Hell hath no fury like a woman who would like her husband to stop screwing around. Rising divorce rates, combined with continued financial inequality and stigma for divorced women, has led to a booming “mistress dispeller” business in China, where betrayed women allegedly pay up to $150,000 to make their dude walk the straight and narrow again, and the tactics used to dispel the mistress read more like covert ops from a lurid novel than a real-life practice. Best part? The wife uses her husband’s money to foot the bill.
Author Jiayang Fan interviewed one such mistress dispeller, Yu Ruojian, for a recent New Yorker profile on the trend, to shed light on the practice. In China, the mistresses are called “Little Thirds,” an identifier that can mean a fling or a long-term mistress, and the methods used to get them out of the picture are absolutely sinister. Fan writes:
Mistress dispellers use a variety of methods. Some Little Thirds can be paid off or discouraged by hearing unwelcome details of their lovers’ lives — debts, say, or responsibility for an elderly parent — or shamed with notes sent to friends and family. If the dispeller or the client is well connected, a Little Third may suddenly find that her job requires her to move to another city. A female dispeller sometimes seeks to become a confidante, in order to advise the targeted woman that the liaison will inevitably crumble. In certain cases, a male mistress dispeller may even seduce the woman. Like all the mistress dispellers I spoke to, Yu said that he never resorts to this tactic, but he acknowledged that there are those who do.
One of Ruojian’s anecdotes involved being hired by a woman whose husband had been cheating for years with a woman who ran a sex toy shop. When the wife discovered her husband had dropped some $30,000 on the mistress — and not their retirement — she’d had enough. She paid Ruojian to get rid of her. So he befriended the mistress, and he soon became chummy enough with her to convince her to take a trip to Shangai for sightseeing. While there, he managed to snap a few pictures of the two of them in friendly poses. Though he says nothing romantic had happened between them, the photos were incriminating-looking enough to spark a jealousy so intense in the husband she was cheating with, that he immediately dumped her returned to his grateful, loyal wife. It took about four months of work.
The company Ruojiang works for — the Weiqing Group — calls itself a “love hospital,” which has been around for 16 years and claims to save marriages at any cost. Its existence and success undermines the notion that such affairs are always tolerated and expected, which Fan attributes to a kind of perfect storm of social change. China’s divorce rate has now doubled, and adultery is the main reason (this is also the top reason for divorce in France, another country where an assumption of common infidelity is not entirely accurate.)
Since women in China still don’t fare as well in divorce as men, they’re more committed to staying in marriages than leaving them. Using a cheating husband’s money to get him back signals that even wives have their limits, and that no one here is above playing dirty to get what they want. (It is ironic that the only person in this story of infidelity who comes out looking innocent is the mistress.)
Weiqing Group’s tactics offer a satisfying resolution to our appetite for justice, underscoring our most deeply held notions about marriages, infidelity and revenge—and how they should play out in the court of public opinion. We hold the institution of marriage in the highest regard no matter the quality of that marriage. We view betrayed husbands as bad dogs simply in need of rehab. Betrayed wives are innocent saints; the other woman, a scourge who deserves every last karmic comeuppance headed her way.
The wives who pay to orchestrate these conclusions are effectively paying for the sort of outcome that would normally happen in a very public, high-profile affair—only in private. Bill and Hillary Clinton are still respectably together, for instance, but Monica Lewinsky’s life was satisfyingly destroyed, as she was ultimately forced to leave her work and home and move to England to escape the public wrath.
And that seems to be the point here — the problem is not marriage itself, or the husbands who dishonor it, but rather the temptresses who threaten their stability, no matter the behavior of the husband and wife.
“There are no enduring marriages,” Wieqing Group’s cofounder Ming Li told The New Yorker. “Only mistresses who haven’t worked hard enough at tearing it apart.”
Even though Weiqing Group also counsels the wives in question on how to win their husbands back while the mistress is being “handled,” they offer no pretense that the real solution to saving a marriage should involve anything like transparency or honesty or even actual compatibility or love:
There is little sense that a couple should work together to address the underlying dynamics of their relationship. Instead, the clients seek training in how to win back their husbands through unilateral effort, mostly while keeping the consultations secret. One of them told me, “If he finds out I went to a therapist, he’ll think this is a ploy and that I am actually entrapping him with my newly learned techniques.”
Ming’s lessons consist of strategy tips that amount to a kind of Art of War for marriage. A wife who has run out of things to say to her husband might be advised to buy him presents or to plant an unexpected romantic note in his suit pocket. From a Western perspective, Ming’s method offers an odd vision of empowerment, achieved through pragmatic acceptance of a retrograde model of marriage. Husbands are to be flattered, seductive clothes worn (“a relationship necessity”), and all the work of the relationship done by the wife, without the husband ever being aware of it. “Marriage is like the process of learning to swim,” Ming said. “It doesn’t matter how big or fancy your pool is, just like it doesn’t always matter how good your husband is. If you don’t know how to swim, you will drown in any case, and someone else who knows how to swim will get to enjoy the pool.”
There’s also no guarantee that the husband won’t eventually make his way to a new mistress, and the cycle will repeat itself. While this seems bleak—and makes divorce actually seem noble and honorable by comparison—one wonders what it would be like if companies like Weiqing Group instead counseled women on how to go the other way: How to leave a cheating husband, take him for all he’s worth, and find love with someone who would honor all the vows they all seem to hold so dear. But that level of subterfuge would require changing more than just a mistress’s address—it would mean fixing deeply entrenched cultural attitudes, staggering financial inequality and the broken institution of marriage itself. It’s unlikely any amount of money or deception could do that.