Friday, May 25, 2018

Fantasy is a helluva drug

A wise soul once said that the definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. I kinda thought that was the definition of life. Or my life, anyway.
It's an easy enough trap to fall in to. And it's a common enough trap that we often don't even recognize it as such. We're surrounded by people who are equally committed to wanting their lives to be different – to lose weight, get a promotion, buy a bigger house, win the lottery. And, at a certain point, many of us recognize that it isn't going to magically happen. We have to make it happen or we have to accept our reality as it is right now.
But not all of us get there.
Many of us meet someone who makes it feel as if all these wonderful things have already happened to us. We may not have lost weight but this person makes us feel sexy. We may not have been promoted but this person makes us feel successful. We suddenly don't need the bigger house. And we think we've already won the lottery.
So often we wonder why our spouses had affairs. "How could he do this to me?" we ask ourselves over and over.
This is how. Or at least one of the hows. By falling into the trap of wanting things to be different than they are. Even the best marriages can get stale. Even the happiest people can start to wonder if life shouldn't offer a bit...more.
Enter someone who offers a reflection of us that makes us look damn good. Sexy, smart, fun, interesting. In other words, different than how we've been feeling.
And the difference between those who have affairs  and those who don't isn't necessarily a matter of good and bad. Good people – honest, decent people – have affairs.
When they're caught and the bright light of reality shines on what they're doing, they're as surprised as anyone. They're the ones who confess that they're even relieved to be caught. For them, the affair was likely already losing its lustre. They were discovering that, even with this new shiny person, their life wasn't magically different.
For others though, that fantasy is hard to give up. A friend of mine told me her husband, who had an emotional affair with a co-worker, still misses the woman. Misses her? He knew her for three months. How do you miss someone you barely knew? You don't. But you do miss the illusion she represented. The fantasy that your life could be different. That you could be more successful. That your kids could like you more. That life could be more easier. More exciting.
Consider the 2016 US election, which was won by someone peddling fantasy, a halcyon past that doesn't square with reality, at least for a large portion of the population.
Fantasy is a powerful drug.
The antidote, to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, is to fix what we can and accept what we can't.
We may never win the lottery but we can make our home warm and welcoming. We may never lose that weight but we can take a daily walk and eat better to remind ourselves that our bodies hold value and deserve to be treated well. Our marriage might feel stale so we can tend to it.
Or we can take steps to walk away from someone who can't see our value, no matter that he's been given a second (or a third) chance. We can choose the reality of ourselves over the fantasy of a marriage that only we are invested in.
Suffering can keep us stuck. Or it can be the fire beneath us that prompts us to create changes that reduce our suffering. The choice is ours.


  1. I'm still finding it so hard to accept that what once was a shared dream (our marriage) has now become a one-sided fantasy. What happened? How could he?

    But he did. And I now am struggling to "take steps to walk away" from this person who does not see my value any more.

    Every step is painful, but I have to hope and trust that they will lead me to a better path.

    1. Aw, Selkie. It sucks. But yes, the right choice isn't always the easy one. What hurts now will ultimately help you heal down the road. You can't be in a relationship with someone who refuses to recognize your value. You deserve better.

  2. I am struggling with determining whether I’m trying to create a fantasy. I want to stay in my marriage until I allow myself to think of my H having a relationship with an 18 year old. When I actually really think about that I am always grossed out. I never thought my H would be capable of that. I think the fact that we have been together for 18 years and I know that this is not a pattern is one thing that allows me to stay. And his behavior since DDay. And our kids. I am staying now with the hope we can rebuild and I’m trying to move forward. But a big part of me wonders if I’ll ever be in love with him again. I’m trying to behave as though I am but feel indifferent until we have a big argument and I feel like I can’t bear to lose him. I know it’s early but sometimes I feel like I’m untrue to myself.

    And as far as sitting down with the OW and my H I am so confused. I want to give her the opportunity to tell him how he hurt her (she said she’s always thought of herself as a manipulative slut and this experience reinforced that, that he misled her into thinking our marriage was dead, he said he loved her and she doesn’t know if that’s true, and he said for her to let him know if anything was bothering her but whenever she brought anything up he was defensive and upset). For me the age difference and power dynamic and her history of abuse are the most troubling parts but she doesn’t share that view. I think she wants to think of herself as a consenting adult and not a victim. I’ve told her that when she’s 40 she’ll probably see things differently. Anyways I’m getting off topic. My desire to have this meeting is for her to let him know how he hurt her so she can get apologies and answers. I want to be there because I don’t want them to have any more secrets from me. I want my H to say what he wants to say in front of me. I know it would be easier without me there for everyone. But the paranoia would kill me. And a petty part of me wants her to see how he is dedicated to me and I feel like she can only see that if I’m there. But the kicker is, I’m scared about what she’s going to say. I read only 2 weeks worth of texts between them and that has given me way too much to obsess over. They both say they are concerned about me getting more hurt. I trust that neither one of them intends to rekindle their sexual relationship (mostly). Part of me wonders if I subconsciously want to be there so I can finally hear enough to decide to just leave. But I don’t think that’s what I want. My husband says he just wants to be honest during the meeting and that is his main goal. Im freaking out.

    1. NorCal,
      While I admire your ability to extend compassion to this girl, I'm wondering about the cost of that to you. I'm worried that you're putting her well-being ahead of your own. And yes, there was a power differential, history of abuse, etc. But I think her healing needs to take place independent of yours. I can't imagine how you can rebuild a marriage with this person still firmly a part of it in any way.
      As for falling back in love with your husband, that's not something any of us can predict. As you watch your husband hold himself accountable for the damage he's inflicted on you and on others, you might regain respect for him, which is a good step, of course. But, again, as long as this young woman is in front of you in any way, it's an impediment to your own healing.
      Why the meeting? Who's idea? I honestly think it would be better to wish this girl well and move forward in your own healing.

  3. NorCal i can attest that reading texts-those words- they are the most lingering part of this whole thing to me. I wasn’t even looking for them. This is my curse. How long ago did all of this happen with your husband? From things that i remember in my situation (and it’s a jumbled blur of many names, places, and deviants ) there was a 40+ year old or two and a couple of 18 year olds. All Paid. Upon discovery of the first one i wanted my H to apologize to her too. But we had deleted the email and his account. I saw later he tried many times to get in contact with her which pissed me off to no end. After i found out she was a whore weeks later, i again realized that i had the wool pulled over my eyes again. So i understand you wanting to stay in the loop and having some control. But is there a chance he’s already done this on his own? I found out by scouring the Internet, not his computer, that he tried to get hold of her. Sneaky bastard. I don’t think he ever did. Do you really want them in the same room together? Do you worry it might “rekindle” something. I can’t bear the thought of that. Maybe she should get in with her life with the help of a shrink.

  4. Had a very odd encounter today. I ran into her boyfriend at the grocery store.Once I knew everything, I told him. He asked how things were in my neighborhood and all I could say was very quiet since some crazy lady wasn't outside screaming (that was me).I asked him how things were for him and he said about as well as can be expected. I asked him about a time I saw him driving around my neighborhood about two months after she moved out of her rental and into his house. My H had suddenly out of the blue that day had decided not to go to work. I saw her boyfriend exiting my subdivision but he was just far enough ahead I could never catch up. Of course I screamed at H almost my entire way to work and threatened him pretty much within an inch of his life it was over if he was planning on hooking up with her. The boyfriend doesn't remember that (I think he is lying because I was the crazy, screaming lady and probably wanted to spare my feelings.) He said it was time to put things behind us and move forward.

    His statement that things were going as well as could be expected bothered me. It sounds like he has settled and I have too. Ending this is a huge decision, but it felt right today. Haven't said anything to H about ending things, but did tell him about my run in. I just feeling odd. Does any of this make sense?

    1. BeagleMom,
      I think it makes total sense. Any time we encounter a visceral reminder of those horrible first hours/days/weeks, it almost transports us back. It's unsettling. So I'm not surprised that you're feeling odd.
      And whether he's "settling" or not isn't really anything you need to concern yourself with. We can never ever know what goes on in other marriages. I've been shocked too many times to learn that the marriages that I thought were incredible were anything but...and the ones that I couldn't understand are stronger than I imagined.
      Run your own race, BeagleMom.

    2. Run your own race - I love this and got goosebumps. This is the phrase I needed.

    3. I love that! Run your own race. A good friend and I are starting to train for a 10k. (I'm twice her age) We now have our inspiration!

  5. Nor Cal, no contact means no contact. I can't believe you want to help her feel better? She is immature, inserted herself into a marriage, raped your self-esteem and left you naked shivering in the cold. Because HE lied to her has nothing to do with you. HE lied to you too. Not talking to her maybe a life lesson she needs instead of feeding into her WANTS. You both are victims. You both got screwed remember? He knows how much he hurt both of you. He already knows this and you will not get the justice you crave. He choose you so she already knows she lost, she has been rejected. She wants to feel her power that she had over you. You will be indulging her in HER power to feed more into her sick mind and know you are broken a woman. She wants to keep your wound open, that is her power, digging at your marriage. THEY ARE BOTH CONCERNED ABOUT YOU GETTING HURT? They are little late. Forget this immature girl. Let her deal with her own shit. You and your husband don't owe her a damn thing. You trust them that don't want to rekindle? He demonstrated already you can't trust him, so why put the candy in his face and expect him to spit it out? You don't have to prove anything to him or her. There can't be three people in your marriage. Sure he wants to be honest. Cheaters are never honest about everything. You can sit on the fence about leaving. I did for 1.5 years. I was true to myself by sitting on the fence. I had to have proof and it took 1.5 years for him to prove to me, I would stay. You will oscillate back and forth that is normal. He said, he loved her - he lied, you know he did. Cheaters will say whatever it takes to keep the fantasy going. What I couldn't stand in the meeting is to see them make eye contact, they know all the details and you don't, you don't know what they are thinking about, when they make eye contact, they will thinking about the last time they had sex. That is what I would be thinking about. I couldn't stand that knowing look between them. Don't do this unless you are 100 percent sure this is good for YOUR marriage right now.

  6. I appreciate everyone’s perspective and I wrestle with this a lot. I feel like everyone is looking at this a bit too black and white for my situation. I listened to a podcast this week (dear sugars) about living more in the grey area, which really resonated with me. I think the thing that is unique about this situation is that this girl has worked for me for almost four years, so I’ve known her since she was 15. I live in a town of 200 people so she is unavoidable. She was sexually abused by her dad. I am friends with her mom (although I have distanced myself from that friendship now). I feel like just pushing her aside is cruel. I give her 10% of the blame but have forgiven her. I really blame my H for 90%. He is a grown man and he was committed to me. She was a confused kid with a fucked up history who made an awful choice. It would have been just an innocent crush if my H didn’t reciprocate. But she is a good person. So I feel like I can grant her grace and I want my H to hear her pain, for her sake.

    But you all are right. I am putting myself at risk for her. How messed up is that. I promised myself on Day 4 post DDay that I wasn’t going to be another adult who fails this kid. And if I’m staying with my H I’m complicit in how this moves forward. Plus, seeing her is inevitable and we need to have it be as healthy as possible. But damn, you all have really good points.

    1. NorCal,'re right. Not a single one of us can really understand all the grey, all the nuances. And you are the one who has to live with your choices. And, again, I so admire your compassion and your ability to really empathize with this young woman. But...I do hope you'll prioritize your own healing and what you need. You aren't any good to anyone if you haven't taken care of yourself first. That's when resentment seeps in. I also think this is your husband's mess to clean up.
      I have no idea if this resonates with you or not but my very first therapist had a sign on the wall that I'll never forget because it smacked me between the eyes with its truth for me: Help is the sunny side of control.

    2. Elle, maybe you can do a post about that quote, because I would love to hear your perspective. Maybe I am trying to help as a way to exert control over a situation that I had no control over. But honestly, I don’t think that’s what this is about for me. On DDay I told my husband that he could have picked anyone else in the whole world over this particular girl and it would be better. She was literally the worst person to sleep with because of our relationship with her and her trauma. And I still feel the same way after 5 months. We have done a lot of exploring of our relationship during this time and I understand why he cheated. I see now how our marriage was failing and how we each contributed. I’m not quite at forgiveness for cheating and we still have issues to work through but the cheating I can almost come to terms with. One thing Esther Perel said in her TED talk was that the victim of the affair is not necessarily the victim of the marriage and I believe this to be true in our case. I had distanced and checked out and he followed suit. Anyways all this is to say, yes, this is his mess to clean up, and that is the point of this meeting. I feel like she deserves to let him know how he hurt her, specifically and he owes her an apology. But I am only allowing this on my terms. With clear boundaries for them that they have both agreed to. And then I hope that she will go back to college in two months and I can stop communication with her. And I’m going to tell her that. Because I do need to focus on myself and my kids and my marriage without the distraction and triggering she presents to me.

      Thanks everyone for the reminder to put my own healing first. I don’t think of myself as a “pleaser” type (it’s kind of crazy how all of this focus on figuring out our relationship problems has illustrated to my husband and I that we often take on opposite emotional gender roles...) but I am a mom and a woman so maybe I get lost in that sometimes.

    3. Nor Cal - Your healing your rules. I find myself leaning toward being overprotective of ladies on this site getting hurt further so my opinion is biased. You have to do what if right for you. Either way I can learn something from your experience. Keep us posted please if it works for you then it may be the answer for someone else.

  7. NorCal my fear would be she says something that will do further harm. Or he’d try to explain something and it will boy come out right. That was my original take from your original post.

    I’m triggered by simply being in the same area of town the OW is from so I can only imagine the triggers you must have in a small town. I would assume this meeting might give you closure that you need and you feel she needs or it could go horrifically wrong.

    Only you know what’s best for you but I pray this gives you peace!

    1. Part 1 Looks like I didn’t have to wait for the meeting for that to happen. The meeting is scheduled for Thursday after the kids go to bed. This morning I told him I wanted to say some things to him about why I’m going through with it and what I don’t want him to talk about etc. Well, I brought up that grey area podcast I mentioned above, trying to make the point that there is so much grey area here, that one of my concerns is that with some time and distance, she’s going to feel like she was taken advantage of. I went on to explain the situation in this podcast in which a 35 year old woman is reflecting on having an affair with her sister’s husband when she was 22, and that she questions whether she really was consensual or whether it was rape. Well, I see now that using that word will make anyone defensive and I truly did not mean to imply that it applies in this situation, it was just an extreme example. You can see already that things devolved rapidly from here, I bet. So I explained and explained that I didn’t mean it was rape, but that there is a power dynamic and the age difference matters and her history matters. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse. He was defensive and defiant. He asked if all relationships with age differences are problematic. I said I think they’re weird and he used to also. He asked me if every sexual relationship this girl has now is going to be messed up because of her history. I said, no, but his relationship with her was. And he said, yes, because he is married, but the rest of their relationship was healthy, and he wasn’t trying to hurt her! WTF?!?!? I told him he is delusional if he thinks he can separate the infidelity from the rest of it. At some point he also asked me if I’ve given any thought to whether my own “sexual hangups” are clouding my judgement of their relationship. For real. He said that. Because I went to catholic school and am kind of vanilla in bed. I told him that it’s not about me, and to ask any of our friends what the issues are with him fucking an 18 year old sex abuse survivor who works for him, and the infidelity isn’t going to be the first thing they have a problem with. It’s that what he did was gross. He also then pointed out to me that I hurt him too and so I have some responsibility in the state of our marriage. I said We aren’t talking about that now, we are talking about you and her. At this point, he had to get ready for work.

    2. Part 2
      When he got out of the shower I told him that instead of getting defensive and trying to blame my prudishness for my failure to understand their relationship, that maybe he should try looking at is as something that is indefensible and he should just say it was a horrible decision and it never should have happened. He said he wasn’t trying to defend their relationship but himself, because I keep saying he is gross and I said the R word. Then he told me that he really needs to feel like I’m not going to bring this stuff up all the time and it sucks to have to go to work after this and I really am not helping things.

      So he went to work and I went later, (we work together remember) we avoided each other and were cordial when we needed to interact. We are good actors by now. He came home an hour ago and barely said hi to the kids and shut himself in the guest room.

      I’ve been thinking about leaving all day. I can’t stay with someone who thinks that what he did is defensible because our marriage was shaky. Or that the problem is really with how I am thinking about it. I know I am right and I don’t care if I’m being morally superior. It’s a moral issue. I feel like he’s so fucking defensive, and so afraid to admit that what he did TO HER is wrong that he is digging in his heals. He’s admitted certain parts of what I’ve said are true in the past, but I think he’s so frustrated with me for not healing fast enough that he resents me and is blaming me for everything. Or maybe he said those things to shut me up before. I dunno.

      Feeling hopeless tonight. I just held my kids tight and told myself I’d be ok for the last few hours.

      I’m not sure what to do tomorrow. Thanks for being here for me.

    3. Oh NorCal ... I'm so sorry that this conversation went this way.

      I can only imagine that he has a lot of shame coming out. It cannot be easy to have what he did spelled out in black and white. It's much easier to stay in the gray and assume that what they did was ok (age wise ... her situation ... NOT the infidelity part) than to stop and think maybe it wasn't the best judgment call he's ever made.

      I wonder, however, if you are giving this girl a little too much credit? As someone who has daddy issues myself - I always gravitated towards older men in my teens and I hovered on the line of inappropriate relationships. I have always been far more mature than most girls my own age and could relate better to the older men than to the boys my age. She may have been perfectly clear on what it was that she was doing ... right or wrong.

      I hope that the sunrise brought you peace and that you'll find some time today to take care of you. Because at the end of the day - that's what's most important. Navigating their recovery should never hinder yours.

    4. NorCal,
      I know it sucks right now but you've got this. If you ever doubt yourself, go back and read what you just posted. Especially this:
      "I told him that it’s not about me, and to ask any of our friends what the issues are with him fucking an 18 year old sex abuse survivor who works for him, and the infidelity isn’t going to be the first thing they have a problem with."
      You know what's what -- don't let him or anyone else try to convince you otherwise.

      And don't worry one bit about being "morally superior." It seems to me that our marriages could have done with more moral superiority -- moral inferiority is what got us in this mess.

      Also, vanilla is delicious. Plenty of people love vanilla. Make no apologies or excuses for vanilla. If he wanted something different, he could have had an honest and loving talk with you about it. Adultery was a stupid choice and had nothing to do with your vanilla.

      You are a beautiful person and you will be okay. Please be selfish -- I sense that being selfish is out of your comfort zone, but I think you need it now -- give yourself the time and space to heal. Hugs.

    5. NorCal, I don’t know your whole story, but what I’ve read here so far suggests that what your H did is not only morally indefensible, but also possibly illegal. You said she worked for him? If he’s not careful he could end up sued for sexual harassment. The age difference, the past sexual abuse, the coercive nature of it all (if she was a subordinate employee of his), it’s all bad. He is maybe getting defensive because he knows how bad it all was, but his own defense mechanisms get the better of him.

      I’m looking to see how far out from DDay you are but I didn’t see. It’s not up to him to decide how long it will take you to heal, you know that. Point him to Linda & Doug if he needs to be told that healing, real healing takes far longer than he might think, and he’s only making it worse/take longer by harassing you about how long it takes you.

      Also, I wanted to tell you that I understand your desire to help the young woman, and I think it’s really a remarkably compassionate thing to do. If she is a childhood sexual abuse survivor (as I am) one of the things she will have likely “learned” from the experience is to relate to men sexually, and that her worth is tied up in being desired by men. It was a really long time into my life before I re-taught myself that my worth is entirely separate from my desirability to a man. I also muddled my way through healing from the childhood abuse on my own without therapy or really anyone in whom I confided. So this young woman is probably still suffering from the invisible scars of that past trauma, as was I at 18, and making lots of bad choices based on what sex abuse makes you think about yourself. So I really am in awe of your ability to see this, and try to reach out to her with compassion. Please just tread lightly for your own sake, and make sure you’re not further traumatizing yourself. ❤️

  8. Fantasy seems to be a 2 way street when it comes to infidelity. He had his fantasy as did she. What was real and what was made up in their heads I’ll never know.

    But at the same time, I’ve lived in a fantasy world the past 11 months as well. When I first found out this assumed my less than romantic husband suddenly turned into a Casanova. That he “wooed” her and flowered her with everything I have lacked from him. That made me bitter and angry. But if I reality check myself I can realize he’s just NOT capable of being like that. Chances are he pulled the “oh poor is me” act and she was “saving” him from his miserable marriage.

    I have also lived in a fantasy world that this marriage was sudtgoing to be everything I’ve been missing. All of the early things I read talked about making it what I wanted. But again - he is NOT capable. Never has been. Never will be. Flowery words, grand guestures, begging me to forgive him ... it will never happen.

    On another thread I wrote about how I’m not wearing my wedding rings. Haven’t since the night I found out. He left on a business trip 6 weeks after DDay and I left his ring on the bathroom counter to see if he’d take it. He didn’t. I asked him about it and there was an excuse about having to take it on and off to work (he’s in IT ... I know he’s had to do that) and he mentioned that he wanted to put them back on when we “emotionally connected again in a meaningful way.”

    Those fucking rings. Oh how I hate them so. I had this lovely fantasy about how we’d put them back on and he’d tell me how thankful he was that I stayed. How he couldn’t imagine another day without me. And ...

    He took them with us to Florida in November. I got my hopes up. But I’m sure he only brought them in case his parents asked.

    In January he put his back on for a few weeks. He actually asked me one morning where mine was. I was angry and flipped off with “I’m not wearing it.”

    At the encouragement of my IC I’ve mentioned several times why I haven’t put mine on. He actually told me he thought he’d already made that grand guesture before ... I assume when we got engaged ... and didn’t know how to do it.

    So fantasy. They have and so do we. I think once reality sets in for all of us there is no winning ... we have to accept reality for what it is. Or not. It’s a choice we both have to make.

  9. Elle, I’m late commenting here ... hope you see this. What a fabulous post you wrote here! Absolute truth. Yes, there are many “whys” to an affair ... and I believe we will never know everything that went into the “why” of our affair, yet I do believe the fantasy you wrote of here is one of the main driving factors behind the fact that affairs are in every culture throughout history ... and always will be.
    Yes, good people have affairs. I always think of my husband’s response to our marriage counselor when she said what was it about the OW that drew you to her? What did you find attractive, exciting? He was upset and said, “Nothing. Nothing was attractive or exciting; it was the worst time of my life - I was stressed and nervous all the time.”
    No doubt the beginning of the affair was attractive and exciting and then as the fantasy began to fade and the addiction to the fantasy kicked in - it just plain wasn’t fun anymore - it was awful. That fantasy was now a nightmare - a lucid nightmare, one you know you are in, and want to get out of, but somehow you can’t. I’ve been there before. As you said in your post, fix what you can, accept what you cannot.
    Thank you again Elle. I don’t come here often anymore, yet I am eternally grateful for you and this forum of warriors you have assembled.
    And when I pop back in ... there you are with these amazing words of wisdom. My sincere gratitude and appreciation ❤️

  10. My husband said the same thing Melissa's did. He was so glad that I found out. What ever delusional fantasy he had sure didn't measure up to what the other woman had in her mind. She was going to be married to him, have a baby and live with him forever and ever no matter what it took to do it. Like a little girl who dreams about prince charming and castles. I don't know what it was about my life with him that she was missing with her fiance. I guess it was the fantasy she had of him from 20 years ago when she was a teenager and they worked together. She wanted to be me in his life and she couldn't except that it was over as fast as it started. The lies she told to cover up her own delusions of what she actually thought they had together were amazing. I was dumbfounded with what came out of her mouth through text messages and emails. She still thought that my husband was going to come back to here for months after he threatened her with a restraining order until the day she found out that we were moving across the country. Her fantasy world really collapsed then and so did a lot of her relationships with other people. For long time I really hated her and him at times but now I see her as mentally unstable, God knows that my husband was, and I feel nothing but pity for her and the whole crazy situation.



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