An affair outside an intimate relationship is one of the most traumatic events a couple can experience. Besides the violation of sexual exclusivity, betrayal of trust becomes a raw wound plaguing the relationship. Yet, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, 25 per cent of couples in long-term committed relationships experience infidelity. This makes understanding the anatomy of an affair vital. This mail I received from a thirty-two-something man, working in IT at an MNC, living in our capital city, Delhi, offers great insights into how do affairs begin and how they end.
Let’s call him Tarun. From what came in the mail, I could tell he earned a decent salary, was well-mannered, and overall a regular good guy. Tarun, like most metrosexual men today, had had his fair share of dating and heartbreaks before he found the one. That was three years ago.
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Understanding The Anatomy of An Affair
He wrote: It was my bachelor party. My single friends teased me – my freedom would be over; chains and balls, that’s what marriage is about; a life of restraint, that’s what you’re headed for; and so on. I just smiled within. She was the woman of my dreams, and I was going to be with her for the rest of my life, what more could I ever want?
Wasn’t marriage the most significant relationship in our lives? I looked at two of my cheating friends present at that party. From the state they were in, it was clear that the consequences of affairs were far from pleasant. One, whose affair had been exposed a month ago, and the other, whose biggest concern was keeping track of the lies he was telling on both fronts.
The former was on the brink of separation and was seeking counselling. They seemed to be morally inferior. The image of my girl flashed before my eyes, and a deep wave of righteousness swept through me. She would never be in the shoes of their wives!
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‘It won’t happen to us’
My girl was smart, sexy, educated and had a decent job. She worked at a corporate law firm nearby. We had accidentally crossed paths many a time at the local CCD and felt that we somehow destined to be together. Even though we decided to take things slow, by the end of six months, we both knew that we made for each other. We had similar designs on life, both of us wanted to travel the world and adopt a child sometime in our forties!
She doted on me. I was crazy about her. We completed each other.
I entered the zone of marital bliss – content with monogamous sex, sharing of vulnerabilities and promising to protect and look out for the other. The lovemaking sessions were profoundly fulfilling. Now that I look back, I can say that the heightened romance made monogamy feel like a breeze! I remember asking some of my friends: Why would anyone ever want to cheat?
Trouble in paradise
About two years down the road, the scenario had changed considerably, not with any significant leaps but, instead, in tiny inconsequential bits. Romance paled as familiarity and job pressure grew. The sex cooled down with been-there-done-that, literally! TV shows became a regular dinner companion, and Sunday outings followed a clockwork routine.
We held on a little more to each other’s minor irritants. Something we previously used to dismiss as nothing, the little quarrels that had led to great make-up sex, got not-so-great as well. Nothing was terrible per se; just that nothing was inspiring either. Life chugged along with quotidian humdrum regularity.
But we had become a unit, in the real sense of the word. We took big and small decisions together and were each other’s safety nets. The biggest thing was the peace and comfort that our home gave us. Life was good, even if a tad annoying.
Our sex life, however, took the worst hit. The more unhindered we turned with each other, the less exciting the sex became. We had settled in our cues of the ‘yay’ days and the ‘nay’ days and accepted that without much ado. During her ‘nay’ days I resorted to masturbation and sometimes sneakily watched porn. Perhaps she did the same.
On ‘yay’ days I liked our routine sex too, but not as much; from long romantic sessions they had, more often than not, turned into quickies.
And we kept up with the prescribed numbers! Yes, it is funny, though we do not talk much about sex, we do have a specified number of times it is ‘normal’ for a couple married for two years. In case you are wondering, it was twice a week.
How do affairs begin?
A lot has been said and written about how do affairs begin. The key takeaway is essentially the same – an affair, no matter how fleeting, always takes root in the soil of a relationship. The couple is significantly out-of-sync and both partners are either unwilling or unable to acknowledge and resolve their difference.
They perform the task of sweeping issues under the carpet in perfect harmony and the distance grows, making room for a third person to step in.
That’s how affairs begin, and that’s exactly what happened in Tarun’s case:
She was a trainee, almost a decade younger, pretty, sincere and eager to learn from her ‘boss’. What a delight it was to be her mentor! She blushed when I paid her a compliment, and she took extra care of her boss’s coffee time and remembered that I liked mine a little louder.
She made me feel like a king. It was during one of the office parties when, under the influence, I held on to her hand a little longer than required. That night as I jerked off at home, I thought about my trainee. The small romantic venture, with her in my head, was exciting.
I began fantasizing about her during the ‘yay-day’ sessions with my wife.
I was more passionate, and it improved our sex life immensely. When one thinks about the consequences of affairs or even the thoughts of potential infidelity, the idea of it actually helping a relationship is seldom entertained.
Thank god no one is privy to what goes inside our heads! I found the experience to be thrilling once again. I began to take care of my office clothing and maintained a three-day stubble. Everything seemed in sync, my work life, my home life with the wife, and the other with the trainee within the realms of my fantasies!
The blurring lines between fantasy and reality
And then, one day, just like that, without much fanfare, the thought became relentlessly compelling – what would it feel like to hold her in flesh and blood. I knew her scent, and I wanted to sniff it from close quarters. She was enamoured too, I could tell.
I felt stuck between wanting monogamy while also wanting to know what the trainee would feel like in my arms!
I loved my wife, but I also felt this slight anger against her. Was she not the reason behind my entrapment? The passion I saw in movies and had once known with my wife could return with the trainee! And my single friends’ boasts of their conquests did not help. I could tell them too, the thrill which was within my reach, limited only by my inaction. Cheating became more and more tempting.
It came to fruition as most workplace affairs do
Then it happened. I acted on my instincts. It unfolded just the way most workplace affairs do – you’re away from home for work, she’s there too, you’re staying at the same hotel, the atmosphere is relaxed, there are no strings holding you back…
We were at an outstation conference, and I was under-the-influence once again. Inhibitions were down, Kishor Kumar songs set the mood, and she looked gorgeous in a metallic red sari. When I invited her to my room, I was sure I would stop at kissing . . .
The moment she left, I held my head in my hand. . . How could I have done this? It is like in the moments leading to it. I could not think straight or think of anything else except you know. . .
I loved my wife, and the trainee meant nothing to me. It was not as if this was one of those intense emotional affairs that put the future of a relationship in jeopardy. But what would this do to my wife, if she found out? I felt guilty and anxious after the first transgression but had gotten away with it. Yet, the thought ‘are all affairs discovered?’ kept gnawing at my mind.
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How affairs usually end?
With that thought, I decided never again. Isn’t that how affairs usually end? What had with the trainee didn’t even qualify as an affair. It was more a one-time transgression where my fantasies took the better of me. I loved my spouse and did not want to lose her because my body was craving sex with another! So, I tried to push this episode behind me and treat it as if nothing had happened. Primarily because it did not mean anything. I was drunk and it happened.
Decoding The Consequences of Affairs
Tarun’s email ended here. We exchanged many more. We went to the beginning, sometimes to the night. In many emails, he spoke of his deep sense of shame, cheating guilt and the frustration he felt over his lack of restraint. It doesn’t matter how long do affairs last. The act of infidelity opens up Pandora’s Box.
We exchanged many thoughts, trying to delink love from the concept of sexual exclusivity.
What do we do with the monotony that will inevitably come with sexual exclusivity? It’s like one craves for halwa, and the moment one eats it, one falls into despair. The cost against the reward is far more here than that of eating a samosa or cheesecake, that’s for sure! But at its root, it is a craving of the body, right?
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Is anatomy of affairs linked to a need for excitement?
Did Tarun cheat because he did not love his wife or care for her? He said, ‘If I did not love her, I would have broken up with her, right? But I lie and keep this a secret because I do not want to lose her. I want to stay with her’.
Or did he cheat because he did not want to lose her over casual recreational sex? I asked him whether he would be okay with her casual infidelity too. He said, ‘I would have asked her if we could be in an open relationship, but she would have freaked out. Also, I would hate for her to sleep with someone else. Yes, I see it, but I feel this way, and I am getting away with it. I am asking you. Would you not?’
‘Does that make sense to you?’ Tarun asked me.
I am still thinking about it. It has made me wonder though if it is possible to spice up the marital sex life, month after month, year after year – as the lingerie and champagne advertisements claim? Or whether the declaration to one’s partner, when one is in the throes of deep romantic passion that he/she will be monogamous can be taken only as intent at that moment in time?
If an act of infidelity has taken a toll on your relationship, know that couples’ counselling is the best way to navigate this maze of complex emotions. With our panel of consulting counsellors, help is only a click away.