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
I’m doing the best I can to demonstrate for my 10 yo daughter what honest love should look like. We hold hands. We listen to each other. And we never fail to offer up, “I love you” at random and magical times. Many a night, when the kids are with their mom, have I gotten a text of heart emoticons from my daughter, just touching in before she goes to be. And her Facetime chats on those nights have been known to boost my mood by 150%. It’s not that I depend on her for my happiness. But she shows me random acts of love all the time. And that’s how I walk the earth, too.
It seems that I have a bone to pick then, with the fathers of my first two wives. Something was seriously amiss with both of their relating functions. And now, with hindsight, I blame their dads for a good portion of their damaged response to being loved. Let’s cover them one at a time, just for example.
My first wife had emotional problems early on in the marriage. I did not see them while we were courting. (Well, okay, I saw some indication of them, but was oblivious due to her hyper-sexual tractor beam that had a hold of me. Her father was even more messed up than she was. He was a lawyer that seemed to enjoy fucking with people. The were estranged when we met and courted and got married. Perhaps that should have been a clue. But later as the real-life of living uncovered some of my first wife’s emotional problems, his presence raised its ugly head rather dramatically.
She had been sexually abused.
I tried to put the genie back in the bottle after her sexual abuse was revealed, due to some therapy our new financial union had afforded my wife. But the demons came screaming into our bedroom and never left. Some of the nuttiness was certainly on my wife, and she went through phases of recovery, when she continued in counseling and got ever more clear in the distinction that I was indeed a man, but I was not her father, nor an abuser. But as her commitment to “working on it” wained so did her ability to remove the target from my heart. Things didn’t get any better as we began some engagement with dear old Dad. He was a creep and a user right from the start. You could tell from his dyed curly hair and his “everything is awesome” attitude that if you didn’t watch yourself around him, you were gonna get fucked.
When things had progressed towards the demise of my marriage, I’m sure, Dad, the family lawyer from Oregon, had given her a final piece of fatherly advice. “File for divorce while he’s out of town, get what money you can into bank accounts that you control, and file a restraining order before he knows what hit him.
I returned from a business trip to New York and was served in my office on a Monday morning. An ultimate fuck you to the end of a very troubled and painful marriage. (Note: when the abused becomes the abuser, it can often turn into an out-of-control rage that threatens both life and sanity. If you are in a relationship with someone who has been sexually abused, please seek help for yourself. You CAN choose to be in that relationship, but rocky times are ahead.)
The ex-y and her Dad had a very different relationship. His style was much more suited to his engineering mind and career. He kept his emotions in check at all times. (Of course, that my second wife’s mother was off her rocker would factor into this dramatically, but he had learned this coping mechanism long before he met my ex-wife’s mom.) He was rarely concerned with understanding or expressing emotion. But wanted to know the bottom line in every transaction. Rather than engaging in a relationship with me, after we got married, he seemed to always be asking, “What do you want from me?”
My ex-y got her relationship skills from the engineer. If things got difficult she reverted to his “process over emotion” method. She rarely told me she loved me except in response to my overture. She liked to “run the numbers” all the time, when I proposed a quick getaway. “Hey let’s go to the beach this weekend.” She’d start with, “We don’t have the money for that.” (Come to think of it, that’s still kind of her approach to me, in divorce, it’s about money first, money always, emotions and expression of feelings second or not at all.)
So my second wife learned to cordon off her emotional bonds and use logic and spreadsheets to rule the day. I guess in some zen-like practice this is good. It has seemed to work for her dad. But of course, if you are trying to relate to someone who’s always asking, “But what do you feel?” your approach may not work. Still, she is a master spreadsheeter. And like her dad, she can start and finish conversations with Excel. But there’s no way to navigate LOVE in a spreadsheet.
So I get to give my daughter something different.
I show her how a gentleman treats her. I am always listening, often adoring, and when applying discipline, I try to stay close and not punish with cold logic. It’s how I would want to be treated. It’s how I treat a relationship. It’s where I start from.
I want my daughter to be strong in this world. And when she is treated with disrespect I want her to KNOW in her deepest heart that it is not right. To love from the spreadsheet may get you down the road of business, but it will kill the passion in your relationship. To love fully, we must open to the pain of loving, to the pain of feeling raw emotion. This opens the possibility for full-love. And perhaps I’m experiencing it in a platonic/fatherly way with my daughter. But I believe it’s the way to loving deeply and loving for the long haul.
The fathers of my two wives did not do a good job of being fathers. And their daughters are still struggling to find their love language. I am clear on my role as Dad and protector. But I am also clear that I am showing her what it feels like to be loved deeply and fully. And hopefully, to know when something is missing before she enters into a serious relationship with someone who is damaged or damaging.
The Off Parent
- Ferris Bueller Gets a Divorce – My Dad’s Divorce Blog – The Movie
- Team Dad, “Even When We Can No Longer Be Together”
- Last Good Moment Before the Storm: Rockstar Fantasy Camp
- Another Single Father’s Day
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)