I didn’t know it when we started going to lunches together, but the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children was living with another man. I’m certain that he didn’t know she was seeing me across town at some organic restaurant and sharing smiles and flirts and “catching up.” And years later, as things were getting tough in my marriage, I didn’t know that she was having lunches with a younger man across town. She didn’t tell either of us about her lunches with other men.
I caught on when I read an email that looked like spam to be deleted from the family computer. It wasn’t spam. It was an explicitly intimate letter about their lunch, their trip to our local library, and a few of the deep topics they discussed, including my depression and her unhappiness.
I guess that’s how it starts. Emotional infidelity might eventually lead to a sexual affair, and most likely to divorce. But we were struggling, that’s for sure, but in my mind we were struggling together, to get through tough emotional and financial times. The break in our team effort, the inclusion of this stranger, a man I’d never met, felt almost unbearable. I WAS struggling with depression. And I was in one of the deepest periods when I came across this letter. I entered a period of deep detachment.
I confronted her. We went to therapy. We worked through it. Sort of. She apologized. She said she understood how this could be hurtful to me. She never owned the infidelity aspect of what she’d done, but she said she’d never do it again.
Years later as our sex life wained, and I was asking and trying to unlock the combination to her sexual desire, the ideas of this “other man” haunted me. What was preventing her, really, in this obviously unhappy state, from seeking satisfaction outside the marriage? How was I supposed to understand the total lack of intimacy with me, and not imagine that she was being open and sharing with someone. Maybe her therapist. Maybe another man.
And throughout the course of our marriage there were casual dates with her ex-husband that she didn’t tell me about. So in some corner of her mind her “lunches” were none of my business. I didn’t get it.
The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue. When I got a speeding ticket and didn’t tell her, I was being deceitful. All these little things kept adding up and dominating our couple’s counseling. My problems. My depression. And until the tail end of our marriage, as I was gainfully employed and beginning to feel some of my natural self-confidence back, I just went along with the story that I had a lot of issues to work through. But wait…
I did begin to speak up that Christmas and January/February before she asked for the divorce in March. I had started asking about closeness. I had started challenging her isolation and anger issues as she pointed them at me. I began to hear her “fuck you” outbursts when they came at random times. And at this time I was unwilling to bow down to the plea that I was the problem. It wasn’t me, baby, it was WE. We had a problem and it was time to either put up (“Let me out of the glass box,” I would say.) or break up. Even as I would like to put the “asking for divorce” on her shoulders, I was pressing the issue of closeness.
And in my expressions of passion mixed with righteous anger, I was saying, “Either things change, or I’m outta here.” My flaw was, I was fighting to say in the marriage, I was fighting from a belief that the foundation of our family was more important that any “issue” we had between is. I was stripping the relationship back down to its core to examine the fundamentals. “How can we go months without kissing? How is that okay with you?”
And in that last moment, I still believed we were in therapy to join together again. However, I also knew that our therapist was not a marriage counselor, he was working to get us actually hearing each other. He was trying to get us to the reality of our relationship, and not biasing our conversations in any way, but allowing us to sort through the issues. In these last sessions I believe we began to hear one another. And in the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.
My then-wife expressed her dissatisfaction with our relationship and how I was not changing enough to give her hope that things could be different. She was talking about trust. She was claiming the high ground at that last second, and pointing the finger at me, saying I was not honest enough. Her statement of clarity at the end of our marriage was that she did not see any hope that I was going to become (change to become) the man she needed.
The Off Parent
Note: I think this poem unlocked the feelings to make this post possible: love and what was missing
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller
- The Divorce Whisperer
- Of Course You’re Not Happy With Me, We’re Divorced
image: winter depression, gerald gabernig, creative commons usage
True Confessions Of A Cheating Suburban Mom says, ” I am a 40-something woman near the end of my divorce, and I am the one who was unfaithful.” < thus started a popular post on DivorcedMoms.com and Huffington Post’s Divorce section. And just the title irritated me. Sensationalizing cheating seems like a bad idea, sure you might get massive hits and comments, but confessional divorce material needs to have a redeeming quality, if it’s just a tell-all, it’s more of a Hollywood Housewives, rather than material for growth and self-understanding.
Did I really need to read this post? Is this “suburban mom” going to give me some advice that will be helpful in my recovery from infidelity and divorce? Is there something educational or illuminating about this confessional, or is it more of a slowing-down-to-gawk-at-the-car-crash-moment? I’m not interested in the later, and I spend a lot of time trying to pull apart my own dysfunctional mistakes as I move forward as a single dad. But again, this headline and first sentence have me forming my response before I’ve heard her “True Confession.” Even that title starts us off on the wrong foot, with a sensational tabloid headline like that, how can this be an introspective or evolutionary post. I will pause here and read her post… Back in a minute… Please stand by…
“I didn’t consider divorce. What I hadn’t realized is that over time I grieved the end of my marriage while I was still in it. I lay awake in bed at night crying, wondering how it was ever going to get better. He was next to me in bed, never a word to me, never wrapped his arms around me, never asked what was wrong.” – ibid
“I threw myself into my children and work and ignored my own needs. I did this for a very long time and continued to put myself last on my own priority list.” – ibid
“A friendship with another man grew into something that was not tawdry sex, but a renewed sense of happiness and hope. It evolved over time and wasn’t based in lust, but conversation, appreciation and understanding.” – ibid
“If I had known what would happen, and was aware of myself enough to understand what it all meant, I would go back and end my marriage before any infidelity took place.” – ibid
She got it. Okay, I’m relieved the popularity was not based on some drive-by sensationalism. In fact, the author, keeps things very clean and honest. And if this were my ex-wife I would have to applaud her for digging in an figuring out how disconnected she had become from her marriage, herself, and finally waking up when another man showed her the respect and care she was starving for.
It’s true, when we marry we have not real idea what’s ahead. When we add children to the mix, all things are changed forever. We’ve got a completely different responsibility at that point. For me, my needs and dreams, took a back seat to supporting and loving my family (both wife and two kids). I was a committed and engaged father. And we experienced some of the moments of joy in our lives that were unimaginable before kids. That will never be lost.
The magic and mystery of your first child is like nothing you can imagine. I can’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen. You have to let it happen, you have to be open to the transformation to take place in your life. But if you dig in deep with your wife and new baby you will find… spirituality unlike anything church can provide. (I’ll leave the religious epiphanies out of this post.) And that awe changes everything you do, and for me, everything I then dreamed of and worked towards. I was transformed even as our son was in the womb being prepared for his journey into my hands at his birth.
The doctor let me catch him as he sprung forth into the light of our lives. AMAZING. I didn’t need to cut the cord, I was already blissed out. And the days and weeks after his arrival passed in a haze of love and bliss and reconstitution. I was blown apart by the arrival of my son. I was father, son, and holy ghost all in one second. And then I had a new mission in life. Be the dad I wanted. And be the father that would nurture and protect this little fella throughout his life.
And that’s not exactly the way it worked out. But that was the plan and the dream and motivation going into the efforts of having a second child. We, as a family, sailed on into the chaos of post 9-11 emotional and economic free fall. And we nested as a new family unit seeking protection and joy. It was a hard and dark time for everyone. And our blissful moments, while still sparkling and plentiful, were also punctuated with depression, stress, financial woes, and eventually relationship strain.
Somewhere in that morass of bliss and brokenness, my then-wife began having lunches with a young work colleague. She wasn’t telling me about these liaisons. And if I look back at how we began our courtship, they too started with lunches. And though I didn’t know it at the time, she was living with a man at the time we began lunching.
So lunching was a gateway thing. And something that she needed to not tell me about. Hmm.
When I was checking the shared computer one afternoon, there was an odd message in the open gmail account. As I was the IT-manager of the family, and this subject line looked like SPAM I clicked on it to delete it with the “filter this type of email” button. But the first sentence was not an offer for New Internet Cable, as I suspected from the subject line. It was a thinly veiled love letter from this young colleague.
To be fair, I don’t think my ex-wife ever slept with this young single male. But she was lunching and exchanging emails with him. As I sat, horrified, I read about the struggles of my marriage, my depression, and my difficulties finding work. These were issues that he was responding to in this email back to my wife. And at the end of the letter, the kicker. “Thanks for showing me the library. It was a great place to talk and get a free cup of coffee. I’m sure I’ll go there often. It was great to see you.”
Boom. I was shot dead at that very moment. The lunches, the sharing of our local library (books and coffee – a huge connection between my wife and myself) and the deep sharing about her husband’s issues. And here was this sympathetic young man, offering his support and future correspondence, as she needed it. And future lunches or coffees in the library down the street in our neighborhood.
I didn’t know how deep this cut me, at the moment. I was suffering through some depressive issues of my own, it’s true, but those hurts and issues should’ve been something my then-wife expressed to me. Or at least in therapy. But not to another man. Not over lunches. And NOT in our local library.
I still visit the library. It’s a wonderful place with coffee by donation, nice books, and comfy chairs. And still, somehow, the ache of that found email that caused our family great heartache and drama. We eventually worked through most of the issues in therapy. She apologized immediately and said she recognized how it could’ve been hurtful to me.
She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship. And years later she chose to ask for the actual exit. I’m grateful we didn’t split back then, when our kids were 1 and 3. And while we had some wonderful times between then and when we finally split up, the patterns (hidden lunches with another man) were part of her DNA from before we met.
It always surprised me when the secret lunches would come up on random conversations. A comment on her Facebook page from her ex-husband for example. Maybe I should’ve been more diligent. Or more laid back. But the lunches when we started getting reacquainted were quite special and less-than-innocent. If I had known she was living with a man, I probably would’ve cut them off all together. But I didn’t and we continued until she asked me to a Dear John lunch. She said she needed to complete or commit to her relationship with another man before we went any further in our dates.
I always thanked her for that. It seemed honest and clean at the time. But what I didn’t know, was that she was living with him while she was lunching with me. I’m sorry, but that’s an infidelity any way you look at it. Unless she was willing to tell both of us, she was not being honest or giving us the ability to make our own decisions about the nature of our relationship.
The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship. I just didn’t have the sense to ask more questions or probe into the depth of this “other man” relationship she mentioned as she was cutting things off with me. We’d had some lunches and one evening date where we kissed quite a bit.
I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom
- My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
image: budapest dinner cruise, top budapest, creative commons usage