Emotional affair. I'd never paid much attention to the term. Why would I? I've never been attracted to men who are attached. I've also never forgotten to floss, started my car without my seatbelt on, nor returned a library book late.
My 12-year marriage ended as a result of my husband having an affair, so you could also say that I pride myself on being a bit of a fidelity snob. A “home wrecker hater,” if you will.
Even now, I won't so much as have coffee with a man who hasn't been divorced for at least a year. Please respect your last relationship by not using me to get over it, thank you.
See? Rules, I follow. Boundaries, I have.
So how did I manage to become "the other woman" in a full-throttle emotional affair with a married man?
I met Sean in a theater production where he played, ironically, a man who was cheating. To say we clicked is a gross understatement. Sure, I experienced mild stirrings of a crush, but in theater, stage crushes are common and I chalked it up to that. I didn't sense any real alarm bells. Besides, he was married! The production ended, as did our contact. I was relieved that it turned out to be nothing. Or so I thought.
Weeks later, I got a call from Sean (not his real name) recruiting me for a part in a different show. It was an amazing opportunity for me theatrically, but it took days to decide if I could accept. I couldn't place the unsettling feeling, so I made a list of pros and cons. When I wrote it out, reason número uno bubbled straight to the top: the temptation of being around Sean again. Cue first alarm bell.
I convinced myself I was overreacting and took the part anyway, but sure enough, within weeks our friendship torpedoed into a full-blown emotional affair. I don't know when we crossed the line, but before I knew it, we were texting for hours, finding excuses to meet, sharing intimate thoughts, admitting feelings of infatuation, and ultimately reaching the point where we discussed consummating our feelings. We went as far as making a date to make things physical.
In the end, neither one of us could follow through. I guess we weren't so good at being "bad." But here's what I've learned about emotional affairs, from a first-hand perspective.
1. They're rarely planned.
I don’t believe anyone wakes up thinking, Today I’ll put my marriage on the line. I’ve read that emotional affairs are like spider webs: nearly invisible and incredibly sticky.
I consider myself an intelligent woman with a strong moral compass and yet even I found myself trapped in this forbidden well of emotion, without a clue how to escape unscathed. Sean and I found ourselves entangled, seemingly overnight, and trust me, it wasn’t the slightest bit romantic.
2. They're deeply complicated.
In many cases, I think the problem that causes the most distress is that you really were friends first. The possibility of a relationship wasn’t there, so you were free to grow close with ease. Until someone crossed a line.
It might have been a secret kept from a spouse or taking flirtation too far or having a fantasy, but by the time you realize it, you’re already in the web and everything from that point forward becomes a painful, emotional nightmare to navigate.
3. They're easy to judge … until you're a part of one.
I wouldn’t have even known what an emotional affair was before, but I can guarantee I wouldn’t have had sympathy for one. I feel differently now. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t condone this. I simply have new perspective.
I’m grateful that Sean and I ended this before incurring further damage and before we hurtled down the path of physical intimacy from which I don’t know if either of us could have recovered. I’d like to think that Sean will have a stronger marriage now and that I can move on to something greater.
4. The grief process still applies.
That doesn’t mean that this doesn’t hurt. Today I saw him for the last time. It’s tragic; I lost my friend. I loved Sean. Definitely as a friend and maybe more; I’ll never know that part for sure. But being the other woman came with its fair share of shame. I felt that I had no “rights” to feel, so I quietly worked my way through the stages of grief alone.
I’ve conquered denial, anger, bargaining, and now, my least favorite: depression. The good news is that while I may vacillate between stages for a while, I know that acceptance and a shame-free future are around a very near corner. That’s where real love awaits. And that’s the only kind I deserve.