On our way home from Thanksgiving with family, I got a text from one of my closest friends asking me to come over. It’s unlike her, as she’s not really the touchy-feely type who likes visitors. She’s more the, “If there’s a problem, let’s solve it. I’ve got notepaper and shovels,” type of friend. I told her I could come over after we got back into town and that’s when she dropped the bomb…
She’d just learned her husband had been having an affair.
I gasped so loudly that Bear repeated, “WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” in the truck as he drove, and I couldn’t seem to get words out fast enough. The rest of our three hour drive was filled with silence and a bunch of “Oh my God” and “What the fuck?!”
This wasn’t the couple from whom you’d expect this news. This wasn’t the day on which you’d expect this news. (Is there a proper day?) This was completely blindsiding. And if I felt blindsided, I couldn’t imagine how my friend felt.
I immediately started feeling my divorce PTSD kick in. I was never cheated on, myself, but I know all too well the massive implosion that happens when you get those divorce papers in the mail or, that very specific moment when you realize that you’re definitely getting divorced. Me? I was sitting in our kitchen in the house we bought together at about noon on a Wednesday, and a weird little voice spoke in my head and said, “There is no coming back from this. You’re going to get divorced and move out.” It could have been my dad speaking, who died almost 30 years ago now. It could have been God, but it didn’t sound like the one I usually talk to. Whoever it was sent a MASSIVE rush of fear, anxiety, anger, and acceptance all at once through my body. It was the turning point: the moment that I stopped praying I could fix the things we’d both done to screw it all up and, instead, started walking through the war zone that was my life to get to my new life.
Getting the phone call that someone I knew well and trusted implicitly had cheated on my friend made me wonder, “Do you not realize that it’s not just your spouse you affect with your behavior?” I started feeling angry that he hadn’t once thought about how it would all affect his friends and family, not just his wife.
Of course, being the ever-inquisitive one looking for the other side of the coin, I started googling. I wanted to find out why people do this.
As we all kinda already know, I found a million articles to suggest there is no one reason why something like this happens. There are opinions, well-researched books and articles, and a handful of podcasts (all of which I listened to) on the subject. The through-line amidst it all is that the reason never really matters. The way both people handle it afterwards is what matters. And there’s no right way to handle it, either! So by the end of my 5-day crusade to understand why this was happening to two people I cared for so much, I came to the rock-bottom conclusion that there is nothing to understand. There is only picking up and choosing how to move forward through the war zone to get to the next life. As Esthere Perrel, a famed infidelity researcher, said, “This marriage is over. Now you get to decide if you’re going to start a second one together or not.”
I quietly mourned all week, for my friend and for my first marriage. It seems whenever my divorce PTSD gets triggered, I have to mourn it all all over again. I am in such a better place, such a stronger marriage than I was 5 years ago, and yet I still struggle to love and accept that I didn’t end up with the picture-perfect life I’d so hoped for.
The more I let go of the “picture-perfect” though, the more I figure out that there isn’t really ever such thing. Sure, you can experience it for a while, but life has a way of happening. Stability and stasis aren’t the norm. Change and growth and constant updating are the norm. And the sooner you can get used to that, the easier it is to be happy even when things aren’t picture-perfect.
Were you ever shocked by someone you knew who was having an affair? How’d you handle it? Did you say something? Did you try and save the friendship?
Big hugs to my friend if she’s reading. Keep pushing forward. I’ve got a notebook and two shovels.