On a recent date, after just enough wine and too many previous dull evenings, I found myself in a very intimate and glaringly honest conversation with my dinner companion, talking about everything other than current events and the weather.
It turns out we had both had affairs, and during our communion we agreed that people don't have affairs because they want sex, they have affairs because they are seeking a relationship or emotional connection. Of course the topic led to whether either of us would do it again, and the resounding answer was no.
Affairs are dreadful and beautiful and painful and exquisite. At least mine was. It evolved from a long friendship at a time in my life when I felt alone and unseen. This person validated my persona when it was getting lost in the thick forest of motherhood, and housewifery, and mid-life, and unfulfilled opportunities and ambitions. My husband didn't do anything wrong or intentionally push me away, but like many couples, we had become set in roles and patterns that didn't necessarily represent who we were as people. Rather than talk about our frustrations and dissatisfactions, we -- or I at least -- sought affirmation in the arms of another man.
Had I known the emotional price I would pay and the scope of collateral damage, I may have chosen differently.
That is not to diminish the feelings and experiences of my love affair. It was for love. I couldn't have done it for any other reason. During my affair that endured for many seasons, there were periods of brightness and happiness and adoration, as well as stretches of angst and despair and emptiness.
When you have a conscience, and an affair, the two become intertwined. When your brain and heart become enmeshed in a thicket of conflicting emotions, there is little space for anything else in your life. I was either blissful or remorseful; enthusiastic or exhausted; in love or in hate. Things fell by the wayside. Dinner didn't get made, spelling didn't get quizzed, dentist appointments were forgotten. Once on top of everything, I was suddenly in control of nothing, especially my emotions. I had to construct a wall around my heart, saving it for the person that I loved and not allowing the person to whom I was married to have access to any part of me, lest I find that I was "cheating" on two people at once. That would have been too overwhelming to process.
I think many people who have affairs find themselves at a point of hopelessness before they seek engagement with someone other than their spouse. The affair offers an alternative to the unhappiness or boredom or daily drudgery that was never alluded to in the process of maturing. We are told to do certain things, seek this path, measure against this criteria, and all will be well, but nobody gives any guidance as to an appropriate reaction or course of action when things aren't going well, especially when we really have nothing to complain about.
Perhaps I was seeking myself by engaging in an affair. The affirmation of me as a beautiful, dynamic, sexual being was a happy byproduct of the relationship, especially after years of being exhausted, shrouded in diaper bags and stained clothing. I could tell myself that I was daring, and passionate, and spontaneous -- identifiers that often get buried in the milieu of playdates, and teacher conferences, and business dinners.
What I didn't comprehend at the time was that I was in fact distancing myself from the personal values that I held most dear -- honesty, reliability, the ability to be fully present in a situation.
There were many who paid a price for my affair, especially my parents and children. My actions had implications that I continue to feel to this day. I am divorced, living peacefully, but not a day goes by during which some action or comment causes me to think how much less complicated or cumbersome the situation would be if only...
That's not the real reason that I would never again have an affair. If I am fortunate enough to cultivate a meaningful connection with another man, I want it to be a relationship in which we wouldn't allow ourselves to get to a point of such dissatisfaction, or unhappiness, or boredom, that we would choose to seek validation in the arms of another.
I want a relationship that values honesty, even if the message is hard to hear, and one where we trust the other person enough to put everything -- the good, the bad and the downright ugly -- on the table for discussion. A tall order indeed, but perhaps...