Welcome to Episode 24 of F*ck Like a Woman. Today’s show is a story about an affair. Marco, a successful businessman, finds himself unexpectedly in the throws of an affair, and is left conflicted about the dilemmas facing his marriage. (Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.)
I met Marco on a business trip to the East coast while waiting for my flight. He was alone at the airport bar having a drink when I sat down next to him. Our heads turned toward each other and nodded as a courteous acknowledgement of the other. When I looked in his eyes I could see a kind and gentle soul looking back at me through soft, green eyes with an inviting smile. He was a strikingly handsome man in his mid 40s, well dressed and polished with a sophisticated yet modern air. We exchanged pleasantries and somehow quickly wandered into the kind of conversation you only share with a close friend. As distant travelers passing through the exact same moment in time and space, we were able to share a window into each other’s most private emotions and personal stories. I was touched to be entrusted with such an honor.
Marco was the owner of a highly successful real estate firm in Miami. He was married to his wife of nearly 20 years and they had three children together. But under the surface, his marriage had been in disrepair for over a year in the aftermath of an affair. They had recently gotten back together after a brief separation and were trying to make it work for their children’s sake. To Marco, the thought of separating their family and having his beautiful children grow up without a father living under the same roof together killed him. He couldn’t bear the thought of splitting up their family as the price he would pay to gain freedom, even if it would liberate him to live his truest self unshackled by his experience of marital constraints.
Their downfall began a couple of years ago at dinner, when his mother, after having had too much to drink at dinner, confessed secrets from their family’s past that had spent the last few decades seeking asylum. There was always some distant recollection from his childhood that he never could put his finger on and now he learned why. His father, the principal of a private school, had molested a 14 year old girl from the school he was overseeing, and not only that, but his father was extremely violent to his mother and him as a child.
As one can imagine, Marco was devastated. A flood of memories rushed back to him the more it all sank in. It made sense now why there were always emotional shadows lurking that continued to elude him. When he went to his wife, a Cuban woman raised in a very traditional household, to tell her about the disturbing news, she said, “What are you going to do, sit and cry about it? Be a man.” Marco was crushed. In that instant, he felt as though the person he should have been able to confide in with complete support had shut him down and boarded up her walls.
In the aftermath of processing this kind of emotional devastation, Marco sought the comfort and healing he was needing from an attractive woman he ran into frequently at networking events. Jennifer was fun, spontaneous, and receptive. Marco hadn’t started out with the intention of an affair – all he was looking for in the beginning was just a compassionate ear to listen to all that he was going through. He wanted someone to hear him, to see him, to validate the twists and turns he was experiencing, and more than anything to make him not feel like he was alone. In moments like these that bring us to our knees, we default to our most basic human needs to ground us back to what we know. We go through a grueling process of painfully negating the story we once thought was real, and then mentally reconstructing the entire past in light of a new unsettling truth.
Marco and Jennifer’s affair lasted several months and was possibly the most connected Marco had ever felt physically, and perhaps emotionally, to another person in his whole life. He was able to experience sharing himself with another through sexual intimacy at an extremely deep level, and it was a way to escape his pain of the past and his problems at home. Being with Jennifer brought him back to life.
She was adventurous, curious, and inviting. Jennifer did things with and for Marco sexually that his wife would never even allow a conversation about, let alone actually do them. For the first time since he had been with his wife, Marco experienced the most exquisite blow job. Jennifer loved going down on him and got off on pleasing him. She would kiss and lick him as though he was a dessert to be savored – passionate and sensual, yet wild and adventurous.
The difference in his experience with his wife and Jennifer was that Jennifer wanted sex just as badly as Marco did, and unlike his wife, Jennifer didn’t treat sex as obligatory or as though she was fulfilling her “duty” to him. Marco found acceptance from Jennifer and she indulged his sexual fantasies, which included sex play in bathrooms, at parties, and secretly at work events. Most importantly, it made him feel special that a woman was so entranced by his dick that she couldn’t get enough of it. It was the kind of attention and recognition of his sexuality at its most quintessential level that his wife had always ignored and put to shame.
To Marco, it was nurturing a part of himself that had long been neglected by his wife and restored a sense of self that he desperately needed to feel wanted and longed for. Marco wanted to be with a woman who didn’t just lie on the bed like a manikin in their usual missionary position – remaining uninterested, distant, and waiting for her time to be up. What he wanted was a woman who would come to life when he touched her, someone who couldn’t get enough of him and made him feel vibrant and on fire. Jennifer made him feel alive.
Marco eventually came to a point where he knew this affair had to end. Not only did he end his relationship with Jennifer, but he confessed to his wife. He described his wife’s response to the whole ordeal with just a few words, “As long as you didn’t get her pregnant,” she responded. Her reaction was both relieving and painful, further driving the knife in his wound – deepening his feeling that she didn’t care enough about him to even become jealous or express heartbreak. Thankfully this time he didn’t run back to his lover because he knew that he wanted his family together for his children’s sake more than he wanted a lover.
Marco and I touch base every now and again and I’m happy to hear that he hasn’t engaged in any more extramarital affairs, but it certainly doesn’t prove that his marriage is any better off. His wife continues to refuse going to therapy, and Marco continues to crave the connection of another. My mind conjures questions that I dare not ask him, though I can’t help but wonder – has he considered seeking professional help for his own sake? Has he studied his wife to know what gentle seeds he could plant that would soften her and allow for some open conversation over a period of time? Does he know how satisfied she is in their marriage? What is it that she truly longs for that she’s not getting? How does she self-define her role as mother and wife? What was it that attracted her to him in the beginning, and him to her? Has he tried recreating that in various scenarios? There are countless other questions I want to ask, but the truth is that none of these questions matter if he has mentally passed the point of reconciliation. Although he is still wearing the role of husband and father, he has long been departed from their marriage.
While we will never know the other side to this story and there is much left untold, Marco’s wife certainly deserves the respect and courtesy of acknowledging that she did not deserve to be on the receiving end of his affair. But it certainly doesn’t make her an innocent party either. So too did she break her wedding vows to Marco with the years of neglect, emotional stonewalling, avoiding therapy, and not even being willing to discuss the state of their relationship. And who says she alone gets to control the sexual and emotional intimacy that affects two people, not just one? Hurt and suffering come in many forms in a relationship, and the kind that happens gradually and spanning several years or even decades is oftentimes no less worthy of repentance than the gutting experience of uncovering an affair.
Ultimately, it all comes down to this: the only person in any given situation we have some form of control over is ourselves. And usually, when we change ourselves, we change the other, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes there are forces so great existing outside our control, that in the end, we are left with difficult choices ahead of us.
A relationship is like an ongoing negotiation that is always in flux, subject to addendums and alterations. It will ebb and flow as its creators continue to evolve in life and love. It should also be said that every couple has autonomy to decide what kind of bargain they will strike with their partner, and from the outside that bargain might not always make sense. But we can hope that those living within it can find some sort of balance of happiness and satisfaction that works for whatever stage of life they find themselves in, and above all, that they continue seeking the courage to be honest with themselves and their partner about what ingredients they need to live their best life and truest self.