In the minute that we find out about our husband's affairs, so many of us create an imaginary scorecard in which we're on one side and the other woman (or women) are on the other.
We go down this mental list ruthlessly, assigning scores. Is my body better or worse? Am I older or younger? Prettier or uglier? Fatter or skinnier? Smarter or dumber? Kinder or meaner? More successful or less?
We demand details from our husbands about the entire affair. It's not that we're total masochists. It's part of our score-keeping. Did he give her gifts and were they thoughtful or thoughtless? Take her to nicer restaurants? Was the sex better? Was she more sexually adventurous?
The thing is, once we've compiled our scorecards (and exhausted our husbands), we're often baffled. The results often just don't add up.
And it's then, with the agonizing details of our husband's affair nagging at our tired brains and the lash marks still fresh from our self-flagellation, that we finally understand the most surprising and misunderstood thing about most affairs: They have nothing to do with us.
Well, that's not entirely true. Of course they have something to do with us. We're, after all, the ones at home putting the kids to bed, or paying the bills, or making sure dinner includes all four food groups. Without a wife, a husband isn't cheating, he's dating.
But it doesn't have anything to do with us specifically.
Here are the reasons we believe our husbands cheated:
•We're old and our boobs sag.
•We wear ratty pajamas to bed instead of silky negligee.
•We've let ourselves "go".
•He's seen us give birth.
•He's seen us at our worst.
•We haven't given him a blow job since the first Bush administration.
•Our hair has gone grey.
•Our idea of a big night is watching back-to-back episodes of Downton Abby.
Here are the real reasons he cheated:
•He thinks he's old and his boobs sag.
•His boss makes him feel like an idiot.
•He's let himself go.
•Watching you give birth has made him realize he's responsible for a vulnerable little soul.
•You've seen him at his worst.
•He misses blow jobs.
•His hair has gone grey.
•He lies awake at night worrying about growing old. About dying. About "missing out."
•He's never really examined his pain at his parent's divorce. His father's absence. His mother's criticism. His unrealized dreams.
Of course, I'm simplifying for sake of universality. But the point is...his affair wasn't about you. The wife, to put it bluntly, is just collateral damage.
It boggles the mind. I once asked my husband what he was thinking about me when he was driving to the OW's apartment for an early-morning romp. His response? "I wasn't." At first I was furious. How could he NOT be thinking about me. How could he NOT be feeling guilty that I was at home, trying to cram toddlers into snowsuits, persuade a preschooler to brush her teeth, clean up from breakfast even though I'd been up four times in the night to soothe restless tots. Surely, I imagined, he was telling himself something about me. Nope, he wasn't. Nothing. Nada. I had faded into the background and he was looking firmly ahead.
His response is surprisingly common among men who've had affairs. They really weren't thinking about us. They really didn't cheat because our boobs sag. In fact, they hadn't noticed that our boobs sagged. They were too busy distracting themselves from their own failings by being flattered that someone seemed interested in them. They were remembering that they could feel sexy. Interesting. Smart.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Affairs are about the reflection seen in the eyes of the affair partner. They're about fantasy. They're about ego. They're not necessarily about upgrading to a newer sexier model.
This is, shockingly, good news.
You don't have to be beautiful, smart, charming, warm-hearted, etc. to keep your husband from cheating. In fact, even if you are all those things (and you are! You are!), it won't make a whit of difference if your husband is looking outside of himself to heal things inside himself.
Good news because even though you might want to give your marriage a makeover in the wake of an affair, you don't need to give yourself a makeover.
Because, again, this had nothing to do with you. And everything to do with him.