Pages of Wrath: A New Book Looks At Why We Seek Revenge

After she was hired to write a blog about a fictional scorned woman who exacts 14 Days of Wrath on her cheating husband, Eva Nagorski realized just how pervasive the theme of revenge is -- from ancient times to the digital age.  In her new book The Down and Dirty Dish on Revenge: Serving It Up Nice and Cold to that Lying, Cheating Bastard (St. Martin's Press), Nagorski looks at the  psychology of revenge, why it's important to talk about this very human reaction, and dishes up lots of juicy stories.  Excerpts: 

So you've confirmed that the bastard who wasted the last few years of your life has been cheating on you or is about to kick you to the curb.  That all the times cleaning up after him, taking care of him when he was sick, dealing with his psycho, overbearing parents, listening to his problems at work or his frustration about not doing what he wants to do, has literally meant nothing.  That everything you invested in him has just been flushed down the toilet, clogged the toilet, overflowed the toilet, and finally swirled down the toilet into the pipes of the hereafter.

You want your dignity back.  You want to stop the pain.  No, you want him to feel the pain, the same way you have.  Actually, you want him to suffer more.  You've found out the truth and you're ready to hand him his ass on a shiny, silver platter.

You know the man (Moses), you know the place (Mount Sinai), and you know the commandment: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Jewish law held that both parties who committed the crime of adultery were to be put to death.  Simple, effective.  The Egyptians took a different rout: The man was whipped a thousand times with rods and the woman’s nose was sliced off.  The Greeks plucked out the eyes of adulterers, and the Romans made sure adulterers were either banished -- after cutting off their ears and noses -- stitched up in sacks and thrown into the sea, or burned to ashes.  The Saxons burned the adulteress, put a gibbet over her ashes, and then hung the adulterer over it.  Decorative!

Why are there stories of revenge in every single country of the world and since the very beginning of time?  The instinct is in all of us, no matter who we are, where we’re from, and what time period we live in.  So don’t second-guess your feelings or feel bad about them – your vengeful desires are simply natural!  It just depends on the type of personality you have to determine how far you decide to take them.

When “Katherine” found out her husband was cheating on her, she plastered posters around the neighborhood that featured a photo of him with her and their kids, their wedding date, and in large letters: WAMMD – Wives Against Married Men Dating.

Kristina Gordon of the University of Tennessee suggests that there are some positive aspects to exacting revenge, “in some ways, feeling stronger, feeling that you’re showing yourself that you’re not powerless, that you’re getting some sense of control, that you want to say what happened was wrong and should not have happened,” adding, “I think that’s a very healthy thing for people to do.”

One woman found out her husband was cheating so she took his prized wine collection, carefully catalogued in their wine cellar, and let the bottles bathe in a bathtub.  All the labels peeled off, and then she put the bottles – with no labels – back in the cellar.

Technology has become the kiss of death for illicit romances.  While it may be easy to hide affairs at first, the digital age also made it easier to sniff out affairs as soon as there is a whiff of suspicion.  Our lives are now recorded on our computer hard drives, office servers and digital phone memory, so messages sent can easily be found or retrieved.

Many law firms say that a large – and growing – number of divorce cases enter evidence into the legal proceedings like email, text messages or cell phone bills.  While it’s usually been his word against hers, now it can be much harder to dispute emails and text messages that say “C U @ 8 – BRNG KY,” written proof that he’s straying.

One DJ was interviewing a model on his radio show and joked that he’d leave his wife for her.  His wife didn’t find it funny and sold off his expensive sports car on eBay for $1.

But all this technology does seem to have an upside.  The same conveniences that have made it easier for men to stray can make it easier to make men pay.  The suspicious wives and girlfriends of the world are now retaliating by sending mass emails, revealing intimate details about their cheating lovers (whether they're true or not, and the latter of course constitutes libel and can put you in legal jeopardy), creating personal websites that detail the end of the affair, posting their ex's details on a gay singles’ site or simply spamming their email addresses.  People are taking full advantage of the technological devices: text messaging, emailing, buying camera phones and purchasing gadgets that you used to read about only in novels or see in James Bond movies.  Technology has evolved to the point where you can walk into a spy shop and buy state-of-the-art surveillance equipment as if you were “Q”.  Extracting a pound of flesh has only become more fun with all of these doodads.  And a freebie comes with your purchases: the anonymity factor.  Doing things like sending unidentified text messages to someone’s private cell phone is reminiscent of the good ol’ days of prank calling, when you could get away with it since caller ID was only a futuristic concept and *69 only meant a sex position.

In the end, figuring out what makes you happy is truly the only way to move on past that lying, cheating bastard.  However you reach that point -- whether by shipping everything he owns to a refugee camp in Africa or accepting the fact that he’ll always be one flighty Peter Pan (and no woman – not even you – will change him!) or forgiving him for having a threesome with the babysitter and her sister – is up to you.  Whatever it is, it should be what most satisfies you. And the best revenge of all may be reaching the point where you’re ready to move on—and ready to forget all about revenge and about him.

From The Down and Dirty Dish on Revenge by Eva Nagorski. Copyright © 2009 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.