Someone who's given a great deal of thought to the question of why one woman will snap and another won't is Bobbi Bacha. Clara Harris had hired Bacha's company, Blue Moon Investigations, to tail her husband. And Bacha was nearby when one of her investigators videotaped Clara during her murderous drive around the parking lot.
"I've seen cases much worse than Clara's," says Bacha. "I walked in on my husband doing it. He's on top of a car with my best friend. At first I wanted to just kill him. Kill her. I almost blacked out. Then I remembered my 9-month-old daughter. Then I wanted to kill myself. I actually had my plan, but my daughter was so cute. I had visions of her without me. So I took all that anger, all that hate, and I became the best PI I could." In fact, her idea of payback was to spend the next 20 years catching cheaters.
What saved Bacha, brought her back to earth, was her role as a mother, which trumped her identity as a wife. People who don't break character when they're betrayed, experts say, often have something else that defines them, like children, religion, a purpose in life; others who lose themselves entirely in their romantic relationships—and from what Beaver has observed, high-achieving women seem surprisingly prone to this—are more vulnerable to losing control. "Many professional women I know live in fear that they're going to be found out, that they are somehow overrated no matter how competent and successful they are," says Beaver. "Maybe that's what leaves some of them susceptible to being dependent on a relationship to the extent that it becomes part of their core identity. When confronted with the deceit or abandonment, they have no reservoir of inner strength to regroup when the relationship ends."
Despite how much has been made of Lisa Nowak's academic and career achievements, such prowess does not inure one to a lovesick breakdown, points out Lisa Mersky, an Austin psychotherapist. "Unfortunately," Mersky says, "there is no correlation between cognitive intelligence and emotional intelligence." She agrees that women who live mostly for—and through—their men, are in real danger if the relationship fails. The idea that a boyfriend or husband will "complete you" is a fantasy better left for romance novels. A more realistic, and healthier, expectation, she says, is that "maybe 25 percent of our emotional needs will be met by our partners." Which leaves resilient women to take responsibility for the remaining 75 percent—not only through finding meaning in work and family but by maintaining friendships, hobbies, and perhaps a spiritual life.
The ambitious, driven Nowak may have had trouble holding on to these resources. Her career had been all-consuming, and there's evidence that it was unraveling at the time Oefelein ditched her. Stephanie Wilson, the other female crew member who'd been on the Discovery, had been selected over Nowak for a future mission, according to fellow astronaut Michael Fossum. "Nowak was upset that she was not chosen for the job because it was probably her last opportunity for space flight," he told NASA's Office of Investigations.
"What was it that defined Lisa Nowak's identity at the time she snapped?" Brizendine poses. "Was it being a mom, a wife, an astronaut? Or had the love object, Commander O., seeped into her brain circuits, as lovers do? She had incorporated him into her own identity and let him define who she was. Without him, her very self snapped."