I have a place I go to other than here to discuss this very societal, and personal issue — affairs. It’s a very private and exclusive message board made up of 6 former cheaters — 3 women, 3 men. It’s a place where we can share ideas and thoughts — and vent — privately about our personal struggles. A place to help each other out. We are all so different, with very different stories, yet, we can all relate to the other and help each other through this.
None are still cheating. 3 were caught and/or confessed. 3 never were (curiously all 3 are the female former cheaters). All are remorseful. We needed a private place of non-judgment and non-disclosure, so we could speak openly about a very touchy subject. A place where we can say whatever is on our minds without the fear of a Betrayed Spouse throwing a fit. We all experience the “egg shells” one has to walk upon in a recovering marriage, even years after, not knowing what is going to “set off” a Betrayed Spouse and having to self-edit your own mouth, even when you have promised to be 100% open and honest. Even the best most mature, and loving Betrayed Spouses have their moments of shrill, emotional illogic, even long after the fact. This message board is a good place, even though we are now down to 4 members (one of the females was banned for being overly-difficult last fall). But frankly I think I read more than I write. I used to go there a lot, but less so now. But the topic, and the need to vent about it and such, is a bit played out for me. I’m transitioning away from this. I can envision even stopping adding new blog entries here at some point.
But back to this message board. One man there in particular I could very much relate to. His stories and mine were fairly similar, except that his ex-OW was married also, and withdrew completely after the affair was disclosed. He’s not being stalked by her as I am by mine. He also has come to learn what a wonderful life and family he has and how he almost blew it all on something that was part real, part illusion. And he’s working hard to reconcile with his wife and improve his marriage. And he too has the internal struggles and after-shocks of his affair that he must deal with, as we all do.
Recently, he decided that he needed to stop coming to our board. That he felt that the day to day reading about affairs and discussing them was perhaps retarding his progress. That it was time to “move on” and focus his energies entirely on his marriage. Fair enough. I get that. I too walked away from both my blog and the board last fall for several months. I needed a break.
As he retired from the board, this man left us with an eloquent “goodbye” through a series of “lessons learned”. I thought them so profound that, with his permission, I am sharing them with my readers. These certainly hit me between the eyes. I could completely relate. He is a thoughtful, intelligent, introspective man. He is not the self-absorbed, narcissistic jerk that cheaters (especially men) are usually portrayed as. You will get yet another person’s insight into themselves as the former cheater — why they did what they did, and what they learned from it. This final missive to us was amazing in terms of its honesty, self-awareness, and lessons learned.
(This is my) last post.
Not because I have to or need to or even really want to – its just that I feel this compelling call to move on. There are only so many cycles that my head can compute, only so any words that can be written, only so many emotions to be expressed before you conclude that you have learnt 99.9% of everything that having an affair can teach you.
And much of what I have learnt is not only from my own perspective, but from reading, sharing, understanding and debating all of our experiences. That is the true value of this board and the friendships that are inherent in it. You bring context, consideration, support and understanding. Thank you.
So I thought I would share – as pithy as these thoughts may be – what is absolutely true for me post my affair – these beliefs and ideas that have sprung from my experiences and leanings that I stand by as 100% correct – for me – that I would then share to anybody else that asked. Here we go:
1. An affair is the ultimate sliding door moment. It challenges the most important choice we made in our lives – the person we chose and committed to spend the rest of our lives with – and gives you a brief glimpse at what our lives might have been like if we had chosen someone different and holds out the possibility that we could still choose differently now. It shows you a fantasy into an alternative future which in turn challenges all the choices you have made and the potential life that might be. Of course it is not an accurate picture or prediction – but it is still a vision, laced with emotion and lust stirred with the opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start again. Nothing is more powerful than the promise of what might be reinforced with emotion of what currently is.
2. Part of the reason we hold onto something so tight is because we fear something so great won’t happen twice. Like the above, an affair awakens emotions that we know we may not ever experience again in our lives. That scares the shit out of us. We know that if we remain in our marriages, finding that overwhelming romance is highly unlikely. The midlife crisis kicks in and we are shaken with the knowledge that time is running out, that we are mortal, reinforced by the death of parents or people we know as we age… “Is this it?” we ask, “is that all there is?”. This simple thrill of finding somebody else who thinks of you as attractive as you find them… allowing you to hold their hand, tell them that they are as special to you as they tell you you are to them… allowing you to kiss them slowly, deeply, passionately… How many more times in your life will you get to do that, to feel that, to experience that? Tick, tick, tick…
3. “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Nelson Mandela. I settled in my marriage for a wonderful woman who I knew who was safe, honest, beautiful and controllable. The perfect unchallenging partner who would love me and who I could also love with almost no risk. She adores me. I know that. And forsaking violence or ongoing abuse – she would never leave me. And all the women that I loved in past that would have challenged me, stretched me, made demands of me, grew me – the ones I would have had to really work at to keep – I gave up on as too hard, too difficult, too much effort. I settled. I settled for a woman I could control. This is an awful admission but true for me. It was true for my affair partner as well. She settled in much the same way. Power corrupts. We knew we could do what we did and still rescue our marriages. And that’s what we both did. And diminished ourselves as a result.
4. But in truth – I didn’t settle at all. I married someone better than me in almost every way. I shudder to think what I would have done had my wife done the same to me. I would not have been as calm, would not have given me the space and love that my wife has, to help me through my mistakes. I did not married down at all – I married up. My wife is the most beautiful person in the world – and it took a affair to help me realize what a gift I had in my life.
5. Love is two things. And you must have both. Chemistry and choice. I don’t buy this complete bollocks that romance is different to love. Crap. I knew I loved the ex-OW the first time I saw her almost 5 years ago. She felt it to. Call it whatever you like – intense sexual attraction, intellectual engagement, hormones in overdrive, brain chemicals driven by the human need to mate and reproduce, blah blah blah … I don’t feel that with every attractive girl I meet – in fact, I have only every felt that three time in my entire life. Three. In 41 years. There IS something about two people who smash into each other and their lives are completely changed as a result and they are compelled to be together. That is special, significant and profound. And does not happen every day. But nor does it mean that they are your soul mate or a once off – but they are special. And I do honestly believe that we don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason. And I have learnt why the ex-OW crossed mine.
6. But the second item is just as important. Love is a choice. You have to choose. Deliberately. Carefully. Profoundly. Daily. And sometimes with the concentration of a chess master. The ex-OW and I, despite clearly experiencing the first part of our love did not ultimately get to the second part, longer than the time our affair went for. It seems obvious but it is important. While in our affair, we chose everyday to love one another. Simple. Then one day, she chose not do. That did not negate our chemistry and desire to be with one another – but it did end our love. Simple. We do not love each other anymore as love is an everyday choice. We may miss each other and may still desperately want to see each other – but we don’t. So we don’t love each other either. Simple. She chose her husband and/or family. My wife chose me. I now choose my wife.
7. And once one partner in an affair chooses to depart – that does not stop the chemistry. That initial calling that brought you together does not go away. Ever. I still remember the first girl I ever felt that way about as strongly today as what I did when I was 16. And I am sure if a saw her again, the temptation would still be as intense. It is no wonder that many ex school flames get back together later in life in an affair. Chemistry is life long. Real. Linked at a DNA level. That is why it is so hard to let it go… And let it go you must if you are to move on – which brings me to my final learning…
8. Time and Distance. I have come to accept that I will have this real physical and intellectual bond with the ex-OW for life. It can not be turned off by either of us. It just is. It is a calling. And to be in its presence and to have it in your life, but to ignore it, is simple torture. As much as failing to eat or drink or sleep – it chews on you, in the pit of your stomach, until you will do anything for it. So you have to exit it from your life to survive. That simple. And the only way to do that is to drive distance between you and give it plenty of time. A mate of mine had a work affair 5 years ago – they were both married – she pulled the pin on it too to save her marriage and moved overseas with her family to get away. He still thinks of her everyday but the emotional impact of that loss only hits him every three weeks or so – after 5 years. It gets better, he says – but the journey is long – Time and Distance he says is the ONLY thing that works. Damaged permanently, his marriage at an end, but surviving.
Well said, my friend. Your presence will be missed, but your words here certainly helped me put it all in better perspective, and hopefully, some of my readers too.