Before I started flirting with men at the playground, I wanted to know who these cheating men were.
Logging on to Match.com as an unhappily married mother-of-two was the first real step I took in exploring the pool of available men. I knew what I was looking for: someone like me — divorced or on the brink of it, with a strong libido and no huge desire for commitment.
I entered a search query for men who were 30 to 45, divorced, and living within 10 miles of me.
Looking into what else was out there served another purpose for me: I wanted to see if there were normal men who had also made a bad call with their marriage and had the guts and strength to pull the plug and start over again. I wanted to see what those men looked like. In all honesty, I hoped they looked good.
Imagine my disappointment when my search results yielded the exact opposite of what I was looking for. Overweight, balding men, many of them with decorative facial hair, filled my computer screen. I didn't want to have sex with any of them. After a brief perusal I logged out of the site and quickly forgot about it all.
More recently, in the past few months, I was the most unhappy I had ever been in my marriage. I felt hopeless and I stopped caring. I disliked my husband, but I was also wary of starting over and being alone.
So I came up with a plan: What if I could meet someone else while married? That would make it much easier for me to break up with my husband, knowing that there is someone else out there that I already liked.
Admittedly, this pre-meditated course of action is immature and it would be cheating, but I entertained a fantasy of meeting some dad at the playground or at my kids' school, sharing witty repartée, planning play dates and then totally falling for each other (it sounds like a Hollywood rom-com, I know).
But how was I going to meet a married man who might be interested in exploring outside of his marriage? Before I started flirting with men at the playground, I wanted to know who these "cheating men" were and what they looked like.
Was it even worth my crossing that dangerous line into infidelity? I thought the easiest first step was to check out a website I had heard about for married people who are looking to have discreet love affairs: Ashley Madison. (ashleymadison.com)
One night after my husband and kids fell asleep, I visited the site. I was nervous to even enter the site in my browser but my curiosity took over. In order to search the Ashley Madison site I had to sign up for an account so I entered false information and signed up for a trial membership. I eagerly entered some basic search terms, which resulted in a small list of about 20 men. None of them had photos in their profile, but that's not surprising.
I started to read each of their brief headlines to see if I could learn anything meaningful. The headlines were cold, heartless and all about sex. "If you are looking for a hot night, I am your guy," or "I don't want to know anything about you, just meet me at a hotel."
Even though I was looking to cheat, I felt disgusted.
Somehow, my desire to explore outside my marriage seemed more innocent than these men who were just looking for sex. I was hoping to find a nice, confused person like myself. I felt so dirty and guilty even looking at the search results that I quickly logged out and terminated my account, never to return.
These days, I am back from the brink of divorce, but my husband and I still have hard times. I am constantly analyzing my feelings and our relationship, and often wondering if there is someone better out there. But I am no longer scouring the Internet for a boyfriend.
I still find myself checking out the dads at the park or at the gym, taking mental inventory to see how other married-looking people are doing. Is he a single dad? Is he divorced or just no ring? Does he look happy?
When I feel upset in my marriage, I remind myself of a lot of things."Marriage is a roller coaster" and "Relationships are hard" are two quotes that I often come back to. I don't jump right to the idea of adultery.
I also remind myself that I have a great, handsome, fun man and I would be much happier working on what I have rather than jumping back out there and trying to find someone new.
But that doesn't mean that I've stopped looking at the men around me.
This article was originally published at Elizabeth Street. Reprinted with permission from the author.