flying in and would probably be too busy to do it again.

Fear of Judgement —

“People would talk. They’d gossip and twist falses [sic] into truths. The twigs of broken realities would become the nest of their ideas, and it would be something I’d have to deal with for years, if not for the rest of my life.”

His family would invent stories about why he postponed the wedding if he didn’t tell them the truth.

People with NPD “can have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation.” We see all of this in these first three reasons. What could be more humiliating than telling your family the woman you were going to marry gave herself to another man?

Love —

“Love remains. It’s only tainted. A perfect recipe with a wrong ingredient. The problem is once that wrong ingredient is added, you can’t get it out. You either have to stomach it or toss it out.”

I agree love would remain, but this is an interesting analogy. Nowhere does he acknowledge there is room to love the new recipe, disregarding the possibility that some recipes are improved with a “wrong” ingredient.

People with NPD “can be preoccupied with fantasies about…the perfect mate,” and a cheating fiancée certainly wouldn’t be that.

There was no love. He married her because he thought he could stomach her, and that was less difficult for him than dealing with humiliation.

My guess is she did the same after he failed to take her first hint that she wasn’t happy.

Money First / Love Last

He could argue his reasons weren’t presented in any order, but that isn’t reasonable. People list things by importance whether they want to or not because it’s easier. This order speaks to his natural priorities.

I commented about his focus on money and asked if Ms. Ferguson had noticed he put money ahead of her. I was quickly dismissed. He searched my Medium profile and decided I wasn’t worthy of his time because “I glorified adultery.”

I too was a whore.

Full disclosure — I’m an active adulteress, I’ve written a book about how to do it, my Medium focus is solely on Adultery, and I help edit The Scarlett Letter, a publication dedicated to adultery. This article is also about adultery.

If there is anything to take away from all this, it’s this — I am the only one who makes decisions about what I do with my body.

She Kept Her Name

The last article I read, as I alluded to above, was My Ex-Wife Kept My Last Name, and I Have Thoughts. Greyson writes, “had she asked me for my name while leaving the courthouse, I probably would have said yes…”

I commented:

“How magnanimous of you. Did it ever occur to you that when she changed her name to the one she shared with you, it became hers? She didn’t and doesn’t need your permission to use her own name. You do not own her or her name, no matter how you feel…”

He responded, “thank you for your opinion. 🙂

And there it was, he dismissed me like a child. The reads and claps for that comment however suggest mine is a statement not so easily dismissed.

NPD sufferers can have “an exaggerated sense of self-importance,” and what says exaggerated self-importance more than believing you have exclusive naming rights over your ex-wife — ten years after your divorce?

Madonna-Whore Complex On Full Display

His chosen picture for the “four reasons” article is unmistakable in its imagery. A woman, naked, exposed and humiliated. Sullen, she’s shrouded in a veil, obscured, but not hidden. Sorrowful, she reflects on her fall from grace; a Madonna no more.

A woman, veiled, sullen and naked. The Madonna no more, she’s fallen. With no hope of redemption, she becomes the whore.
Featured in Four Reasons Why I Married My Cheating Wife (Photo by Tomas Robertson on Unsplash)

Greyson reveals his fragility in his writing and he takes no responsibility for his contribution to the marital breakdown.

Instead, he self-righteously mocks her. He denigrates her and profits off our pity and revulsion as we read his words.

Having been deeply humiliated in front of his family, he pillories her in kind – a full decade later.

Embolden by the praise, he pulls back her thin veil, to reveal the whore. In naming her, he damns her with a scarlet letter.

And he does this to feed off of our pity, in a way that suggests something called Covert Narcissism.

Conclusion

I only know Greyson through his writing and do not claim any medical knowledge to support my arguments. I’ve read his words and came to my own conclusion based on my reading. If this essay does anything, it shows how a story can be told by a writer and interpreted by a reader. And how single points of view can be misleading.

Nowhere did I see Greyson genuinely reflecting on his marriage’s failure, beyond her faults. His version is designed to evoke two emotions — pity and revulsion. There’s no room for more, lest the ‘perfect piece’ be tainted, like his perfect recipe was.

He blames her fully and expects the reader to do the same, without taking his behavior into account.

He wants us to believe she’s the whore who deserves her scarlet letter.

I refuse.

It could be that he was the perfect man, wronged by a whore.

But does the perfect man smash things until his fists bleed? Does he violently explode? Does he sidestep his responsibility? He doesn’t.

Vindictiveness permeates his writing and a perverse misogynistic undertone is buried in his self-pity. There’s a sense of entitlement in his writing that begs for admiration.

So why defend Ms. Ferguson? Despite her infidelity, she does not deserve a lifetime of humiliation at the hands of anyone, let alone a man who claims to have once loved her.

In choosing to marry her, he was more concerned with his money and his own humiliation, than with forgiving her. She was the last thing on his mind.

Is it any wonder she continued to cheat as he “struggled,” and preyed on her insecurities, as he did?

Divorce is not as simple or easy as those who recommend it think it is. Breaking free from a marriage like this is nearly impossible to do in a less dramatic way. It is why some women cheat to decisively end them, and become whores to do it.

Think of a woman who would rather be known as a whore than be married to the man she cheated on. What does that say about her desperation? What does it say about him?

So, if we agree that Greyson is less than perfect, then we agree Ms. Ferguson is not perfectly imperfect. The truth is more likely in the middle, so it’s reasonable to conclude both people failed this relationship, but only they know how.

Revealing how he failed would have been the more compelling story, the more vulnerable story. The elements are there, but in not acknowledging responsibility for his part, he falls well short of honesty.

Ms. Ferguson is neither a Madonna nor a whore. Instead, she’s a woman like any other. A woman without a voice now paying a high price a decade later for failing to meet society’s expectations. Unfortunately, that’s been every woman’s story since the dawn of time. A story they’ve sometimes needed to save themselves.

And that’s the story we need to change.


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© Teresa J. Conway, 2020

By Teresa J Conway on .

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Exported from Medium on March 19, 2021.

Author of How to Cheat: Field Notes from an Adulteress, several short stories, I'm active on Medium @teresajconway where I sometimes share my blog posts, and I'm a fair-weather tweeter @tjconway69.

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