I know most of us on the betrayed side of the affair think it must have been passionate. It must have been exciting. The sex must have been mind-blowing. It must have been so incredible that it was worth betraying us.
Unless we've had an affair ourselves, we'll never really know what it feels like.
We might, however, notice in hindsight that our husband was pretty jumpy. Or that he seemed stressed. Maybe he seemed agitated, impatient with us.
Here's how Wendy Plump in her book Vow: A Memoir of Marriage (and Other Affairs) describes an affair:
"An affair is not fun. It is like a bad habit. It is like addiction. You do it all on the sly, and you steal from your own cupboards to cover the cost.... You act on reckless impulse and hope to unscramble the consequences later on."
When her husband "forgives" her ("forgive" being a euphemism for sweeps it under the rug), without really expecting anything more of her than she stop, this happens:
"I looked back and saw that nothing all that terrible had come of it. Our marriage was intact. Bill seemed to have forgiven me...And so I concluded that nothing all that terrible was going to come of my having another."
Plump's book is painful to read and not just because she seems to lack her own moral compass. To say that Plump is immature seems obvious. She also has a lack of empathy for her husband's pain that's staggering. She twists words and metaphors to somehow pull us into complicity with her adultery, making me want to shower after each early chapter.
But then she discovers that her husband has not only been having an affair, he's been living an entirely separate life with another woman and child. Shockingly, she's shocked at his duplicity. She's brought to her knees. Nothing about her own betrayals of him has in any way prepared her for the agony of being betrayed herself.
Whether to be the betrayed or the betrayer? Here's what she says:
"I spent a lot of time examining the differences between having an affair and having one foisted on me. If one was better than the other. In the end, this was not true for me. The conduct of an affair was only marginally less miserable.... I do not know that deceit and happiness can co-exist."
Whether any of this sounds familiar to you, it certainly did to me. So many husbands, it seems, feel almost relief at being found out. Finally, the charade is over. But that's the thing with affairs. They're entered recklessly. People are seduced by the fantasy of escape. Fascinated by the image of themselves in another's adoring eyes. Like Narcissus who can't tear himself away from his reflection, drowning in his own vanity.
All of which is to say that affairs are highly misrepresented in our culture. Instead of steamy and alluring, affairs are messy. Exhausting.
There are many cautionary tales to take from Plump's published one:
•Nobody wins when somebody's lying.
•"Forgiving" an affair without doing the hard work of figuring why it happened in the first place is dangerous and simply postpones further pain.
•It's possible to spend years in therapy and learn pretty much nothing.
•Affairs aren't nearly as fun as they seem on TV.