An Affair Strengthened My Marriage

An Affair Strengthened My Marriage

Still, I was convinced that Alex was my path to happiness. We had lunch, we had dinner, we finally made love. And a month after that, as we lay in his bed watching the first snowfall, we threw on our clothes and ran for the park to make snow angels. There, lying on the cold ground and looking up at the stars, we whispered that we loved each other.

We weren't an obvious match, and not only because I was married. Alex was from a boisterous, family-focused clan who believed no time apart could be of any quality. I was an only child, accustomed to empty spaces filled comfortably with my own silence. Professionally, I was ambitious and filled with energy, tearing into each day like a dervish; Alex, on the other hand, was mellow and observant.

He was nothing like James and the men I had been drawn to in the past: passive instead of ferocious, content instead of constantly conquering.

But he was a respite from James's force field, as well as a center of calm for me. After feeling so deserted by my husband, I suddenly found myself nurtured. Not infrequently, during a demanding day at work, I would find a deliveryman standing in my office with a boxed lunch Alex had ordered for me, to make sure I remembered to eat. Flowers arrived frequently, for good reasons and for no reason.

And he was a wonderful playmate, up for any adventure. From making reservations at a new restaurant we were both interested in, to hopping a plane at the last minute to meet me wherever my job had sent me, Alex was 100 percent available: an unflinching, loving companion.

All the same, there may be no lonelier social landscape than the one inhabited by two people having an affair. While the illicitness might initially be exciting, it doesn't take long to crash into the inevitable recognition that what you're doing is bad.

Sharing details with close friends is asking them to bear the burden of a guilt that isn't theirs. And how could I explain to them — let alone myself — that, even as I was pursuing this affair, I was still in love with my husband? I found myself living an isolated life of lies, born out of a love for one too many. The situation made no sense, shame and shamelessness coming hand in hand.

A year into my affair and now chronically exhausted, I realized I could no longer stay in a marriage that caused me to dishonor it so blatantly. When things first began with Alex, I had been panicked that James would find out, or that a mutual friend would see us walking down the street and somehow know we were lovers, though we were never affectionate in public.

But as the months went on and James remained clueless, I began to get angry. For years, I had begged, then battled, for his attention. Now, though I was still in love with him, I quietly ceded a fight I knew I couldn't win.

When my husband came home from a weekend shift at the hospital, I told him we needed to separate. He asked if there was someone else. I told him yes, but that he wasn't the reason for our break. We fell asleep clinging tightly to each other, as though in our dreams we could make it all better.

At 5 A.M., I was awakened by a call from James, already back at the hospital. He wanted to tell me about his terrible nightmare from the night before, in which I had told him our marriage was over and that I was having an affair. I didn't know what to say.

Several days later, James moved out, and I entered the state of acceptance and mourning that I had been circling for years. But as I adjusted to the shock of living by myself for the first time in my life, I did nothing to fast-forward my relationship with Alex.

We would still spend the occasional night together — but without the thrill of illicitness, there simply wasn't a thrill. I was also determined, however tentatively, to touch a toe into the waters of what it was to be alone. To be lonely. And as I did, I began to learn that I was … just fine.

Six months after James and I separated, I remember walking down the street thinking about him. Suddenly, my legs went weak, and within seconds, I found myself weeping on the sidewalk. It had taken this time apart to realize that my husband was a man I could indeed live without. But I sure as hell didn't want to.

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