Because I am sometimes a walking cliché who struggles with controlling negative emotion, I found myself sitting at a bar on a Sunday afternoon with a shot and a beer in front of me.
I’d walked out of the house after another fight with my wife who hated me. My marriage was complete shit and I’d convinced myself that it was mostly her fault. She’d suffered a difficult personal loss, and because her emotional calibration and mindset had the “wrong” settings, she wasn’t prioritizing our marriage over her sadness.
I’d been sleeping in the guest room ever since the night she told me over dinner that she didn’t love me anymore and didn’t know whether she wanted to stay married. That had been more than a year earlier.
Don’t love me, huh? Neat. Way to screw me over after I pledged my entire life to you.
Instead of exercising humility and putting all of the effort I could muster into understanding why my wife was unhappy, I felt sorry for myself and moved into the guest room.
I couldn’t explain how we’d arrived here—a depressed wife seemingly apathetic toward her husband and marriage, and a depressed husband trying simply to not suffocate. It felt like a problem that was too big for me. When things feel too big for me, I tend to avoid them.
Help always came during life’s hardest moments growing up. Maybe I thought my wife would snap out of it and we’d find a way back from this.
I’d been sleeping in the guest room for more than a year because I’m not sharing a bed with a woman who tells me she doesn’t love me and doesn’t know if she wants to be married to me anymore.
It seemed like a reasonable decision at the time if you don’t count the part where I was an adult male approaching 18 consecutive months of celibacy I’d never wanted nor asked for.
So, a Fuck this, I’m not going to sit here and take any more of this crap reaction came naturally when something she said struck me as extra bullshitty.
And then I did what all the sad and angry guys do in the movies.
I went to the bar to drink and smoke cigarettes, leaving my wife at home to care for our toddler and reflect on how her husband always puts himself first during disagreements, completely dismisses her thoughts and feelings when they conflict with his interpretation of truth, and consider a future where she wouldn’t have to put up with any of that.
I ordered a shot and a beer. And then another. And then another.
I’m good at drinking. I tend not to get sloppy drunk and stupid. Sitting there alone on a Sunday afternoon, I wasn’t planning on getting either sloppy or stupid. I was just trying to medicate enough to numb the tightness in my chest and throat.
I was probably doing a lot of staring at my phone and the bottom of my glass because I didn’t see them walk in. I only remember lifting my head and locking eyes with a beautiful brunette woman sitting with her friend on the far side of the bar.
I won’t be mistaken for a Gucci underwear model or anything, but considering it was a Sunday afternoon and the bar was mostly empty, I was the obvious choice for any women interested in meeting a guy.
After our eyes had met a few times, the two ladies invited me to the other side of the bar to sit with them.
Drinking alone isn’t any fun.
Her name was Donna. Donna’s friend was cute and friendly too, but I don’t remember her name. Just Donna.
She was beautiful. Educated. Fun to talk to and drink with.
But what really stood out—and why I still remember her today—is that she liked me.
She liked me. She wanted to meet someone who enjoyed cooking and weekend-afternoon orgasms which is totally a demographic of which I’m a member.
We spent hours drinking and joking and talking and laughing. Donna, me, and her friend I can’t remember.
Donna and I didn’t have an affair.
We didn’t make out, hold hands, or even exchange text messages after that. I loved my wife and absolutely wanted to be married to her for the rest of my life.
But no amount of alcohol could make me forget how horrible it felt to be home in my loveless and stressful marriage.
No amount of alcohol could prevent me from feeling the excitement of an attractive person demonstrating genuine interest in me after so many months of craving my wife’s affection and being denied it.
No amount of family values, codes of moral conduct, or of being philosophically against sexual unfaithfulness in marriage could stop this from being true: I wanted to sleep with Donna.
I did. I wanted to.
I was married. I loved my wife. We had a little boy at home. And I believed it was fundamentally wrong up and down the social and spiritual spectrum of acceptable human behavior.
Cheating = bad, is how I felt about it—no matter how painful and shitty my life and marriage felt.
So I didn’t.
But still. I wanted to.
She made me feel good, simply by paying attention to me, demonstrating interest in me, and expressing verbally and non-verbally that she liked me. All of that paired with her attractiveness was enough to trigger the feeling inside.
I wanted to.
This is How Affairs Happen
As many of you know, it was largely me—not my wife—whose behavior slowly led us down the sneakily disguised path to resentment and divorce. I didn’t know it back then while I was feeling sorry for myself and drunk-flirting with strange women at a bar. I managed to do that WHILE blaming my wife for the state of our marriage.
She doesn’t like me or want me anyway, so who cares? The rules are different now.
I really thought and felt that.
I’m telling this story because I think—save for various details unique to our individual lives—it’s a story that most people reading will understand and relate to. I think this story is a VERY common example of how marital affairs happen.
It’s not usually someone who loses all sense of reason and self-control and gives himself or herself over to lustful temptation.
It’s usually that someone in a committed relationship feels abandoned and alone and miserable inside their home and relationship. And THEN, someone attractive and interesting starts demonstrating emotional, intellectual, or sexual interest—and it’s how amazingly good that feels after months and years of being deprived of those feelings that intoxicates people and lures them into submitting to the craving.
They want me.
A powerful drug. Appealing. Addicting.
I want more.
I never really understood how a husband or wife could sleep with someone else. But then my marriage turned to shit and I felt like dying every day, and then she eventually left and it somehow got worse.
And now I do understand.
When something hurts all the time, it’s easy to chase things that relieve the pain.
When we’re deprived of powerful wants and needs like food and water, we starve and dehydrate. Starving people will eat unspeakably disgusting things. Dehydrated people will drink desert sand if the mirage looks real enough.
When we feel deprived of love, attention, physical intimacy, respect—and then we get a taste of that elsewhere? It’s easy to want more.
Maybe if my wife had held on to our broken marriage for another year, I’d have cracked eventually. I don’t know.
I just know this: I messed up big-time in our marriage, and failed my wife and family. I see it clear as day now. Despite that, I STILL felt genuinely like a victim. And in all my victimhood, I felt justified in letting my mind want sexual and romantic fulfillment, even if it meant wanting it from someone else. It seemed totally okay to me since my wife ignored me all the time when she wasn’t acting annoyed that I lived in the same house.
A Thought Exercise
I’m a reasonably evolved human being. Even when I was a shitty husband, I could still mostly be counted on to treat people well and make choices that wouldn’t hurt my wife or son.
I was the problem in my marriage, and STILL played the victim card inside of my head and chest.
So, what do you think the people are doing who are ACTUALLY being emotionally neglected and mistreated by their spouses?
There are women and men out there who are married to way bigger screw-ups than me.
What do you think the real victims of shitty spousal treatment are thinking and feeling when their hot co-worker flirts with them, or when their high school sweetheart reaches out to them on Facebook?
There are a lot of marital affairs happening. Too many.
There are also a lot of people who aren’t physically acting on their impulses… but they WANT to.
If your wife or husband doesn’t actually sleep with your best friend, or her work-trip partner, but they WANT to… how do you feel about that?
And we can choose to get all morally righteous and holier-than-thou about it, always pointing fingers at someone who succumbed to an affair as the reason a marriage fell apart.
Or we can tell the truth, even if it’s a little bit inconvenient.
We can talk about root causes. We can talk about all of the little things that did or did not happen over many months and years which resulted in two previously happy and in-love people becoming totally Bizarro versions of themselves who sleep with other people and feel morally justified in doing so.
It’s rarely about the sex.
It’s usually about human connection.
Affairs don’t lead to disconnection, per se.
Disconnection leads to affairs.
And then the world is a little darker and uglier than it was before.
But it doesn’t have to be.