Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Unexpected Downside of Infidelity

I was chatting with a dear friend this morning and he reminded me about one of the downsides of infidelity that we rarely talk about and that most never see coming.  It's not getting caught, although that can be, and usually is, pretty bad. It's something that is brought on by the experience itself.

Most of us who cheat are looking for something that is missing from our relationship at home.  It's usually intimacy and/or sex, but it could include many other things, too. If you're lucky, you'll meet the right person and find what you're looking for. At that point, all you see is the upside.

If everything clicks, you experience intimacy like you never have before, maybe not even with your spouse in those flush early days. The sex is great.  You feel alive. You wonder why you waited so long. You find that feeling so connected to another human being on so many levels is amazing beyond description. In a nutshell, for the first time in a long time, you feel complete. All of your needs are being met and you're happy.

What could be bad about that?

Well, nothing.  As long as it lasts.  The problem is that, unlike marriage, affairs are not intended to go on forever.  That's generally speaking, of course.  Some can go on for years or decades, but those are the exceptions.  Most affairs end. In the best of situations, they end well. The affair has run its course and you both agree that it's time to move on or that it's time to attempt fidelity again.  Maybe you end on good terms because you just drifted apart. The time between meetings just got longer and longer until *POOF*you just weren't seeing each other anymore. That's pretty much what happened between me and JJ.  There was no decision to end it, no falling out.  It just fizzled out due to lack of attention.  That doesn't mean we don't care about each other, just that the affair is not active (I'm hesitant to say "done" because I don't know what the future holds, even though it looks like it's done).

But maybe your affair ends on bad terms.  Your wife finds out or your partner's husband finds out, and things turn very, very ugly. Maybe you can salvage your marriage, but that was only possible because you agreed to end the affair. Maybe your partner just decided she wanted to end it or she found someone else. Regardless of how you feel about it, it's over.

The ending, though, isn't even the bad part I'm talking about. It's worse when the affair is over, and you know it's over forever, and you're still with your spouse, and you're faced with the heart wrenching knowledge that you have experienced indescribable intimacy with another human being, and now it's gone.  And you may not have that ever again.

I'm a believer in Alfred Lord Tennyson's assertion that " 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved," because I honestly believe that connecting with our fellow human beings is part of why we're here. Loving others, in all the possible forms that love takes, is how we live to the fullest.

As long as I'm quoting literature, let me add another. "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for." This is attributed to William G.T. Shedd as well as to several other people (that's what the internet does to authors who don't copyright their work; eventually, everyone claims it). Some people, most notably those who obviously can't read, claim that Theodore Roosevelt said it first in his 1901 State of the Union speech, saying that "ships are not built for a harbor."  Of course, he was actually talking about real ships and the need to get them out of the harbor so peacetime crew can get adequate training, not ships leaving a harbor as a metaphor for courage and risk taking. The funny thing is that he never really said it.  What he said was, "Our ships must be assembled in squadrons actively cruising away from harbors and never long at anchor." Even poor Teddy Roosevelt can't escape bad reporting.

Wow.  My inner nerd just jumped out at you.  Sorry about that. However,  if you're ever in a nerdy mood, read Roosevelt's speech in its entirety. He talks about the importance of building the Panama Canal and the cavalry, basing U.S. foreign policy on the Monroe Doctrine, and changing the way recruits are addressed at Annapolis. Good stuff...and kind of amusing given today's context.

But I digress....again.

The point was that I agree that knowing there will be pain in the future is no reason to avoid living and loving fully today. Still, it's painful to have what you were craving and then have to face a life without it again.

Before you experience it, you know you're not happy, not content.  You know something is missing, but it's only when you have it in your life for a period of time that you fully understand the depth of the hole in your life without it. Yes, you can go to counseling with your spouse and if you're both willing, things can definitely get better, and that's awesome! But it is unlikely that your spouse will ever be able to fill that void for you completely.

I know that some of you may be thinking, "Hey! It's not your spouse's job to fill that void!  You need to fill it yourself by growing spiritually and learning to appreciate what you have."  Ok, there's some truth to that. One of the secrets of a happy long-term marriage is appreciation.  Another is for each spouse to be on his/her own path of growth and self-actualization (did you ever think you'd see that word again after the 70's?). I have to tell you, though, that my first thought when I hear someone say something like that is that they have probably never experienced the intimacy I'm talking about.  If they had, they'd know that one person can't recreate that alone just by concentrating on being grateful. It's like magic. It's illusive and addictive......and sorely missed when it's gone.

This morning I told my friend that he should never say never because it's possible that he may find that lost intimacy with his wife. We don't know what the future holds. If they are both working on it, it's possible.

But we both knew the truth.  It's unlikely. So how do you live with that?  How do you happily stay on the farm when you've seen Paris, so to speak? I don't know.  I know it's difficult, and I know that life is full of trade offs.  Maybe we have to let go of the magic to keep the family we love whole. Maybe we have to go back to settling for something that doesn't fully fulfill us in exchange for a chance at another kind of happiness. Maybe we just have to hope that as we age it won't really matter as much to us.

Warning someone about this downside of infidelity before they cheat won't do any good because it will just make them want to find that magic and have the experience themselves.  And then they'll know. Unfortunately, at that point, there's going back.

Is it really "better to have loved and lost than never to have loved?"


6 comments:

naughtyWifeA said...

Beautifully written. I've had a relatively short term (3 month) affair and you captured it perfectly. I'm struggling to let go of my affair partner, because I know it's the 'right' thing to do, but that connection with him feels like something I won't ever get in my marriage. I never had it with my husband to start. It's sad, so sad, to think that I might never have that intensity again in my life. It makes me want to cheat again... I guess that's why they say once a cheater, always a cheater?

Anonymous said...

A beautifully and very cogently written piece. So true what you say here. Thank you.

EDAS

~McKPR said...

*sigh* I loathe to admit how much this, this pains me. The end, the goodbye. When it seems that I've just found him. The pragmatic romantic in me wants to hope we can be one of those rare, long-term mutual admiration society in parallel to our every day real lives as it is today. Is it possible? I'd like to believe it is. Just as you wrote about your feelings for JJ, he will always be in my heart. Thank you for sharing, as always.

Olivia G. said...

What a moving post Kat. Your post reminded me of this book called Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. One of the most memorable arguments Gilbert makes in his book is that once we have experienced something, such as the kind of elusive intimacy you describe, it forever alters our perspective on happiness. You can never un-experience it and although your life before that experience may have provided much happiness for you in the past, that shift in perspective will make it difficult for you to find the same level of happiness without that kind of intimacy. There is no going back. I also believe that it is better to have experienced that magical connection and intimacy with someone you love.... but I am dreading the day where I have to go back to my life without it for I know that nothing will ever be the same.

~McKPR said...

yes! Exactly what Olivia states in her last sentence. Exactly!

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