For almost a year, I was the other woman.
If you knew me, you wouldn’t have thought me the type. I had a husband, house in the suburbs, college degree, and a Dalmatian. I grew up in a home unbroken by divorce; I was never abused, sexually or otherwise. My father and I have an excellent relationship. I have no more self-confidence issues than anyone else I know. Before my affair, I had never cheated on anyone; the “thrill” of an affair held no appeal.
But I fell in love with a married man anyway. Apparently, I AM the type.
In keeping with the stereotype, I fell in love with a coworker. Before we got –ahem- intimate, we couldn’t stand each other; palpable animosity colored every project we worked on together. Many nights I lay awake, furious at something he had done. It never struck me odd that fighting with him bothered me more than fighting with my husband. Hate and love, I’ve heard, are two sides of the same coin and it’s a short journey from one to the other. In our case, we went from hate to tolerance to a business trip.
A little wine and some time alone proved enough on that trip. After a few days of working together at a conference, we found ourselves talking with coworkers when I realized I wanted this man.
The next night we shyly admitted our mutual attraction. I thought that if he kissed me, I could get him out of my system. It was better to cheat with a kiss that broke the illusion, I reasoned, than with unfulfilled fantasies repeating in my head. I rationalized that it would hurt me less to find out my husband had kissed someone than it would to hear he had fallen in love with someone.
So I kissed him. And although we didn’t have sex that night, my life became a roller coaster ride. Anyone who’s ever loved someone they shouldn’t knows what happened next- lunches, moments before work, stolen kisses in a storage room. But even though I had the hottest sex of my life in the back of his minivan, it only scratched the surface of everything that made the deceit worth the aftermath. I felt alive, like I could do anything, go anywhere, as long as I had this one amazing person by my side who believed in me, saw the real me, and liked me more because of it.
Almost four months after that fateful business trip, I told my husband I had fallen in love with someone else. He called my father, kicked me out, and showed up at my job the next morning to confront the object of my affection. None of it mattered- my husband’s agony, the looks I got from coworkers, my parents shock at my behavior- I was in love. He loved me. It would all work out.
Four months after I left my husband, he left his wife. Twice. And went back. Twice. Every time he left, my heart soared. Each time he went back, the bottom fell out of my stomach. He quit his job, in part to attempt to make his marriage work. Within a month, I had quit- ushered out by a boss eager to have him there instead of me. He did not go back.
His efforts not to see me failed supremely. About once a month, his guilt would mount and he would end things. Not once did I contact him; I would not, I resolved, turn into one of those desperate, needy women. He always came back. In the midst of an unpleasant divorce, I wanted the ride to last a while longer.
With the enormity of his love behind me, I saw my life for the first time with unvarnished perspective and relentless honesty. Once I accepted who and where I was, I could change what I disliked. I realized I had married someone I wasn’t in love with, had settled for a job and lifestyle I didn’t like, and had started to replace the experience of living with the temporary gratification of things.
As I fell in love with him, I fell in love with myself: a woman with a passion for life. I took SCUBA lessons, became a freelance writer, moved to a little beach town, and learned to rely on my gut. I was, for the first time in my adult life, alive.
One night, exactly eleven months and two weeks after that business trip, he called me and, with his wife listening and yelling in the background, said he had to work out his marriage. He couldn’t see me anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. I choked out “Goodnight” and hung up the phone, not waiting for his response. I couldn’t bear to hear him tell me goodbye.
For the next few days, I waited for a phone call or e-mail that never came. I stopped eating. I cried. I screamed. I took cold medicine just to sleep and get some relief from the pain in my gut. My dog and my downstairs neighbor were the only living creatures I saw. My dog licked my face when I cried and wouldn’t let me out of her sight; my neighbor force-fed me pork chops and homemade mashed potatoes.
He did not call. He did not e-mail. After four years of working with him and one year of loving him, he simply vanished from my life.
The affair left me with far fewer friends than I thought I had, and my two closest friends got me through those weeks, calling me every day just to make sure I kept going.
And I did. In less than eight months I had lost a husband, a house, a job, and several friends. Then I lost him. And I kept sucking breath in and pushing it out again. Slowly, I got on with my life.
After the initial pain subsided, my life after my affair has been the happiest time of my adult life. Before the bizarre roller coaster screeched to a halt, I told friends that if it all ended at that very moment it was still worth it. I still believe that. How could I ever trade what I gained for a different path, even one that didn’t tear me apart? I found this amazing love and, more importantly, I found the strength to be myself. That alone was worth the ride.