But he just happened to leave with me.
When my daughter was two-and-a-half years old, she and I moved back to her father’s hometown. The place where it all began. Just a few years earlier, I fell hard for a man who pursued me through an online flirtation, and it all played out like an especially soapy episode of One Tree Hill.
I actually left Tennessee when our daughter was still an infant because I was facing a nervous breakdown and her father was only making things worse. As I tried to adjust to my new role as a mom with no support system, her dad just wanted to move on. And if there’s one thing he’s really good at, it’s moving onto the next thing.
He fell in love so easily.
Four months before our daughter was due, and less than two months after leaving me pregnant, my ex fiance turned baby daddy told me that he’d moved in with someone new. He was in love. Again.
When I had to be induced five weeks early due to preeclampsia, our baby was very sick and spent two weeks in the NICU. Her dad and I had daily screaming matches inside the Ronald McDonald house. He didn’t like it anytime I suggested he wasn’t pulling his weight, and on more than one occasion, he told me that he didn’t want to “ruin his new relationship on this stuff.”
From May to early July in 2014, I stayed in Tennessee. I was a new mom without a partner who lived in our old apartment which my ex sublet to one of his ex-girlfriends and her boyfriend.
At the time I had no job and no money, very few friends, and no transportation. I would occasionally walk about a mile in the Tennessee heat down to Target, with my new baby strapped to my chest, just to feel like I had gone somewhere and done something.
I was miserable. My heart was still broken over the breakup, and I felt completely out of my depth with motherhood. I felt like the loneliness and isolation was going to kill me as my prenatal anxiety and depression swiftly progressed into postpartum conditions.
He shirked responsibility.
It felt deeply unfair to me in those days that my ex got to walk away unscathed. While I was at my wit’s end with a colicky baby and sick of being cooped up at home, he was having the time of his life going on dates with his new girlfriend.
Every time I broached the inequity of responsibility, he responded as if I was this selfish, crazy ex-girlfriend who wanted to ruin his life. Besides, he came by most every day for nearly an hour to “see the baby.” When she was asleep.
The truth about his daily visits was that he usually held our baby for five minutes, set her down to sleep, fooled around with me for 15 minutes, and then watched an episode of Friends.
It wasn’t exactly the help I needed. All it really did was offer fake love like little breadcrumbs when I was already starving for human connection and affection.
Talk about an unsustainable way of life. In early July, some old friends from Minnesota offered to get me a plane ticket back to the Twin Cities. I took the chance to get away from my ex and the hold he still had over me.
He always landed on his feet.
After a couple of years in Minnesota, I made the tough choice to return back to Tennessee. This time, I was more independent. Although I still didn’t have transportation, I had a job and paid my own rent. No roommates.
Most importantly, I wasn’t dependent upon my daughter’s father.
Shortly after the move back to Tennessee, my ex remarried. Not the woman he lived with when I was pregnant. She finally left him after discovering he’d cheated with someone in his sex addicts group. After that, my ex declared that he was poly.
At that point, our daughter was two-and-a-half, and he’d been divorced for three years. The end of our romantic relationship coincided with the finality of his divorce although our connection kept blurred boundaries until our child was two.
He never took the heat.
His ex-wife remarried a year before him, and for a long time, I felt shame that all other parties had coupled up except me. When I expressed that sentiment on Facebook, a stranger replied that she hoped I spent the rest of my life miserable and alone because I was a lousy homewrecker. I did not deserve love or a faithful partner, she exclaimed.
That was the start of the hate mail. It lasted for about a year. Strangers sent me messages and letters telling me that I was a worthless slut who deserved everything bad that happened to her.
And for a long time, I believed them. Agreed with them, even.
I carried an enormous amount of shame and guilt for having an affair with a married man, and if outward appearances meant anything, I was the only player in the whole production to remain single.
I battled depression and struggled under the weight of motherhood. I was alone and unloved. Wasn’t that proof that I alone was to blame?
Blaming the mistress seems like such a tired, old trope but it remains popular in the bible belt today. Nobody cared about his string of a dozen affairs before me. They didn’t care about his other affairs after me.
They only thought about me at all because I was the other woman when he left, and they think he left her for me.
He always chose comfort or convenience.
Countless people actually told me that he was “a great dad,” but that was before I became a mother myself and learned better.
Nobody understood the truth back then. That includes me. Our daughter is going to be six years old in April and I finally understand what happened now.
He was always going to leave his wife. He just happened to leave with me.
All of the signs were there, of course. Back when I was too blinded by “love” to see straight. He wanted to leave but he didn’t want to be alone.
Out of all the other women he dated, I was the only one who didn’t ask for much of anything. Who didn’t make ultimatums or demands.
Until I got pregnant and it was no longer just me. As long as it was just me, I would have waited forever for him to get his crap together. Plus, I had a job and financed our new life when all of his money was tied up in alimony and child support.
The pregnancy changed everything, and it changed nothing at all. He was always going to leave his wife.
Just like he was always going to leave me.
The old me would have felt that this was tragic. In the midst of an affair with a married man, it’s surprisingly easy to convince yourself that it’s only happening because you’re special. As if the whole romance was meant to be and meeting him was your destiny.
I needed to believe those things to justify my part in everything. How else could I sleep at night? Easy. I actually believed it was love.
Back then, I didn’t understand that he was just looking for an escape. Neither one of us were healthy enough for any sort of quality relationship. We both fooled ourselves, but in different ways.
He thought the perfect relationship would make him happy and stop his cheating ways. I thought that romantic love was everything.
He was no good for me, but good things happened anyway.
Over the years, I’ve learned to quit seeing myself as a homewrecker, a mistress, or the other woman. I also don’t beat myself up over the fact that I am single while my ex and his ex-wife each remarried and had another child.
These days, I feel very free. I am free to explore and examine my life. Free to figure out motherhood without the unhealthy expectations of a man who can’t do his part of parenting.
Most of all, I feel strong in my new life. The events that brought me to this point were often harrowing and traumatic, but my story didn’t end there. That was never meant for me.
So, I used to feel deep shame when it came to my part in the affair. But I quit feeling that way when I discovered the shame was never mine to bear.
He was always going to leave his wife and take on new affairs. I just happened to be the most viable girl who was there at the time when he was most desperate to leave.
But our relationship wasn’t rooted in reality. We each had our own fantasy about what the affair meant and in the end, it meant that he was always going to leave the minute I needed too much.
Knowing what I now know about life, parenthood, and moving on, I’m so grateful that he didn’t stay with me. It turns out that some life lessons are worth every penny you pay.