I recently took the plunge into the realm of dating. I’m not a seasoned dater, nor do I find it to be a particularly comfortable thing to do. I’m fine in group settings and public forums, but there is something so wildly confining about dating. It’s like you’re trapped. As Jordan exclaims in The Great Gatsby, “I like large parties – they’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
You have to have a certain level of trust to actually go out with a (relative) stranger, and if things start going badly or it’s just plain boring there is no escape hatch until a certain set of social niceties have been reached. I’m just not the type of person who wants to say to someone, “Wow, you’re really dull, and there is nothing that you are going to pull out of your bag of tricks that will impress me, capture my imagination, or flick some chemistry switch, and I’d really much rather be at home in my jammies reading Ken Follett or Sylvia Plath, so if you’ll excuse me I’m going to leave the table mid entree.…”
However…in a life moment of “I don’t give a shit” I engaged in a conversation with someone who apparently didn’t give a shit either and wouldn’t you know it, we ended up having an extended, very intimate and glaringly honest conversation about everything other than current events and the weather. It turns out we have both had affairs, and at one point in our communion we each agreed that people don’t have affairs because they want sex, they have affairs because they are seeking a relationship or emotional connection with someone. Of course the ensuing topic thread 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 very much alone and unseen. This person saw me and heard me and 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 admit to and talk about our frustrations and dissatisfactions, we, or at least I, 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 or take away from 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, which evolved into a relationship that endured for many seasons, there were periods of brightness and happiness and adoration, as well as stretches of angst and despair and emptiness. I think when you have a conscience and an affair, the two become intertwined. And 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. I went from being on top of everything to in control of nothing, especially my emotions. I had to construct a wall of protection 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 that the majority of people who have affairs find themselves at a point of hopelessness before they begin the 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 all told to do certain things, seek this path, measure against this criteria, and all will be well, but nobody gives us any guidance as to an appropriate reaction or course of action when things aren’t going well, especially when superficially we really have nothing to complain about. (#firstworldproblems).
In some ways perhaps I was seeking my self in the act of 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, wrapped in Lululemon yoga pants, diaper bags and stained clothing from The Gap. 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 did not 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, not least of all my parents and children. My actions had implications that I continue to feel to this day. I am divorced, living somewhat peacefully on my own with my children, 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 however is 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 the kind of symbiotic relationship that we would never allow ourselves to get to a point of such dissatisfaction or unhappiness or boredom that one of us chose to seek validation in the arms of another. I want a relationship that values total honesty, even if the message is hard to hear, and one where each of us trusts 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….