Infidelity: Don't get mad
The tactics employed by women to get back at cheating boyfriends would shock even Ivana Trump, who told the scorned to 'get everything'. Tanya Sweeney delves into the bitter world of revenge
Women are thought to be creatures of cunning at the best of times. Yet throw a dented ego, wounded pride or a broken heart into the mix and you're likely to witness the sort of pyrotechnics normally seen at a Lady Gaga show.
In this situation, seeking revenge seems to be the default reaction of most women, and some are more imaginative than others. It's also worth pointing out that once I went to solicit tales of revenge, not a single man came forward.
Solicit stories of relationship revenge from that great population sample known as Facebook -- as I did -- and the tales that bounce back are enough to shame Lorena Bobbit.
Clearly, we've moved beyond the prawns-sewn-into-the-curtains tactic. Placing a reverse-charge call to the speaking clock in Australia? So old hat. "Become his boss, and then deny him holiday time," said one friend in the banking business.
"My ex who cheated on me wanted to get back together, so I dropped hints to ex that I really wanted these new shoes and a bag but couldn't afford them as they were a bit expensive," writes Helen. "So as expected, he offered and I accepted graciously and went out and bought the new fella a lovely jacket and dinner for his birthday, happy in the knowledge that ex had paid for it all."
Adds another friend, Orla, from Dublin: "I find that placing an ad on Daft.ie for a €700 apartment in Ranelagh along with his number does the job. It's petty as hell but made me feel better!"
Tess Stimson, author of 'Beat The Bitch: How To Stop the Other Woman From Stealing Your Man', is another advocate of revenge. "If you're into revenge, I think it's a question of pinpointing the thing that drives him mad, even if it's something as trivial as changing the dust jackets on all his books," she says. "I think that sort of small gesture is the best type of revenge, plus it doesn't end up in court!"
Elsewhere, cyberspace is positively teeming with hair-raising tales of wronged women seeking an eye for an eye. Last year, American woman Tracy Hood-Davis exacted revenge on her cheating husband by hatching a plot with his three mistresses to super-glue his penis to his leg. The foursome lured the cheater to a hotel, tied and blindfolded him and did the dastardly deed.
Meanwhile in Greece, 26-year-old Marina Fanouraki allegedly set fire to British tourist Stuart Feltham's genitals after he got overly rowdy with her.
Another anonymous messageboard poster writes: "Whenever he does something horrible or mean, I do spiteful little things he never knows about. I have scrubbed the toilet with his toothbrush, blew my nose on his pillow, stuffed his dirty socks in his pillowcase, spit in his food, flicked cigarette ashes into his coffee and even peed in shoes. He has never known any of the evil things I have done and we've been together for eight years. I warned him early on: don't mess with me ... I'm a bitch!"
Wily entrepreneurial types are cashing in on this trend. Getrevengeonyourex.com and liarscheatsandbastards.com attract more than 1,000 hits a day. The former offers empowering tools designed to humiliate wayward former lovers. For £2, the site will send an untraceable text telling them that they're bad in bed. For £38, a call can be placed telling a victim that their new partner has an STI. All quite childish and puerile, but the site has more than 50,000 members.
The US website dontdatehimgirl. com has attracted more than a million members; another, crabrevenge.com (with the tagline 'Make that bitch itch'), will send a vial of pubic lice on to your ex's new girlfriend.
Celebrities, on the other hand, seem to be a little more
subtle in their revenge tactics. Mariah Carey and Eminem can't help slinging mud at one another over their rumoured fling. After Mariah posed as the rapper in her video for 'Obsessed', Eminem fired back some harsh criticism in his new song 'The Warning'.
Scorned celeb Ivana Trump famously intoned, "Don't get mad, get everything". And singer Kelis took her cheating hubby Nas to the cleaners last month by demanding $300,000 a month in child support.
Even the normally very private Nicole Kidman got in on the act when she uttered a brief but damning one-liner after divorcing Tom Cruise: "Now I can wear heels again."
According to the experts, the desire for revenge is perfectly normal, particularly after a bad break-up. More often than not, it's because we don't want to seem 'weak' if we don't react to an ex's bad behaviour. However, while revenge can make us feel good in the short term, it can leave quite a bitter aftertaste.
"Anger and revenge are instinctive responses to being hurt and humiliated," explains Yvonne Jacobson, manager at the Marriage and Relationship Counselling Services. "These thoughts are a self- preserving way of dealing with the immediate pain. These feelings are an important part of 'letting go' as they are energising feelings -- as opposed to sadness, which is an immobilising feeling."
In the cycle of loss, the common order of feelings experienced is considered to be denial, anger, sadness then eventually acceptance. The trick to moving on from your ex is refusing to act on these feelings of wanting revenge.
"Holding on to a finished relationship is not healthy and usually means the person has not worked through the natural stages of loss; they get stuck in the 'if only' and wallow in the negatives," notes Yvonne. "Usually they have no sense of control over their own life, which probably goes back to previous experiences of being hurt, let down, abandoned even. However, it's likely the sufferer has no awareness of this."
As anyone who has been there will testify, harbouring a bitter grudge against someone isn't healthy. Yet, according to Yvonne, while we're aware of this negative energy, we find it hard to move on. What's more, some of us revel in -- and even get a perverse kick out of -- being the victim.
"Sometimes staying 'stuck' in bitterness means the person is just not ready to move on, because moving on is too scary," reveals Yvonne. "It would mean taking a big leap into the unknown. We might genuinely feel like a victim for a while, but staying a victim is not healthy.
"We can't always change the situation, but we can change our attitudes and feelings, so being in a supportive environment helps the sufferer to move on. Bitter feelings about an ex can extend to feeling bitter about everyone and everything, which becomes a reinforcing negative cycle. Sticking pins in a cushion that represents the ex, writing letters to him that are torn up -- not posted -- anything that makes the injured person feel they are expressing their feelings and letting them out is good," says Yvonne. "You allow a sense of control to come back into your life once you have let off some steam."
When it comes to moving on, there are many ways of skinning a cat (without, you know, skinning his cat). "Immerse yourself in things that keep you occupied," advises Yvonne. "Remind yourself of what you're good at, be with people who understand what you are going through, and believe that sometime in the future you will be okay, even if you aren't there yet. Be patient -- it takes time to recover from the loss of a relationship."
Amid the tales of childish revenge that appeared in my inbox, one redeeming tale hinted that the high road might well be the most helpful route out of heartbreak.
"I went out with this guy from age 15-21," wrote Rebecca. "We got engaged on my birthday, and seven weeks later he dumped me for this girl he had pregnant. Words can't describe my heartache. I thought I would die at one point.
"That was 17 years ago. I was heading to a black tie charity thing about three months ago with my (recent) ex. We stopped in at a pub and there he is -- the absolute love of my life, sitting with the same girl who is now... fat. As is he. And really, really, earth-shockingly ugly. And I'm dressed in this great, red ball dress, with my hair and make-up done -- proper like. He looked at me and I looked at him, and we looked... worlds apart. Revenge? Best served cold. A great, great moment," she adds.
"People need to think about the consequences of the revenge," concludes Yvonne. "If the motivation is to 'get back at' the ex, then a better way to do this is to survive by being in control rather than becoming a victim, to come out of the relationship with self respect, and thereby get more satisfaction in the long run."
Or, as Ghandi quite eloquently put it, "An eye for an eye would make the whole world blind".