What does an affair look like? How do you put a face on that person who has walked into your marriage? I think I am lucky that I didn’t know the actual person. It would be harder to let go if I had a more solid image of what I was letting go. I stumbled on this photo while I was trying to find a photo of a man’s hand on the small of a woman’s back (oddly enough, when you search for that you get a lot of tramp stamps, handgun holsters and anime). Why was I looking for that? Well, let me tell you a story…
I was living on my own, separated from Fartbuster. I knew about the affair. I had been told it was over. I was trying my best to believe that. We were going to a marriage counselor. We were talking about putting it all back together. One Sunday afternoon, I needed something out of the ordinary–I can’t even remember what–so I drove towards Atlanta to hit one of the big box stores. I was parked in a strip mall when I looked up and recognized an Indian restaurant that Fartbuster and I had once tried.
As I was looking at the outside of the restaurant, a couple walked up to the entrance. No, it wasn’t them. Just some couple. But the man was the same build as Fartbuster so he caught my eye more than another stranger would have. He held the door open for the woman, and as she walked through, he rested his hand gently on the small of her back. Such a simple gesture. An everyday kindness.
That was the moment when I truly understood that my husband had had a RELATIONSHIP with someone else, not simply sex. They made dates. He held doors open for her. Maybe they had a favorite restaurant. Nicknames for each other. Inside jokes. There was a relationship there and it was invisible to me but that didn’t make it not real. That’s the heart of betrayal. Sometimes sex really is a crime of passion. But opening a door for someone and guiding her through with your hand on the small of her back? That’s care taking. That’s gentleness. That looks like love.
I sat there in my car for a long time after that couple walked inside. Trying to stay married to him felt like I was swimming against an undertow. Working so hard, spending every drop of effort that I can muster…but pulled under by something I couldn’t even see.
That moment of clarity there in a strip mall parking lot was a gift. I started swimming my way out of the undertow. And I just keep swimming.