Here’s a conversation TL and I sometimes have. She asks if I regret cheating. I say, “Of course.” She asks why. I say because it hurt her terribly, I regret my cruelty and selfishness, and the damage to TL and our relationship is immeasurable. She asks, “Is that all?” “If you only regret it because it hurt me” she says, “One day you might randomly change your mind about that and go back to lying and cheating. If you only regret it because it hurt me, you might still harbor some joy, pride, fondness, or lack of remorse about the affair.” I don’t really follow that logic. But, no, I totally regret the affairs. The only time I ever think about the affairs is when TL asks me to think about them. And, those thoughts are negative.
Here’s the other things I regret about the affairs. First, I regret the way I was during those affairs. I was selfish and distracted. This made me a bad husband, bad father, bad employee, bad colleague, and bad person. I hurt my children. I deprived myself of the full joy of marriage and fatherhood. I deprived myself of full, meaningful relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. I deprived myself of smart dedication to success in career, health, and other endeavors. I was amoral. I was a liar and a cheater. My behavior and thinking during those times will be a source of regret for me until I die, even if TL leaves me.
Second, my behavior in those affairs was pathological. I was desperately seeking an antidote to my low self-esteem. I didn’t get the antidote. The affairs ultimately made my self-esteem worse, knowing I could only get shallow flattery through illicit acts.
“But, wait,” TL says, “What about all those great things about affairs that Esther Perel and all sorts of cheaters describe?” The list is long. Was it thrilling? Was it exciting? Was it a source of adrenaline rush? Yes, there is an adrenaline rush from doing something illicit. But, that’s not a pleasant memory. It’s not joyous, like the adrenaline rush from skydiving. It’s sick, like I imagine the rush from shoplifting would be. It’s sick, shameful, and something that will never bring me anything but remorse. It’s not like butterflies in your stomach. It’s more like spiders, crawling up your spine. I regret it, for its own sake.
Did I love the APs? No. I wasn’t capable of loving anyone back then — not TL, not myself, not parents, not children, and certainly not APs. To me, the APs were just blow-up dolls that could talk. Had they gotten hit by a car after I orgasmed in them, I wouldn’t have given a damn. And, yes, that too says something pretty awful about me. I never missed those women and never will.
Was the sex enjoyable? It was sex. That’s all I wanted at the time — sex and flattery. Any sex was good enough. But, was it good sex? Not really. In a few cases, APs or prostitutes performed a certain sex act that TL and I did not do. That doesn’t mean they gave me better sex. I thought of them as whores.
Would I contact the AP in the future if TL died or divorced me? No. I would have no desire to do so. Those women were as flawed as I was. Now, they would just be time-wasting reminders of my flaws. I’m trying to move forward as a man, adult, father, employee, and friend. Those women have nothing to offer me.
Did I ever reminisce about the APs or the affairs in my mind? No. I did wish for a certain sex act. But, that was about the act, not the person. I was not open to talking about sexual desires with TL, I was too occupied with my sick obsessions.
Would I have dated those women in a hypothetical past where TL and I were not together? I don’t know. With TL, I was a desperate man — desperate for sex, without being haunted by my sick obsessions, and for flattery as an antidote to my low self-esteem. Without TL, in some hypothetical past reality, I would have been even more desperate — desperate for sex and self-esteem, and lacking friendship too. I would have possibly dated any woman who gave me attention.
Were the APs more attractive than TL? No. They were all flat-chested and unremarkable. TL is really a beautiful woman, inside and outside. And, honestly, even the quality of the actual sex with TL has always been better.
Did I value the APs more than I valued TL? No. They could fall off the face of the earth and I wouldn’t care. TL, on the other hand, has always been the most important woman in my life. Yes, I arrived at lying and cheating by putting myself before TL. But, aside from my selfish self, TL was always the most important person for me.
If my view of women was so self-centered and shallow, what was special to me about TL? Despite my terrible lack of understanding about love and relationships, I was always supremely impressed by TL, proud of her, attracted to her, and drawn to her friendship in a way I’ve never experienced with anyone else. I only recently learned to love properly. But, I have always felt limerence for TL. Yes, TL and I believe loving is more important than limerence. The former is real, while the latter is insufficient for a lasting, healthy relationship. But, I really have always felt limerence for her.