Someone wrote me and asked me for advice. Eventually they asked if I would post their affair story in order to help others. So while I have not posted in a long time, I will post this story from this thoughtful, heart-broken young woman. Let’s call her “Jenn. She met a man and did not realize for many months that he was in reality married and that she was in an affair. It all ended not long after this disclosure. so while we love to blame the OW/OM for affairs, here’s a twist – her lover was careful to shield his marriage from her. She is the “Accidental OW”.
Basic Info: Jenn is 37 years old, unmarried/never married. No children. Lives in the USA
Affair Info: When did it being, when did it end?
March 2015-August 2016
1. Tell us a little bit about you.
I grew up in a family full of love and laughter. My siblings and I observed a caring and supportive relationship between my parents. They both had demanding careers and were extremely driven and passionate, attributes that rubbed off on all of us. They emphasized the importance of compassion, kindness, and honesty, but also strength and determination. I cannot think of a more balanced and happy childhood.
In school I excelled in both academics and athletics. I was quite shy growing up, and never had a boyfriend in high school or college. My greatest joy comes from helping people, and this, as well a passion for biology, ultimately led me to become a doctor. At age 37, I was happy, healthy, attractive, confident and starting my dream career.
2. Tell us the story of the affair. How did the affair begin? How did it unfold? Was it both emotional and physical, or just one? How often did you meet? What did you normally do?
I met him at a work dinner party. I was sitting at a table among 20 colleagues and he approached me first, put his hand on my shoulder and introduced himself. During our initial conversation I became incredibly overwhelmed with happiness and excitement. Our interests and passions were so similar, something I had never experienced before. The following day he asked me on a date to a rock concert. It was that night that I fell in love for the first time. I had waited so long for this moment. We laughed and cried and danced and sang and then he kissed me goodnight.
As a doctor he was gentle and compassionate and loved by his patients and staff. He had an amazing relationship with his parents and his brothers, and they attended church as a family regularly. He was 10 years older than I, and had two beautiful children from a previous marriage, who he loved dearly. He had a large group of close friends who were constantly planning fun trips and enjoying life. He was physically attractive, always optimistic and had a true zest for life.
The following months were complete bliss for both of us. We both loved our work, but our demanding schedules only allotted 1 to 2 nights per week together. We would meet after work to see a movie or make dinner together. We would talk, laugh and listened to music for hours. The anticipation of seeing each other would build during the stressful workweek, so that when we finally met, we were brimming with excitement just to be together. We worked together one day per week, which afforded me the opportunity to observe his caring manner when taking care of his patients. The relationship was both emotional and physical. At two months I told him I loved him and he told me the same. We celebrated our anniversary every month after this, went on a vacation and had plans to travel the following year. I had never in my life been so happy and so in love, and he expressed the same sentiments.
3. How was the affair discovered? How did you find out? What happened in the immediate aftermath of D-day?
After eight months, a friend of mine told me that he was married. It is almost impossible to explain the emotional pain that I instantly felt. My heartbeat increased drastically and I became dizzy. I immediately called him, told him how unbelievably hurt and confused I was, and asked for an explanation. On the phone he was extremely calm and without one bit of hesitation or emotion, said that there was more to story that my friend could possibly know. He said that there was a very upsetting and difficult situation involving the mother of his children, which he did not disclose, and that he needed to protect his children. He unwaveringly assured me that we should continue our relationship. I trusted him completely and our relationship continued.
However, from this point on, I noticed changes. He never again told me he loved me, never held my hand, and never walked next to me. But at the same time, I could still feel his love, happiness and excitement when we were together. He made every effort to see me and always made plans despite his busy schedule. These conflicting behaviors created a sense of uneasiness within me, and I slowly became less confident. I expressed my uneasy feelings in a letter, but upon receiving it, he belittled my attempt and dismissed my feelings. Instead of discussing the subject further, he put the key to my apartment on the table, and began to walk out the door. In shock, I quickly told him that I was being over-sensitive and that we should forget the topic. My uneasiness became so intense that when my boss presented an opportunity to work briefly on the west coast, I accepted because I knew something needed to change. During my time away we still met for a vacation and had an amazing time, and spoke everyday about how excited we were to be reunited.
On the day I returned home, his wife called me. She had heard from a friend that her husband was having an affair. She informed me they had been happily married for 16 years, and were a perfect balance between being lovers and best friends. She said he was always at home on time after work and always where he said he was. At first she thanked me for my honesty, then doubted my story, and then became angry and upset and ended the conversation.
4. What happened in the immediate aftermath of D-day?
Two things occurred when I met with him shortly after receiving this phone call: (1) After I revealed to him that his wife of 16 years, was just informed about his affair, he showed almost no sign of any emotion other than a slight annoyance. From my perspective, there was no sense of remorse, sadness, anxiety, confusion or embarrassment. He told me, in a careful and roundabout way, that our text messages should be kept between the two of us, and should be kept as special memories not saved in our phones. Before parting to return home to confront his wife, he asked to be with me physically. He said he really enjoyed the “bond” between us. (2) His best friend and his brother, who were present for the discussion, said that the most logical next step would be to lay any blame this public disclosure would cause, on me. They contended that this was the obvious solution because, as a whole, I had less in life “to lose” while he had a lot more “to lose”. They finally decided that this plan wouldn’t work, not because they were worried about my reputation, but because the wife “would never buy it”.
5. Who ended the affair, how and why?
Three weeks later, after several attempts to contact him, he sent an email stating that he would never contact me again. And that was the end.
6. How did you feel during the relationship? About it? About yourself? What were your thought processes? What were the best parts of the affair? What were the worst?
I experienced a spectrum of emotions.
EUPHORIA: Falling in love is one of the best things that can happen to anyone. Studies show that feelings of intense romantic love engage regions of the brain’s “reward system,” specifically dopamine pathways associated with energy, focus, learning, motivation, ecstasy, and craving. This is exactly what I was experiencing! When I met him it was pure euphoria and intoxication. I had never in my life felt such happiness with another human being, just to be around him and to see him smile. I craved for him and felt a “rush” of exhilaration when I saw or thought about him. Before meeting him, I must confess that I was quite scared. For many years I felt nothing at all. I had never had one romantic feeling for, or connection with the opposite sex, and I worried if I ever would. Feeling nothing at all is the scariest place to be. Being with him showed me that I do have the ability to love, and this is priceless.
INSECURITY/UNCERTAINTY: Typically, the early phase of romantic love lasts approximately 6 months. After a few months, the obsessive thinking, emotional dependency, craving, subside and are replaced by feelings of calm, safety, and balance. Additionally, for the long-term relationship, the feelings of closeness and the decision-making about the commitment to a relationship play relatively large parts. Thus, with time, feelings of attachment begin to accompany feelings of passionate romantic love.
My uneasiness started after my friend’s disclosure, but was also due in part to the nature of the relationship. There was no organization or predictability. This randomness made our encounters so exciting and we couldn’t wait to see each other. However, these intense, short-lived interactions left me feeling empty and alone, and the desire to be with him intensified. This resulted in a cyclical pattern of highs and lows. Even though he showered me with affection and kindness during our encounters, the time in between was excruciating. I wondered constantly why he didn’t want to take our relationship to the next level, a more secure stage, and I began to doubt that I was “wife material”. This made me overcompensate by making sure every encounter was perfect, so that I could prove to him that I was worthy of him. I made every effort to ensure that his time with me was the best it could be. My life became an unhappy waiting game and my chance at happiness depended on something that was uncertain. The truth is that I was alone most of the time. I dropped everything to meet him and see him. My life became messy and the unpredictability was unbearable.
7. What have the biggest challenges been now that it’s over?
Coping with the intense grief that accompanies loss and heartbreak, a feeling of emptiness and sadness, has been one of the biggest challenges. I’ve experienced depression, guilt, lethargy, anxiety, insomnia, loss of appetite, increased blood pressure, irritability, and chronic loneliness. Even now, events, people, places, songs, and other external cues associated with him trigger memories and obsessive thinking.
The second biggest challenge has been trying to understand “why”. Why he did what he did, and why I did what I did.
8. Do you miss “it” even if you don’t miss “him”?
I miss “him” the second I wake up, and the second I fall asleep. I miss the amazing parts of “it”. Those moments in the first couple of months were the happiest I’ve ever been. But I do not miss the unpredictable highs and lows. I saw no allure with this type of relationship.
9. What have you done to either fix yourself in the aftermath of your affair, and the loss and probably grief you’re feeling? Counseling? Read books (if so, which and did they help)?
I started one-on-one therapy immediately. I’ve read numerous article and books on love, relationships, affairs, narcissism, etc. I moved away from my home city.
10. How do you feel about your affair partner now? Do you feel vulnerable to another affair, with the same man or someone else?
This is such a hard question for me to answer. I never received any explanation from him after that day. I have tried my best to be objective when attempting to understand this situation. The truth is I don’t know, and will never know who he really is. This is why it is so hard for me to let go…I can’t let go of something I don’t understand. When we were together, he never shared any emotions or thoughts other than pure happiness. When he said he loved me, it truly felt like he was in love. When he was excited to see me, I could tell that he was really excited. These emotions that I saw in him were powerful, and I can’t imagine someone trying to fake them. Did he truly love me or was he only using me and pretending the whole time? Is he a narcissist who loved me as much as he could, or is he just a narcissist? I just don’t know.
But these are the truths I do know. The man that I fell in love with was, and is, married to another woman, and I was part of an affair. Leading someone on is pretending to offer something that you have no intention of actually offering. Thus, by asking me on a date and kissing me, he led me on, pretending to be single and available. By continually loving me and by not telling me he was married, he led me on. As time went on, he continued these gestures with no signs of stopping, and never made future promises. And without questioning him, I became less confident and uneasy and not only tolerated but praised these infrequent gestures.
I do know that he didn’t file for a divorce, and he didn’t stop seeing me to reconcile with his wife. It’s cruel to let a woman put her life on hold until it’s convenient for you. He just didn’t ‘forget’ to tell me about the wife….he was deceitful and played on my kind human nature and picked me because I was attractive. He was not concerned about my feelings, and those of his wife. Based on these truths, I am angry and furious when I think of him. I’ve been told that anger is an emotion that covers up another emotion. However I think that it’s an important emotion, an indication that something must change. He led me on knowing that I had never been in love; knowing that I cherish my morals; knowing that I wanted children and that my biological clock is running out. I am angry that he challenged my morals when I wasn’t aware. I’m angry that my first love is ethically fraught. I’m angry he pulled me into his troubled marriage. I am angry that he took advantage of my heart and kind nature in order to gain a slight reprieve from a deficit within himself or at home.
I do know that being with someone when you pretend to love her but don’t, is cruel. When I recently asked him if I should continue professing my love he encouraged it. Love should respect and value me for the person I am. I think he used my love in selfish ways, for self-importance. He was content to have a physical relationship with me and made no effort for more. He did not recognize me as valuable, and I can only assume that he didn’t see me as being important enough.
I do not feel vulnerable. I don’t want to experience this tremendous pain again.I was not in love with him, I was in love with the idea of him, and this is the worst way to love someone. I need to accept the fact that the person I loved was simply an illusion. The man that I fell in love with doesn’t exist.
11. Are you contemptuous of his wife, or do you feel sorry for her?
I don’t know anything about his wife, and I don’t know anything about the relationship between them. I don’t know if he loves her and she doesn’t love him, or vice versa, or if they’ve both fallen out of love and are just staying together for the children. I can’t be contemptuous of or feel sorry for someone I knew nothing about. I do know that 16 years ago they made a vow to stay faithful to each other, and he broke that vow. My heart hurts for her because of this.
12. How did he keep your affair a secret? From his wife, friends, and others where you worked?
I have absolutely no idea how he kept this secret from his wife. I can only speculate that he lied to her and to me the entire time. When we went on vacation he invited his brother, which I now understand was intentional. He and I attended several events with his friends throughout the relationship and they witnessed us being very affectionate. I can only speculate that they were covering up for him. Since I was dating a co-worker, I initially only told my close friends and family. He met several of my friends, but never my family as he declined my invitations.
I. I’ve always looked for the good in people and in situations. I’ve always been an extreme optimist. I can still maintain these perceptions but I need to balance them with realism. In the beginning, the short intervals of happy, perfect moments were amazing. But this isn’t reality. For me, there was never a transition to a calm stage in the relationship. It was very intense from the beginning, and remained that way. This lack of security and safety left me anxious and full of self-doubt. There was no affectionate phase, no handholding. He led us directly into an intense relationship. I experienced romantic love, and he portrayed the same. However, lust can be loveless, and it seems more probable that he was only driven by lust. Just because he desired me, didn’t mean that he valued me, and I didn’t realize this.
He appeared perfect when he was with me. This was probably his intention, as I was his escape. When he was with me, he was ignoring all his responsibilities and problems. I was his way out of everyday life. I have no idea how he treats his wife. I only saw what he wanted me to see.
II. Self-reflection has forced me to evaluate my behavior and determine why I behaved they way I did.
He became my entire life. He was all I could think about and I isolated myself in order to make sure I was available for him. My love and compassion transformed into panic and anxiety. Sometimes he showed me attention and sometimes he ignored me. Sometimes he put forth as little effort as possible and I would find miniscule parts of that effort that were positive and I would over-emphasize them in my head, making him appear better than he was. I slowly learned not to communicate my feelings with him, because I was usually met with silence or annoyance. I would apologized quickly and drop the subject.
Then there were moments when the person I loved was replaced by something else entirely. After discovering that he was married and seeing my pain, he showed not one ounce of empathy or concern. Never once did he apologize for any of his actions. After hearing that his wife and children knew of the affair, he was completely apathetic.
I believe personal happiness involves an ever-evolving introspection. This process of self-reflection allows me to understand why I do things and most importantly how to change my behaviors that are detrimental to my happiness, and the happiness of others. So why did I let someone else change who I was, and why didn’t I question his behaviors?
Brain imaging studies have shown that romantic love deactivates a set of regions in the brain associated with negative emotions, social judgment and assessment of other people’s intentions and emotions. This means that romantic love induces euphoria, and at the same time relaxes the judgmental criteria by which we assess other people. This explains why when we are deeply in love, we put a hold on rational judgments that we would normally use to assess people. This area also is for distinguishing between self and others, meaning that we assign different sets of beliefs and desires to others than to ourselves.
These studies may offer some explanations, but I think the majority is based on my lack of self-worth. I learned that I don’t have don’t have confidence in myself. I found myself writing off his most questionable behavior as accidental or insensitive. He did things that constantly made me doubt myself, and being with him was hurting more than it was making me happy, but I didn’t do anything about it. I am so angry with myself. I blame myself for not questioning him and demanding answers. I should have made it clear that I wanted nothing other than a serious relationship.
III. Loving a married man is a devastatingly painful experience. Not only was I used and my heart broken, I was inadvertently hurting a wife and three children, and I was destroying myself. The irony is, that in the end, this had nothing to do with me “not being good enough”. It was all about “him”, and he succeeded in getting what he wanted. The guilt associated with all of this is tremendous.
Self-worth is priceless and should never be jeopardized for someone else.
IV. I know that I don’t want to live as a bitter, angry, and frustrated woman who carries a lot of baggage. Instead, I will find a balance between awareness and trust when starting a new relationship. Even though this situation was deceitful, I am still grieving the loss of something amazing. This ability to love and to fall in love is truly incredible, and I know that I can find it again with the right person.
In the beginning I didn’t hastily give him my trust, but instead carefully placed my complete trust in him based on several valuable observations. Most obvious was his profession. The majority of medical schools administer some type of profession oath that is based on upholding ethical standards, and the importance of warmth, sympathy and understanding when treating patients. He had devoted so many years of his life just to help people, and I trusted him as his patients trusted him with their lives. I believed there was no way someone so altruistic and compassionate, could do something so hurtful. I believed that no moral, decent person could be completely apathetic and act this way if he were truly married.
The greatest gift you can give someone is your time because it’s a portion of your life that you will never get back. This time is even more precious when a woman is nearing the end of her fertility phase. He knew that I was nearing 40 and wanted to have children, and as a doctor and a father, I thought that he would understand, and be careful and respectful with my situation, and not waste my time. I think this selfish act hurts me the most.
He also had extremely high expectations for fidelity and respect in many other situations, even in small insignificant scenarios. For example, he once scolded me for opening a bottle of water in a store before I had purchased it, even though I knew I would pay for it, because it was morally wrong to take something that wasn’t mine. He followed all of the rules, all of the time, with great precision.
In the end, despite these public displays of morality, he betrayed his wife and children, and pretended to be someone else with me, for his benefit only. Painfully, my naivety and lack of self-worth helped him achieved this.
15. Do you feel remorse for the affair? Or just because you were caught?
I feel tremendous remorse.