Cary’s classic column from Friday, Feb 27, 2004
I’m a good girl, but I can’t seem to stop.
I had to have liquid courage to be able to write this message.
I’m married. I’ve been having an affair for nearly a year.
It’s the same-old, same-old someone-I-work-with kinda thing. I’ve been married for several years and we’d been together for several years before that. Lots of ups and downs, highs and lows, but about 15 months ago I had never felt happier or more content with my life. No kids, but that was what we wanted for now. Lots of time and all that.
Then we moved and I started a new job. And the very first day I was there I met him. So, enormous, earth-shattering, energy-shifting attraction is apparent. I thought it was just me but it turned out to be entirely mutual. Months of e-mailing, flirting and knee-melting eye contact ensue. Then it got physical. Then it got really physical. And it was wonderful. All of it. It was amazing how much we really, genuinely liked each other and how attracted we were to each other.
But of course, there’s a husband and a girlfriend in this picture. Both husband and girlfriend are delightful, attractive, talented, supernice people that anyone would be lucky to have. So things got a little crazy, chances were taken and of course a couple of close calls later we were thinking that it was time to cool it. That lasted a few weeks. Things get started again but at a lower temperature. Then more chances were taken, then things cooled off again (me feeling horribly guilty and used and sick with myself), then they heat up again and here we are.
I love how you tell people things they can take with them forever. I need that. I think sometimes that I’m literally going to crack in half from the strain of this. Sometimes out of nowhere my throat just closes and I well up. Anywhere, grocery store, work, driving. I had a perfect, wonderful and blessed life that for some reason I felt I had to completely trash. I’m a nice, good girl. I’m happy nearly all the time. I have lots of friends who think highly of me. I’m smart and attractive and have always been thought of as solid as a rock. I earned my moral superiority. This is all so deeply out of character, so nightmarish. I saw it all happening and knew it was wrong but I still went on. It was not a case of temporary insanity by any means. It didn’t “just happen.” The buildup took ages. It’s like I’m having a dream but I just can’t wake up, I can’t make it stop or go away. I haven’t told my husband but it has still affected my marriage profoundly and I’m not sure that it will recover.
For God’s sake, I know that there are way bigger problems one could have. I’m sure that this sounds like a spoiled brat crying about her diamond shoes being too tight. But I’m also pretty sure that I’m not the only person in the world doing this. (Does this sound like I’m trying to justify why you should help me? Well, maybe I am.) I have no one to turn to. Tonight is the first time that I have cried about this. I think I’m absolutely at my wit’s end. I can’t stop thinking about him or seeing him when there’s an opportunity. I think I’m probably half in love.
But also, I don’t think this is a good man. Besides the fact that he pursued the hell out of this when he was in love with another girl (not that I’m judging), I just get the feeling that he’s very superficial. Phony (there, I said it). I’m not excusing myself but I think I was manipulated. And yet, I can’t stop. No amount of thinking of the consequences, whether they be the damage to my marriage or the damage to my heart, stops me. I’ve tried totally cutting off contact and it doesn’t work. I love my job and it loves me. Leaving it is not an option.
I want to stop feeling so out of control. I’ve maintained my dignity but I think I’m getting to the point where I’m going to crack. I think the only thing I’ve actually learned here so far is that it’s not the shitty things that other people do to you that make you lose your trust or faith in human nature, it’s the things that you do to them. I don’t know if I’ll ever look at other people the same way. If I could do this and just go merrily about my life then who knows what’s really going on with anyone?
Am I doing this because I don’t really want my wonderful life with my nice house and my pretty things and my fantastic husband? The husband’s not entirely perfect. He’s been known to take me for granted and he’s at times been really cold. Overall, though, he loves me very much and is proud of me. The life we have is exactly what we wanted. We’re the Brad and Jennifer of our crowd. I just don’t understand what I’m doing. A while ago I thought that I wasn’t a bad person, just a person who did a bad thing, but if I keep doing it when I know better then I’ve crossed that line too. I’m so torn right now between the desire to get on a plane and get far away or to just go to bed and not get up for about a year.
Do you have any ideas for me besides the plane or the bed?
Can’t Draw the Line
Dear Can’t Draw the Line,
Now and then we are all darkly drawn to bet everything on a loser, as if all our riches were dust compared to some powerfully plastic decoder ring from a gumball machine. I’m not saying I understand it, I’ve just noticed it happens. And since it’s a choice and not an accident, we have to figure it means something.
Perhaps, as you say, you are doing this because you don’t want your wonderful life with your nice house and your pretty things and your fantastic husband. Maybe you’d prefer sitting on a thin mattress in a cheap motel with your lipstick smeared across your tear-stained face, waiting for some cowboy to finish drinking his beer and losing at pool so he can sing you the one country song he knows by heart. Maybe you need to get this bad girl out in the open where she can spit on her husband and get slapped for it, so the cops can come and she can pretend everything’s just fine officer and then kick him in the balls and take a ride in the car with the fence between the seats.
Whatever it is, something is clearly calling your name and it’s not the life you’re living.
You seem very bright but divided emotionally. We become divided when we neglect the inner life of symbols. We neglect the inner life of symbols when the outer life of objects consumes us. The world of things exhausts us because it gives nothing back; the objects don’t breathe, they don’t sing; even a diamond ring just glitters in silence. I think you’re looking for a song filled with soul. At least that’s what I would be looking for if I were caught in the jaws of whatever’s eating you. So all I can say is: sketch the beast. What is it whose hour has come ’round at last? What does it look like and what is it slouching toward? Get hypnotized if you have to so you can see it. You’ve got to give it form, whatever is calling your name. You’ve got to apprehend it clearly.
Say it’s a locomotive racing down the track. Why are you on it? Is it the rocking motion that puts you to sleep? Or is it the pounding in your heart that keeps you awake? Are you in this for the thrills or the way it dulls the pain? Or, like always, is it a little of both?
Do you love your husband? Do you truly, truly love him? Can you see going to the ends of the earth with him, all the way to the edge where the ground gives way and you tumble arm in arm, so far down you can’t see the bottom? If you love your husband, you’ve got to tell him, and follow this all the way. Because it isn’t a one-time thing, an offhand fling. It’s a big beast that’s got you in its jaws, and you’ve got to cry for help. You’re too far gone to get out on your own. If your husband is the one, you’ve got to make a tearful confession.
If you don’t love your husband, I don’t know what to tell you. Because then the whole thing looks cheap and tawdry: Your secret doesn’t even matter. But I believe you have enormous soul, that you do love your husband and you’re just way over your head in something you don’t understand. So I say throw yourself on his mercy and find out what you’ve got. You’ve either got a man who loves you more than you know and will try to rescue you from this thing, or you’ve got a man who’s too shallow and selfish to see that this isn’t just a bad wifey doing a no-no, that this is a big, howling beast that threatens both of you.
There’s only one rule: It all means something. No matter what happens, if it ruins your marriage or you patch it up, your true task is to understand what it means. That could take a lifetime, so you might as well start in.