real life

'After being cheated on, I never thought I would enter an affair. Then, my ex texted me.'

It was a long time coming even though it happened overnight. I can still recall the evening when my now ex first contacted me to start an affair.

Looking back on it now feels weird and stupid because, at that point, I never imagined that I could ever get involved with a married man.

I naively believed that was a line no one could easily cross, like a built-in boundary. But I was wrong.

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Our affair led to his first divorce and the birth of my only child. It was also a very toxic relationship that impacted my mental health in a negative way. There are lots of different kinds of affairs and not all of them are very dramatic, but ours really was the bad kind.

Like a soap opera at every turn.

Over the years, I’ve had to reflect on what happened and how an otherwise “good girl” even gets herself into such a f***ed up situation in the first place.

She’s lonely.

Unchecked loneliness is one of the most dangerous emotions in the world. That’s not to say a lonely person’s pain isn’t real — part of the problem is that her loneliness is so real it gets in the way when she makes her choices.

Even if she knows she’s lonely, she doesn’t know how to manage those feelings. Eventually, she finds herself saying yes when she should have said no, simply because she doesn’t know what to do with all of her lonely thoughts.

She ducks out before the loneliness can consume her.

She’s got an external locus of control.

Clearly, she’s not the only one, but it’s not helping her one bit. She can’t seem to understand what her life is really all about. In her mind, life is simply what happens to her. Not what she chooses or makes happen.

Maybe, for a brief moment, she gets the sense that she needs to take control of her choices. But it’s like sailing a rudderless ship. She doesn’t know where she’s going and she’s got no clue what she’s doing.

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She says yes when she thinks she can’t say no.

She’s mostly ruled by her feelings.

Oh, girl. No matter how much everybody else tells her not to get swept up with her feelings, that’s all she really knows. Maybe she hasn’t ever had a good grasp on managing her emotions. Maybe she’s got issues with that.

Like a lot of other people, she knows how to pretend she’s not “like that.” But she’s exactly like that and lying to herself about it won’t make her change.

She’s afraid that if she doesn’t put so much weight upon her feelings, she’ll no longer feel anything at all.

She mistakes red flags for roses.

“He’s not who I thought he was,” might be a common refrain, but the truth is that he has already showed her. She just didn’t want to believe it. It’s so easy in the beginning to write off the little and big things as proof that he cares.

But red flags aren’t roses and, eventually, her biased vision wears off. “You knew what this was,” he’ll say, or some other glib phrase to excuse his bad behaviour.

She sees romance wherever she wants to see it, and as a result, she doesn’t know how to rule out the wrong things.

She doesn’t know what love is.

Maybe she thinks that true love is a good story. She might think it’s a relationship status that’s supposed to make her happy. Whatever she thinks she knows about love, it doesn’t change what love really is for her. A great unknown.

If she knew what love was, she would better understand when to say yes and when to say no. But she doesn’t, so she finds herself tossed about the storms in the seas of her own poor choices.

She’s settling for less just because she doesn’t trust what “more” really means.

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She lets her relationships define her.

It’s not as if she sets out to do this. Like most people, she doesn’t even think it applies to her. But she’s got this strange idea in her head that she can’t be whole unless she’s partnered up someone else. The right one.

She puts her entire life on hold just to be loved, or to dream of being loved. She doesn’t see how existing in limbo while she’s waiting for a relationship severely stunts her growth.

And then she allows every relationship to swallow her whole.

She’s been cheated on before.

People who’ve had their hearts broken by cheaters often say they would never become cheaters themselves. It seems like a reasonable thought, but it’s also naive.

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She doesn’t realise this until it’s too late. She falls for a married man and discovers that it’s not enough to have been burned before. In fact, that almost makes it worse.

She gives herself an “out” just because she’s been hurt in the past.

She’s got a complicated relationship with morality.

Maybe she comes from a religious background that sort of fucked her up about right and wrong. Maybe she feels backed up against a wall. Even if she was once positive that “affairs are always wrong,” she might find herself oddly committed to making a poor choice work out in the long run.

Complicated relationships with morality often mean doing the wrong things for the supposedly right reasons. Like beginning to think the ends really do justify the means.

She doesn’t want to do bad things, but she hopes like hell that her bad choices will be “worth it” in the end.

She tends to romanticise the sad parts of life.

Her melancholia might have happened organically, but she’s well aware of who she is in that light. To say she’s known sadness is probably an understatement.

If her relationship is full of drama, she feels most at home in the thick of it. She plays sad songs on repeat and thinks that nobody will ever understand the full extent of her pain.

She finds the sad stuff comforting just because she knows it so damn well.

She thinks she “just wants to be happy.”

It’s so easy to make excuses for a poor choice when it’s all for the sake of “love.” Because love is happiness, or so she thinks. But if she doesn’t know what love is, then she doesn’t understand happiness either.

Happiness isn’t getting everything you think you want. It’s not about getting anything at all. It’s about building your own life that can withstand the ebbs and flows of it all.

She thinks she just wants to be happy, but she doesn’t know the first thing about being true to herself.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life about life and love. The worst of those include not knowing who I was before I went looking for love. And accepting the love I thought I needed.

Self-awareness isn’t enough to prevent every misstep, but it’s necessary to avoid a lot of the big ones. And if you do wind up making a real life-altering blunder, let’s hope that you can use it as a hard lesson to figure out how you got there in the first place.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter

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