I remember it so clearly: we had gone for drinks after work, under the guise of it being a wind-down from a busy month-end. But we were the only two there.
The chemistry between us was palpable, and to a trained eye, it would have been clear as day that we were treading some dangerous ground: accidental touching, sitting close together and sharing secrets.
He drove me home and as we sat in my driveway, there was very nearly a crackle in the air between us. After much stalling and hesitating as we talked about work and clung to when we would see each other again, I finally went in the house. As I closed the door behind me, I sat on the steps that led to my suite and breathed deeply. I made my way up the stairs and dialed his mobile number. When he answered, all he said was, “Don’t ask me to come back, because I will.”
We were both in relationships with other people. This was the edge of something very dangerous.
Nothing really happened, but a lot happened. The chemistry and my own curiosity got the better of me. I acted in a way that shattered some of my life apart at the time.
I know exactly how it happens: this starts out innocently enough and with the best of intentions. You’re friends, and you think it will always stay that way, but if you’re like I was, you’ll start to love the attention. It made me blush in the shadow of a relationship that had long-grown familiar and in which I felt taken for granted and unsupported. The temptation became too much to ignore.
Yes, I cheated on my partner. And while it was so delicious to give in to what I was feeling, it also really sucked. I hurt someone who was really important to me, and I pushed the boundaries of his integrity and patience. We eventually worked past it and went on to get married and have a mostly-happy life together, but it took a really long time for us to recover. Luckily, we both looked at the whole thing as a wake-up to what we had let happen (and slip) between us.
In the end, my coworker and I made a clean break: I promised my partner I’d have no more contact with him. We had to stop talking to each other; the transfer he took to another office helped with that.
I’ve heard people say “we’re just friends, nothing’s going to happen” – and on that, I call bullshit. No, there was no actual intercourse. But if, at the beginning of the entire ordeal, I had described my feelings in honest detail to my partner, he would have asked me to put an end to it – right away. It would have felt like betrayal to him to know that this other man was the person I was most excited to see each day, that I thought of him as I went to sleep, and had given him a piece of my emotional real estate.
And that is always the test. Would your partner consider it as cheating?
I am telling you all of this so that you will remember two things:
An interest in someone who is not your partner, when you have agreed to be monogamous, is only truly innocent if your partner agrees that it is. Much like someone who has had a few drinks and is deciding whether or not they can safely drive, you are unable to tell from inside the lovely flirty cloud if it’s inappropriate or not. If you are at all in doubt, ask. I had an emotional affair that fortunately did not destroy a very important relationship, but from my fractured-and-at-the-same-time-loving-it place, I couldn’t see the impending crash.
And if you heed none of this, know that it’s not a matter of if your partner finds out, but when. Don’t you perhaps owe this person you have built a life with the respect of knowing where you are at emotionally before anything happens.
An affair, however it plays out, can be a wake-up call, and you get to figure out what you’re being woken up to. If you find yourself in this situation, it’s your opportunity to see what it means for your relationship. I know a happy and monogamous couple who take a relationship pause when one of them tells the other that they have considered cheating. (And it has happened more than once.) They take the opportunity to dive in together and re-commit to what is so important to them both.
Affairs, or the temptation to have one, don’t have to end everything. They’re a symptom of what’s happening in your relationship (an important distinction) but what’s missing between the two of you. You can let temptation be a wake-up call to reconnect.
Some of my favourite clients have been tempted and had the bravery to bring it up to their partner so we could fling it all out on the table and really look at it. Of course we’re all tempted, but it’s what we do that really matters here.
If you find yourself nodding along, or wondering about your own relationship, maybe it’s time for a tune-up to see where you’re both at. I invite you to take advantage of the 90-minutes-free-with-me I offer because I can help. I can. Here’s the link to book.