Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forbidden Grief

I think I loved her.

There, I said it.

I want to put some kind of warning at the top of posts about Elena (the emotional affair) so that Linsey (the wife) won't have to read them. But why bother? Linsey knows everything anyway. I call her Sherlock Holmes because she's so freakin' hyper-vigilant. Over the years she's become a better and better detective, while I've become a better and better liar. The codependent vs. addict arms race.

Back to Elena. It's hard enough for me to express the officially sanctioned emotions, like gratitude or joy or excitement. So I guess I should go easy on myself for avoiding the grief I feel over ending a relationship with someone else's wife. But feel it I must, as I've been told many times by my therapist brigade.

Elena was a sexual abuse survivor, just like my wife. She was hard on the outside, desperate and scared on the inside. Like all the girls I've been drawn to, she was maddeningly hot and cold. One day she'd flirt, enticing me past my boundaries with warmth and danger, the next day she'd pretend she didn't know me. Women like this get under my skin, and I become obsessed with getting through their defenses. I've lived for this buzz since middle school. I've come to view it as my earliest addiction.

I can honestly say the prize I'm after is their trust. I want permission to tease and talk intimately with the most intriguing girl in the room, while other guys chase after the skirts. Yeah, I'm that guy. The one you can't complain about because he's been a friend to your wife, and you know he's not necessarily trying to get into her pants, but you keep tabs on him all the same. Except Elena's husband didn't know, or care, because he was too busy flirting with the girls at his work.

What made Elena different than all the rest? I'd been drawing bull's eyes on women for years, in classes, in choirs, at work. Basically, she was the first one who truly reciprocated. The rest had flirted back, then moved on. They knew that if you let a guy flirt for too long, he begins to feel entitled, possessive. Elena didn't mind. I was always trying to figure out exactly what was going on, what each of us was getting out of the relationship. My answer was: She likes that I pay attention to her. I like that she lets me.

You must understand where I was at that point. I had long given up on my marriage, and more significantly, me. I'd read the books I was supposed to read and tried the stuff I was supposed to do, and none of it fucking mattered. Each time Linsey tensed up when I touched her, every urgent phone call she remembered just as we headed to the bedroom, each little rejection left me feeling more and more repulsive. I must have been a pretty sick person to take all of her shit and conclude it was entirely my fault. Today, when I get paranoid about what she talks about in her support groups, Linsey likes to say “it's not all about you, Eli.” Oh how I wish somebody had told me that back then.

So it was a big deal when the Starbucks girl flirted with me, while I was buying hot chocolate for my son's preschool teacher, who happened to be Elena. (Who didn't like coffee, hence the hot chocolate.) And each day when I dropped off my son, the Starbucks was payment for Elena's affection and attention. And I ate it up. She was tiny (Linsey says “elfish”), Latina, a little psycho, and had poor boundaries – all the things that turn me on. We texted and talked on the phone, instant messaged, MySpaced. Then we each carefully covered our tracks, erasing our call logs and internet histories, so our spouses wouldn't find out.

Eventually it all came crashing down, but I'll have to tell that story another day. I'm exhausted emotionally, because despite my resolve, Elena still pulls strings in my heart. Don't tell me the difference between “love” (the mature commitment) and “love” (the high school feeling) because you know as well as I do that every human being yearns for both. Elena and I both grew during those years, and for what it's worth, she was a beautiful person. We laughed endlessly and she was kind to me when I was heartbroken.

I remember crying to Elena on the phone over a mess I'd made by relapsing. I understand it cost her nothing to comfort me, to tell me I was going to make it. I understand she didn't have to live with me. I understand our feelings for each other were illicit, addictive, destructive, selfish, reckless, and short-sighted. But they were real, and I miss them. I miss her, her voice and her eyes. Most of all I miss her friendship.


  1. I know those feelings. I was close to being there myself after my husband had been drinking for a few years. I was trying to find comfort in someone else since I had none from him. Sometimes, I still miss those feelings.

  2. emotional affair... strangely I never thought of an affair in this way...

    you make me think Eli - thank you for your honesty here...

  3. I'll have to check this out.

  4. Eli, your honesty always amazes me. You know, it is what it is...your grief. Forbidden or not, right or wrong, its there. You have to walk through it to the other side in order to heal. Sounds like you are finding your way through. Be strong.

  5. Eli, I went to TSR earlier, not knowing you were posting here...and it sounds as if you are being true to yourself.

    You are certainly not alone in your circumstance(s), although you may be sort of lonely in your honesty about them.

    Bless you for that, and keep ltting God help YOU work it out. Not easy!

  6. Hi Eli, You have a very captivating writing style. I wish you and your wife the best. I pray that God changes the desires of your heart and that your marriage can be strengthened through this. I, too, appreciate your honesty and sharing.

  7. I understand this post from a similar experience. The thing with an emotional affair is:

    it can always remain comforting and nostalgic to you, the other person so much more interesting and understanding than your spouse for precisely the fact it did not become physical

  8. Holy fuck.

    I know you. Not YOU, but "you".

    You are my husband, at least 3 former boyfriends, and a dozen casual affairs. I'm so stopped in my tracks by what you've written here that I can't head over to TSR right now and read the rest - yet. I'll try tomorrow. I apologize for not being able to do it in one sitting, but my codie recovery has taught me how to see a trigger a mile away and run in the other direction. Before bedtime is a terrible time for me to be triggered. I've had enough nightmares.

    The way you describe Elena.... I am also a survivor of sexual abuse. Added to the other abuses it's just another one of many. C'est la vie. BUT the way you write here "the prize I'm after is their trust."

    ... After I learned of Bowser's addiction, I was trying to describe to him an insight I had just had about the guys I ended up with: "I feel like guys have wanted to possess my joy, my trust - the little, but magnanimous trust - I have in humanity. I feel like I flew up out of the hell of my childhood only to have my wings observed & desired, but once the guys held me the first thing they wanted to do was clip my wings and own my joy. I think you are the same way." To which he replied, "Ouch."

    I will come back tomorrow to TSR, but you have given me much to ponder. I will say (after working in a marriage with my darling husband and recovering SA for 10 years) that I acknowledge your insights. I know it took some work to put these background techniques into thoughts and these thoughts into words. That is recovery at its best.

    Keep it up.

  9. This is exactly what I am going through essentially with one of the men in my life. Great, great post.