We crossed paths frequently in a small, shared gym in a sprawling office building.
Scott was a 37-year-old architect.
He was handsome, with pronounced, proportional, masculine facial features. He stood about six feet tall, had a thin but built frame, formed from his rolling calendar of upcoming triathlons.
We frequently rode recumbent bikes next to each other, that was where the majority of our interactions took place, half-winded conversations about our relative status quos.
Scott came across as calm and confident, decisive and organized— with my limited information, my guess was that he was good at his job.
He had married young, at 19 years of age, to his High School sweetheart. Now — he had a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old who were being raised by his stay-at-home-wife.
When it was just Scott and I in the gym, he would frequently complain about his marriage. He complained about their lack of a sex life, the disagreements on how to spend their time, their money, and his biggest complaint — her lack of desire to take care of her body.
The woman he’d married 18 years prior, looked nothing like the woman he was married to today.
And on some level — I understood his frustrations.
If you are someone who puts a lot of effort into taking care of yourself, you probably want to see at least a bit of effort from your other half. After all, reciprocity sits at the heart of any relationship.
But on another level — she was a stay at home mom, busy raising his children. Having and raising children can take a tremendous toll on the body — something many husbands don’t appreciate or account for fairly.
That wasn’t the end of their problems. His wife wasn’t the only one who had changed since entering this marriage.
They disagreed on faith. Since marrying, Scott had done a 180, going from practicing Christian to non-religious, while his wife maintained strong church attendance.
I’ve been married and divorced before. I understood their pain. I did what I could to help, projecting ideas through the prism of my own marital mistakes and learnings. It is never fun to be locked in turmoil. You hate seeing people stuck in that whirlpool.
I would lightly suggest, “Why not compromise — you go to church with her each week and she goes to the gym in due turn?” I even suggested that they try doing a triathlon together.
Scott and I would go back and forth about it. I would typically leave the gym feeling grateful that I wasn’t married anymore.
But here is where things get dicey, where I began to get nervous for their marriage.
Some days it was just Scott and I at the gym.
Other days — there were women too.
On those days Scott was a different man.
He was flirty, strutting around, cracking jokes, ribbing the girls, having a lot of fun conversations with them. His energy was up. It was clear he enjoyed their company.
And I have to confess — Scott had an impressive charm about him in those moments. An aura seemed to glow around him. Between his charisma and his good looks, the girls didn’t seem to mind his attention either.
But again — Scott was married. None of those girls knew that. And he certainly wasn’t advertising it.
And that is usually how things seem to start.
A guy will test the waters with flirty behavior. He’ll feel a rush when a girl flirts back, that spark of that “aliveness” energy we frequently felt as teenagers, a spark that is painfully absent in his marriage.
The flirting will continue.
Eventually, a girl may drop hints of them hanging out. He’ll almost do it — then he will chicken out.
The flirting will continue.
Then, over time, he keeps going a little deeper and a little deeper, and before you know it — he’s out having drinks with a female coworker under the guise of “working late” to his wife.
12 months go by.
Somewhere along the way, Scott stopped showing up at the gym.
I bumped into one of his coworkers that I knew, and worked in a question, “How has Scott been? I haven’t seen him in a while.”
And found out that his life had gone into full meltdown. Sure enough — his wife caught him having an affair. She was throwing the legal book at him — custody, alimony, child support.
Having known Scott, his divorce wasn’t terribly surprising news. I’d seen similar plays before: life has a lot of cyclical storylines, tropes we get caught in. This was one of them.
His marital meltdown included some of the most common reasons people have affairs:
He wasn’t happy.
He and his wife had clearly grown in different directions. They probably got married too young. Their communication had broken down.
It all swirled to create a toxic environment and his own set of wandering eyes.
There are other reasons men have affairs: they are sleazes, they think they’ll get away with it, they don’t care, they think it will be a temporary band-aid to their problems.
The reasons are many — and of course, none of them are justified.
My own experience with marriage and our subsequent divorce taught me that marriage is as much work as people said it was going to be — and then some.
Sometimes people grow apart. Othertimes they were never meant to be together.
And sometimes, people just aren’t willing to put in the work.
One thing I‘ve learned from the men I’ve known who were caught having affairs:
They actually generally understood how much pain they would inflict on loved ones if they were caught. But they underestimated how much pain they would inflict on themselves.