Now, before any of you get too excited- and before I begin this letter- y’all calm yourselves. I will not, as they say, be “spilling tea” in this post. If that’s why you’ve come here, shame on you. Don’t let the door hit you on the way right on out. This post is neither about anyone in particular, nor is it going to be accusatory. He who is without sin should cast the first stone, right? So I’m not about to be throwing rocks.
This is meant to be supportive, both to the spouses who have suffered infidelity and to the women who helped generate the infidelity, and it’s been on my heart for a minute.
Yes, it’s possible to do both.
How are you?
No. Really. How are you?
Whoever you are, wherever you are, in whatever way you’ve come to this post, I hope you’re resting somewhere quietly on your own. Maybe you’re curled up on the couch with some hot tea. Maybe you’re propped up in your bed, hair put up, and just scrolling. Regardless, I hope you’ve come to this in an atmosphere that allows breathing room.
We need to talk, but I’m not going to lecture you. Not really, anyway. I won’t beat you over the head with anything particularly religious, and I’m not gonna come at you with the typical, “We women have to stick together,” business, either. I’m also not here to make you feel like a terrible person. I just want to talk to you. Human to human. Woman to woman. Let’s be real people for a minute- without judgment.
So, you’ve got a thing with a guy who’s currently married. That’s a lot to carry. It’s not openly supported, of course, and it’s not something you can publicize in good taste. Maybe a few of your close friends know, but there’s always that spectrum of respectable and accepted relationships, and I think you know where yours falls (which, if we’re honest, is somewhere behind even a very poorly executed, traditional one). I’m sure it takes a lot of energy to be careful, to try and control your body language so you don’t give away how consuming it all is. There’s probably quite an adrenaline rush in doing something this taboo, but exhaustion always follows- maybe some self talk to deal with a little guilt, too.
I imagine you might be a little lonely. And tired.
I’m sure you’ve tried not to let yourself think about the future too much. Affairs (we cringe, but that is, technically, what you’re doing, even if you haven’t slept with him) are usually born out of some kind of strife, meant to be a relief and not a standard, because to make them a future- a real, solid future- there has to be conflict and strife. Don’t want to trade whatever strife delivered the affair for strife to somehow try and legitimize the affair. That’s all just too much, isn’t it? That’s why you’ve been dealing with that unsettled feeling that follows you around like a cat you fed one time. You can shrug it off for a little while, but it comes back.
Life is also a little off-kilter, too, right? You’re staring at your phone, waiting for communication (amazing how much communication is required to pull this off, eh?). Waiting for confirmation that this relationship is still desirable to a man who once found his wife desirable. I’m sure he’s doing overtime trying to keep up appearances on that end, which means saying whatever empty words he has to say to make her believe everything is fine, stable. You probably worry that, in the space of time wherein he can’t talk to you, she might find a way to reel him back in or recapture his preference, and then you’ll look pretty foolish, left holding the bag. Or even if things are contentious in his home, and they’ve discussed divorce- they’re not divorced. A Hail Mary could be thrown at the last second, and then everything shifts again. Or you guys might even have had a conversation wherein he made it clear this was temporary, but it’s so open-ended that you don’t know if the next text is going to be the last one, regardless of if you’ve been trying to remain unattached.
So, you’re waiting.
When he says he’s available, I imagine you have to make yourself available, too, and that doesn’t always line up with the way you’ve done things in the past. People might notice you’re not as engaged in your work, your social life, or maybe even your own family because you’re perpetually on call. How many times can you work your way out from under the looks you’re starting to get from those you know? The look that says, There’s something off. What’s happening on that phone that has you so wound tight, so unpredictable? It must be nerve-wracking, having to rely on improv skills, keeping your story lines straight.
Especially if the person who’s noticing is your spouse/significant other. Worse still, your kids. Lying doesn’t feel good, naturally. The more we do it, the more it smothers us like a wet, wool blanket in the summer heat. Somewhere along the way, you can’t really be yourself, can you? A piece of yourself is here. Another bit, there. A slice, a sliver, a morsel, a trail of bread crumbs. You can’t really feel whole all the time this way.
I don’t know what brought you to him. If you suffered in your earlier life, I’m so sorry. If someone made you feel like you weren’t enough or set you up to think the world revolves around you, only to find out it doesn’t, then that person did you a disservice. If you were abandoned, rejected, belittled, scrutinized, used and cast aside…I’m sorry. You are who you are, and while we always have room for improvement, that evolution is personal. At no point are you worth less than you were before, nor are you worth more than someone else, and comparisons are so hurtful.
If you suffered infidelity, that wasn’t your fault. Infidelity is the choice of the person committing it (and remember that, because when he might blame his wife, that’s just the easy way out of accepting responsibility for making the active choice to respond to conflict with her by seeking someone else). Maybe it was bad. Maybe you fought. Maybe you said and did things you shouldn’t have done. But if someone was unfaithful to you, and that’s what sent you seeking affection, which in turn led to the relationship you’re currently in, that person was wrong.
If no man showed you how to love and encouraged your comfort and worth as a woman; if someone physically, sexually, or emotionally abused you; if you struggle with being alone and haven’t found the coping mechanisms to handle it; if you have a tendency to look for unavailable men and don’t know why; if you’re dealing with an addiction to the rush that comes with doing things you shouldn’t do; or if you’re a great person who found themselves in a really difficult position this time…I’m sorry. None of those reasons- or any others- are easy ones to bear, and now this affair isn’t easy, either.
You’re dealing with a lot.
If you love him or believe you might, I won’t minimize that feeling. There are billions of humans on this planet, which allows for so many opportunities to connect with one another. Some human experiences are universal, and even really specific interests can be shared among like-minded individuals. It’s foolish to say that you should only catch a spark with one person your whole life, or that a spark has to be romantic in nature. As someone who often feels capable of loving every person in their life- in one way or another- I think it’s rather beautiful to be able to look people in the eye and love something about them. Aren’t we all fascinating in our own ways?
I just want to caution you, though, lady. There are a lot of different kinds of love. I’m sure you already know that, but have a little patience with me. The way we love our friends and family certainly isn’t romantic, and yet it is love. I would say the way a parent loves their child is a unique love. If you have a colleague who always has your back, a group with whom you share a common interest, or a favorite cashier/barrista/business owner/server/etc, I think that’s an appreciative kind of love. And within romantic love, the Good Lord knows there’s passionate love, physical lust, altruism, shades of that familial love…I think this is why there is so much literature and music about the concept of love.
Which is why I would be really, really, really careful about how you label the emotions you might be feeling, even within the concept of love.
In life, we may set out to love someone in a certain way. As a divorcee myself, I can say that I set out to love my former spouse in the all-encompassing form that romantic love should be in a marriage. I expected that he did, too, and when we had children, I wanted to believe it was the result of that love. I hoped that love would grow and multiply because we created three new people (and an angel whom we did not get to keep). But that’s not what happened. That love wasn’t there. I was mistaken, or maybe there were flashes of it, but it fizzled out. It changed into something else or wasn’t given what it needed to grow. I don’t know. I can’t say for sure. In the end, though, when I had to explain it to my children who had asked why we didn’t love each other anymore, I told them, There’s a special kind of love between married people that only happens if they’re the right people. And if that’s not there, then a marriage can’t be there, either. It’s okay to start out thinking that’s the way you’re supposed to love that person and find out that it isn’t. Sometimes, things aren’t the way we thought they were. And so we learn to love that person another way and call it what it is.
I don’t doubt that you may love him in some way. And that love is valid. Emotions are all valid. They’re not inherently evil things- they’re just a result of our humanity. But what we do with our emotions, how we act upon them…that’s what says the most about who we are as people. I hope you’ll reflect on the next bit with me without feeling like I’m judging you now. I’m not. I’m really not. It’s just that there’s some truth I hope you’ll consider in that its purpose is to help you look after you.
At some point, the man you’re seeing looked at his wife and thought he had or could have the married-kind-of-love. He poured some energy into her, focused on her, and however it happened, he went to a courthouse with her and signed a document that is legally binding saying that he, in good faith, wanted to be bound to her. All that she was, all the she is, and all that she might be in the coming days, she gave to him in good faith, as well. There might have been exigent circumstances that encouraged that action, but at the end of the day, in this country, we cannot force two people to make that decision. They had a discussion. They made a choice. And in front of someone who would legally served as a witness, they made a promise to honor each other’s choice.
His wife is a real person. Just like you, and just like me. For her sake, I hope that she was excited when she got married, just like I hope you were or will be. Every woman should feel honored on the day she marries because she offers herself as a partner, and who she is, is worthy of partnership. Like I told you earlier, you are you, and that is enough. The same is true for her. Whatever grievance her husband may be feeling, she is still a person worthy of the same dignity and respect that you are, even as you are involved with the man who promised his only involvement would be with her. She thinks. She loves. She hopes. She feels. His wife isn’t just a name or a nickname or a topic maybe you guys try not to discuss. His wife a real person, and somewhere, she’s doing something unaware of what you’re doing, having a life that probably had no intention of issuing you discomfort.
If they have been arguing or discussing divorce; if he told you they were getting divorced and just haven’t filed; or if he said they were pressured into marriage and have never figured it out…that all may be true. At the same time, he did make a promise. How we treat our promises says a lot about how trustworthy we are. If he made a promise knowing he had no intention of keeping it or being unsure if he could faithfully honor it, what worth do his words have? What assurances do you have that he’s come to understand the weight of a promise that he may have made to you? You are so vulnerable, even as I’m sure you try to keep this relationship within the lines, whatever those may be. If he can be convinced to say hollow words long enough to engage this way with you, where else might he be whispering hollow words? I know you’d rather not think too much on it, but I wish you would.
If their marriage happened naturally- they met, they fell in love, and they married with the best intentions- why now is he stepping away from her? Remember, infidelity is a choice we make, so there’s really no way that he can pin his actions on her. If they’ve been struggling together, he decided that his response to that struggle was to be unfaithful, and unfaithfulness comes in many forms. Maybe he has issues with her recent behavior or seeming character changes. Maybe he doesn’t feel appreciated, acknowledged, or wanted due to some perceived negligence on her part. Maybe they’ve discovered they’ve grown into different people or have simply grown apart. Maybe he’s bored, restless, or trying to shake off some difficult life experience. I think the worst is if he has noticed something about himself that makes him feel unworthy or ill-equipped to make good on his previous promise, and that discomfort has now caused him to justify subtly pushing her away. There’s always a chance that they thought there was that special kind of love, and that’s not what was there.
Honestly, whatever the reason, he opened up the door for you as a response to something else, because he was not really in a position to justify looking for you in the way you should be pursued or were previously pursued. And if you’re currently attached, the same is true of you. Affairs, if we’re continuing to be honest with each other, are the cowardly response to emotional discomfort. If he meant what he said when he made that promise to her; if had intended to try to mean what he said; or if he had no intentions of honoring that promise and simply hasn’t said so, then he is avoiding the conflict that would rightfully either resolve their marital issues or allow her to also be a free woman with a clean soul, pursuing the right kind of love. He might be a wonderfully decent human being, truly, but he’s currently acting in weakness.
As we would wish issues concerning ourselves to be addressed with us, the rightful place for him to take his strife is back to her. His needs, his wants, his heartache…they all belong to her. The validity of the promise he made to her does not bear weight here, because he made that promise nonetheless, and, again, if his words are to mean anything, the only way you can know his words to you are meaningful is if he honors the words he’s already said. If his marriage is truly dying or already dead, the respectful and brave thing to do is to face that, and you have no business in the middle of that funeral. That decision as to the passing away of that relationship belongs to the people whose relationship it is, without outside influence. Give yourself the safety of knowing that he is a man who will fight to keep a promise until there’s no fight left that can result in victory, and when the loss is apparent, let him show you that he will regard it appropriately before seeking new gain.
For you, you deserve the kind of love you can tell people about. You should be congratulated for your happiness. You should have shareable joy and peace of heart.
But she should, too.
And currently, neither of you do.
Please. Ask yourself how you really got here. Check in with yourself. Look after yourself.
Are you okay?
I would imagine it’s pretty hard to be truly okay right now.
Now that you’ve checked in with you, put yourself in her shoes with him. Close your eyes and forget his side of the story for a minute. Imagine the weight in her stomach, as she has probably realized something is going on and is waiting for the shoe to drop, going throughout her day on pins and needles. Imagine hearing the words he’s saying and wanting to believe them so badly as she did before (when you know otherwise). Imagine what she might be doing when he’s with you. Imagine waking up in the morning and spinning the wedding band he gave her round and round, remembering the day he put it there. Imagine what she will feel when she learns the truth- whether you guys break it off, and he comes clean, or she happens upon that information another way- and what that will mean for her. Imagine the changes in her life- the paperwork for marital dissolution, dividing belongings through an attorney, having to change her name, and the enormity of child support and visitation schedules- that she will have to address while feeling by turns angry, lonely, betrayed, devastated, heartbroken, worried.
If there are children, imagine how she will have to explain things to them (and if you have children, imagine looking your own children in the face and explaining how different their lives now have to be). Imagine how she will have to be a one-woman show for them on the days he’s not the custodial parent, managing dinner, homework, housework, errands, and transportation after a full work day. Imagine her devastation when his visitation falls on Christmas Day, takes half of each child’s birthday away, or requires that she be without her children for weeks at a time, when they’ve always been right there with her. Imagine the disruption for the children, as they now sometimes stay here, sometimes there…these toys are at this house, but those toys are at the other…this weekend/week/holiday is spent with this part of their family, and the rest with the other. Imagine how she will have to help them cope when she may be struggling to cope, too. Imagine looking at the children she grew and bore for him, see parts of him in each of them, and wondering if she made a mistake, set them up for suffering.
Everything is different.
Finally, imagine her sitting in an empty, quiet house, wondering what to do after the life she’s led for however long has now ceased to exist.
It hurts, doesn’t it? For both of you.
My friend, I hate seeing other humans suffer. To know how much you are already carrying, and to know how close both of you ladies are to a very difficult time…you will forgive me, but I would ask you to carefully consider your next course of action. If there’s no real love, no realistic longevity, let him go. If you feel like there might be or is love on your side of the equation, but also recognize that he can’t say that or that he still loves/has affection for his wife, let him go. If you feel like there is a true and strong love between you, but he has not completed a respectful divorce (or you both recognize that a continued relationship is destructive in other areas), let him go.
On the real, let him go, no matter what.
Because if he’s the right person for you, he needs to settle the affairs of his own life in a respectful way so that he can treat you with the respect you deserve (and similarly, if you’re attached). The decision to end a marriage is difficult enough without influence, and regardless of how bad a shape it may be in, will still call for a grieving period, followed by an adjustment period wherein he can establish himself healthily as a stable, single entity. In the meantime, you have much to reflect on, too, per the previous part of our conversation. Remember that you are whole- you’re not looking for another half. If there are voids you feel the need to fill, seek out how they got there and see that they will resolve themselves. What you feel like you deserve you must become for someone deserving.
Above all, remember that until death, it is all life. There is time enough for the truly good to come to you if you will build the house and open the door.