What I Learned from my Affair
I didn’t want to break up a marriage. I just wanted someone to want me, I wanted him to think I was funny and fun, and I wanted him to have sex with me once, maybe twice a week. I quickly learned married men can never get away from their families once a week. Twice a week is a ludicrous notion.
We met five times in person over fourteen months. And I whined about it constantly, but it was always enough. If I’d had more time with him, more attention from him, I likely would have been terrified. Plus, I didn’t want an in real life relationship with someone that cheated. And he could be a real jerk. I didn’t want an in real life relationship with a jerk that cheated.
I was afraid to choose someone that might leave his wife and family for me so I made sure I chose someone that would never leave his wife and family for me. He told me early on he had disabled children. He told me that so I knew he’d never leave. I was relieved. That made it easy. I could relax.
I didn’t want to be a priority. I didn’t want that kind of pressure. I was happy I cared more for him than he for me, although I don’t think that’s true. I think we liked each other a lot, as people, as friends. It was a seriously fucked up set of circumstances.
We played games. I chased, and he played hard to get. But he wasn’t hard to get. When I retreated, he did what he needed to do to restore balance, which didn’t appear from the outside to be balance. But it was pretty fucking balanced. Our need for the affair was right about even. We both knew our roles and stuck to them admirably.
I didn’t value myself enough to think I deserved better, but I didn’t even want better. I didn’t value myself enough to even care, in fact I completely put any notion I could have better out of my mind altogether (all the while knowing better). I deliberately chose less.
Settling for someone else’s husband confirmed the fact I wasn’t worthy of being someone’s wife. That felt comfortable and safe and good and right – right in line with the messages I’d gotten my entire life. Right in line with the messages I had embraced, and consciously, consistently, and persistently used to define myself to myself. I loved being a doormat. It just all felt so safe and comfortable and familiar.
I chose to believe I was powerless in the relationship, but I wasn’t. I had a tremendous amount of power. I had all the control, actually, because I made myself available. When I hinted I might not be available all the time any time, he panicked. He had no control. A woman's sexuality has a tremendous amount of power. Too bad women don’t recognize their power, or misuse their power. The vagina really does rule the world.
I had this saint/martyr/savior thing going. I thought I brought things into his life no one else could. I thought I was the only one that could make him feel better about himself. I saw right away he disliked and abused himself every bit as much as I disliked and abused myself.
Our trajectories were really fucked up and twisted. Each of us was living a tragic existence of “less than” we deliberately and quite meticulously crafted for ourselves, then clung to, risking everything.
I should stop speaking for him. All this is subjective, speculation. But we were pretty equally matched in some pretty significant ways, or it wouldn’t have lasted so long. We were both committed to making sure things kept going, in spite of the fact we were devoured with white hot shame. Our devotion to the affair kept us in a state of constant torment.
Four years after the affair ended, my critical learning is this: I never have to choose that situation again.
I’m so different now, I don’t think it's possible for me to fall into such a dysfunctional and destructive arrangement. I would very much like to believe I’ve grown, I’ve learned to value myself, love myself, and honor myself. I would very much like to believe I’d never willingly take part in such a bullshit fucked up relationship again, and that I’d never allow myself to be treated as “less than”.
But here’s the trick. I can’t lose ground on this stuff, because I teach people how to treat me. How I talk about myself, feel about myself, treat myself dictates the kind of people I draw into my life. I can’t blame other people for treating me poorly when I dishonor myself.
I’m moving in a very positive direction. I now recognize it’s all on me. That’s incredibly freeing yet equally terrifying. It’s a big responsibility, taking full ownership of my own wellbeing. I’m not foolish enough to say I’ll never fall back into self-abuse or get involved in an abusive relationship. Those are lifelong patterns. But – one foot in front of the other.
And a big big caveat here – he was the one that was married, but it took both of us to wreak the havoc we did. Neither of us is more to blame than the other. People fall into affairs because they have gaping holes of lack they’re desperate to fill. They claw at anything they believe might alleviate the pain of emptiness. We were both in tremendous pain. That doesn’t absolve anything, but it is context.
Married Man is not a cheating jerk, any more than I am an evil conniving manipulative mistress. Everyone is good, bad, and everything in between.
“What if evil doesn't really exist? What if evil is something dreamed up by man, and there is nothing to struggle against except our own limitations? The constant battle between our will, our desires, and our choices?”
-Libba Bray, Rebel Angels