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Everyone has it.

There is that ghost, that old fear, that shadow of things past. The person you love now has loved other people before you.

Who are they? What constitutes that other, prior person?

It's a strange itch. Remember when you broke your arm in sixth grade playing basketball? The itch beneath your cast, the one that kept you up at night, the one that inspired all sorts of odd contortions and bent wire hangers in attempts to scratch it?

That's the old girlfriend, the old boyfriend...the first wife, the first husband. The unscratchable itch.

They squirm beneath the surface of the love you have now. They are quiet but eloquent. They scream in the silences between you and your lover.

You know that pregnant moment after sex? The moment where only breathing punctuates the silence? The Other People inhabit that space, and they bleed their signature all over that moment.

You have to know.

So you resort to awful things. You interrogate your spouse/girlfriend/boyfriend after a convivial, drunken evening at the local tapas bar. You surreptitiously scour their computer history for incriminating emails and websites. You ask seemingly off-the-cuff questions during the moments before sleep, when your beloved is wrapped around your body like something permanent.

You piece things together in the silence of jealousy.

Here is what I found out:

My husband, who is neither highly sexed or particularly attractive, used to date a woman who wrote erotica.

I'm not talking about the rareified works of velvet fiction reserved for Harlequin romances or bored housewives. I mean the sort of gritty, dirty, guilty sex that graces the glossy pages of Penthouse Letters. The shimmery, fantastical, wet and filthy sex that creates longings too deep for actual words.

My husband used to fuck the woman who wrote that stuff.

Here's a question, men:

Where do you think the stories come from? Do you honestly think that random fraternity brothers, mailmen, and plumbers actually had those chance encounters with equally random women?

Hate to break it to you...

For you 30% of men who get off on written erotica rather than photographed sexual acts, it's mighty likely that those titillating pieces of dirty fiction are written by my husband's ex-lover.

She knows something that you might not: That men are easy. That their limbic system is a bit more easily accessed than women's. That the way to a man's heart is most definitely through his cock.

This woman - Maria, from central South Carolina - is more adept at arresting a man's attention than any 17th century courtesan. She knows the handles, the phrases, and the secret passageways. She steals his mind.

Maria stood there laughing in the silences between me and my husband. She lay back, cunt spread wide, stained with ink and semen, laughing. She stole every silence with her words.

The person with whom I was competing was a ghost with attitude, a ghost who had carnal knowledge of not only my husband but of men in general.

She knew what made their cocks twitch, what made their gaze lower, what made their mouths fill with lust and spit and desire.

This is the woman who haunted my marriage bed, who crept about in the endless moments between the fuck and the orgasm, who sent seemingly innocuous emails to my husband every once in a while.

This is the woman who chewed a hole in my marriage.

Ladies, think of it:

Out there, in the gigantic postcoital space between you and your husband, is another woman who has his deepest desires pegged, quantified, and catalogued for her future use. She has whispered unthinkable things in his ear as she slid her finger up his ass. She has measured his heartbeats as she spoke laughing filth into his ear, as she found his secret depths, as she caressed his deepest desires.

Compete with that? Yeah, right.

There is nothing you can do. You can know your enemy, but you cannot hope to approximate the effect her words have had on your husband.

She wins before the contest ever started.

Nothing you do will ever begin to move your husband the way her published fantasies have.

Welcome to my world.

I can't say for sure that she is what buried my marriage, but I can say this one thing:

Men are easy. The women who intuit this and play to it have an advantage that is unthinkably unfair.

Sex really is that basic, that intense.

And the longer your husband goes without access to that cheap and priceless aspect of himself, the closer your relationship is to implosion.

Learn the basics. Learn to treat him like meat in bed. Learn the vocabulary of lust rather than love.

Don't allow her a foothold in your bed.

If you do, she will show up in the shadows. She will make her voice known in the moments before your husband comes. She will be the echo he desires when you are no longer beautiful to him, when familiarity has blurred your features and dulled his adrenaline.

She knows him.

It's your mission to know him better, and to do whatever it takes to keep him alert to your own particular charms. Treat it like a second job. Find out what makes him hard, what makes him scream, what makes him sleep a dreamless and satiated sleep.

It doesn't matter who he appears to be when the sun is shining. Who is he in the dark? You have to find out, to exploit it.

Good luck. Echoes from the past can be alarmingly solid. Be willing to press past what you find ugly or vile.

I don't know. Maybe the woman from your husband's past is less...dangerous. Maybe she only has his virginity to her credit. Whatever it is, be willing to go the distance. Get dirty. Get aggressive. Pin him down - physically - at odd moments. Don't allow him to continue watching the news or playing that goddam videogame. Don't let him ignore you.

Take him. Take him hard, take him dirty, take him in surprising and original ways. Eat him like a ripe mango. Don't be polite - bite in, and let all the juice run down your chin.

Remember the most important thing: he can leave.