Why I don’t feel bad about cheating on my husband
Yes, it’s an entirely selfish reason.
Why I don’t feel bad about cheating on my husband
We met on a plane. Plane meet-cutes are common in movies but in real life, I never sit next to hot strangers. Except for the time I met Jack. He wasn’t ripped like going-to-the-gym ripped. He was in good shape in the way men only get with consistently long hours of physical labor. With a beaded necklace against his suntanned skin and a dirty ball cap over green eyes and stubble, he looked part mountain lumberjack, part hippie surfer dude. He gestured with big, calloused hands while talking which made the muscles in his forearms ripple.
I told him about my plans of starting running because I wanted to complete a marathon. He said he was trying to quit smoking and had been wanting to start running as well. Hey, we could be running buddies! Great idea! We were both full of shit. We talked the entire plane ride. When we got off the plane he asked for my number.
The only problem: I was married. Yes, he knew before he asked for my number. And I still gave it to him.
From the very moment we met, there was tension. A slight crackle in the air. A bit of a winky slant to our texts. I figured it was enough that I was married. A little borderline flirting isn’t going to hurt when I was committed to my husband and family. I lied to myself. I was already unhappy in my marriage, a walking cliche of the unsatisfied woman enjoying attention from another man that she doesn’t get at home.
I thought it would be fine since I wasn’t hiding anything. You know how some therapists say if you feel like you need to delete your messages, or talk in secret, or not tell your partner about a person, you have a problem. I didn’t do these things. My husband knew about Jack and had no problem with us running together to train for the marathon.
I’m glad you have someone to talk to.
I was both relieved that he didn’t have a problem with me spending more time with Jack than with any of my other “friends.” And I was confused. Did he see connecting and sharing as an obligation? Was I talking about myself too much? Before we got married I was warned that he was “a man of few words.” I didn’t believe it. Of course, he would want to talk to me! We’d be together forever, sharing our most private thoughts and emotions with each other. It took me years to realize I was wrong.
I had talked and talked and filled in his gaps of silence in my head. I had turned over his words in my brain, added things, taken things away, looked at them in a new light, painted over them, until they looked like something that was acceptable to me. But I did not accept him for who he was. I always wanted him to be different.
I continually pushed for connection when I was the only one who wanted it. I would cry and scream and want to whisperfight in bed for hours. He would stay silent for minutes at a time, not knowing what to say, forgetting what I’d asked, and eventually, I realized he’d just gone to sleep while I was lying next to him crying. We fell into a cycle of pushing and pulling away and neither of us got what we said we wanted. The question I had on my wedding night, when I laid in bed crying for the first time, while he was fast asleep, never left me: Did I make a mistake?
When I met Jack, my marriage was not exactly in critical condition, but not stable either. More like an organism that had suffered permanent injuries that never healed completely, while it adapted to life with its limitations. There was always that kink in its neck, a little limp, stitches that kept breaking open.
I thought I was making peace with the way my life was. I had thrown the time and energy I had left after parenting four kids 2 years and under (a toddler, infant twins, and a newborn) into self-improvement. I believed many of my marital issues were due to me coming from a broken family. I believed I was damaged goods and my husband and his family were healthy and whole and he had come to rescue me. I won’t go into details but I think it’s obvious that’s not a great basis for a healthy marriage.
Jack looked at me as if I was attractive and interesting, not the tired mother of four who was going away for a weekend alone for the first time in her married life. He was curious, witty, a little mysterious, and genuinely interested in what I had to say. I tried to remember a single time I’d had a conversation with my husband for several hours, even at the very beginning of our relationship. I couldn’t recall a single time.
I felt flattered and desired. Jack made me feel seen as a person, rather than a body just filling all the roles of my day-to-day life. Mother. Wife. Church member. Now, looking back, I question his motives as much as my own.
Much later in our “friendship,” it became clear that he used me as much as I used him. I wanted to feel special and seen and valued. He wanted to be the hang-up guy. Hang up guy I asked. What’s that? You know, when a relationship ends but you can’t quite get over the guy, even if you can’t be together, you still think about him, and wonder what could’ve happened. You just stay a little hung up on him even if you move on.
He was talking about previous relationships then, but I wondered how much of that was true for our relationship. He talked to me a lot less when he had a girlfriend. When he was single, his texts became more flirty, the time he wanted to spend with me longer. He looked at me with an open hunger that I was supposed to feel. We’d hug for too long, we would start sentences then stop as if we were about to tell a secret, but we both already knew it. There was a lot of intense staring, a lot of sexual innuendos. We never touched except for hello and goodbye hugs. We never kissed. We never removed any clothes. But we openly lingered on each other’s bodies with starving eyes.
Yes, I’m cringing as I’m writing this. I was deluding myself.
On my birthday that year, my wish was to run a half marathon in the mountains. My mother was visiting from Germany at the time and so my husband, four kids, and mom drove me up the mountain to the starting line where I met Jack. This of course meant that I would spend most of my birthday with Jack, not my husband.
After seeing us off at the start, my family went back down the mountain and come back hours later to pick me up. They didn’t make it back up in time, so after the race, Jack and I sat on top of a mountain, high from getting our asses kicked on the trail, and sharing some snacks. We walked around looking for my husband and I hoped we wouldn’t find him. Conveniently, there was no cell phone reception. We sat on the tailgate of his beat-up blue pick-up, the metal finally warming in the early summer sun. To others, we would have looked like a couple and I liked that. I wanted people to think that.
I wish this were my life.
I knew at that moment that I had a problem. I could have realized it sooner of course, but all plausible deniability went to shit in the split second I realized that I preferred a made-up relationship over my actual marriage.
The thing is we so often try to argue…nothing happened! We didn’t do x! We only had y! It didn’t mean anything. We try to draw lines about what is cheating and what isn’t. It didn’t matter that it looked perfectly friendly when I hugged Jack. It mattered that I had to count to three in my head to remember to let go at an appropriate time. It didn’t matter that my husband was glad I finally had someone to talk to. It mattered that the person I wanted to run to with the best and the worst was no longer my husband, but Jack. I knew what my commitments were to my husband, and I knew exactly when I started breaking them. All the justification and hair-splitting couldn’t put the longing back in the box.
And that is the thing we don’t focus on enough when we yell at each other about betrayals. I didn’t cheat because my husband did or didn’t do something. I didn’t cheat because Jack offered me some Hollywood, soul-mate type, magical relationship. I cheated because I longed for something I didn’t have and desperately wanted.
The “it” was a romantic relationship based on knowledge of each other, on trust, on the deep and frequent exchange of ideas, on a level of honesty that was challenging and exhilarating. I picked someone who didn’t want that kind of relationship. The irony is not lost on me that by cheating on my husband I also betrayed the very values I proclaimed to hold about relationships. Trust and honesty my ass.
But it wasn’t just a matter of “oh I want this kind of relationship and my husband doesn’t so I need to find someone who does and everything will be fine.” The biggest issue was that I looked to relationships to get something that I needed to find in myself first. Yes, so very cliche. Don’t worry I’m not going to talk about how I had to find myself and love myself first.
Scratch that, it’s exactly what I’m going to talk about. The “it” I longed for beneath just focusing on the kind of relationship I wanted and didn’t have, was that I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I didn’t even know who I was in the first place.
It would take me many more years to figure out some of these things about myself and it’s very much a work in progress. I’ve been cheated on and I have cheated. What I didn’t share in that linked essay about being cheated on was my ex-boyfriend’s reason. He said he didn’t want to be with someone who made him feel bad for drinking and doing drugs. Listen, that is a legit, honest reason for an 18-year-old. With a couple of decades' distance, I can appreciate that he told me straight up why this relationship wasn’t working for him. I would have preferred to know this before he cheated, but that’s maybe too much to ask.
We were so young and so inexperienced with how to be a good partner. I don’t know if he still feels bad that he cheated on me. I doubt it. But somehow it’s more controversial that I also don’t feel bad about cheating on my husband. Age and maturity are factors that need to be considered, of course. You could argue that I knew better and that I deeply hurt someone and violated an intimate relationship in the worst way possible.
The reasons I don’t feel bad are complicated. We both left the relationship in many different ways for many years, before I ever met Jack. I didn’t feel like I was hurting anyone and so I didn’t feel bad. I know this sounds callous. I understand the situation would be different if I had cheated in a relationship that wasn’t already on life support. If the other person had cared that I cheated. If they still loved me and were deeply hurt about the breach of trust. I’m not talking about everyone’s cheating experience, only my own. But even after all these qualifications, even if I did feel absolutely horrible for causing great hurt, the more true, and more selfish reason is that the bad feelings I have about cheating are far outweighed by what I learned about myself in the process.
I’m grateful for the moments of clarity, I’m grateful for coming to face myself as I was, not entirely good, not entirely bad, but a complicated human. I’m grateful for the intense feelings that provided the necessary impetus to make some changes in my stagnant life when just a little push wouldn’t have been enough to jostle me out of my inertia. I’m grateful for what I’ve learned about myself and others in the meantime and how it has allowed me to view people (including myself) outside our roles as heroes and villains.
I’m not going to tell you how my story ended, because I’m an asshole, but mostly because it doesn’t matter. This is not about the specific decisions I made in my life you nosy fuck. I have no insights and no advice for you either, in case you googled your own cheating scenario and what to do about it. (But you could try Esther Perel’s podcast and books if you need to hear from an expert in the field).
I don’t think cheaters are the scum of the earth and I hope all of us in the cheaters club figure out why we cheated and allow that to inform our next steps. I no longer think that being cheated on means there was something wrong with me and I hope all of us in the cheatee club allow ourselves to consider all the options we have to move forward regardless of how they are perceived by others.
The discussions about cheating cannot only be about how to mend things with the other person, how to decide whether to stay or go, how to deal with the impact on children, or the logistics of splitting up a household. We also must withhold our judgments from ourselves and others long enough to ask about the deeper reasons. What is the unfulfilled longing that led to this point? If we don’t, we’ll repeat our same patterns in different relationships with different people, always wondering why we end up entangled in the same kinds of drama.
Just got back from a shitty road trip. I love road trips, but not all can be great and beautiful and amazing. This one wasn’t. But when I just looked through my pictures, I realized how many little beautiful, funny, strange moments there were in those few days that I summarized as “ugh” altogether. We drove into a rainbow, saw a bunch of wild turkeys waiting at a bus stop and avoided eating subpar donuts. This is not a silver-lining-look-for-the-positive-glass-half-full lecture, just a realization that sometimes my brain paints a whole weekend with the blah brush when there were actually a lot of great little moments sprinkled in between the eyerolls.
The living and the writing about it.
I like writing about internal worlds, my thoughts, and reflections, but I’m much more interested in writing about my observations. The interactions and relationships I witness or am part of, the life stuff happening all the time, the things to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. This is impossible if I’m never out there doing anything. That’s what the pandemic felt like…I wasn’t experiencing much and life felt like one long blurry day.
Recently, it’s been the opposite. There have been visits from some of my very favorite family friends, deep conversations, preparing for the production trip, going on the actual trip, seeing a new city, meeting a lot of new people, going out of my comfort zone, signing up for some new courses, seeing extended family I hadn’t seen in 9 years, going through some of my father’s belongings and crying over his ashes, being absolutely enamored by the ear-shattering nightly concert of cicadas (or crickets?), the first snow, a new work project.
I can tell I’m getting overwhelmed and frustrated that I don’t have enough time to just sit around thinking about all this stuff. Not enough time doing nothing. Not enough time being alone. Not enough time to let things settle and process. I don’t think it’s ever possible for me to have a balance between those two. I need to take it the way it comes but I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
Wordles (Words + Doodles).
Unkraut vergeht net: Weeds don’t wither. Weeds don’t die.
One of my mom’s oldest friends just told me the story of when my mom went to an inpatient treatment facility for depression and her dad, my Opa, told her this German saying. My mom was pissed because she felt dismissed and devalued by being compared to a weed. My mom’s friend said she perceived the opposite, that it was an encouraging mantra of sorts, like, you’ll come out on the other side, you’ll be okay, you’re going to make it, you’ll live through it. Pretty much a declaration of faith in my mother that she was strong and capable and that he believed she could do it.
I don’t know how he meant it. I don’t know how I’d feel in the situation. I don’t know how I’d say or hear the words based on who I’m talking to, what my intentions are, and what the situation is. But I do know that I’ve been both my Mama and my Opa on occasion.
New friends (real or imaginary).
I knew nothing about Drew Dixon until I saw her featured in the documentary “On the Record” which came out in 2020. Drew Dixon worked with hip-hop legends like Biggie when they were only starting out and eventually was hired by Russell Simmons, co-founder at Def Jam Records, as an A&R executive. She alleges that Simmons raped her. Drew is one of 20+ women accusing Russell Simmons of sexual assault and misconduct, and the documentary heavily focuses on her story.
I’ve listened to many sexual assault survivors, but had never considered a few important things Drew pointed out:
Drew explains how when she was raped, her body became a crime scene. I’d never thought of it that way and how much more complex this makes processing a sexual assault and continuing your life afterward. She couldn’t avoid going back to the crime scene, because she considered herself the crime scene. Looking at it this way, it makes even more sense to me that dissociating from one’s body is so common during and after sexual assault.
She also explained that as a sexual assault victim you are the one who has to say the horrible, violent, disgusting, painful things that have been done to you, while the alleged perpetrator can just deny deny deny and distance themselves through their language from those acts. She said people want to ally not with the person who’s talking about abject horrors but the ones proclaiming innocence. By having to recount their stories over and over again, the victim is inextricably linked to the horrible acts much more so than the alleged perpetrator who can just deny having anything to do with them.
Finally, Drew mentions how she felt like a traitor against black culture and hip-hop culture for speaking out, because she thought as a black woman it was her duty to protect black men, like her alleged rapist. Considering that it is already so difficult for sexual assault survivors to speak out, this is an added layer of complexity black women navigate that I never considered.
It’s hard to watch but I’m glad I did and I wish I could meet Drew in real life.
Totally lied earlier in the newsletter. I definitely would have eaten “Gross Donuts.” We just didn’t have time and I doubt they were plant-based, but even a gross donut is still a fucking donut. You know? So, I made some donuts this week. I used a donut pan so there was no frying involved thank the good lord baby Jesus. I have a tendency to burn myself on things, stoves, ovens, teakettles, candles, coffee, curling irons…you name it, I have a burn scar somewhere on my body. So, no boiling vat of oil for me.
Just this easy-peasy chocolate donut recipe from Minimalist Baker that goes into the oven lickity-split and is ready to eat in a jiffy. Or in a jif? Jiff? Sometimes I imagine myself hosting a baking show, wearing retro aprons, and talking like Martha Stewart’s mom.
These did not taste like donuts, more like small, ring shaped bitter chocolate cakes. One star out of five. Would not recommend. BUT this is what happens when I crave the real thing (a fried donut or more specifically a German Kreppel) and then make something, KNOWING the entire time it will taste wrong.
I started listening to Landslide by Fleetwood Mac while writing this newsletter in a place where I couldn’t concentrate. In other words, I was annoyed. To drown out the noise around me, I popped in my earbuds and randomly started a playlist and this came on. There’s nothing I could say about this song that hasn’t already been said. If there ever was a coming of age song, this is it. Also, why is it that coming-of-age movies/songs/novels always revolve around teen/young adult years? I feel like I’ve already lived several different lives and every life or phase was a sort of coming-of-age process.
There are so many milestones, celebrations, markers in that traditional coming of age phase (graduations and first loves and heartbreaks, first jobs and cars and solo travels, first apartments and pets, and new cities or countries). I’ve had equally important milestones that are not the stuff of movies and songs but have marked a different coming of age phase for me: signing up for the thing I was afraid of, leaving the house without makeup, saying no to the thing I felt obligated to do but really didn’t care about, telling that one person how I feel, starting a good habit, enjoying my own company, setting a difficult boundary, saying the scary thing out loud.
That’s it for today! See you next week!