In 1998, I met Amy.
In 2001, we got married.
In 2009, I had an affair.
In 2010, we got divorced.
I never thought I would be the type of person who would have an affair. I’ve since learned that there is no *type* of person who has an affair. It can happen easier than you think. There will always be temptation, there will always be opportunity, there will always be moments of unhappiness, and sometimes those ingredients mix together to make a big old bowl of Failing At Marriage Soup. And that’s what it is – there is no way to sugarcoat it: If you have an affair, you just failed at marriage. Even if you pick up the pieces and Humpty Dumpty the shit out of them, you still got a big fat “F”, and you will be taking make-up classes and doing extra credit for most, if not all, of the rest of your marriage. More power to you, though, because I just took the easy route and quit. I ran away. I took my “F” and dropped out.
For the first time since I was 21 years old, I was single. My life was in shambles, my heart crushed into pieces. I spent my nights curled up under my desk, sobbing until I couldn’t breathe. I had my first panic attack, then a series of them. I finally grasped what it meant to feel empty inside, and I had no idea what to do to fill that void. I felt unwanted and unloved and rudderless.
No book or self-help guide can help you in this situation. Some people take their guilt and wear it around their necks like a yoke, allowing it to color their interactions with every person they meet. Others might withdraw from society and some will cling to their next relationship like a life preserver. I turned to casual sex with as many people as I could, limiting myself with a few basic rules.
Rule 1: Don’t lie or obfuscate the truth in any way. Be completely honest about your desires, motivations, and needs.
My divorce taught me that I never wanted to engage another person in any situation without honest and open communication. I would never again be someone who cheated or lied or sneaked around. I know that I’m naturally charismatic, and because I know how to listen to and talk to people, it’s very easy for me to convince someone to do what I want them to do. A policy of complete transparency and honesty allows me to be responsible for my actions and words, and only my actions and words.
Rule 2: Don’t get attached. Nobody sleeps over, and as soon as someone gets attached, it’s time to end it.
My first sexual encounter after I moved out was with someone who was also in the process of a divorce. She had shown interest before, and I had no doubt that our first night out would end well. We agreed that our time together was purely casual and so we met several times, but the night that she laid her head on my shoulder and said “So you’re sure that you wouldn’t want to date?”, it was over.
Rule 3: The farther away they live or otherwise occupied they are, the better.
I focused my effort on women who lived far away or had children or busy work schedules. If our time together could be limited to an evening out once or twice a week, I was interested. If they lived in another state, even better. If they were married, so what? I was single, and it wasn’t my right to enforce a moral code on them. If a woman wanted to violate her wedding vows and fuck me, why would I say no to that? I was done assuming that I knew better than someone else and insulting them by doing so. My interactions were with adults who can make their own decisions, and did.
That version of me isn’t someone I’m proud of. He was not an exemplary person. He was human and flawed and broken and vulnerable and needy. This Adam engaged in behaviors that made it difficult for some of his friends to be his friends. This was a person who was selfish because he had to be selfish for the first time in his life, and yet I embrace and accept him fully, because I had to be him to get to the place where I am today.
For almost two years, I was physically unable to handle the mere concept of a relationship that required any degree of commitment. If I even considered relying on one person to be there for me, fulfill my needs, and support me, an elephant would sit on my chest and my vision would go dark. I noticed and mentally recorded every flaw of every person I was with, reminding myself of those flaws over and over again. I felt no guilt about having sex with four different women over the course of two weeks and continuing to see two of them intermittently. I made explicit, detailed plans for every trip I took to have sex with different women who lived in or were traveling to my destination. As far as I could see, it was the only path.
Over the last few weeks, I started dating someone casually. She made it clear that she wasn’t interested in non-exclusive dating, which would normally be a sign for me to end things and move on. But this time, I didn’t. I pictured dating her exclusively, seeing her regularly, if not daily, relying on her to be there for me, and there was no anxiety attack. There was no feeling of panic. No urge to go out and pick someone up at a bar to fuck. I traveled to San Diego for a week, surrounded by three thousand beautiful women, and had no desire to have sex with any of them. It was like a switch had turned off.
The last two years have been terrible. I betrayed my morals. I lost my wife, my best friend, my dog, my house, my life, my security, my comfort, and I lost my identity. I hurt others in my pursuit to heal myself. I’ve been told by friends that I’m an asshole, a horrible person, that I’m manipulative, selfish, bad, immoral, unlikeable, unsafe, dangerous, pathetic, sad, and too hard to be friends with. I’ve also had friends who stayed by me, who bit their tongues and hoped that this wouldn’t last. They knew that the Adam they loved was there trying to figure things out. That he was emotionally crippled and damaged, but he would heal.
And with a simple decision to enter into a relationship with someone, I’ve felt my priorities shift and I know, from the deepest part of me, that finally, thankfully, I’m back.