We moved again, and I entered another dark chapter. It wasn’t all bad. TL and I helped each other through more new experiences, including parenthood. But, I did some awful things. TL experienced some physical injuries during the birth. It was therefore painful and inadvisable for us to have sex for a while. I quietly started to feel sorry for myself, more than usual, obsessing on wanting more sex and attention.
This, by itself, would have been manageable. This alone might not have led me astray again. Another risk factor complicated things: easily available women, women I should have avoided. Mind you, now, as I work on reconciling, I am overcoming my self-pity. Now, though I try to avoid available women just to be safe, I can be around them now without transgressing. Among other things, I have developed healthy habits in this regard such as recognizing such women early; telling TL about them immediately; and, if I must interact, talking in a way that makes it clear that I am not available or interested.
I was traveling a lot for work. Every couple weeks I spent one or two nights in a city that was crawling with relatively inexpensive prostitutes and zero law enforcement. I was introduced to this fact quite by accident. Usually I traveled there alone. On that fateful night a married co-worker accompanied me. Usually I ate in my hotel and read myself to sleep. On that fateful night the co-worker suggested we go out to eat.
TL has asked me to reconstruct this conversation again and again. I think it went something like this. During dinner, he was bragging about his sexual history, claiming to have slept with over 300 women. Two prostitutes were watching us as we ate. As we left the restaurant, they offered us their services. The girls were selling themselves hard. I did not say “yes.” I also did not say “no.” I looked at my colleague to try to figure out what he was thinking. He said, “Are we really going to do this?” I said, “I guess so.”
During the eighteen months or so that followed, I saw that prostitute at least half a dozen times. There was another prostitute I saw half a dozen times or so. There were at least a dozen other prostitutes, each of whom I saw anywhere from once to four times or so. There was one waitress who once agreed to come to my room and have sex, free of charge.
In addition to the betrayals, and other deeply hurtful aspects of this, a few points make these experiences particularly painful for TL and shameful for me. One is the health risk. Many times I did not use protection. How often did I use protection and how often did I not? Who knows. I didn’t bother to keep track. I think at least ninety percent of the times the woman insisted on condoms. There were a few occasions when she did not. I took advantage of those times. Why did I do that? I thought it felt better without protection.
What about the very serious risk of very serious diseases? In the heat of the moment, I told myself not to worry about that. I told myself, “No, it’s OK. Hurry and get what selfish pleasure you can out of life before God takes it away. You won’t get another chance at total, one-hundred percent self-indulgence, so milk it for all it’s worth.” The next morning, and for days and years afterward, I would look back on those self-indulgent risks and worry terribly about the consequences. I could get a disease. TL could get a disease. She could transmit it to our child. My actions could have lead to the death of my wife and child.
I remember, at times, I prayed that God would save us from the diseases. I did not pray for God to help me stop because part of me did not want to stop. TL now wonders whether I wanted to kill her and our child through disease. I did not, no more than I wanted to kill myself. I did not want to kill myself. In those moments of extreme risk-taking I had reached the pinnacle of selfishness, focused so tightly on self-pity and my “deserving” of immediate gratification that my thoughts blotted out all other thoughts that would have considered the future, other people, or consequences.
I had spent over thirty years thinking about the past, the future, other people, and consequences of almost every aspect of life and the world. So, I gave myself permission to escape into the fantasy that there was no future, no other people, and no consequences. In those moments of illicit unprotected sex, I told myself that I was the only thing that existed in the universe, that moment was the only moment that existed in time, and the rest of space and time were simply inconsequential imaginings. What was I trying to escape? Myself. I was trying to escape my feelings of jealousy, inadequacy, and insecurity. I was flying directly toward self-pity, like a moth to a flame.
Was it stupid? Yes. Was it mentally ill? Maybe. Was it self-centered? Obviously. Was it wrong? Of course. Thinking that way could have opened the door to all kinds of asocial, autistic behaviors. You’d have to think that way to commit murder or other atrocities, right? You’d have to think that way to commit suicide, including through substance abuse, right? You’d have to think that way to totally abandon, temporarily or otherwise, parents, spouses, children, family, religion, ethnicity, partisanship, professionalism, compassion, humanity, and other values.
It was not beyond my control. I chose it. But, at the same time, the effects were similar to temporary insanity. Does that make me not guilty? No, I was guilty. I had free will. I actively chose to relinquish it for brief moments to indulge myself. Does that mean my personal values were corrupt and insane? Yes. That’s why part of my journey in reconciliation is a reexamination of and daily reconsecration to my values.