sex

'I'm no longer ashamed of my affair with a married man. It changed me for the better.'

In early 2013, I had an affair with a married man who pursued me on Facebook. The most shocking thing about it was how easy it was to fall into an illicit relationship with someone who was off-limits.

I suspect it’s similar for drug addicts. The highs are incredible. He made me feel incredibly special and loved in ways that I had only dreamed.

But the emotional lows were devastating.

During and after the affair, I spent a lot of time feeling guilty for having been “the other woman.”

Watch: Emotional vs physical affairs. Post continues below.

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It left me feeling like that’s all I was good for being somebody else’s dirty laundry. Anytime someone called me a homewrecker, or told me they hoped I’d never find happiness or peace, I couldn’t help but agree with them.

For years, I just survived as a single mum. I took care of my daughter (who came from the affair), but I didn’t take care of me. I didn’t think that I deserved good things.

But time passed, as it always does.

Eventually, I had to admit that wallowing in such self-loathing had never helped anyone. It certainly wasn’t helping me.

Our daughter is turning six in April. Her dad is currently remarried, supposedly poly, and he fathered another baby a couple of years ago. His wife got remarried and had another baby too.

But instead of finding my purpose and peace in another relationship, I wound up pursuing a writing career. And I started revealing all of the secrets that I used to think made me damaged and beyond redemption.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to reflect upon my errors and understand that there’s a lot more to our bad choices than all of that bad juju.

Lately, I’ve been able to look at my worst choices (like the affair) in a brand new light. I’ve even been able to see the upsides and I want to talk about that.

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I want to be honest about the fact that I am no longer ashamed or even particularly sorry for my part in the affair because as awful as that time was, and as awful as I was for not running away, I grew and changed as a result of the affair.

I can’t change the fact that I hurt other people, but I can avoid needlessly hurting them now and in the future. I can’t change the past, but I can make better choices moving forward.

What are the upsides of having an affair with a married man? For me, there were several benefits. In those days, I still suffered from vaginismus, a sexual dysfunction which prevents pleasurable penetrative intercourse by involuntary muscle contractions around the opening of the vagina.

Vaginismus is complicated. Most experts agree that there’s a psychological component, but that means plenty of partners don’t understand how it’s not just something we can fix with a snap of our fingers. To a certain degree, there’s a real fear of penetration.

These days, I get a lot of inquiries from couples dealing with vaginismus, and they often want to know how I overcame my fear of sex. That’s a tough question for me to answer honestly.

I literally had an affair with a married man, and part of the reason I did that was because I wanted to get over vaginismus.

My daughter’s dad and I had instant chemistry when we “met” online. No, I didn’t realise at the time how we were likely attracted to each other because of our damage. I overlooked the fact that he was married with three kids. Yes, I was selfish, and I made excuses for being selfish.

A few months before our relationship began, I was getting out of a difficult longterm engagement. As I exited that relationship, I promised myself that in my next one, I would get over my fear of sex. Get over the vaginismus. And I wouldn’t live my life feeling guilty for having sex at all.

But I also told myself that my next relationship was going to last.

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When my daughter’s dad first pursued me, I was absolutely driven to make those goals a reality. I wanted to have sex without pain.

Our relationship progressed too quickly, and I was falling in love. That love was desperate, intense, and it overtook everything. There was no me without him. And it was scary yet thrilling.

Even before we met in real life, I had this desire to please him. There were a few times when I felt a bit pressured, or when I even felt a little bit “ick” about him, but those feelings were always fleeting. I inevitably came back to this desire to make him happy.

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I was petrified to finally have sex once we spent time together in real life, but I was also upfront about it with him. Early on, he knew I suffered from vaginismus.

I explained how I coped in past relationships without ever having full intercourse, and how even partial penetration was incredibly painful.

And do you know what? He actually listened.

Back then, I was used to men pushing and pushing me to have sex despite the pain. I was used to sex being something miserable. When this guy came along, I quickly became addicted to his “love” and affection, partly because he wasn’t an overt pusher.

Plus, he had something of an addiction to relationships, and had a history of many affairs, so he was very sexually experienced.

Somehow, all of those things made me feel like I could let my guard down with him.

Having an affair with a married man taught me that I could have sexual intercourse without pain. Actually, it taught me that I could become addicted to a toxic relationship just because the sex was so damn good.

It might be strange to see that as a benefit, but the reality is that I might still be battling vaginismus today if I had never gotten together with this particular man. My addiction to our toxic relationship was stronger than my fear of sex. Sick and twisted, but it did benefit me.

Don’t get me wrong. Toxic relationships are terrible. If they don’t kill you, they can change the whole trajectory of your life.

In my case, I choose to lean into the good that happened as a result of the affair. It didn’t just teach me how to finally have sex and reach orgasm when I was 31 and suffering from the guilt of purity culture. That affair was traumatic enough to lead me to my life purpose.

If I hadn’t had the affair, I doubt I ever would have become a mother. And if I hadn’t become a mother, I never would have become such a prolific blogger.

Before the affair, I struggled to figure out how to make a living as a creative person. After the affair, I knew that I would write about it.

In many ways, the affair destroyed my life. I gave up everything to be with a married man, and then he left me pregnant. For a long time, I couldn’t see any possible happy ending for myself. All I saw was struggle and pain.

All I thought I would ever be was unwanted.

It’s funny, though. For years, I thought I would never get through the aftermath of the affair, and then I realised that I benefited from having that affair because it made me so much stronger and more driven.

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I don’t know that I would ever be the person I am today if I didn’t know what it’s like to also be the other woman.

It taught me an incredible amount of empathy for other people who make bad choices. I finally understood that nobody is really “above” poor choices like an affair, and that the addictive push-pull of a toxic relationship is enough to mess with anyone’s psyche.

Eventually, it taught me how to have grace for myself. And it taught me the value of understanding why I do the things I do.

Before the affair, I didn’t know I had so many unhealthy ideas about love.

To move past the affair, I had to recognise, correct, and replace many of my deepest beliefs. I had to come to terms with the fact that I thought love was a feeling–like a continuous emotional high. And that I believed I was nothing without a partner.

It’s easy to make ourselves and our former lovers out to be villains just because there was an affair. But I’ve learned that we are more than what we do. It’s more honest to say that we are what we do after a bad decision.

Sometimes, we get stuck doing the same damn thing. We think we’re making the same mistakes when we’re really just not learning our lesson the first (or fortieth) time around.

Once we start learning from our worst choices, we can grow. We no longer need to view ourselves as stuck. And hopefully, we quit seeing ourselves as lost causes because we’re able to see some progress.

It’s a little bit controversial to admit that there’s any good that can come from our poor decisions (like extramarital affairs), but it’s true. The reality is that every person on the planet is bound to do something stupid, wrong, or hurtful.

The question isn’t so much what we’re going to do wrong in our lives. The question is what we’ll do with everything we get wrong. What we’ll do with all of our shame and our darkest days.

The truth is that I get a lot of feedback from folks who think it’s wrong to write about sordid things. It’s too bad that they’re willing to allow their discomfort to convince them to close their eyes. In my experience, and in the experience of countless other individuals, infidelity happens. It is very real and traumatic and honestly, nobody is immune to becoming the cheater or getting cheated on.

I am strangely grateful for everything I have learned after finding myself locked in a toxic relationship that began with an affair. But I never would have learned anything if I didn’t write about it.

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Writing about supposedly unspeakable things gives me a clarity and distance that I’d never have if I just locked my past into a box and never spoke of it again.

Also? By the other reactions, from the people who do get something out of my work, I understand that my shitty decisions are hardly exclusive to me. People get into addictive, toxic relationships all of the time. And when we get into those relationships, we do all the things we never thought we’d do.

We screw up because we want to be loved so deeply, and our feelings override every red flag. That’s basically the human condition.

Yet through those mistakes, we learn about ourselves, the world, and others. Hopefully, we learn what love really is.

At one point when I was still pregnant with my daughter, I lived with a friend’s father and stepmother. The stepmother often asked me about my relationship with my ex and predicted that I would get married again.

But, she was insistent that I would never love anyone as much as I loved that ex.

My god, I resented her comments. I was so annoyed about her words for a long time because I never wanted to believe I couldn’t have that incredible chemistry with someone else again.

To be honest, I was depressed because I desperately wanted to be loved the way I thought I was loved during the affair. I deeply resented the notion that my daughter’s dad, this married man who broke my heart was bound to be the great big love of my life.

I know now that I never will love like that again. But I also know that isn’t a tragedy. I never want to become so obsessed or infatuated with another person that I become addicted to their affection and approval.

I like knowing that I don’t have to go back to that dark place again. I love knowing that I’m free to live my life as a single mother and I have no qualms about going through life without a partner.

But again, this is a sort of peace that I’d likely never have if I hadn’t had an affair with a married man.

So, yes. There were upsides. I learned who I really am. I gave birth to a daughter who has completely transformed my life. I became successful in my career as a writer, and I learned how to reframe and repurpose my trauma. I even healed a lot of my sexual issues, like vaginismus.

As much as I don’t recommend having an affair, I don’t want to pretend that it didn’t add something to my life because it did.

It’s okay to be honest about that.

Feature Image: Getty. 

This story originally appeared on Medium and has been republished with full permission. For more from Shannon Ashley, you can find her here.
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