I wrote this several years ago and want to share it again in this context.
The topic is so big. Emotional Affairs. Mine. I don’t actually know where to begin. It is 9pm now and I feel like the sun could very well be peaking over the plains and painting the Rocky Mountain foothills golden by the time I am finished. So, as much of me wants to go deaden my soul in front of the TV, I write. We mention this in our talk, but we don’t go into much detail on it. I feel fear, shame, and gratitude as I type. Fear that I’ll be rejected for my sin; shame over having chosen another over God and my wife, gratitude that my wife of almost 19 years is in the next room and my son of 17 years is downstairs. My daughter is out doing whatever a passionate, seeking, believing, questioning 19 year-old does on a cool May evening in her new to her 1995 SUV. I am truly grateful we are still together when I almost tossed it away.
In September or so of 1989 I didn’t want to live and didn’t want to die. Eventually I called out to God to ‘either take me back or show me the way.’ Three months later after a great day of spiritual talks with a friend I went to a birthday party and got drunk. I woke up the next day with the usual headache and cottonmouth. I thought about what a stupid way that was to ruin a great day. I’m not doing that again I vowed for the 238th time. Only this time it was different. It took. God was indeed showing the way.
After 6 months of military training for the army reserves I came home. I was in great shape. Ran 10 miles on my birthday just to see if I could. After a couple of months of stocking shelves at night I landed a job as a manager trainee at a transportation company. The first time I saw her I was taken with her beauty. A month later she and I and one other were working Christmas Day. We laughed, worked very little and listened to a Manheim Steamroller Christmas tape about 15 times. I sensed we both wished the third person wasn’t there.
Soon we went out to lunch together. The first time out she mentioned the poor state of her marriage. I remember thinking I’d be a husband that would take care of you. This should have been a huge red flag. One of those giant ones flapping in the breeze at a Perkins or Shoney’s saying stop, stop, stop, Ben. Run away. Tell your wife, tell your friends and have them tie you down while you hear her siren song.
We had more lunches. I enjoyed going from the drunken party boy to the straight and narrow guy with the high and tight military haircut. Do you hear the irony? See the façade? I was Mr. Straight and Narrow except for a little emotional adultery. I traded one means of filling my empty soul, alcohol, for another, emotional suctioning. It certainly wasn’t intimacy. Yet, I did a good job at work and felt respected by her. I wasn’t sure I did anything right at home.
We had more lunches. I felt closer and closer to her. I was finding life in her. I felt so alive in her. I marveled at spending time with a woman of her beauty. I had traded the woman of my youth for an idol. At the time I was convinced the idol was life. In reality she was just a woman. In my delusion she became more important than God. I literally remember praying and having an image in my mind of allowing God to deal with everything in me except her. I had thoughts of wanting to be married to her instead of Ann.
Sexual tension began to build for me at least. I came up with a despicable phrase to describe our relationship. An affair of the Christian heart. Gag me with a frickin’ shovel! I lived in so much rationalization and denial. I was growing as a man, but there was still a lot of addict left in me.
One day my car was in the shop and she drove me the twenty minutes home. We sat in her car, in the cool shade of my driveway in the countryside and talked for a while about sex and affairs. I must have told her I was ready. Her words helped save my marriage when Ann and I went to counseling for Ann's affair. She said, “Ben, you don’t want to do it. You have a wife, two little kids and a future. It tears you apart.” It tears you apart. There are so many levels of meaning in those words. She knew. When separated from her husband she was sexual with another man. That was several years prior and they were still seeking to overcome it. Later on I experienced the truth of her words. I felt the tear. I felt my heart tear. I suffered. My flesh was torn from Ann's through Ann's sexual affair. We were torn apart.
Later, on in counseling I realized that if not for her we would have had sex. I wanted to, she said no. If she had pursued me as Ann’s affair partner had pursued Ann she and I would have had sex. Until that point I had always rationalized any consequence of our relationship away since we didn't have sex. In many ways my emotional affair with this woman, let’s call her Rita, was every bit as damaging to my marriage as Ann’s affair which included emotional connection and sex. My heart was every bit as deceptive as Ann’s. I had given it to Rita and denied any damage to Ann or to my own soul.