Vulnerable - Part 2
This interview began an as exploration of motherhood, a universal yet unique experience in itself, but a deeper story unfolded about being a wife. Angela, a Minneapolis mom of three, found herself in a situation this past year she never thought she was capable of. An emotional affair.
As someone who has cheated myself, I know the glamour that quickly disintegrates into self-loathing. She and I both hope that in reading this, you find not only solidarity but also a deeper appreciation for the many facets of yourself and those around you. Angela is not summarized by this betrayal, just as much as she is not summarized by her many triumphs as a mom. We are all complicated creatures who deserve the respect of being seen for all of ourselves. Nothing is more startling than honesty, and when someone opens their chest wide to expose their vulnerabilities, it’s worth every second of your time to listen.
The interviews are split into "dichotomies." A dichotomy is two things in conflict with each other. The dictionary says they can't exist at the same time, but in humans, they definitely can.
"...the passion starts to dissipate. You start to become ships passing in the night. We’d been busy with kids and hadn’t been pumping much emotional energy into each other."
Give me some background on you and your partner’s relationship.
We were in our early 20s when we first met. He was a super fun-loving guy, and I was totally attracted to his spirit. I had just gotten over a messy relationship with someone I did not want to be with, and I was at a place wondering what I was doing. I really felt like God placed him in my life. He had such a spirit that I saw myself in. We got along right away.
We hung out with friends a couple times, and for our first date, we wanted to go to a concert. We talked about getting tickets, and then a couple days before the show he sent me an email saying, “I’m sorry I can’t go. Maybe I’ll see you sometime in the future,” and left it super vague. Little did I know he had bought tickets and was making plans to surprise me. He’s so considerate of other people, passionate, creative, artistic, and adventurous. We’re best friends and have been together almost 14 years now
[Afterward] talking to each other and analyzing what happened, the passion starts to dissipate. You start to become ships passing in the night. We’d been busy with kids and hadn’t been pumping much emotional energy into each other. He’s always been a giver, and I haven’t been the best at reciprocating. I take from him and give to my kids. But I think what ended up happening was I was getting attention elsewhere, and there was a newness and excitement about it. I was so confident that I was above that kind of behavior and [would be able to] walk the line. I’m a flirtatious person, and thought I knew my boundaries. I realized I’m not above that. I’m human. I’m not above that desire to want to get with someone else.
"It was an outlet for sharing secrets about my marriage that were bothering me that I should have been talking to my partner about, but instead I’m talking to [the other guy]."
It’s hard to know in the moment, but looking back, why did you start looking for connection outside your marriage?
I wasn’t looking for connection outside my marriage. I think it was more about realizing I have been in a committed relationship for a long time and taking care of children, and I just wanted to do something selfish and found that I was enjoying it. There was a chemistry there and a lot of banter that started to translate into texting. When it’s on the phone screen, you can disassociate with the actual person too.
When did it start to become something more?
I think it changed because he opened up, and I saw a vulnerability that played into my desire to care for people. He told me about past relationships and brokenness and how he always feels like when people get close to him they leave, and I wanted to feel like the kind of person he should be with. It made him more attractive, and I felt like I could tell him things I couldn’t tell [my partner]. It was an outlet for sharing secrets about my marriage that were bothering me that I should have been talking to my partner about, but instead I’m talking to [the other guy]. We started talking about making plans to do something physical together. I was having this internal conflict of needing to shut it down, and I told him that several times, but I couldn’t just leave him alone and walk away from it. Because if I did walk away from it, I’d be doing what every other girl had done to him, and I wanted to be different.
"I had a lot of internal conflict and guilt. There was some rationalizing that happened because I would channel the excitement I was getting back into my relationship. So oddly enough, when all of this came to light, my partner said he thought we were doing so well."
Was there a point you realized that to be “different” would mean giving up your relationship and family you’d created?
Yeah, and I could never allow myself to do that. Say I gave in and actually cheated on my parter. It would have maybe lasted two weeks, and I would have realized it’s not what I wanted. Half the fun of it was realizing it was never going to happen. I told him that what I have with my partner and family is so much more meaningful.
What was it like being around your partner day in day out while you were talking to the other guy?
I realized I was becoming a deceitful person. I was trying to push it out and separate that side from who I was with my husband. But I had a lot of internal conflict and guilt. There was some rationalizing that happened because I would channel the excitement I was getting back into my relationship. So oddly enough, when all of this came to light, my partner said he thought we were doing so well. It made it that much more difficult. He said he didn’t know I was such a good actress. That hurt. I genuinely was more excited about my relationship, because it gives you a new freshness on life in general.
"I wasn’t thinking about my partner getting hurt. I wasn’t thinking, “He’s never gonna find out.” I was down playing it from every angle..."
And that's what it comes down to. That it had nothing to do with your partner in the first place. It has to do with your concept of yourself. I was getting more confident and giving my partner a more confident version of myself.
That was another way I rationalized it. That it was nothing personal against my boyfriend. I was needing this other person as an outlet, and it’s helping my relationship with my boyfriend, so it's fine. But in the end, I realized I made him out to be a fool and that's where it’s a hurtful thing to do.
And I wasn’t thinking about my partner getting hurt. I wasn’t thinking, “He’s never gonna find out.” I was down playing it from every angle and totally underestimated how hurt he would be by me seeking attention from someone else. And he gets that this happens all the time and to a lot of people, but he feels like our relationship was different and above that.
How did talking with the other person end?
I began to realize we were getting carried away with steamy texts and emotional exchanges, and I told him, “You’re not gonna find happiness in a marital affair, and I want you to be happy.” So we tried to end it, but a week later I was missing that attention and started texting him again at 2 AM. My partner came down and asked who I was texting. He had never checked my phone before, but later that night, he looked through my phone and woke me up later in the night and freaked out. He was leaving and going to his parents’ house. The weight of everything exploded.
Where were you mentally and emotionally in that moment?
I was in shock. I wanted to be able to explain it. I was half numb and half desperate to explain that I hadn’t done anything physically. It was more of an emotional affair. He left and came back 45 minutes later crying. He said he couldn’t go to his parents and tell them everything. He couldn’t do that to me. He wanted to come back and talk to me about it. He had read everything. He said he never wanted to look at it again and asked if I could delete it. He texted the other guy and said, “Stay away from her and don’t text her again. I understand you work together but leave it at that.”
Did he ever ask you to leave that job?
No. He knows I love that job and like the people I work with and doesn’t want to take that away from me.
How was that at work seeing the other guy?
I also sent him a message that day letting him know my partner had found the texts. This was gonna end anyway, and it had to be done. We just didn’t talk for a couple weeks and still pretty much avoid each other.
How have your priorities in your relationship changed since then?
We have a huge conscious effort to not be on our phones when we’re together. We have a term for that now. It’s called phubbing--phone snubbing. We go on a weekly or every-other-week date and make time for each other. We have turned this page and have goals for our life and want to be proactive and not let them slip by.
We’ve started being more spiritual together. We’ve started doing devotionals together and connecting on that level and recognizing we want to be each other’s advocate and build each other up. There’s trust issues for sure. We have open access to each other’s phones. And he’s admitted some things to me that I didn’t know he had done. We’re way more conscious of being honest with each other. He would never say this, but I’m glad that it happened. I believe there are silver linings that come out of bad situations, and although there was a lot of hurt and pain, we have been able to reboot our relationship and become stronger.
"...it is a choice. You don’t have those passionate heart-throbbing feelings anymore. It’s a different, deeper level and knowing that what you have with them is so much more substantial than with everybody else. When shit gets real in life, that's who you want by your side."
Where you were at developmentally in your relationship, you didn’t know yet how to talk about those things, the needs you weren’t getting. And now you have the experience to know the warning signs of that for the future.
That’s just the process of growing, but it sucks when you hurt someone in that process. I’m so proud of him for understanding and sticking by me and not being spiteful. He knows he has to work on not holding it over me, and it makes him insecure. It’s not about him. I love who he is. I had just taken him for granted and knew he’d be there. It hurts that I sank to that level.
Moving forward after trust has been broken, how do you walk that line of understanding his distrust but not letting that damage the relationship?
We’re still figuring that out. He’s said “I don’t want you to feel like I’m being overbearing.” He knows I’m free-spirited, and he doesn’t want to dampen that, but I want to be worthy of his trust again. I’m figuring out how to do small things with the intention of showing that I care about him. It’s looking each other in the eye every day and saying, “I choose you.” And he asks me each morning, “Will you marry me today?” Because it is a choice. You don’t have those passionate heart-throbbing feelings anymore. It’s a different, deeper level and knowing that what you have with them is so much more substantial than with everybody else. When shit gets real in life, that's who you want by your side.
"With a healthy monogamous relationship, you have the ability to grow as a person and as a couple. You continually reach new levels of intimacy and that's really what we're all craving."
How did your view of yourself change?
My view of myself… I started to feel selfish and maybe more confident. There was definitely an unexplored "bad girl" realm that I was intrigued and curious about. I wanted to still be my good, wholesome self but secretly dip my toes into this unknown territory. I wrestled with my ego a lot, because I recognized that I was craving this attention and flattery. Ultimately I realized it wasn't healthy or genuine.
How did your view of monogamy change?
Well, frankly, monogamy is hard. As humans, we kind of suck at it collectively. But I've always believed that the hardest things in life end up bringing you the most joy and the purest, truest happiness. If it's easy and cheap, the reward is easy and cheap. Being with the one man who knows me so completely and loves me for exactly who I am, mistakes and all, is so much greater than a quick fleeting thrill. My views on monogamy have remained the same, I just realize now that it's not something to be taken for granted. I can't just think, "Well, it's been 10 years, and I've got this down. I'll never screw it up." It's a commitment that needs to be exercised in our weakest moments when we find ourselves tempted unexpectedly.
The power of attraction is strong, and it's only normal for someone to feel good about it, but for monogamy to work, you have to be completely open and honest with each other and actually admit struggles or outside temptations and then head them off together. As a society we have a tendency to quickly jump ship when a relationship gets difficult instead of sticking together and working on what's broken. But then we carry that brokenness into the next relationship and the next one, and so on. It's a repetitive cycle that ultimately leaves us more damaged and unable to confront our own inner demons. With a healthy monogamous relationship, you have the ability to grow as a person and as a couple. You continually reach new levels of intimacy and that's really what we're all craving.
What did you learn about yourself?
Oh, boy. I think this whole experience led me to know more about myself than I ever wanted to. I learned that despite my strong beliefs and convictions, I'm every bit weak, frail, and human. I thought I was above this sort of behavior, that I didn't have to guard myself against it, because there's no way I'd cross that line and even think about cheating on my spouse.
I also learned that our actions don't define us, that we all make mistakes. It's what you do with those mistakes and how you learn from them that allows you to grow. I've learned that being selfish only hurts those I care about most, and I don't want to be that kind of person. I also learned that the carefree fun and excitement I was enjoying with this other person was something I already have with my spouse, we just needed to make time for it and be more intentional about investing in each other.
"Love is so much more than a feeling or a one-time commitment. I think love has to be active. It's a daily choice to love someone and to give them your best. What you put in is what you get back."
What did you learn about your partner?
I have a man that is pure gold. The grace and patience he has shown not only makes me love him all the more, but inspires me to be a better person. I always knew he was good, that's why I married him, but after going through this together and the forgiveness he has shown… I'm blown away and completely humbled. He could have reacted with anger and resentment and distanced himself from me, but instead he has such a big heart and only wants to become closer and stronger.
What did you learn about love?
Love is so much more than a feeling or a one-time commitment. I think love has to be active. It's a daily choice to love someone and to give them your best. What you put in is what you get back. I know that I'm capable of loving more genuinely than I was, and I'm thankful for the grace and the deepened spiritual level in our relationship as we work on loving each other the best we can.