Of course, I should have just gotten rid of the AP’s things and not looked back. I feared she would harass me about returning her things if I did not. I feared she would do something, careless or otherwise, that would tip off TL to the affair. So, I planned to hide the things until I could sneak away and mail them to the AP. It wasn’t a great plan. It was simply the only plan I had.
I arrived at our vacation apartment and tried to pretend nothing was wrong. I e-mailed the AP to find out her mailing address. The next afternoon, TL confronted me with questions about why I had missed our child’s birthday, been so rude and distant, and had so many stories that didn’t add up. It was one of the most awful moments of my life. I found myself running and hiding in the bathroom when TL asked to see my e-mails. It didn’t work. She saw messages that were evidence of the affair. I tried several lies to hide. It all failed.
I told TL I would break off contact with the AP. Then and there I wrote an e-mail to the AP saying, “I’m sorry, it’s over . . .” I don’t recall what else I wrote. It was brief, and it was something like, “I now see that I made the right decision returning to my family. I hope you go back to your family.” I showed it to TL and sent it.
TL is still hurt, I think, by the way I worded that e-mail. It showed significant concern for the AP’s feelings. I did not have concern for the AP’s feelings. I never did. I just had this terrible, lifelong habit of faking concern for others’ feelings. And, in a situation where I was supposed to be solely focused on TL, I should have been far less concerned about the AP. I did not love the AP and I never had. In fact, I had never really known the meaning of the word “love” and had never really loved anyone but myself. More on that later.
The whole e-mail note to the AP was a failure, in terms of showing love for TL. I told myself I wrote such a gentle farewell note to the AP so the AP would know it was really from me. That’s only part of the reason. I think the main reason was that sick habit I had, of faking emotions and trying to make everyone think well of me, at any cost. It was selfish and it was a form of trying to stroke my own ego, trying to leave the AP thinking well of me, even after the affair. When I think about it, that’s the main thing I wanted from the affair in the first place. More than just sex, I wanted other women to think well of me. That’s what I wanted, as a substitute for my missing self-esteem.
From that point, everything blurred together into a terrible crisis for TL and me. She packed my bags and told me to get out. I begged and pleaded her to allow me to stay. I really did commit, on that first day, to never cheat again. Gradually, I told her more and more about the affair. I gradually became more open about what had happened. We talked about ways to make her feel safe and make me be accountable to her. This was a process that continues to this day.
I found a marriage counselor who could see us right away. I did more and more to try to help. One big obstacle remained: I was desperately trying to hide the fact that I had had two previous affairs and a long series of other illicit encounters.
Similarly, I wanted to hide the fact that I had herpes, something I had probably gotten from a prostitute seven years earlier. I had hidden it from TL all those years, hoping that abstaining from sex during outbreaks would be sufficient to keep her from contracting it. How could I take such risks with TL’s health? The answer: on my list of priorities, protecting myself and my secrets was my first and most important instinct. Yes, it was cowardly and selfish.
That day, the day TL discovered my affair, is what we call D-day. In fact, we call it first D-day. Second and final D-day came nearly two months later. Beginning with first D-day, I knew I wanted TL and only TL. I knew I never again wanted my double life. I was convinced I would never again intentionally hurt TL. I did continue to hurt her, unintentionally, by continuing to hide things from her. That was due to cowardice on my part, not malice.
Our first marriage counselor gave us urgent care. He helped TL see that she had the power to decide how to deal with our situation, but that she did not have to rush to decide. He helped me see that I had to change my selfish, self-centered ways, be deeply remorseful, continuously express my remorse, and put TL’s need to heal above all else.
Here’s the most important thing he gave me. We talked about how I came to be so insecure, jealous, and self-centered. I revealed a problem with which I had struggled our whole marriage. From the first year of our courtship and marriage, I struggled with insecurities about how I compared with TL’s previous lovers. It actually reminded me a bit of that Ben Affleck movie called Chasing Amy. I admitted that I knew it was not right for me to think that way. Before I could continue, our counselor interrupted and said clearly, “That’s sick. That’s a sick obsession.”
I had long suspected there was something wrong with my thinking in that regard. But, hearing it from a licensed counselor helped me believe it. At that moment, I learned I could come back to our counselor’s words, as a touchstone. When the sick obsessions would creep toward my consciousness, I confronted them head-on and called them what they were. Then I was able to tell myself that TL is too important to be lost, especially on account of sick obsessions.