I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. I mean I was really close to working for Ashley Madison just a few short years ago. Really close.
Had a chart drawn up of a bonus structure I would receive per media placement and everything. I was going to move to Canada. Couldn’t reach the last round of agreement with Noel Biderman, the multimillionaire behind Avid Life Media, an entrepreneur my whip-smart ex-boyfriend used to call the "sketchy Canadian.”
Which is why I got an email today from Noel, saying, "We are about to put up a pretty controversial billboard about Mitt Romney and we wanted to speak with a Politico journalist about it...Please let me know if there is someone worthwhile to connect with me."
I said XOJANE would take it. Thanks so much.
My dad was humiliated at the prospect that I might take the job. My dad even talked to his therapist about it. My dad’s therapist was worried about me. Or judged me. Or something I didn’t like. I don’t like being judged. I suppose this may be one of the few times when it’s pretty fair to do so, though. Be a little kind, though, maybe. I've been on a lot of ends of this spectrum.
My ex-husband, the man I was married to from when I was 25 to 30, cheated on me brutally. He had affairs. A few of them. I wouldn’t be surprised if I get an email from him because of this. It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life. Soul-crushing crying hyperventilating can’t even breathe hurts my body to think about right now humiliation. Throw up in the toilet again and again after realizing what was going on uncontrollable sickness. Sheer sadness.
And look at that. I just repeated the cycle. Doing the same thing to another woman. For that I am so incredibly sorry. Words mean nothing. But I am. And there it is.
Fascinatingly, I actually wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for an affair. Did you know that? My father is adopted. He was given up for adoption by Gloria. That’s because Gloria was an alcoholic who died in her thirties and had an affair with a married man and had to give my dad, Jerry, up.
I call my three angles the "mistress trifecta." Aren't I a zeitgeisty home-wrecking asshole? Yes I am.
I have a long history with Ashley Madison. I’ve never used the site myself. Although that’s surprising considering all the skeevy sites I have used (Match, eHarmony, Nerve, Craigslist). But when I had my affair with a married man in 2010 -- at the lowest point in my life before getting sober -- most of my distinction between right and wrong was long gone out the window.
All I thought about was: Does this feel right? And even more disgustingly, does this feel exciting?
I tried to take cues from the universe. But sometimes you are just convincing yourself of cues. Sometimes you need to operate within a moral framework not contingent upon whether the light flashes red or green or don’t fuck the married guy.
I remember desperately pulling aside a male married friend of mine when it became clear that the TV executive who I thought genuinely liked me and my writing and my talents actually simply wanted to fuck me when his wife was out of town. I remember I pulled this male married confidante friend aside and asked him what he thought I should do because I was really impressed with this TV executive’s wit and his brilliance and I don’t know, it seemed like it was a sign from the universe. This was supposed to happen. No coincidences, right? I know that sounds stupid and self-serving, and you’re right, it is. It’s OK if you hate me. I know I don’t need to give you permission for that. But I really sincerely feel awful about what I did.
When I asked my married male friend for advice about what I should do -- if I should have the affair -- when this situation presented itself to me, I asked him: You are a married man and I respect your opinion and should I do this? My friend said, “I don’t know. I would.” And I said, “Wait a minute, you don’t cheat on your wife do you?” And he paused and that was all the answer I needed. I said, “Well OK, you do then. I’m a human bullshit detector, and a word of advice, when your wife asks you, don’t pause like that.”
After my affair, after my morality was blown wide open, irrefutably, and left gaping like a skin-flapping void, I co-wrote with Noel Biderman, “The Mind of the Cheating Man.” No one bought the book. I think one of the women at Simon & Schuster forever views me differently after she got that proposal. She had really liked me as a writer before. I lost friends over that affair. I lost respect for myself over that affair.
And here's the thing. I wouldn’t change what I did for a minute. Because I can't. All I can do is accept it, and move on to the next right action from that acceptance. Part of my acceptance is accepting the women who cheated with my ex. Acceptance and empathy.
Please, understand. I’m not telling you that you should have an affair. I’m not telling you what I did was right. No. I think having an affair is probably one of the biggest mistakes a person can make unless they are in an actual open marriage (versus the line of “open marriage” that so many guys especially in LA use). But I don’t regret what I did because I don’t believe in regrets. I did it and my insides are permanently fucked up because of it, and that’s what that is. The tumor exists. It is inside of me. And I’m a human being, and all I can do is forgive myself because of the awful choice that I made. There is some part of me that is glad the TV executive’s wife found out so she could actually work on her marriage and be given a fighting chance and understand who and what she was dealing with. As a woman who was cheated on, I was glad I knew. But having an affair is not a choice I would make again. Ever.
I will tell you that I developed a lot more empathy for my ex-husband when I had the affair. And for the women who did it. Who do this on the regular. I understood how incredibly exciting and what a mind-trip it is (yes someone’s self-esteem can be that low that it’s exciting to know someone could potentially throw it all away –- for you!) and the human nature imperative to be drawn Garden of Eden apple-style to want to do something so wrong and so morally reprehensible. It kind of makes me feel a sick excitement even now -- the kind where you might throw up and cry at the same time but are also vaguely innervated, heart palpitating, wanting to rid yourself of excess energy -- just thinking about it. But I’ve done a little work on myself now so I know healthier ways to deal with that uncomfortable energy and those feelings rather than cruise Craigslist looking for “snow bunnies” or “rape fantasies” or whatever other sad, kill-yourself-woundfucky-ripe-material is floating out there currently.
Noel Biderman is a very smart guy. I first contacted him when I pitched Mark Cronin of 51 Minds about doing a show on mistresses. That show then morphed many, many times over the years and now it exists as a pilot that is the exact opposite, giving voice to people who have been cheated upon. As Oxygen told us at one point in the show’s conception and development (they ultimately passed), when the off-site TV group first saw another show that was in development about mistresses and it was passed upon, the test-group women who viewed it were “murderously angry.”
Murderously angry. I understand why. There is nothing quite like the punch in the stomach of cheating. It’s not just the preciousness of the intimacy that you’ve shared is now blown open to be a lie. It’s the lies behind the lie.
It’s the humiliation that someone else knows something that you don’t know. One of the women that my ex-husband cheated on me with was trying to court me as her best friend at the same time, always sending me nice emails every day and complimenting me on the blog that I was writing at the time. I thought she really liked me. It hurt my feelings. It broke my heart. In a lot of different ways.
I had someone tell me once that women sometimes try to destroy the sacredness of sex and intimacy so that the pain that we may have experienced from it no longer hurts us. Like, if we can somehow obliterate whatever vulnerability we have toward the act, then all of the feelings that we carry along, that fill ourselves up until we choke, will perhaps somehow be changed. The meaning will then be different and we’ll regain power and control -- through total self-annihilation.
I don’t know if that’s true for me. I certainly think that’s partly a motivation behind what I did. I think that when my married male friend revealed to me, as a beacon of marital perfection, that even he was cheating on his wife, I didn’t see the point in anything anymore. I already didn’t see the point, but it was the sign at the moment I was looking for.
If I were to offer any advice that I learned from my mistress trifecta, it would be to have empathy. Have empathy for your restless husband (or wife) whose pride and ego is so wrapped up in wanting the thrill of conquest that changes in marriage. Have empathy for the “other women” (or men) who probably hate themselves more than you will ever know. Have empathy for yourself as you make the choices you do.
And try to make good ones. It's all you can do.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.