When Tiger Woods’ many indiscretions were discovered, his wife allegedly turned his golf clubs against him, bought a Swedish mansion in her own name—and, perhaps most tellingly, threw out his phone.
As other woman after other woman comes forward, spilling the gory details of her time with Tiger, it seems more and more likely that a telltale text message may be what, in the end, did the big cad in.
Unfortunately, if that’s the case, Elin Nordegren won’t be the first—or the last—spouse to discover her significant other’s dalliances the new-fangled way.
“An intercepted text is the 2010 version of lipstick on the collar,” says Jonathan Alpert, a New York City psychologist, who’s recently seen a spike in clients wrestling with the aftermath of technologically fueled affairs. And the behavior is rampant on both coasts: “More frequently than ever, this is the way people are finding out that their partners are cheating—whether it’s cheating with sex involved or an emotional affair,” says Yvonne Thomas, PhD, an L.A. psychologist.
In fact, e-mail and texting—and now “sexting”—have leveled the playing field, making straying easier in the first place, whether you’re a professional athlete or the average American.
There are even websites, like ashleymadison.com, designed to make a “more efficient” way for married couples to stray, says founder Noel Biderman, who built the site in 2001 after reading a statistic indicating that 35 percent of users on dating websites were actually married and looking.
In fact, most of today’s indiscretions start virtually—a volley of desire lobbed back and forth at the speed of light, gaining intensity as it goes.
Yesteryear’s trysts—bosses and secretaries, long nights at the office—now seem almost quaint, more like a Mad Men plotline.
Perhaps the only thing that hasn’t changed is that when an unsuspecting partner clicks to find an e-mail that rocks her or him to the core, the pain isn’t mitigated by the digital age.
“It felt like an out-of-body experience,” says Wendy Silver*, 33, who discovered a slew of graphic text messages between her live-in boyfriend of three years and several different women an hour before her younger sister’s engagement party.
She wasn’t even snooping. He was out golfing for the day, and when she called, his jean pocket rang—he’d left the phone behind. Because he was hosting the after-party, she wanted to be sure he hadn’t missed any messages.
“I’d never checked his phone before in my life,” she says. “I just trusted him.” After all, they’d grown up together. She’d known him since she was 14. At the time, they had been talking engagement.
Silver didn’t waste any time. When he got back home, she confronted him and told him to leave the party. He burst into tears and apologized.
“I didn’t think you would ever find out,” he said.
“A part of me wishes I hadn’t,” she admits.
Dee Sanderson, 34, author of How to Marry a Loser Without Even Trying, was a little more tech-savvy: A computer programmer by trade, she decided to bug her husband’s computer based on a bad feeling she had.
“It was a period in my marriage where it felt like something was wrong. We weren’t connecting,” she says. “I couldn’t seem to get him interested in doing anything together.”
She felt stupid installing the trace. “It will probably be nothing, and then I’ll feel bad about not trusting him,” she said. Instead she was shocked by her virtual haul.
“Lo and behold, he had three or four different e-mail accounts he’d opened, and he was trying to solicit women,” she says. “One asked him outright, ‘Are you in a relationship?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s nothing serious.’ That was what hurt the worst. He basically said that our marriage didn’t mean anything.”
She kicked him out—then relented, for a time.
“I started thinking, Well, he swears he never did anything….”
Indeed, high-tech infidelity creates a new gray area: If your significant other describes exactly what he’d like to do to someone else in gory detail, but he’s never actually laid a hand on her, is it cheating?
“When you’re going outside the boundaries of what you’re supposed to share, emotionally and physically, only with your partner, cheating is cheating is cheating,” says Thomas. “And it’s not just women who are the casualties.”