Frequent questions I hear on other blogs and message boards — Whether cheaters feel, or felt, honest and true love for their affair partner.
And I suppose that there are cases with very long-term affairs where true love is developed over time between affair partners. But it’s the exception. Few affairs last beyond a few months. Yet, many will swear they are “in love” with their affair partner. That they found their “soul mate” in the affair.
Yet, is this true love? Was the relationship “real” or mostly living out a fantasy? Did we really love them?
The answer. Maybe, but not likely. Only each of us can answer that with 20/20 hindsight long after the affair is terminated and the embers extinguished. I addressed this partly in a previous blog – Looking back, I’m not sure to what extent I truly loved the OW, although at the time you could not have told me otherwise. I certainly felt like I was in love. Intensely. We clicked on every level. She seemed to be everything I wanted, everything I needed. I opened up my heart, soul, and brain to her completely. I was like an addict — completely hooked. “Love” was a word that went back and forth between us constantly. It certainly felt like love to me!
Certainly, you can get caught up in the illusion of love in any relationship — affairs are no different. I think that early on, in any passionate relationship, what we think of as “love” of the other person really isn’t. We don’t know them well enough to really “love” them. What we are really saying is “I love how you make me feel about me”, even if we don’t realize it.
And certainly affairs are more prone to feeling intense feelings. Why? Because for most of us, we got involved with someone else because we are STARVING to get our needs met. Not just curious about being with someone else. Or that we occasionally felt like our spouse wasn’t there for us. But usually after a long term of not getting critical emotional needs met whatsoever.
So when someone else swoops in — into this vacuum created in the marriage — and meets all those unmet needs, it creates all kinds of unbelievable feelings inside you that feel like love. Not much different than a single person who hasn’t had a serious relationship in a long time and someone comes in and sweeps them off their feet. How good would even a day-old hamburger taste to a starving man? Pretty darn good! Endorphins are being released in your brain in mega-quantities! If I feel THIS good, it has to be love, right?
What follows here is a shorter, edited version that someone else wrote and something I found profound about the difference between “authentic” love and “affair” love. I do not take credit for these words. This person sums it up better than I every could.
“Love” within the context of infidelity is an encounter between a person – the object of desire – and an experience – the passion of eros. It can leave one intoxicated with emotion that drives both decisions and behaviors in often inalterable ways. The result of this fusion is one of the most destructive mistakes a human can make. The fundamental error we make is that we confuse a romantic/friendship/erotic experience with a person who just happens to be a part of the encounter. You believe you MUST have that person in order to have that experience. Again, we are confusing how we feel about the person with exactly how they are making us feel about ourselves in the experience.
Then, drama of mythological proportion ensues. You collapse two worlds onto one another, failing to distinguish them as two distinct events that just happened in close proximity to one another. You confuse a person for an experience and attempt valiantly to translate that experience into something real. It isn’t real.
You confuse an emotional experience, i.e. the affair, with the person who you are having the affair with and believe you “need” that person to keep and preserve that experience. Willing to risk almost anything to legitimize the affair, you call it “love.” Understanding this distinction can be one of the most important steps to ending an affair and recovering from infidelity.
After all, so much depends upon our belief that the affair is “real”. The possibility of “true love”, the confirmation that “soul mates” exist, the justification for destroying families, leaving spouses, children, jobs and friends – all MUST be justified with legitimacy and purpose. Otherwise, those of us in affairs are nothing but hedonistic idiots. So we have a huge capacity to convince ourselves that it was real. If we didn’t, how could we live with ourselves? It’s often only after the affair is over that we fully realize the truth of what we did and why we did it.
The stage is set for grandiosity and narcissistic self-indulgence. On this platform, all manner of illogical and nonsensical choices are made. We are in pursuit of a valid human need – deep intimacy and belonging. Yet, we are moving toward our fated demise. Authentic love, based on friendship, history and seasoned emotionality, can never result from affair love, which is grounded in escape, deception and illicit illusions. Anything based upon deception is destined to fail. Period. Without integrity, life simply doesn’t work.
Even if you remove moral judgment out of the equation — although few would say that it was not an immoral choice — we still have to make a simple distinction about what is so commonly misunderstood in the delusion and stupor of the affair. The experience can never deliver on the illusions we seduce ourselves into believing.
Affair love is rooted in the attempt to legitimize an illusion. In fact, that’s the source of its power since so much is at stake.
A real relationship cannot compete with an affair. The novelty, forbidden, and surrealistic nature of an affair relationship beats a real relationship any day with its sobering demands. Within its pursuit lies everything it means to be human.
Real relationships compete unsuccessfully for the illusion affair relationships deliver – the anticipation that one’s deep longings for contact, wholeness, completeness and soulfulness are met. The affair promises to transcend and annihilate the mundane status quo of so many of our marital arrangements. Nothing could be further from the truth. First, however, you must distinguish between the fantasy of an affair versus the potential intimacy in a committed relationship.
Here’s the straight truth: an affair is a bastardization of every one of those needs. It exploits the normal and natural right to human intimacy by selling a cheap version of temporary escape. It is a shallow relief that barely scratches the surface of authentic love, a commitment to a life partner who knows and loves you despite disappointments. Real relationships have a way of rubbing our noses in the slime of life. It is within the alchemy of that authenticity that true love can be encountered.
Affair love is an illusion, based on a lie, fueled by fantasy, protected by self-justification, insecurity and ego. It NEVER delivers on any expectations. Is it any wonder why real relationships, based on an affair, fail at a rate twice that of divorce?
Authentic love embraces contradiction that affair love cannot. The “contradiction” I speak of here is you. You are a contradiction. As a human being in a relationship, you are going to be inconsistent, hypocritical, have bad days and good, be at your best and often at your worst, and have phases of life where there may be little lovable about you. Authentic love, of which I was surprised by, is a quality and intensity of love sustainable and real because it is NOT contingent upon the emotions or circumstances to be just right.
Contrast that with Affair love, where you are on a perpetual honeymoon and the emotional tone is always courtship behavior. You are insulated from reality because an affair never touches the light of day since it requires deception to sustain it. You always look good, sound good, smell good and think you’re good – just like reality… right? It’s a house of cards waiting to implode.
The result is a perfect storm of illusion and flight. The primary relationship doesn’t have a chance to survive because it cannot compete with a fantasy untested by the sobriety of reality. Your affair relationship thrives on the fantasy-based love of exhilaration and novelty.
Soul mates are created, NOT found. True love exists but not for the faint of heart or narcissistically challenged. Success has requirements. So does real love. It requires you to know yourself intimately, all of you – how you’ve been wounded by life and how to evolve as a person capable of loving another. It requires you to be transparent, authentically asking for what you want and being willing to enthusiastically give back. It requires you to grow up. Groveling when things go wrong is out. Keeping your integrity and standing firm on your commitment is in. It requires you to stand for what you know is possible, despite terrible circumstances, and demonstrate the courage of a warrior, even when you don’t feel like it, even when you’ve lost that loving feeling, even when you aren’t getting your needs met on a regular basis.