Joe met me for coffee the first time in bulky, green harem pants and a gray T-shirt that looked like it had been white in another life. His hair was overgrown — a uncombed mess. He looked like he’d just rolled out of bed.
He sat across from me in the coffeehouse we were meeting in, grinning at me, baring his crooked, yellow teeth. He was from England originally. Poor British dental work or too much smoking — probably both.
He was inappropriate for me and I knew it. What did I expect? Everything was inappropriate about this meeting.
I was married. So was he. He said his marriage was one of convenience. He’d just needed a green card. His wife knew he dated other people.
I was cheating. Yes, this was terrible. It was wrong to cheat — even worse with this guy.
He drove part-time for Uber — very part-time. He spent the majority of his day at the beach, surfing.
At least he had a job. My husband was unemployed. He hadn’t worked since we lost everything in the 2008 financial crisis.
Our house had foreclosed. Our savings were gone. That’s when my husband also lost his mind.
He became a raging conspiracy theorist. He spent his days in bed, reading about how the government lied and manipulated us. The CIA was behind 9–11. The government staged every mass shooting to convince people to give up their gun rights. Aliens lived underground on our planet, thanks to a secret treaty signed by Eisenhower.
I’d been through two years of this. My husband had transformed from the nice real-estate investor I’d married to become the deranged, bankrupt conspiracy theorist he was now.
My husband had also become an inappropriate choice in partners. What difference did it make that Joe was, too?
But it did make a difference: cheating was wrong. That’s why I wanted to leave as soon as I showed up for this coffee date with Joe.
But I didn’t leave. I stayed. Joe got up to get our coffees. As he sauntered to the bar, I watched him from behind, noticing the thin braid hanging from his mess of hair. It extended halfway down his back, a cowrie shell tied to the end of it.
This guy was so wrong for me!
Yes, I was being superficial. Yes, I was basing all my judgments on his looks and job status. Can you blame me? I was doing everything in my power to convince myself that meeting him was a mistake.
It was. I didn’t believe in cheating, only I’d become so miserable in my marriage, I felt like I’d been pushed to this point. But as unhappy as I was, I didn’t want to leave my marriage. Maybe that was why I’d chosen a man I knew I’d never leave my husband for.
My husband and I had two children together. I just wanted to get a breather. That’s why I’d put the profile on the dating site.
Yes — I needed to let steam free from the pressure cooker of my life. My husband and I argued so much our neighbors complained. Our kids were failing in school. Our marriage was failing. Our family was failing.
See me backed up against a wall. See me finding a small crack in that wall. See me digging through that crack to widen it until it was big enough for me to step through. See me seated in that chain coffeehouse across from Joe.
On the verge of cheating.
Yes, cheating was my solution. As wrong as it was, I believed this.
Please don’t think I’m writing this to argue that people should cheat though. I’m not writing to say that I think it was wonderful that I did. I only decided to cheat because I felt like I’d been backed up against that wall. I’d been in pain for so long and was just looking for a way to survive.
Call it self-preservation. You may not like what I did. Just understand where my brain was at that moment.
Joe returned to our table and put a coffee into my right hand, then grabbed my left. As much as I’d considered getting up and walking out of that coffeehouse, never to see Joe again, I suddenly never wanted him to let go of my hand. It didn’t make a difference that he was the wrong type of guy for me — or even that it was wrong I was meeting with him. I wanted this man to ravish my body.
And he would.
Even though it was awful to cheat on my husband, this man would still do something good for my life. He would still give me something I was lacking.
The confidence to leave my marriage.
And for this, I will always be grateful to Joe, even if he was the wrong type of guy for me, and even if cheating was wrong.
As inappropriate as Joe was for me, he helped me.
I met up with Joe again a few days later. We did yoga together, then I went back with him to his apartment. As he led me to his bedroom, I had to duck under the chin-up bar in the doorway to enter it. A huge TV hung on the wall, paused on some single-shooter videogame. The light from the giant TV illuminated the tall stack of letters on the end table next to his bed. I caught a glance of the letter on the top of the pile. It was from a collection agency.
I could only guess where the rest of the letters were from. The dude had bills. But so did my husband and I.
Oh, we had bills. We were broke. After our savings disappeared as the result of the Great Recession, my husband had me take out a loan for an investment idea that turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.
I lost my money. So yes, now we had more mounting bills we couldn’t pay. Bills that made me feel like I was drowning in paper. Bills that made me feel like I couldn’t breathe. Bills that made me feel like I could never survive if I left my husband. Bills that kept me in my marriage.
So did it make a difference that Joe had bills — or looked like a panhandler, for that matter? Or worked extremely part-time and hung at the beach all day long?
I went to bed with Joe. And guess what? I realized that I liked sleeping with him. He didn’t have to be the right kind of guy for me. He still made me happy.
I continued to see him every day of the week while my kids were at school. As I became happier, so did my sons.
Not only that — I became stronger. My self-esteem improved.
I realized what I really needed to do was to leave my marriage. Yes, Joe helped me get to this point. That had been the answer all along. But I’d been too afraid to take that route because I was too weak.
I was weak, vulnerable, and beaten down by years of unhappiness and marital strife. Joe gave me back the strength and courage I needed.
This man who was all wrong for me helped me grow.
After three months of sleeping with Joe behind my husband’s back, I finally asked my husband for a separation.
Everything was wrong about Joe — but strangely, everything was also right about him.
Wrong as it was, I learned from the experience.
I know that this is difficult for a lot of people to hear. It’s offensive. Look at the good in betraying my husband? How could I dare?
But that’s the thing: I’ve dealt with the hard knocks in life by being an optimist. I’ve tried to glean meaning out of every experience I’ve had. Yes, even the bad experiences. Especially, the bad experiences.
Sure, cheating is one of the worst things that a woman can do to her husband. I still got something good out of it, and I will always be thankful for that.
I think it’s important for all of us to find the lesson in everything we do. No, I never want to make the same mistake again. I never want to cheat on another partner. But more than that, I never want to stay so long in a relationship that I feel pushed to cheat.
But I had to have this experience to learn this. I’m stronger now. Whether or not you agree with my story, this is true.
I had to go through the darkness to reach the light. I’m glad I finally reached the end of that tunnel.
Photo by Marcelo Chagas.