couples

'My married lover left his wife for me. Then I got pregnant and he left me too.'

I’ve done a number of stupid things in my life. Becoming a married man’s mistress is certainly at the top of the list.

The best way I can explain it is that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with a completely ridiculous mindset. Which, of course, is the absolutely right mindset for making terrible choices. Like getting involved with a married man.

At the start of 2013, I was battling a significant bout of restlessness. I’d lost weight and ended an engagement to a guy I’d been seeing for more than five years.

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Everything was terrible, yet strangely promising too. I saw that I’d wasted (or lost) all of my twenties to depression, and I didn’t want to lose my thirties in the same way. I desperately wanted to move forward and “be happy.”

At that point, I knew I wanted to leave my office job. I dreamed about moving away and starting a brand new life. I dreamed about writing for a living. But I was completely clueless about exacting any real change.

In early February, I ran across a fledgling, but inspirational Facebook page. This was during the occupy movement, and the page aimed to bring Christians and atheists together in a productive way. I still saw myself as a Christian in those days, and I really liked the dynamic the group was trying to achieve. I also really liked the guy who ran the whole thing.

He was a very good writer, and I was impressed to see someone my age who still wanted to make a difference in the world. “That’s the sort of man I want to marry,” I thought to myself. And I thought that was that, but it wasn’t.

The guy who ran the Facebook page seemed to be taking an interest in me. He posted to my wall, saying he thought I might like a blog post he’d written. I did like it — I loved it . I was also too flattered to realise he was really just looking for constant attention.

A few days after he began posting to my wall, he privately messaged me. I was surprised by how direct he was about wanting to get to know me and begin a relationship. To me, he seemed very charming, and at that point I was unaware of many of my own shortcomings in relationships. I took everything he said to me as truth, and I very quickly began to see the attraction between us as “kismet” or everything I thought a good romance should be.

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That first evening of texting escalated quickly into all night sexting, which was completely out of character for me. The next day, he initiated phone calls and Skype.

An otherwise healthy person would have understood this relationship was doomed from the beginning. My mind was not healthy in those days. I knew I found every interaction with him strangely addictive, but I didn’t look back or register any of the (many) red flags. It was as if I had simply decided our connection had to be genuine, and so I believed that it was.

“Do you want to watch me get off?” he asked me early, and out of the blue.

I didn’t know what to say at first. A huge part of my dissatisfaction back then was the fact that I’d been raised so sheltered and fucked up about sex that I couldn’t have intercourse without physical pain. There were aspects of a full sex life that still made me nauseous, so when this man on the internet (whom I actually liked) made it his mission to have a sexual relationship with me, I was equal parts put off and under his spell.

After my initial hesitation and his continued prodding, I once again said yes and didn’t look back. This would happen throughout our relationship, but after a few days of our 0 to 60 online connection, I had to clear the air.

“Are you married?” I asked him over a text.

“Unhappily, yes,” he replied. With a sad face emoji.

I was annoyed. It was such a stereotypical answer. And then we had the conversation about why he didn’t just get a divorce if he was so unhappy.

It was the usual, non-creative explanation. Kids. Money. Feeling ashamed of what others would think of him. Shame at failing.

Then, he gave me this whole sob story about getting married too young and how his wife pushed him into having children right away. The demands of Christianity and purity culture made an appearance in his tale, and I have to admit I felt sorry for him.

It’s not like his story truly held water, but I suppose I wanted it to. I wanted all of my feelings and the inexplicable chemistry between us to mean something real. I didn’t want to go back to my solitary life. I made the (terrible) life-changing decision to keep going and see where our relationship might lead.

Much of our relationship could be characterised by my willingness to be this man’s ride-or-die partner. It’s easy to look back on it all now and think, wow, that was f*cking stupid. But in the thick of all the feelings, there was this strangely addictive quality to my own destruction.

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He told me, really quite plainly, that he didn’t want to be alone. That if he was going to finally leave his wife he needed me to be there or he’d fall apart.

He wanted to leave his wife, and he kept pushing me to move closer to him. I told him I wasn’t comfortable moving until I had a job lined up and more money in my savings account. I didn’t have a car or driver’s license, so I also needed to more carefully consider the logistics of a cross country move.

Often, I felt myself living in this weird sort of limbo. Did I really believe that he was going to leave his wife? Did I think it would be so easy or that we would remotely “work out?” I’m not positive what I thought beyond the idea that I’d never really know unless I stuck with him to find out.

Ironically, I was in therapy at the time, though I was incorrectly diagnosed and simply treating my depression back then. I remember telling my therapist how I struggled so much to know when to trust a partner that this time, I was going by his willingness to start a new life with me. That was my proof of love, I thought. That’s how I’d know it was real.

A wiser person would have understood he only wanted to use me. He thought it was sexy that I lived alone, child-free, and supported myself financially. He held a grudge against his wife for not contributing any income, while managing all of the money.

Early on in our affair, I showed him that I was willing to play the patsy. He pushed me to meet him in real life in a way most convenient for him. The trip required me to flying to where he lived. I paid for everything, of course, since his wife controlled their money. Not just my plane tickets and the hotel room, but also our food and entertainment.

A lot of different red flags cropped up along the way, but once again, I didn’t want to pay them any attention. I was selfish and I was stupid — there’s no question about that. There was no good reason for me to make any of these choices. There were only explanations, all of which were based upon my own flawed logic from the start.

Naively, we planned to get our shit together by early July. You don’t need to tell me how awful or calloused that was because I know. One of the things about having an affair is how good you get at rationalising your bad moves. I felt guilty about dating a man with a wife and children, but not guilty enough to quit. I pushed a lot of the guilt away by reasoning that everybody deserved to be happier, including the rest of his family.

When you’re addicted to bad love, you’ll tell yourself anything to make it seem “okay.” Just a week after we met in person, however, he abruptly left his wife. Forget July — it was still May. I was shocked because that meant it was “really happening,” and I wasn’t ready in the least.

“Shannon, where are you?” he complained woefully. “You said you’d be here so I didn’t have to do this alone.”

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I was so perplexed by his attitude. Perhaps I should have been happy that my married boyfriend was actually making moves towards a legal separation. But he didn’t seem to care that I didn’t have a job lined up, and from what he told me, all he’d said to his wife was that he wanted a divorce.

“She’s going to find out about me,” I warned him. “And it’s going to be so much worse if you keep trying to hide our relationship. You need to come clean.”

But he wouldn’t budge. He thought he could control the story, and just wanted me to figure stuff out and get down there already. So, he borrowed money from his mum and came to spend the weekend with me.

Maybe he wasn’t consciously looking for a Sugar Mama. For all I know, he might have really believed he loved me. But after leaving his wife, he needed somebody who would help foot the bill for his new life. All of his money was tied up in the divorce, alimony, and child support.

Over the weekend, he kept telling me how much he wanted me to be there with him. How he couldn’t stand to be going through his divorce alone. I felt like I had somehow let him down, despite the fact that he was making his own decisions without my input and then expecting me to instantly get on board.

It occurred to me that if I didn’t move right away, we wouldn’t end up being together. I asked him if I could just ride back down with him. Apparently, I really was committed to this thing whether or not it was a sinking ship. He agreed that I should come with him, so, I abruptly moved and left virtually everything behind in my apartment.

We’d only been on the road for a few hours when he picked up his cell phone and began calling ex-mistresses to tell them that he’d finally left his wife.

My heart fell. We were supposed to be starting a new life together yet here he was nonchalantly reaching out to exes on speed dial. I don’t think I said anything, but silently, I vowed to be a great partner and make him happy. I was in that deep.

We lived together for about six months. When we were really broke we washed our clothes in the motel kitchenette and dried them in the oven. I spent every dime I had on our life together, and I began working for T-mobile that summer.

Once I began making money again, we got an apartment and I understood why his wife handled their money. He was really difficult about budgeting and complained constantly. It was exhausting.

Even so, I was there for him throughout his whole divorce. I listened when he vented, held him when he cried, and just stayed out of the way when he and his ex-wife fought on the phone for hours at a time.
Coincidentally, I had a terrible time adjusting to my new life . As much as I adored him and loved building a life together, I was very lonely and isolated. Aside from him, there was nothing there for me.

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I was often cooped up while he was at work, and when he came home he didn’t want to go anywhere because he was tired. on the weekends, he still didn’t want to go out because he didn’t want any of his wife’s friends to see us around town.

I could tell he didn’t understand what I had to be depressed or anxious about. I often woke up in the middle of the night feeling far away and distant, though I couldn’t explain why. He was quick to remind me that he was the one going though a difficult divorce. Not me.

As if me uprooting my entire life to be with him was nothing.

October rolled around and I hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks. He suggested I get a pregnancy test and it was positive. On some level, I knew that having a baby put our relationship in real danger. After all, he wasn’t with me to start a second family.

Our time together had been peppered with his constant comments about how great our life was because we did all the stuff his wife wouldn’t “let him” do. I always took that to mean movies, concerts, and last minute trips — things we could do because he was an every other weekend dad.

He didn’t want a baby.

His initial response to my pregnancy confirmed my suspicions. He wanted me to have an abortion, but he was unwilling to drive me to the appointment himself. Instead, he was contacting a guy friend whom I’d never met, to see if he could drive me. He said he couldn’t emotionally handle the burden of another child, and that he didn’t want to upset his kids and ex-wife either.

I think he considered everyone else’s feelings except mine.

Personally, I was on the fence about all of it, which also irritated the hell out of him. The way I saw things, I was screwed because if I had the baby, he wasn’t going to be the “great dad” everyone said he was. Living with him for six months clued me into the reality that at best, he was probably a fun dad. Sometimes.

I’d had six months to discover that the man I fell so hard for was pretty damn selfish and that he seemed to need me to fill a very specific role in his life. Getting pregnant messed all of that up.

Although he “changed his mind” and decided we should have the baby, he was never fully on board. And the pregnancy was incredibly hard on me. I suffered from extreme prenatal depression and anxiety along with excessive nausea. My history with PCOS and precocious puberty also made the pregnancy high risk.

As a result, I couldn’t keep working for T-mobile. My obstetrician agreed, but my partner flipped out. He wanted to know how we’d make it financially if I didn’t go to work.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “We probably need to apply for government assistance, at least temporarily.”

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My married boyfriend left me early on in the pregnancy, in mid-November. Just a day before, he picked up $5,000 from his great grandmother, an annual Christmas gift that he asked to get early that year.

We stayed together for just one week after his divorce was finalised. One week. Any uncertainty I had about him using me dissipated that day. It was pretty clear that I was only worth keeping around if I made it financially worth his while.

Mamamia’s award-winning podcast The Split discusses navigating separation and stating over. Post continues below. 

Unfortunately, a bad love addiction isn’t something you immediately get over just because it’s over. If I’d been in a healthier state of mind, maybe I would have been more outraged than heartbroken, and perhaps I could have let that anger remind me that I deserve more from my romantic relationships.

But in all honesty, I allowed this guy to use me from day one. I cruised past every red flag, and I taught him how to treat me. Like trash. Toward the end of our relationship, we actually began to argue just because I didn’t like how he treated me so differently from the other women in his life.

As much as he complained about his ex-wife and former mistresses being “alpha and demanding,” he feared what they thought about him much more than he ever worried about me. I realised that other women in his life fought him and stood up for themselves. I didn’t. Instead, I strove to be as kind, loving, and forgiving as I could possibly be. Even to my detriment.

I wound up making myself his doormat and in the end, he didn’t respect me. If anything, he held ridiculously unrealistic expectations for me. When I began to speak up and voice opinions contrary to his own, he accused me of letting him down.

“You were supposed to love me unconditionally,” he said. Like I’d failed him. In his eyes, my love was conditional if I dared say that he’d hurt my feelings or that I disagreed with him.

Most of those disagreements began in August, when I found out that he was cheating on me. It wasn’t loving enough to stay with him, try to forgive him, and attend his therapy sessions like he requested. The fact that I’d had any pained reaction or suggested some accountability on his part was seen as an act of betrayal.

So, it seems that my failure to keep making money was the last straw. Though I supported him through his divorce, he could not support me through the pregnancy.

“I don’t want to end up homeless,” he said when he ended things. Sure. Better he have a home than his baby mama, I suppose.

In fact, he would later tell me that I’d “done nothing” for him when we were together. After all, it was my choice to leave my life behind. I guess every time I’d paid our bills, made his lunches, and been his partner on anything he needed was all discounted since they all represented my choice.

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How silly.

Though to be fair, there’s some truth to what he was saying. Very early on, he showed himself to be ungrateful, entitled, and manipulative, but I chose to stay, hoping that loving him unconditionally would help him be a better, kinder man.

With enough love, I mistakenly believed that he could find the courage to finally live an outer life that was fully congruent to his inner life.But that didn’t happen. Not with me.

This week marks seven years since I got on a plane and met the man with whom I was carrying on an online affair. For a long time, remembering what happened between us was incredibly painful. Some days, I was angry. On others, I was ashamed.

Our relationship left so many more marks on me. It was deeply personal and I wouldn’t have made such reckless choices for just anyone. But it was remarkably different for him. One of more than a dozen affairs — now I finally understand that I could have been anyone. I wasn’t special or unique; I was just the woman he used to leave his wife.

There are benefits, though, to being the person who’s been impacted more by a toxic relationship and terrible breakup. Our relationship changed the trajectory of my entire life. It made me a mother, and gave me a new reason to be brave. Just to be the kind of mum my kid needs 24/7, I’ve had to rise to the occasion to be that person.

It even gave me the courage to finally write for a living. I think that’s something to be grateful for.

Plus the fact that healing from this awful, rock-bottom point in my life helped me finally learn how to be happy without a romance. If I’m honest, I was addicted to the drama of bad love. And I had all of these mixed up ideas about love needing to be something that hurts.

It’s so strange to come out of that stupor and realise there’s so much more to life than getting caught up in bad love. And frankly, it’s freeing to discover that I don’t have to be the girl men use. I used to let them dictate who I could or should be. These days, I gladly live my life on my terms without longing for a partner, and I am relieved to find myself in charge of my path once again.

I’m even able to live with myself and the fact that I’ve done stupid such things in the past. And I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned from being used, because I’m not likely to fall for the same damn thing.

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

Feature image: Getty.

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