The Ironic Excuse People Use To Justify Their Affairs

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man looking at sad woman

Why do people cheat and have affairs? It's a question people have been asking for generations.

I thought about this question a lot after watching the lovely 2019 film "Hope Gap," starring Annette Bening and Bill Nighy.

In this film, the "other woman" is only seen once.

When Annette Bening asks the other woman what made her think she had the right to run off with her husband, she replies, "I think I thought there were three unhappy people. And now there is only one."

I had to think about how I would have answered that question back when I was the other woman.

RELATED: 7 Tough-But-Honest Reasons Why People Cheat — Emotionally And Physically

The deeper way people excuse having an affair

I think I would have said, "Even if he left me, and even if I were miserable (and I was), I just wanted this person to know that there was someone who would treat him better. That he wasn’t unlovable, and he wasn’t repulsive."

And here’s where all that woo-woo learning and spiritual growth stuff comes in.

I would hope that bit stuck inside this person from my brief time with him. But, you know, there are no guarantees

For all I know, this man is still hanging his head in some lonely corner, thinking he’s a bad and unlovable person because now he’s hurt me and her. Oh, yeah, and the time-honored, "The family was upset."

You can’t make someone think he’s an OK person because that's completely an inside job

Only when someone doesn’t understand that, does she resort to heroics. Heroics that could land her the kind of support other people have all around her, but she’s had only fleetingly in her life, if at all.

That’s the selfish part of affairs: We’re trying to contract out a piece of personal growth that feels too hard to accomplish ourselves.

Unfortunately, that’s been the demise of many a marriage, as well.

Most marriage counselors will tell you this "personal growth subcontracting" is the seed of many a bad match. The kind that finally falls apart after ten or twenty-nine or forty years, once people have playacted all they could.

The truth is that any relationship can fall victim to this kind of subcontracting and when it does, it’s doomed to fail.

I’d like to think that, because I had faith and showed love, this guy can believe he deserves better. But, if he’s just too codependent and his self-worth is just too low, then I’ve spent six years paying a big price for nothing.

Well, almost.

I look at the expectations I had when we first got together and they were all about how the relationship was going to make my life easier. 

At last, a helpmate who would actually help. Fewer financial worries.

Someone to lean on if I got sick. Someone waaay better at making friends than I am. Someone who could teach me about all the literary classics I didn’t know because I’ve spent my whole life buried in science books. 

Something to write about, and a full life at home in case I sent it into the world, and nobody cared.

Man. Look at all the expectations I was putting on this person.

Is it any wonder he acts for everyone in his personal life, instead of daring to show up the way he really is?

RELATED: Why Do People Cheat On People They Love?

Even I did it and I was supposed to be the person who loved him.

I won’t say there wasn’t any genuine love here.

Over time, I refined my expectations to just being around while this person unfolded and seeing who he really was. I bet that would have been someone I really enjoyed. It looked like it, anyway.

But I realized the wisdom of looking first to see and leaving if I saw deal breakers.

The trouble was, by the time I evolved to that, the person and the relationship were long, long gone. Prince Charles and Camilla, this is not. 

For most relationships, there's no second chance, especially when it was an affair.

The succeeding, painful six years were the ones in which I understood I was going to be accomplishing all the tasks of life by myself, and that I was capable, even if I didn’t like it. 

I was going to pay all my bills myself. I was going to figure out what to do if I got sick and I was all alone. 

I was going to learn how to be happy without other people to talk to and to baby me along all the time. If I really want to know about the classics of the 1930s through the 1960s, I was going to have to look them up and read them myself.

If I even cared that much.

I was going to figure out how to write just to entertain myself. That when I send it out into the world and nobody cares, it doesn’t mean I’m not a good-enough person, or that I need to feel ashamed of myself.

Most people are ordinary, although, sadly, Americans seem convinced that only the high outliers deserve enough resources to live.

I look back at the girl who sat crying in the parking lot outside the restaurant where we always met, and I know she didn’t think she could do any of these things. 

She thought life was all about having a family network to help you do them, and about being good enough to find one.

About finding someone who needed to think he was an okay person, and trading up even-steven.

But a trade like that is never even. Annette Bening finds that out in "Hope Gap" and too many of us need a relationship disaster in order to know that in our bones.

RELATED: 13 Simple Things That Can Trigger An Affair

P.D. Reader is an astrologer and runs Struggling In Or With An Affair? on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.