Today, I’m in my second marriage and an avowed monogamist (or ethical non-monogamist depending on your definition) with my wife. That’s not to say that I haven’t fooled around with married women before, during and after my first marriage. At the time, I didn’t have much moral ambiguity about it basically because I was a young guy, having amazing and exciting sex with women I found attractive. As time has passed and I’ve gotten older and wiser, I realized the mistakes I made by having these affairs, the pain I caused. I also became more analytical about what happened and why. So here are my observations:
I’m not going to say most, but the three or four women I had relationships with while either they, I or both were in committed relationships had no desire to actually leave the relationship they were in. My first affair with a married woman happened while I was in my early 20s. I ran into a former teacher from high school at the gym where I worked. She was 26 years old, married a man 15 years older, who had a daughter from a previous marriage. She had two kids with him. She married for comfort, fun and some love…but mostly comfort. We met again when her husband purchased a gym membership for the both of them. I really was happy just to hang around her when she came to work out; I was not trying to have an affair although I’ll admit to crushing on her. For the next month we’d work out together, making sure to confirm our next workout before leaving. Then one day “Alison” asked if I’d like to do something different the next day rather than workout. “Sure, what did you have in mind?” I replied. “Let’s go have a cocktail, I’ll meet you at the gym and we can go from there,” she said looking into my eyes. I remember having dreams about her that night but not what they were. We met and nursed a couple of drinks while awkwardly making small talk when she asked, “Would you have an affair with me?” I was a little buzzed and wasn’t sure I heard her right, “Did you just ask if I’d have an affair with you?” When she confirmed her question, I began gushing about how beautiful I thought she was and how I crushed on her the first moment I saw her in the classroom. We kissed in the parking lot before I took her back to her car and there began our six year affair. SIX FUCKING YEARS! During the first two and half years, I did have a live-in girlfriend. Eventually we broke up (wonder why?) and I focused on my affair relationship. Alison made it clear that she wouldn’t be able to continue to see me if I started seeing another woman. At the time I understood thinking she wanted to minimize her risk of STI.
It’ll come as no surprise that during the course of our affair we’d created this aspiration that we’d be together; she’d leave her husband, and we’d move in together, go public, etc. And at the end of our afternoon/evening together, she’d tell me good bye till next time. It was straight out of the Eagle’s song “Lying Eyes.” After two years, a part-time relationship wasn’t hitting all the spots for me, and I made my discontent known but nothing changed. And why should it? I mean, there was a ton of drama there and that should have been a red flag for me but otherwise, Alison’s needs were being met. Her husband kept her and her kids financially secure, and when she wanted to go to the cheating side of town, there was me. So I started going on dates; I can recall three women I dated off the top of my head. One of them ended up becoming my wife. Alison found out about the relationship, and we had a bit of a blow out. Years later when I was divorcing my first wife, I contacted Alison and talked with her. We even met for a drink and talked about how things ended; we both apologized and wished it could have been different.
What Alison wanted was sizzle in her life, but she was not willing to trade any comforts for it. I don’t blame her. I had potential but that was about it at that time…better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. I think where the affair became untenable is when she asked me for monogamy. And as much as she proclaimed that she and her husband were not having sex, I knew that was not true.
Another example was the second long-term extramarital affair I had. This started while I was married with my first wife. One of my best friends from high school was a girl from another school named “Beth.” Beth and I met through a mutual friend (my friend, her boyfriend), quickly we hit it off and for a period of time were nearly inseparable, but we never so much as kissed. As we got older we grew apart, she got heavily into a cocaine addiction and I tried to break the bonds of a blue-collar town. Eventually we reconnected through Facebook (20 years later) via her sister and the three of us got together for a drink in my hometown. Not too surprisingly, Beth and I hit it off like old times. We always had chemistry together. Any time I was in town, I’d try to stop by to see her and her family. One weekend, I was in town and planned to have dinner with Beth and her family. We had a great meal and a good time catching up, the wine and beer flowed. Later that evening her husband passed out, the kids went to bed and it was just the two of us (drunk) on a summer night. I don’t know how it came up, but we admitted feelings for each other and made out on her deck before I left at four in the morning. I came back the next night while her husband went out with friends to see a bar band. Her kids and a friend were there too, but we made out when and where we could. If they left us alone for 15 minutes, I guarantee you I’d be fighting with her now about raising the kid. This was the beginning of a four year affair. FOUR FUCKING YEARS! If you’re keeping count, that’s ten years of my life “wasted” in nowhere relationships.
Beth and I started off seeing each other when it was convenient, I’d come see my family (without my wife) and carve out some time to meet her. I worked for a financial institution at the time and would have random days off that I’d say I was doing something else and would go see Beth. And of course during those hours we spent together, we’d talk about what life could have been like, what it could be like and so on…
”She rushes to his arms, they fall together
She whispers, ‘It’s only for a while’
She swears that soon she’ll be comin’ back forever
She goes away and leaves him with a smile” Lying Eyes — The Eagles
After four months together, she insisted I tell my wife about the affair and divorce her. So that should have been a red flag, and right now I just realized she may have been trying to force me to give up on the relationship, thinking I’d rather stay with my wife. That would spare Beth actually having to break up with me; it would be my decision.Whatever Beth was thinking, she was asking me to do something she was not willing to do, and she miscalculated my response. I really, truly loved her and would have done anything to be with her and to make her happy. I eventually told my wife I wanted a divorce and moved out. I spent the next two years with a married woman who wanted monogamy from me but was only willing to give me her spare time. I was fine for a while as I worked my way through my divorce and got settled into my new life. But I recognized the pattern (TWO YEARS LATER) and to give Beth a chance to make good on her promises, I continued to see her while casually dating.
Now this was me at my most optimistic, the truth is that the most likely way our affair would become open is if Beth’s husband caught her. And I don’t kid myself, she would have crawled across coals to restore her marriage if that happened. It didn’t. We continued on another two years while I dated other women to occupy all the time I was spending alone.
Beth had what she wanted, needed: a loyal husband who was a good provider and a great father, her family and friends. Most of all, she had the respectable image that she created for herself as a wife, mother and friend, rehabilitating her reputation from her misspent 20s. Beth had the type of personality that easily gets “addicted” to things. She also had a sexually abusive step-father, loads of trauma, etcetera and so on. I say this to acknowledge her struggles, not to excuse her behavior.
If Beth just wanted to be friends who fucked when our spouses weren’t around, I could have done that. If she wanted to leave her husband and join households, I could have done that. If she wanted to leave her husband and live on her own and discover herself…could have done that too. But she wanted me to wait for her to be available so that I could adore her while she lived with and shared a bed with another man, that would not be sustainable and it wasn’t.
Eventually one of those casual dates struck fire and became a relationship. During the course of that relationship my girlfriend, now my wife, discovered the affair. Holy shit, you would not believe the drama. My girlfriend was calling up Beth threatening to tell her husband about the affair, then having hours long conversations with her about me and our affair. …Let me take a break here to say that during all of this, I would answer no questions about Beth, her husband, our affair. Beth had a lot to say…and it wasn’t all nice. I think she thought I directed this drama toward her or maybe she was spiteful because she realized that all those years she was cheating on her husband, her affair partner had a full-time(ish) relationship too. Whatever it was, I was told she said some things that were pretty unkind and meant to hurt my ego. I love her too much to believe she meant it, but there’s no two ways about it…if she wasn’t toxic, the relationship, like that, was.
So what have I learned?
Married women (probably men too) having affairs aren’t looking to transfer to another relationship; they’re having affairs to make the marriages/relationships they won’t leave and their lives more tolerable. These people aren’t trying to turn over the apple cart necessarily; they just want to get something back that they lost.
The other important thing I learned is at the point in the affair that one of you is asking the other (usually the unpartnered person in an affair) to be monogamous, is the point where the other person needs to decide how they’re going to set up boundaries. Either by telling the married partner you can’t promise monogamy till they can, or end the affair. If you concede to the demand, you will eventually became resentful. It’ll be a long weekend and you’re home alone while your married affair partner is with their family at the beach or in the mountains. Or worse, they go on their annual family vacation…if you’re not living your life, how can you not feel left out? I began to feel like doll put up on the shelf. Things were great when both of us could be engaged in the relationship but if I didn’t have somewhere to put the energy I wanted to put into the relationship, I’d eventually find someone who wanted to spend all of their time with me.
Finally, if you’re the unattached person in an affair expecting your partnered lover to leave their relationship…don’t. First, that’s not why they’re with you no matter what they say. They’re with you to add spice to an otherwise boring life. If they were looking to start a new life, they would already be separated. Second, do you REALLY want a relationship with someone you know is a cheater? Seriously…if you got together by cheating, it will be impossible for you to not suspect them of cheating even if they aren’t. The infidelity makes the relationship unstable; I’m sure there are outliers but more often than not, a relationship that results from an affair is built on an unstable foundation.
So these are the things I’ve learned from two affairs I’ve had:
The cheater is not looking for a new relationship to replace the old one; they’re looking to supplement the old one.
If the cheater is asking you to be monogamous, the relationship is basically over. They’re asking you to do what they can’t, won’t do. Fuck that, unless you want to eventually hate the person.
As the affair partner, don’t expect much in the way of commitment.
The last thing I learned is that cheaters aren’t bad people; they’re usually hurt or damaged in some way. They’re trying to make the best of a bad situation…but if you get caught, that bad situation can get worse. So don’t do it, use your words and if that doesn’t get you what you need, start walking. You deserve better.