It’s why so many people hold onto the affairs for so long. As a single dad who has been in the dating scene for many years now, I can tell you that the vast majority of divorcees I have dated immediately went for the cheating jugular of their exes during our dinner conversations. “Yes, I’m divorced. I discovered he had been cheating on me with three different women, two men, and a freaky thing he met at the circus, gender and species unknown.” I have no idea if their exes even actually had affairs, but hey. When you’re meeting someone new and you have to admit that you once fell in love and committed your entire life to someone else, you often feel like you need that golden ticket to make yourself datable and loveable once again.
Me, I always like to shock the women I dated. “Oh, my wife had an affair, too.” The girl would always look at me as if to say, oh phew. This guy is datable. It wasn’t his fault. Then I continue. “Oh yeah, it was one of the best days of my life! We couldn’t stand each other. We treated each other like crap. We didn’t do much of anything to help or save our marriage. We stopped caring about each other pretty much at all. We became selfish and self-absorbed.” At this point I take a breath in, indicating that I was going to keep talking whether she liked it or not. She’d look at me as if to say is this guy serious right now? And I’d continue.
“We were young and stupid and didn’t know how to be good people to each other. We didn’t know what love even was when we got married. We were idiots.” Her eyes would untighten a little. Maybe this guy isn’t so bad. I mean, he seems to get it. And I’d carry on. “I don’t blame her for the affair. I never have. She did us both a favor to get us out of a desperate situation.” Boom. She usually at this point decides that she kind of likes me and is ready to disrobe right then and there.
Because, you see, everyone with a portion of a brain knows that affairs are rarely black and white. Even those whose spouses cheated know deep down that it probably wasn’t as cut and dry as they often let on. And, it’s a bit of a heavy burden to constantly flash that golden ticket to everyone you meet while never taking even a dollop of responsibility for oneself.
Yes, it is true. Some people really are just cheating assholes who don’t give a shit about the person they’re with. I get that it happens.
But from what I have witnessed, many more affairs are the byproduct of relationships gone sour. They’re done out of a need for love, the need to be touched and admired, the need to be desired, and the very real need for sex. Many affairs are exactly what my wife’s affair most likely was. An act of desperation which she knew would have a good chance in ending the marriage. It was a saving grace for both of us.
Of course it’s usually going to be better to work on the relationship and to fix the relationship. But sometimes it’s impossible. For us, I have no doubt that at that juncture of our lives, it was impossible.
We both were too stubborn to go see a counselor. We both were too caught up on the notion that we gave up our youth and our entire lives to the other, not knowing fully well what we were getting into. We both wanted the perfect marriage without the work. We both were immature little brats who seemed to work relentlessly to self-sabotage our marriage over the years so that we could one day get out of it.
I’m just old enough and barely wise enough now to see that and to admit that.
We were young. We were dumb. And it wasn’t going to fix itself. We both needed to step away from the mess we originally stepped into in order to realize just what it was we were, and what it was we were doing to each other.
I never lied to the women I’ve dated as a single man since. I’ve told the blatant truth about my divorces (yes, I’ve had two of them). And surprise of surprises, they nearly always appreciated me all the more for that.
The happiness I felt the day I found out my wife was having the affair was no different than the happiness I felt when I left the church I was born into. It was the feeling of freedom from a life that wasn’t actually my own. We had both changed so much in opposite directions that we didn’t want our entire lives to be tied to each other anymore. We weren’t compatible. We would not ever find happiness or contentment, nor the ability to personally grow and mature so long as we were together. We had discovered enough of ourselves to know that if we went back in time, knowing what we know now, we never would have gotten together in the first place.