ok, things got stranger.
to respond, usasma, no, it wasn't showing up in the device manager, nor was any unknown device (that happened before i installed the driver, but afterwards, it didn't show up at all). And i rebooted a couple times, so that doesn't seem to fix the issue either. thanks still, any help is welcome!
BUT. i turned off my computer for the night, and in the morning i turned it on and THE ETHERNET ADAPTER SHOWED UP. Problem NOT solved, however. After creating a workgroup on the new ethernet, i was prompted to reboot. After reboot, NO MORE ETHERNET ADAPTER.
So my question now is this: is it possible that my ethernet plug is badly connected to the rest of my computer? What else could make my network adapter connection so sketchy and unreliable?