It was actually pretty sad.
A few days before Valentine’s Day back in 2013, a blogger I liked messaged me on Facebook. Almost immediately, he said he wanted to meet me in real life. I lived in the Twin Cities while he was in Tennessee, and I wasn’t sure how I felt about meeting an online stranger. In the past, I found that sort of idea off-putting and I never liked guys who came on too strong. But I felt strangely drawn to this man and he didn’t seem like a stranger for long.
Soon enough, I wanted to meet him too.
As the utterly doomed romance unfolded, I wasn’t sure that I could go through with the plan. Very early into the relationship, I realized he was married with three kids, and he gave me one of those stories about being “misunderstood.” You know the kind — how he and his wife were more like roommates and very unhappy, that he felt pressured into the past 10 years of his life. It’s so strange replaying his words now because it’s so hard to put myself back into that mindset where I believed him.
There was a large part of me that worried about being stupid and falling for a man who only wanted to use me. And there was this part of me that knew I was being naive. Or, at least, I knew that I ought to be interpreting the situation differently. It bothered me that I could fall for a married man and feel unable to leave the entanglement. Yet, there was still this other piece of my heart that wondered if this was my big chance for the real thing.
Did I really want to miss my shot at true love? I didn’t. And that foolish, love-conquers-all mentality is what won out in my mind.
Today, I can see at least one hundred different exits I could have taken. Times where I could have just said “no,” but I just didn’t take them. At the time, I wanted the fantasy more than I wanted to do the right thing.
So, every time he told me to jump, that’s all I tried to do.
If we wanted to meet each other in real life, I was the one who had to do the traveling. He pushed and prodded me to make the reservations. He told me which days he would be “free,” and which hotel I should book — the Hampton Inn that was right between the city where he worked and his hometown, where he lived with his wife and children.
But I hadn’t been on a plane for a few years, and I didn’t have a driver’s license or state ID. To get on a plane I had to replace my expired passport with a passport card that I could use at the airport. It’s strange seeing that card in my wallet and knowing that he’s the only reason I took that picture or went through all of that paperwork.
There were so many little things that I did in preparation for that trip. A couple of weeks before I left, I went shopping at the Mall of America with a friend. I bought a certain Hello Kitty bag for my carry-on, never once imagining how it would one day become our daughter’s overnight bag.
While our first bit of time together would last only two days, I realized I needed to set my trip up for four. Since he couldn’t pick me up until a specific hour on a Thursday morning, I arrived on a Wednesday evening.
This was before Uber came to Chattanooga and I was admittedly trying to save money. The meeting was all on my dime, of course, because his wife would notice any extra spending. So, I spent Wednesday night at the Chattanooga airport, all to “make the most” of the time we could have together.
On the way down there, I’d had a layover in North Carolina. The plane from Charlotte to Chatt was tiny — I sat in the ninth row at the very back of the aircraft. When I looked out my window and saw the sign for the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, I had to laugh that it was so tiny for something with “metropolitan” in the name. This one was just a big parking lot with a small building.
I quickly realized that I’d been mistaken when I assumed I’d have a reasonably comfortable nap during the wait. It was much more like sitting in a doctor’s office all night, just staring out the front doors.
The blogger and I had previously spent a lot of time on the phone or doing video chats. It almost bothered me that we spoke as often as we did — something about it felt off or insincere. As much as I wanted to be with him, I didn’t like having an affair. It bothered me when he started up a silent video chat with me when his wife was in the other room just so I could watch him masturbate. It bothered me when he called me while driving and in the middle of the conversation, I realized his youngest son was in the car.
It might sound strange coming from the mistress, but I didn’t like seeing such disregard for others pop up. I was once at Whole Foods with my mother in Minneapolis when he left me an angsty voice-mail just because he tried calling and I didn’t pick up the phone. So, there were plenty of red flags where it occurred to me that maybe he was selfish about love.
I wanted that hunch to be wrong, however. I decided I was bring to picky or paranoid.
Among the long list of things I overlooked was his lack of effort and my occasional lack of attraction to him. I had some “ick” moments where I had to ask myself if I was genuinely attracted to this person. I don’t believe I was entirely honest with myself. I repeatedly decided I was already “in too deep” and just kept going down the path. I figured that I loved him and committed myself to go through whatever drama that came with him.
I thought about all of these things as I waited in the little airport lobby, and I thought about the way the entire plan to meet felt something like a test. As if I had to show him I could be more than a mistress.
The airport was small enough that I could see him walk through the front doors. It’s so strange to watch someone in real life after only seeing them online. I stood up, adjusted the bag around my shoulder, and smoothed my clothes.
There was so much to take in and process — everything all at once. I knew I was crossing that line where I wouldn’t be able to keep looking at it as a “not quite real” situation. I was meeting somebody else’s husband in real life, and I had plenty of mixed feelings about that.
I walked more slowly to allow him to close the gap between us. As I took in the sight of him, there was this flicker of another emotion — disappointment? Upon looking at him for the first time in real life, I got the distinct impression that this meeting was not particularly important or special to him.
It seemed obvious that he hadn’t made much of an effort. His hair seemed greasy and unwashed. Both his khakis and plaid button-down shirt were wrinkly and unkempt. I remember thinking that his red and green shirt was a little strange and made me think “Walmart Christmas.” It was too small tight around his belly, and as I had these thoughts I chastised myself for thinking them at all.
How can I be so shallow? I wondered. I’ve never been one to really care about things like a dude’s appearance. Looking back, I’m sure it was just more red flags cropping up. At the time, I didn’t understand much about his life as a chronic cheater. I wasn’t aware of how “normal” hookups were for him and how “special” didn’t exist.
It wasn’t until much later that I’d realize I made an exception to my typical behavior and had an affair because I thought our connection was worth it. I thought it had depth.
The affair was different for him not just because he had so many affairs before ours, but because he didn’t think there was anything wrong with that either. As it turned out, hiding his choices from his wife was more about avoiding strife than feeling guilty about anything he’d done. And he’d later reveal to me that he felt like a victim to cultural expectations of fidelity that were unfair and stifling.
As he finally closed the distance between us in that little airport, he said hello and gave me a hug. I was very nervous, and at various points throughout the day, I found myself shaking. That was the first instance.
He, however, thought my anxiety was cute.
I followed him to his car, a Toyota Prius. Inside, there was enough clutter and crumbs to understand that this was a family vehicle. It felt strange and led to another “I guess this is who I am now” feeling. Maybe I didn’t want to be a mistress or a homewrecker, but that didn’t change my choices.
So, I pushed those thoughts further away.
In his car, he leaned over and kissed me. I wanted it to be an incredible moment but in reality, it was awkward. Despite all of those hours we spent chatting, we were still strangers and no amount of pretending could change that. It didn’t feel natural or forced. It just hung in the air like something that had to happen.
At the hotel, it was hard to deny the fact that we were there to consummconsummate the relrelationship. That was nerve-wracking for me because I was a virgin who struggled with vaginismus in my first marriage. I’d told him about the condition while we were just dating online, and he assured me that he understood.
During our online relationship, I realized that as much as I wanted to have an adult relationship and finally get over my dysfunction, I also wanted to please him. Those desires all contributed to my willingness to see things through with the guy despite every red flag that came up along the way.
I’m not sure what you’re supposed to feel when you travel a thousand miles to consummate your affair with a married man. It’s weird. Weeks before the trip, I started getting Brazilian waxes just to make him happy when we finally got together. Although I tend to find the whole thing demeaning (unless it’s something a person truly wants to do for themselves), I was determined to “prove myself.”
And I thought that proving myself meant he would finally come clean and leave his wife. So, I did absolutely everything I could think of to make him happy at that first meeting. Whether I felt like intimacy or not, it was going to happen.
But regardless of any “high” I felt with him, there was always reality to bring me back down to earth. The man was married with a family.
During the visit, we drove out to Chattanooga. To my surprise, he didn't seem too worried about anybody catching our PDAs in public. We went to his favorite Mexican restaurant and I suggested we stop at World Market. I paid for lunch, I paid for dinner, I paid for alcohol, a movie, and everything in between. Paying for everything wasn’t a terrible thing in and of itself. What was more concerning was his weird air of entitlement.
At one point, he decided he needed a late-night snack and suggested we run out to McDonald's, which was just a few minutes away from the hotel. It was such a sinking, disappointing feeling to realize that he was ordering food for himself with the full expectation that I would pay. I realized this because after he placed the order at the drive-thru window, he held his hand out for my bank card. I wound up paying for his food and he didn’t even ask if I wanted anything for myself.
When that happened, and when we went to the movies and he wound up spending 15 minutes on the phone with his wife, there was this thing inside of me that said the whole thing was pretty sad. I was going out of my way to please this man who was really just lying to his wife for me. It was a strange power dynamic that lasted through most of the affair. If I really wanted to be with him, I had to understand the limits of what he could give me.
Of course, that meant there was next to nothing of substance that he would ever give. Even when he alternately “love bombed” or “love crumbed” me, virtually everything he did was something for himself. Saying whatever he thought he had to say to get sex, or to have my financial support, and to keep me around when he didn’t want to go through his divorce alone.
Though he didn’t go through his divorce alone. I was right there with him, but when he was finally done with me (about a week after his divorce was finalized), his claim was that I’d never done a darn thing for him.
It’s only natural for folks who read about my experiences to think, “Wow, what a creep,” or “she’s just a selfish homewrecker.” What they don’t seem to grasp, however, is that our entire relationship was mired by my plummeting self-esteem because I did feel terrible about having an affair. At every step along the way, I thought it said something awful about me. I was garbage.
Not him, strangely enough.
The way we worked was that I took on the responsibility for everything that happened between us even though he went after me and did so much gaslighting any time I tried to approach an issue.
At the same time, I understand that I was also gaslighting myself.
Let’s face it. I wanted to be in love. I had so many opportunities to get out but I didn’t leave because I didn’t want to. I wanted the fantasy more than I ever wanted to face reality, so that’s what I got — the fantasy that is fleeting and disappointing in the end.
Some people forget that most affairs aren’t jam-packed with excitement. It’s easy to think of the moment you meet your forbidden lover as all glamour and heat but in most cases, we’re just lonely people who've tricked ourselves into thinking we found an escape for the pain in our lives. We fool ourselves into believing that we’re not really hurting anyone, or that our lies are justified. And it doesn’t help make better choices.
If I’d met this guy under better circumstances and neither one of us was attached, the abundance of red flags would have told me to cut my losses. But because the relationship was an affair, I felt more committed to making things work. As if I didn’t just have to prove myself to him, but also prove to the world that things could work out in the end.
But unfortunately, bad love is addictive. You might think it’s no big deal to fool yourself when you want to fall in love. When you do that, you only make it harder for yourself to get out.
I learned this the hard way and wound up having a baby with a stranger whom on a good day? I don’t particularly trust him. Unsurprisingly, the guy who called his mistress on the phone while his five-year-old was in the car did not end up being an engaged dad for his next kid.
There’s a silver lining though. The best gift he ever gave me was our daughter, and like every other gift he ever gave me, it didn’t actually cost him anything to give.
Even so, she still means the world to me. And she’s more than worth having all that drama in my past.