I’m going to have an affair.
I cannot live like this, feeling this alone in my marriage. Up to that point, this thought was one I hadn’t allowed myself to think. After eighteen years of marriage, I had never been unfaithful to my wife, and I had never thought of ending the marriage.
I’m going to have an affair. The thought had been even further removed from my mind than divorce. It was contrary to everything I professed to believe. I had not yet met the woman with whom I intended to have that affair.
I sat at the kitchen table at our home just outside of Ames, Iowa, desperately alone. It was Saturday evening, and I was home alone with our two daughters. Lynn had gone to Kansas City with a new friend she’d met while taking pre-law classes at Iowa State University. She had told me to expect her to be home on Sunday afternoon.
Before moving to Ames, my wife and I had lived ten years on a small farm on the coast of Maine. We decided to move back to be nearer our families. Although we made the decision supposedly to be close to our families in Nebraska, it was more likely an attempt to save our marriage.
Lynn and I had both grown up in small towns in Nebraska, where everyone looked alike, thought alike, and believed alike. In 1985, divorce had not touched our family, our friends, or even our community. One man, one woman, until death do us part. Things had to be bad to break that vow.
I felt alone and abandoned. Every effort I had made to make our relationship better had reached a dead end. Of course, I accused her of not even trying.
I was hungry for some intimacy, some touch, some connection, but I couldn’t make it happen. I wrote Dear Lynn, I have made the decision that I must leave you.
I lay my pen down to allow myself to feel my overwhelming sadness and sense of failure. What should I write next? Would suicide be a better option? Maybe I should just have an affair.
I lost my own father when I was three years old. Although I was always a bit uncertain about how to be a father, I had been convinced that I would always be there for my kids. I would be interlocked in our two daughters’ lives, and I would be the best father I was capable of being.
As I sat there, pondering what to write next — the thought was too new to have a well thought out plan — Lynn unexpectedly walked in the door. I quickly crumpled the note, stood to give her a stiff hug, and said, “I’m glad you’re back.”
. . .
You’re very angry with your wife.
In the days that followed, Lynn and I spoke briefly about the strain in our marriage. Lynn didn’t want to see a marriage counselor, so we agreed to each see our own therapist.
As a therapist, it is difficult to choose one for yourself. You find out rather quickly who you think the best ones are, but by then, you’ve collaborated with all of them. You have worked with them as colleagues and, at the minimum, have a professional friendship.
I called a psychiatrist in Des Moines, whom I had not met, but he had an excellent reputation. I expressed a sense of urgency, and he agreed to see me for a half-hour during his lunch.
I heard only one interpretation the psychiatrist made: You’re very angry with your wife.
I reacted silently, as many of my own patients do. This is not my problem. She is the one who needs to change.
When Lynn returned from her appointment, I was hoping her psychologist had fixed her. “What did your therapist tell you?”
“She said, ‘You smile a lot for someone so unhappy.’”
Neither of us rescheduled a followup appointment.
. . .
I am going to get my first blow job.
I am a reluctant exerciser, but in 1985 I was in the best physical shape I was ever in. On alternate days, I ran four to six miles and biked about thirty miles. I weighed the same as I did when I graduated from high school.
I hadn’t grown passionate about exercising or losing weight. What I was excited about was having a legitimate reason for being away from the friction at home. Who can question the motivation for fitness?
One afternoon at the gym, I had completed my workout, showered, and was slowly dressing, mentally preparing myself for returning to the demilitarized zone at home. Standing thirty feet away from me in the locker room was a man I’d guessed as about ten years younger than I. I was forty-two years old.
He was slightly taller than me, dirty blonde, slightly receding hair, slender but not overly muscular. Not effeminate, but not entirely masculine either. He smiled at me with a smile that only a Chesire cat could envy. When I looked at him, he did not look away as most men would do, so I invented reasons to search through my gym bag I packed before my trip home.
When I looked back at him, he was still looking at me with an unwavering expression. I grew uncomfortable, but at the same time, intrigued. I busied myself again, artificially delaying my departure. I looked back at him, and his smile had impossibly grown even broader.
He nodded his head toward a door that exited the locker room. He then walked toward the doorway, and inexplicably I followed him, twenty paces behind.
He confidently walked down a long, industrial corridor to a small, lockable men’s room. It appeared not to be his first visit. By the time I entered, he was already standing at the urinal, cock in his hand, and he turned to show me he was hard. We didn’t touch.
He asked, “Do you have a place?”
“Huh?” I responded, unable to understand his Spanish-accented, very broken English. Even if his English had been better, I’m not sure I would have correctly understood what he was suggesting.
He repeated, “Do you have a place?”
As he continued to pull on his cock, I understood the intent more unquestionably.
“You come to my place? Tuesday, 2:30?”
“Where do you live?” He gave me the address of an apartment in Iowa State’s graduate school housing.
“Yes. I’ll be there.”
We walked in different directions as we left the men’s room. As I walked back to the locker room to get my gym bag, I thought I am going to get my first blow job.
. . .
I was stunned to meet her, even though I, too, had a wife at home.
When anticipation and opportunity meet, brain chemistries suffocate rational thought.
I drove past the address on my way home to make sure I knew where he lived.
On Tuesday, I stopped my red Corolla in front of his place at 2:00, a half-hour earlier than we’d agreed. I anxiously walked to his door and knocked.
A woman with stylishly frosted hair, trim and casually well-dressed, answered the door. “May I help you?” She also spoke with a Spanish accent, but I understood her easily. Her voice carried a tone that let me know that she had absolutely no interest in helping me.
“Uh, uh, uh. I think I have the wrong address.” I was stunned to meet her, even though I, too, had a wife at home.
We both knew I had exactly the right address.
. . .
I had never been with a man.
The next time we met was an unplanned meeting at the gym. He was not happy with me. “Why you come at 2:00 o’clock? I told you come 2:30.”
“I’m sorry. I was excited to see you. Was that your wife?”
“Si.” He corrected himself, “yes.”
He told me his name was Roberto, that he and his wife were both graduate students in architecture at Iowa State. They had just come to Iowa from Argentina. He said his wife was scheduled to be a teaching assistant in a design studio starting at 2:30. He reminded me again that he’d been explicit about the time I should come.
He explained that she was suspicious of him because he had told her before their marriage that he was bisexual and had had male lovers in the past.
I explained to him that I had never been with a man, and this was all new to me.
We agreed to meet again.
. . .
I could return to my monogamish, heterosexual-like life.
We began to meet again regularly, at precisely the scheduled times.
My wife and I were building a new home in Ames — likely a fruitless attempt to rescue our marriage. As so many other couples chose to do to save their marriages, another child was not an option. I’d had a vasectomy. I was excited to show an architect the house I’d designed. If we went after the carpenters left, I now had “a place.”
Knowing that he would eventually return to Argentina assured me this affair would eventually end. It put some boundaries around our relationship, after which I could return to my monogamish, heterosexual-like life. I would not be forced to make unacceptable choices.
Then one day, he kissed me, in a way I’d never been kissed before.
The kiss betrayed my unconscious desires. I knew I had too much interest, not only in the sex but in the romance. The kiss punctured the steel barrier I had inside my head that separated my conscious and unconscious minds. It left a hole that could never be closed again.
. . .
Now with flesh on flesh, our arousal heightened quickly.
One day, Roberto and I went to Des Moines. I lied to my wife that I was going to look for light fixtures. I had told her a little about meeting Roberto at the gym, that he was a graduate student in architectural lighting, and I wanted his consultation.
It was early November, so darkness arrived early. He was driving his baby blue, student-turnover VW bug as he drove down 8th Street in West Des Moines. I reached over and began to insistently touch his cock.
He responded by touching me as well. Not being satisfied with feeling his cock through his jeans, I unzipped his fly. As we continued to drive down the street, I opened mine, too.
Now with flesh on flesh, our arousal heightened quickly, like a spring on a sexual mousetrap.
He pulled his car off the road into a deserted industrial site. We ran to a weed-filled, secluded spot, holding up our still-open jeans. We intended to satiate our passionate sexual hunger.
When I arrived home, I realized that I had lost my wallet while my pants were around my ankles.
I slept very little that night, and with some invented “medical staff meeting” as an excuse, I left the house early the following morning. I drove thirty miles back to Des Moines. I found my wallet still in the weeds with a few bits of evidence of our lovemaking.
. . .
I’ll be right there.
Shortly after my wife, daughters, and I had moved into our new home, my mother and stepfather paid their first visit to our home. While eating dinner together, I received a phone call from the emergency room at the hospital where I worked.
“Dr. Olson, there’s a young international graduate student here who says that you know him. He has asked us to contact you. Do you know him?”
“Yes, I know him.”
“He’s been in a bicycle accident and has fractured his hip. He doesn’t have insurance, and we need to transfer him to the University Hospital in Iowa City.”
Roberto’s wife had returned to Argentina. He had no one. I replied, “I’ll be right there.”
With far too little explanation to anyone, I abandoned our dinner guests midway through the meal and I left for the hospital.
The ambulance waited, and with no further thought about consequences, I climbed in after they loaded his gurney on board. Every little bump in the freeway on the ninety-mile trip to Iowa City aggravated his pain.
I lovingly held his hand and tried to do what I could to ease his discomfort. I gave no thought to the opinions of the attendants.
I spent the entire night helping to get Roberto registered and consent papers signed for his surgery. Although the staff at the hospital never questioned us, they sensed the nature of our relationship and showed no signs of disapproval.
I arrived back home in Ames just in time to go to work the next morning.
I visited Roberto several times during his stay in Iowa City. After his discharge, with his wife still in Argentina, I attended him daily, as much as I could. The emotional intensity of this special time together intensified our investment in each other.
. . .
I just wanted to help stop the rumors — if they’re not true.
In the spring of 1985, I was rushing down a corridor in the hospital where I worked. One of the hospital social workers I didn’t know well stopped me.
I was eager to get to the psychiatric unit to make my rounds, but I assumed I could address her concerns and be on my way.
She pulled me to a quieter spot, and whispered with a voice that felt more like curiosity than concern, “Is it true that you’re getting a divorce?”
“No, it’s not,” I said, and actually I didn’t think I was lying. I didn’t know this woman well, but enough to know that she was the last person with whom I would share any secrets about my personal life.
You bitch! I thought, but with no change of expression, I asked, “Where did you hear that?”
“Your daughter announced it to the fifth-grade class in school yesterday. My son came home and told me.”
I was speechless.
Then she added, “I just wanted to help stop the rumors — if they’re not true.” Her smirk belied her intent. She wanted to own that rumor, not stop it.
I realized then that the conflict with my wife had not been as discreet as we thought. I knew that I had to speak with our older daughter about it.
Our older daughter was an eighth-grader. She was pulling away from the family as teenagers begin to do at thirteen years old.
That night I picked her up from a movie she’d gone to with her friends. On the way home, I said, “Your mother and I are having some serious problems.”
“Really?” I was surprised by her surprise. I had thought what one daughter knew the other would know as well.
“Yes. There’s a possibility we might get divorced.”
She began to sob uncontrollably. She was completely blindsided by my announcement. It was then — and remains to this day — the most painful moment in our relationship.
. . .
Doesn’t everyone who’s having an affair feel cheated out of something they have no right to expect?
After having seen Roberto for about a year, his wife had gone back to Argentina for a visit. I stopped by to give him his Christmas present, a CD of Whitney Houston’s album of the same name. It contained the song, “I’m Saving All My Love for You,” an anthem for our affair.
Stolen moments were all we could share. Sometimes, a moment I’d stolen to meet Roberto was frustrated by his family’s needing him. Doesn’t everyone who’s having an affair feel cheated out of something they have no right to expect?
As I handed him the gift, he said, “My wife’s pregnant.” I knew that ended any fantasy I had about our running away together.
One day when his wife had returned to Ames but was away at the university, I went to see Roberto. When he brought his infant son to me, I saw a look on his face that confirmed that our relationship would end.
I could see that Roberto loved his son like I loved my daughters, and I loved that about him. But I understood immediately that his relationship with his son would always be a higher priority than his relationship with me. And my daughters would always be a top priority to me.
. . .
Dad, if you move up to Minneapolis, we’ll never see you.
Although I had decided to end my marriage, Roberto was a long way from that decision.
I was still so over the moon about him to the point that I had ignored the early signs of his jealousy. That would later become a far more significant issue in our relationship than the birth of his son.
I wanted to put some distance between my former wife and me, so I accepted a job in Minneapolis. I took my younger daughter — the one with such ability to sense the future — to Minneapolis with me to look for a place to live.
On the long, silent trip back to Iowa, she finally said, “Dad, if you move up to Minneapolis, we’ll never see you.”
I hadn’t wanted to believe that, but I knew she was right. I turned down the job I had just accepted and searched for one in Des Moines.
. . .
I was so tired of lying.
Soon, my relationship with Roberto deteriorated quickly. With his wife still in Argentina, Roberto became more and more possessive of my time and grew increasingly jealous of the hours I spent away from him.
We also became more realistic about the fact that he would need to return to Argentina very soon.
I found a job in Des Moines and moved into a condo. Roberto and I continued to see each other and commuted back and forth from Ames to Des Moines.
Roberto had a key to my condo. One night I came home late from a meeting at the hospital to find him in my apartment. He had been waiting and watching for me from the roof.
“Who were you with?” he demanded.
“I had a medical staff meeting.”
“You’re lying to me.”
“I am not lying.”
He refused to accept my explanation. He became enraged and demanded I confess to infidelity I had not committed.
Suddenly, he attacked me with his fists. I covered my face but did not strike back. After he stopped beating me, I demanded that he give me back my key, and I asked him to leave.
He angrily threw the key across the room. As he stomped out the door, he slammed the door so hard it rattled the dishes in the kitchen cabinets.
As I looked at my bruised and swollen face in the mirror, I searched for the lies I would tell the hospital staff the next day.
I was so tired of lying.
. . .
Tell him I’m not available.
A few weeks later, I had taken my daughters for a vacation at Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. We planned to meet my Nebraska family. While there, I received a phone call from the psychiatric unit where I worked.
“Dr. Olson, we have a young international graduate student here who attempted suicide. He asked me to call you. Do you know him?”
“Yes, I know him. Tell him I’m not available.”
With that, our relationship was over. He took a piece of me with him. I saved a piece of him for myself.
As painful as the affair was for all of us, I discovered myself.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love and is republished here with permission from the author.
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