How I Finally Left My 25-Year Affair With A Married Man

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How I Finally Left My 25-Year Affair With A Married Man

I met Sam in 1981 when I was 39 years old and going through a miserable divorce. My husband had left me and our 14-month-old daughter and didn't want to pay even basic child support.

I needed a good lawyer. Two attorneys I knew and respected came up with the same name and same prophetic endorsement: "You two were made for each other." Sam was the consummate fixer and rescuer. I kept asking him, "How will I make it? Will I be all right?" He assured me he could take care of everything, and he did.

I started to develop feelings for him and began an affair with a married man. I'm not proud of it, but I couldn't stop myself from being the other woman.

I knew he was unavailable: a married man with a nice wife and grown children. But I was lonely and frightened — I hadn't experienced a loss like this since my mother died when I was ten — and my heart spoke louder than anything in my head.

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I persuaded him to come to my apartment by saying, "How can you make an argument about how much it costs me and my daughter to live without seeing our home?" Feeble? Sure. But he bought it. Once he was in my bedroom, I reached out and began to unbutton his pants. "Oh no, not that. Anything but that," he said in a soft but somber voice. 

We started having lunch at my apartment, when my daughter and her babysitter were off at a toddler enrichment activity. Sometimes he would take the afternoon off and we’d go out to Coney Island. After we'd been seeing each other for two years, he gave me a custom-made gold and brown enamel ring with "Always" inscribed on the inside of the band.

His wife began to suspect he was having an affair and confronted him about it. It happened to be one of the few times we had quibbled about something and weren't speaking to each other so he was able to tell her truthfully that it was over. She never asked again and he never updated his answer.

My married friends, Arthur and Lynne, criticized me for settling for the role of The Other Woman. But the other woman was the role I knew best.

My father had remarried when I was 15, five years after my mother died. His new wife took an almost instant dislike to me, complaining that my dad loved me more than her. Dad thought if I moved out of the house for a while, she would "cool down" and change her mind. So in my senior year of high school, when other kids went home after school, I drove downtown to a hotel.

Some nights he stayed in the hotel with me; the rest of the time he slept at home with his wife and my older brother. I never did return to my family.

My affair with Sam was like a chance to relive my childhood and try to make it turn out differently.

I had been a successful advertising copywriter but the stress of divorce and single parenthood made it hard for me to devote the time and energy my job demanded. When I wasn't working, Sam always made sure my daughter and I were financially OK. He once told me, "I'll never let you drown."

Family was paramount to him, and in 1987, his daughters started getting married and having children of their own. His family obligations grew greater. There were more and more of them in line ahead of me. He had less and less time for me. 

By 1994, we'd been "together" for 13 years. During the week, Sam still made time to see me every day. We saw each other after work, having dinner and then back to my apartment. My daughter was a teenager at that point so I made sure he came over only on nights when she was out with friends.

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Seeing him always took my breath away. I had never felt such passion or chemistry or such a profound connection with anyone. At the same time I knew that for both of us, our time together was a "time out" from real life. I didn't have to deal with his laundry or his snoring. He didn't have to live with my cat Monty sleeping on his head or leaving orange fur on his English suits.

My therapist told me not to be so quick to trust my feelings. She told me that just because I felt something deeply didn't mean it was good for me. But I loved him so much. Totally and helplessly, the way a child loves a parent.

The cliché would have him be as a father substitute, but the cliché was wrong. I loved him the way I had loved my mother. He made me feel safe and cared for in a way I hadn't felt since her death.

One afternoon in 2009, sitting at our favorite corner table at the Regency, I asked him what would happen if he were to die suddenly. I wanted some acknowledgement that I was important to him. Instead, I got this: "I'll do what I can for you as long as I'm alive. I don't want to discuss this ever again."

I felt like I'd been punched. But more than feeling hurt, I felt stupid. Why hadn't I done a better job of taking care of myself for all those years? Why hadn't I taken any job that came along to ensure that I wasn't so dependent on him? But still, I didn't leave him.

It finally happened during a particularly crappy lunch at the Regency again. As I listened to his constraints and limitations again (no overnights, no dinner at Le Cirque because he had been there with his family), something in me clicked.

The hole in my heart couldn’t be filled by anyone but me. I had to love myself more than I loved anyone else. Even him. Finally, I understood.

We walked out of the hotel onto Park Avenue, and without another word to him, I turned and walked away.

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A.J. is a love and relationships writer.