Flaming Hot Cheater!
What do you do after four years with a married guy?
I'm so glad you exist because I've been too ashamed to write Polly about this (even though as an avid reader of all your columns and owner of your books, I know that SHAME is the first enemy and the last, and not to be trusted).
I'm in a relationship (and in love) with a married man who has told me for FOUR YEARS that he cannot leave his wife. They have adorable kids, which is what he cites as the only reason he stays. He says his kids are the only thing in his life he hasn't fucked up and that even though he loves me he can't do that to them. He's sensitive and gentle and kind in all the ways I've always wanted and is the only man I've ever truly loved.
I know this is fucked. If I were my own friend I'd be bashing me in the head. I know the answer is never to talk to him ever again, but I haven't been able to break the cycle. I exercise regularly (intensely, as you've prescribed!!!), have an amazing family, the best of friends, am in therapy with a therapist I trust, and I have a pretty incredible job, but all I can do is fantasize about a life with him. My shitty goblin brain thinks my relationship with him is a Rubik's Cube, and I just haven't tried the right permutation to get him to leave his wife, and it's convinced that the only person I'd ever be happy with is him. I'm not writing to ask you what to do about him, or what to say, or how to heal myself. I need a heartbreak syllabus of what to do and read while I white-knuckle it trying not to talk to him. Books, podcasts, honestly I'll go on an eat-pray-love vacation if you have any recommendations.
Yours in shame and poor decision-making,
Dear Goblin Brain,
Well, you fucked up. I would insult you and then I’d insult your dumb married boyfriend, and then I’d lecture you both on what heartless shits you are. But lately, cheating just seems like a mundane sort of screw up, like leaving your keys at the Mexican restaurant after one too many margaritas.
I’m not sure why this has changed for me, beyond the fact that I’m older and less self-righteous and suddenly it just seems obvious that married people sometimes fuck other random people. I understand the fallout intellectually and I have empathy for it emotionally but for the first time in my life it doesn’t piss me off. I guess the lying and sneaking is a pisser. But the actual fucking? Who cares?
Mostly what I think is this: If cheating were as exciting and cinematic as it looks in movies, I’d be all over that shit. Edit out the fumbling and give me the beautiful dirtiness with an excellent soundtrack. My problem lately is that I find men interesting again. Why? I don’t know. They’re still obviously gross and simple and slow and dirty, like earthworms. But I’ve remembered lately that that’s part of what’s appealing about them. They’re filthy little fuckers with nothing going for them. That’s why they need you… So. Bad.
I understand why people cheat, I really do. I used to think it was sleazy, but now I finally get it: Sleaziness is the whole point. Going somewhere that your husband doesn’t know about, doing things that your husband doesn’t know about. Hell, I wouldn’t care if I were just eating a really good sub sandwich. As long as I could lie to my husband about it, that would be super hot and 100% worthwhile.
But my marriage is healthy, so I never really get to cheat. How is that fair? All of these ding dongs who’ve neglected their marriages, meanwhile, get to spend their golden years fucking strangers in the dark hallways of hotel rooms. You know, on a whim. For kicks. The rest of us have to find the fun wherever we last found it, which is a little bit like going back to that Mexican restaurant the next day, looking a little bit less festive, just to find your keys, and then fucking the restaurant manager… who also happens to be your husband of 15 years. Even if you do it up against the stove, it’s not as filthy as it could be with a disgusting, pathetic stranger.
I guess I should warn you that your wonderful sensitive married boyfriend will never leave his wife. While you have 10% of what you want from him, he has 110% of what he wants from you. He does not want your relationship to change one iota, in fact. He loves that you love him the most in the world, and think about him all the time, and just want ALL OF HIM, and all of that lusty energy is translated into the way you kiss him, maul him, strip him naked, press him against the wall in a seedy fashion, sneakily sext him, etc etc. What he would love far less is having you around all the time, talking about your boring work things while you clip your toenails into the rug. He already has that. He whines about how hard it is, not being with you – “Oh my poor children! If not for them!” -- but this is exactly how he likes it. He likes not being with you. He likes being trapped. He likes having fucked up, and continuing to fuck up. It’s comfortable. It’s WHO HE IS and WHO HE HAS ALWAYS BEEN.
I guess generally speaking I’d say that 80% of men who cheat (this is a random guess! I like this number, though!) are men who don’t know how to appreciate their own perfectly sexy wives. They’re the kinds of dudes who want “mystery” and “suspense” and “intrigue” more than they want a human who shows up and cares about them consistently. And even if I’m willing to concede that some guys do meet and marry and have kids with The Wrong Person, cheating for four years is a very bad look. That’s someone who truly doesn’t want a brand new wife to replace the old wife. It’s not just about the kids, although I understand the guilt there. He’s using the kids as a decoy. His wife is sort of a decoy, too, because that’s how he gets the really devoted, intense fucking out of you. Without her, he’d sometimes have to encounter you as an actual human, asking for concrete things, lingering around, meeting his friends, talking to his mom about what a loser he is sometimes. I get it, he’s so sweet when you’re together. He’s so gentle. Whatever, I think he sucks. Four years. Too long. He sucks.
OK, I guess I’m still a self-righteous dick after all. One dalliance, a few weeks, a month, some regrets and then he disappears? This would be a higher quality man’s behavior. This isn’t 1955. This isn’t 1985. This man did not fight in World War II. He did not meet his wife at age 18 and he doesn’t stay with her out of concern for her welfare, leading a double life as they did back in the day. This is just a wishy washy mess. He says so himself. It’s his identity, for fuck’s sake. “I’m just a gentle fuck up!” Ick. He should at least tell you that he will NEVER LEAVE HER. Why is he content to waste your life from a distance? Not a good person.
OK now let’s talk about you. Who else have you dated or slept with? Were they all distracted, half-interested, taken, disappearing around the next corner? I’m going to guess those were your favorites, anyway. What about the ones who showed up and looked you in the eyes (without having a wife somewhere else) and said, “I want you, I like you, you’re special, I need you”? Those were the ones you thought were kind of meh, right? I mean no one is as good as the one guy who is demonstrably fucked in the head? It’s not rocket science.
Your parents aren’t open or healthy, probably. You have some addiction issues. You don’t know how to feel your feelings. You favor friends who barely like you, and ignore friends who show up and care and expect things from you. You like me because I’m a little mean. You probably like me more than my open-hearted sister, who is sometimes helpful and other times embarrassing and drippy.
Oh yeah, heartbreak syllabus. That’s one for Ann Friedman, I think. I’m not much of a curator. Books, podcasts? About heartbreak? Recovery? Shitty married men? I guess if anyone reading this has suggestions, they should list a few things in the comments below. (Ann Friedman came through with a crowd-sourced heartbreak syllabus, which you can read here. I swear she is such a tireless, detail-oriented motherfucker that it pisses me off a lot. WHO HAS THE TIME? Ann Friedman, that’s who! ANN FRIEDMAN BENDS THE LAWS OF TIME AND SPACE! Go subscribe to her newsletter. I like her. We’re having a drink in a few days, which is always good for those times when I want to feel short and out of touch and just generally inferior.) Personally, I think you should find a very smart therapist and do a deep dive into your obsessive/ addictive personality. Because right now, you believe that you’re going to distract your way out of this, which is an intellectual exercise that, imho, won’t bring you results that stick. What you need is to feel the full force of your emotional depravity and your addiction to longing and melancholy. You need to understand, emotionally, why you prefer people who aren’t really present. You need to feel in your bones that this asshole is tricking you, and robbing you of your youth while he does it. He’s fucking your best years right out of you. He’s having his cake and fucking your cake in the face, too.
OK, now I’m making it all sound a little bit hot. Oops.
I’m less concerned with how you get over this tool and more concerned with how you move forward without looking for variations on the same theme. Women who sleep with married dudes are usually women who don’t really want emotional intimacy, or they feel more powerful when there’s another woman in the picture. It’s all pretty obvious, I guess, but you’re still going to say, “That’s not me, I just happened to fall in love with this particular guy!” But then the next thing you know, you find that ONLY DUDES WITH WIVES seem interesting.
Oh, and trust me. They’re not.
Anyway. The good news is that If you can build an entire fantasy around this one pathetic married dude, you can probably do it again with someone worthier than him. You’re a builder. You build obsessively. You put people on pedestals. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it can even make a marriage stronger, strangely enough. Devotion. Loyalty. Find someone who deserves it. This little piggy does not.
Don’t just recognize that intellectually. Feel it in your goddamn cells. He is a liar who lies without even thinking about it. He is not just lying to his wife. He is lying to you and everyone else. He is made of lies. Nothing good or gentle about him is even real. It’s a lie. It’s what you seemed to want, so those are the sounds he makes. YOU CREATED THIS PRETTY PORTRAIT OF HIM. You love the portrait, not him.
He is a void. He knows it. Ask him, he’ll probably tell you the truth about that one thing, simply because no one has ever asked him before. It will seem hot to him, in that moment, to be honest about what a fucking black hole of a human being he is. He is a hall of mirrors. He is an echo of your voice. He’s got NOTHING.
Step away from this void and move closer to the things that embarrass you. Dive into your shame. Fuck podcasts! Mainline your shame. There is no escape. There is only the sweet, dirty, honest grip of reality.
It’s delicious, though. Nothing is hotter.
Who else is a void? Askmolly at protonmail.com!