Thoughts About Being the Other Woman My Real-Time

Also, if I write about the affair now, I’m dealing with these faraway — sometimes even faulty — memories that I’ve had time to think about and process.

Earlier this week, I went through some old files on my laptop and found something I wrote when I was living with that married man and we were in the thick of it.

Just a few years ago would have been too soon to read anything from back then. But seven years later? I’m okay with it now. I can read my words with a healthy curiosity and peace instead of shame and tears.

“A is for Awkward”

Summer 2013

It seems to me — or perhaps I’d just like to think — that every one of us, whether Christian, atheist, liberal, conservative or whatever — we have all done something we never thought we’d do. It might have been a very small thing indeed, but I’d wager that you’ve found yourself in some situation where you said or did something you swore you’d never do. Christians sometimes reference this phenomenon by saying that none of us are above or beyond temptation.

Or they quote Paul:

“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
— Romans 7:14–20

Four months ago, I found myself doing something I really hated. And it’s made me question who I am at my core. At 32 years old, I have gone down I path I swore I’d never venture. From day one, it feels like the trajectory of my entire life has changed.

It was February, and I’d been spending a lot of time on Facebook. It was kind of a new thing for me. I’d been spending a lot of time that past year thinking about Love and religion and how I could make a more complete recovery from my depression. I was thinking about who I was, what I needed, and what I had to give the world.

At the time, I’d lost about 80 pounds and I’d gained many pieces of myself which I had thought were long dead. I began to seriously write and paint for the first time in over a decade. I began to seek out people and allow myself to be a little less antisocial.

Facebook had a lot to do with that, because it was a relatively safe environment to post pictures of myself and talk about my feelings while controlling the audience.

There was a time when I loathed Facebook, though. I’d had a short-lived marriage from age 20 to 23 where my husband left me for an ex-girlfriend whom he’d reconnected with through Facebook. It didn’t matter that I was happier with the marriage over, nor did it matter that I wanted to leave him and had only stayed because I thought it was the Christian thing to do. The truth is that adultery always hurts. In my experience, anyway.

In the years following my divorce, I lost much of my faith in love or romance and even happiness. I didn’t believe those things could truly exist in me, or, for me. I didn’t think I was worthy of receiving affection or attention. So, I settled for the men who liked me whom I thought I didn’t despise. To be honest, I dated almost anyone who wanted to be in my life — I was pretty desperate.

Turning 30 was my big wake-up call, my confirmation that I wanted more out of life. When I turned 30, I knew I didn’t want to marry my fiancée, I didn’t want to stay in my job, I didn’t want to stay in Minnesota. I realized I wanted to look more deeply at my spiritual life. I realized I wanted to be seen for who I was with all my quirks. I even wanted to believe in love again and partner with someone who would resonate with me.

I slowly made a few integral moves in my life: I left my fiancée, tried an online dating website, and dated an online friend. That friend I dated online had renounced his Christian faith and considered himself pagan, so it was an interesting time for me to consider whether or not I needed to be with someone who shared my faith. While I was increasingly liberal or unconventional in my Christianity, it was clear to me that congruent, or at least parallel faith mattered to me. https:// … — PasteIO

Because so much of our relationship occurred over Facebook, I became acquainted with a lot of new pages regarding religion through his timeline. One page in particular was Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented. They were essentially my first real venture into the idea that I might be a liberal Christian, and that was okay. Shortly after I began following their page, they gave a status shout out to another page for Christians and atheists. I clicked the link and began reading about their mission. I was instantly ecstatic to see people talking about religion and Christianity honestly with wit and a little snarkiness. I loved the satirical style of status updates and was impressed by their website. I thought to myself that I wanted to work with these people and I hoped they’d let me help their cause.

On a whim, I posed the question, “What do we need saving from…?” on the page and the moderator responded, “Self.” I thought whoever said that was pretty right on.

Shortly after “liking” the fan page, I received a friend request from a guy I did not recognize. I looked at his profile and saw that he was the founder of a page I’d been so interested in. I thought that was pretty cool, okay, beyond cool, because I was already so into the mission. I accepted his friend request and poked around his timeline.

Next, he posted a link to my wall for his latest blog post about his inability to believe in hell, saying, “Thought you might like this.” I had only recently begun to come to terms with the idea that Christians don’t have to believe in hell. “Like it?” I loved the post and said so.

What I didn’t say was how impressed I was with his writing, and how the first thing I thought after reading his blog and viewing his profile was: this is the kind of man I want to marry. It was a ridiculous thought. He was a stranger. Online. I had never actually spoken to him. Never met him. Even if I knew him, he’d never be interested in me. More than that, his profile said he was married. My heart fell when I read that. “Married,” I thought. “What do I care when I’m dating someone myself?” I couldn’t answer. I just pushed all thoughts about him aside and knew that he was off-limits.

Later that evening, however, the founder sent me a private message, to say he was glad I “loved” the post. We chatted briefly about that and some of our spiritual philosophy. He made a joke about slightly stalking my Facebook profile, and I wondered what was happening. I remarked that I’m an awkward person who appreciates honesty and he replied, “Well, to get all the awkwardness out of the way, you are quite intriguing and attractive. OOOOOkay… and… moving on.”

That was the moment I realized this guy was interested in me. Like that. That was also the moment when a good person would have told him to sod off. The truth, however, is that I knew from the moment he messaged me that I was hoping for something to happen. I’d noticed very few pictures of him and his wife together. I didn’t see interaction between them on Facebook. So I reasoned with myself that maybe they were separated and I didn’t know the whole story. Obviously, I knew none of it. All I knew was that he resonated with me and somehow I’d caught his attention. He wasn’t mine. But I still didn’t want to lose him.

That evening, I pretended I wasn’t talking to a married man, and he never brought it up. He asked for my number to move the conversation over to texts and we chatted until 2am. Well, 3am his time. I felt like someone very special had found me, but I didn’t know what it would mean.

Just a few hours later, I woke up for work and thought about our conversation. We had electric chemistry and it wasn’t anything I’d experienced before. He texted me a bit later that morning and I replied, “I have to ask, are you married?”

“Yes. Unhappily.”

I was stunned. I had expected him to either say he was separated or to have some really convincing lie. I asked him about his marriage and why he didn’t leave if he was so unhappy. He confirmed my fears that he had three young children. Then, he said he thought he would leave when his kids were older. I tried to make sense of what was happening, but I found myself completely unable to stop and turn away.

When I learned that he’d gotten married at 18, and his wife pressured him to have a baby when he was 19, I felt so sad for him because I know how I fucked up my own life when I was 18. (I was in a pseudo-Christian cult.)

We had an affair.

I never knew how easily one could become a cheater. I questioned who I was because if I was an adulterer, I no longer recognized myself. I tortured myself every day wondering what he was doing. I read articles that said only 5% of the men who cheat actually leave their wives.

For better or for worse, I decided that I couldn’t really ever ask him to get a divorce, but I needed to know him. From the start, just the idea of not talking to him for a day felt like it would tear apart my soul. We texted each other or spoke on the phone multiple times a day. We had video chats. I freaked out at least once every week or two and told him I couldn’t do it, that I couldn’t be so dishonest. He begged me to trust him, to “believe” in him. He assured me that I was the one he loved and that his life at home was one of obligation, though he loved his children.

I tried to make sense of it all. I couldn’t. I tried to be patient and gentle. I tried to forget that I was stealing time with another woman’s husband.

Whatever fears I had, whatever doubts of his love for me and the possibility of a future together, they were never strong enough to make me let go of him. Every interaction made me fall for him more. I may not have had a reason to trust him, but I did. I probably should not have been able to sleep at night, but I did. It wasn’t long into the affair that I knew I was completely in love. He resonated with me on every possible level and the connection I found with him outweighed every tear of guilt or pain. He was my soulmate in every way.

Perhaps the most disturbing, though hardly shocking thing has been that the fear and uncertainty isn’t over just because a man left his wife and chose to be with me. Now, I fear the weight of his regret. I fear he’ll change his mind about me and miss his wife whenever I do something irritating. He misses his kids. They need their father. I worry about the implications of everything that’s happened and everything that’s yet to pass.

In the past, he told me that I compelled him to honesty, so he wound up telling me secrets he’d shared with no one else. Now, I panic when he leaves the room to talk to his wife. I wonder what he cannot say in front of me. I’m shocked to realize there could be such a topic. I wonder if we are going to have secrets between us after all.

So I wonder. A lot.

Some people might say it serves me right. That I am nothing but a mistress and I deserve far worse.

That might be true.

Yikes. Honestly, I don’t even remember writing the words above, but when I read them I am instantly brought back to that place. I had forgotten just how nerve-wracking the whole thing was, and how quickly my mood suffered. I forgot how weirdly secretive he got about speaking with his wife — and realize now that he probably wasn’t even talking to her every time.

Things were bad between us, almost right away, but I was so damn happy just to be with him that I didn’t see the truth.

I know I wrote that story above because I was scared I’d made an enormous mistake and I didn’t want to keep living my life with so much guilt and shame.

Back then, I had no idea just how poorly it would all turn out. By mid-August, I’d know that he was cheating on me with multiple women. By September, we’d find out I was pregnant. And by mid-November, he’d be gone.

I never could have imagined how terrible it would feel to uproot everything for one guy, and quickly become a single mother. I wasn’t prepared for any of it. Clearly, I was woefully naive and unrealistic.

At the same time, I’m so glad I kept some of my old writing from that time. That summer was the relative calm before the storm for me. I didn’t know it, and obviously, I was pretty clueless about a lot of stuff at the time. After the affair ended, I was a wreck for a very long time. But there’s something truly cathartic about looking back.

There’s something about just seeing that I survived.

I know that sometimes, it feels like our worst days define us. But what I’ve found to matter most is what happens when we get to the other side. If we can move past the stupid shit we’ve done and build something better, those bad moves will lose all their power.

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