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I was 23 years old and had never been in a relationship. Casual hook-ups, one-night stands, and friends with benefits, sure, but never a relationship. A virgin throughout high school, I didn't even know the first step of how to get in one.
I pledged a sexless life for a few months, waiting to meet someone awesome. I joined OKCupid and went on a few dates, but the main propositions I started to receive were from older, married men who wanted casual sex. These messages made me uneasy at first and it left me wondering if everyone around me was just as miserable as I was.
As I began teetering on another one of my horrendous bouts of depression, I convinced myself that all I was worth was someone's secret thing on the side. Since the quest for a conventional relationship was clearly not working out for me, I decided in a moment of low self-worth, that I was going to actively seek out married men.
I made an Ashley Madison account and instantly got pelted with messages. Apparently, I was a novelty on the site. Most of the women on Ashley Madison are other women already married and looking for an affair, women trying to catch their husbands, and spambots. When they saw a young, unattached woman with a profile, they pounced at the opportunity.
To prove I was serious, I added nudes to my private photo showcase. It was my first time putting naked pictures of myself on the Internet, and it was exhilarating. This was me, I convinced myself. I was happy with my body due to the validation from these sad, old men. I felt beautiful once people wanted my body and told me what they wanted to do with it. What I did not understand was that this feeling was only fleeting, it did not fix my deeper insecurities.
After chatting with a few men on the website and getting a lot of guys who either lived too far away or had conflicting schedules (married men are usually only available during business hours, I worked in an office full time) one guy, Steven*, begged me to text him. When I viewed his profile for the first time, I was greeted with a bearded dark-haired dad-type with sad eyes.
He was 34, attached, and made clear in his profile that he was in the middle of a divorce, but needed discreteness. After verifying his divorce date on a court public records site, I decided to transcend our communication to text and soon after we made plans for him to come over to my house.
There was something alluring about being “the other woman.” If I couldn't get into a real relationship, I was going to use my sexuality to control someone already in one. For the better part of the past two years, I felt totally surrendered to my own mental illness. This was my own experiment with what I perceived to be the little power I possessed over my own life.
Things got very serious very fast between us. Soon enough, he was over at least twice a week.
We almost exclusively stayed inside of my room naked, exchanging stories. He told me before we met in person that he has four kids and had to keep everything a secret because he and his wife still lived together in his house. If she found out, she would try to get full custody of the kids and the house, which was in his name.
They had filed for divorce about a month earlier, after months of shouting matches in front of their two toddlers and his two older kids from a previous marriage. The arguments were heavily centered around her accusations that he was cheating on her with his best friend, who was gay. According to Steven, even though she denounced her Catholic upbringing, she was still a rampant homophobe and despised the very idea of homosexuality. He painted a depressing, beyond melancholy picture of a man trapped and his family disintegrating before his own eyes. I felt sorry for him.
When he first started giving his background, I was skeptical. Of course someone going through a divorce was going to describe their pending ex in an unflattering light; he made her into the crazy, vindictive wife stereotype. What convinced me was his genuine demeanor after being stuck in a house with his wife for days straight.
His only time away from her was when either of them was working. He couldn't text me while she was home or she would get suspicious and demand to see his phone. She knew the passwords to most of his emails, and monitored just about everything he did online. He couldn't get her to move out until she applied for government assisted living, so she was buying her time by procrastinating filling out her application. Steven was stuck, and he had four more months until the divorce was finalized, and even then, he told me, he wasn't expecting her to move out immediately.
The two of us actually got to go out on a few occasions. They would alternate Friday nights when they could leave the house to go out with friends. He told her he was going to be watching "Battlestar Galactica" when really we were getting drinks and hastily retreating to my bedroom. He hadn't had sex in almost a year, but it was still incredible and pretty much all I wanted to do. I certainly didn't want to waste what precious time we got to spend together.
It didn't take long for it to become apparent to me that our relationship was completely one-sided. In the two-and-a-half months we saw each other, I could count on one hand how many times Steven had asked me how my day was/what was going on with my life/updates about what I was doing. He started conversations seething about the daily fights he and his wife had over trivial matters.
It was really obvious when most of my conversations with my friends were about his problems, which were really problems that had nothing to do with me, involving people I've never even met. Becoming his amateur therapist was something I had anticipated, but not to this horrifying degree. Married men have nothing to talk about but their wives, apparently.
Many things were holding me back from breaking things off. Steven kept telling me it would all be over soon, that after she moved out we could finally be together. We made plans for weekend vacations and camping trips. He even got me a Valentine's Day present. I thought if I held it out until the divorce date, our relationship would improve and drastically change once it was all over.
I was convinced I couldn't do better. My co-dependent tendencies haunted me daily. My brain makes it a priority to help fix someone else's life and usually I do so without realizing I'm sacrificing my own. This delusion often clouds my perception of a toxic relationship to be seen as a functioning one with a purpose. Stupidly, I convinced myself I was doing the world a favor, which wasn't true at all. I was a pending catalyst for an already doomed marriage.
One morning, I woke up to this message in my inbox:
Unsure of how much his wife knew, I waited days for him to contact me. I panicked, not understanding the status of our relationship, how much she had found out, what she could be possibly doing to him at that time. Finally, while lying in my bed, which I was unable to get out of on a Sunday afternoon, I got a text from Steven: “I can't do this anymore. It's over.”
Even though I had prepared myself for her to find out at any moment, I wasn't ready for this. What happened to all of our plans, the weekends away, the day when I would finally be able to go over to his house? They vanished, and I had to learn to forget them.
Months went by, and I began to mull over what I had actually done. I refuse to be called a home wrecker. You cannot wreck a home that is already in ruins, yet it happened under secretive circumstances and eventually hurt a stranger I didn't even know. At the time of the affair, I felt guilty, but while we were together, I also felt like I was doing good, relieving Steven of his stress at home by utilizing myself as an outlet and reminding him that there were decent people in the world who cared about him. Decent people who you cheat on your wife with.
Their divorce was finalized over a month ago and I haven't heard from him since The Final Text Message. Now I dread the day he does reach out to me, if ever. I can't even begin to imagine what I would say to him since there are hardly any residual feelings on my behalf.
I deactivated my Ashley Madison account a few weeks ago. You cannot fully delete it unless you pay a fee, so I changed my password to unintelligible nonsense and permanently locked myself out for good. Never again will I help someone with their infidelity, and I definitely don't recommend it. Instead of being a part of something exciting and amusing like the fictional scenarios in TV and film, you are in actuality party to someone else's shit show, and the only reason why you're even invited is because the adulterer is an emotional coward.
*Names have been changed for pretty obvious reasons.