The Thinking Other Woman

What you should know BEFORE your affair.

So, this is what happened …

Four years ago minus ten days, I got dumped.

Hideously badly, heartbreakingly sadly, worse than I’ve ever been dumped in my life. Worse than I will ever, can ever, be dumped again. (And I’ll tell you how I know in a few.)

I am that Jezebel, The Other Woman in a marriage.

I’d known the man in question, whom I’ll call Chi, seventeen years before we fell for each other.

The strange thing is, I had That Feeling about him the moment we met. All the while we knew each other, casually, in a club we’d both joined, every time I talked to him, not only did I think he was the smartest, most accomplished, most handsome man I’d ever met, but I always felt this jolt of recognition:

We’re going to end up married some day.

Which was pretty farfetched, considering he was married.

He complained about his wife off and on, so I knew they weren’t happily married. I kept thinking, Wonder if he’d ever divorce her? Because he did talk about it once or twice.

If he ever did, I’m the one it would work with. That was what I’d think.

I also met my future husband in the same club, and I liked him in a Why do guys like this have to be married? way that got to feel familiar the longer I was in that club. And he was married at the time, too.

What I didn’t know was, my husband had that same jolt of recognition when he met me. He didn’t get along with his first wife, and he told me years later he’d had that same thought about me: She’s the one it would work with.

Five years after the three of us met, my future husband’s first wife had a heart attack and passed away suddenly, and two months later he asked me out. We were inseparable until he passed away from cancer nearly six years ago; together eleven years and married almost seven.

Around the time my husband passed away, Chi disappeared from the group for months on end. When I finally saw him again, we ended up bonding over something it turned out we’d both been struggling with: Family caregiving.

I still had that sensation: This is the guy. After several nights of chatting away on Facebook long past the hour when most husbands and wives would be snuggled up in bed, I finally typed the question: Where is your wife? Would she be upset that we’re on here chatting on Facebook like this?

Thus began a series of events that made no sense to me at the time, but after four years and a lot of reading, healing, and studying, it makes tons of sense to me now.

Chi began describing his wife’s behavior to me: behavior so aloof, so disconnected, so emotionless, so belittling, I found it truly bizarre. He was in real despair about it.

He took it very personally and believed she didn’t love him. Since he is an adult child of an alcoholic, he’d tumbled into, It’s all me, I’m unlovable, no one will ever love me, about a decade ago — when I first started hearing him complain about the marriage. If she’s the only person who’ll ever love me, and she doesn’t love me, I’m unlovable.

Worse, he’d only ever had one girlfriend, in high school, before marrying this woman, and he had no other relationship experience. He truly thought all marriages ended up this way! My husband and I had had a wonderful marriage and had been very happy together, and everyone knew that, so I suppose he looked at me as a purveyor of wisdom and advice.

At first, I didn’t know what to make of his wife’s behavior, either. I knew if I ever treated a person this way, it would be because I really didn’t love him and was using the … out of him. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with another explanation for what he was dealing with.

So, there I was. On the one hand, I knew I really adored this guy, and I wasn’t just guessing, I knew he was being treated like crap. On the other hand, he was, in fact, married, and I knew he was an adult child of an alcoholic with severe self-esteem problems, who needed to be in therapy.

To tell him how I felt about him, or not?

One thing I did tell him was, he needed therapy. I got back on Facebook after a long trip out of town with the intention that I wasn’t getting off unless and until he agreed to go. Once I got that mission accomplished, I had one more thing to decide: What else to tell him.

One thing finally made my decision: If he stayed with her, and things never got better, which would I be happier with having done? I’d had that dream of riding off into the sunset with him for a long time, but if it never happened and nothing ever changed, at least he could know that someone who wanted to treat him better thought that much of him. 

The other thing I observed was that he seemed so obsessed with her, worrying over every little twitch she made, and he seemed so devoted to his family, I really believed he'd stay no matter what, and it wouldn't matter what I said. I fully believed if I told him he was lovable and that I found him to be so, not only would be believe me because of what he'd observed about my relationship with my husband, but he'd also tell me I was being inappropriate. I'd just have to slink away in shame, having maybe planted the seeds for better self-esteem.

So, I told him.

What I’d sort of hoped for but didn’t really expect: He decided he loved me, too, and that he’d been so unfulfilled in a dead marriage for so long he didn’t really want to save it. He took a couple of months to get some things in order, and then he told his wife, and moved out. We decided we’d have limited contact only, until he was divorced, and then we’d date.

But, things bothered me. Why did his wife act so strangely?

I am the child of a mother with borderline personality disorder. Because my childhood was so chaotic — I spent it trying to parent a mother who held grudges, who felt slighted at every turn, who had pitifully low self-worth, who struggled to master basic life tasks like driving and managing a checkbook, and who devolved into extreme emotional meltdowns, crying and raging on the regular — I spent most of my twenties reading “adult child of” and relationship books. I had learned quite a lot.

I don't think I would have been capable of a happy relationship once my husband and I started dating without that. So, I knew there might possibly be more to Chi’s wife’s behavior than how it looked on the surface. Finally, he related to me something she said when he told her he was moving out that confirmed that to me. I had to tell him then that I thought she might have some childhood issues, too, and that if he wanted to get into marriage counseling instead of leaving, he might be able to save his marriage.

He told me at that point he’d had it, and proceeded to move out.

What I didn’t count on was his adult children and the rest of his family. Chi and his wife had presented such a good front that everyone they knew believed their marriage was fine. The instant he moved out, such a hue and cry arose from everyone they knew that Chi found himself guilted into marriage counseling.

He started out with the intention that it would be divorce counseling, but as weeks went on and he never mentioned divorce counseling in their sessions, I knew.

One night, he called me to let me know he’d finally gotten an emotional response out of her in counseling: She got angry and blamed all the problems in the marriage on him. He felt guilty and was calling to break up with me and work on the marriage. His last words to me were, “I love you, but I can’t do this.”

It was some of the worst behavior anyone could ever go back to, but he’s the unrecovered adult child of an alcoholic. What did I expect?

I at least felt relieved that I hadn’t, after all, broken up their marriage. As much as I adored this guy and wanted to be with him myself, I was never comfortable with knowing I’d broken a marriage up. After hearing how she’d behaved all the way through this, standoffish and telling everyone she knew he was crazy, I knew in my heart things weren’t going to change, and that he’d find himself in the same boat a year from now. On that score, I felt okay with what I’d done.

But, that was where it ended. I was devastated. Devastated.

This is where the pathologically obsessed turn to any source of information they can find. I had never understood attachment theory, but once I stumbled upon the work of Pia Mellody, I realized I’d been right about Chi’s wife. Mellody’s description of the avoidantly attached person in a relationship described her perfectly.

Securely attached people received enough tender, responsive attention, along with enough hugging, holding, and cuddling, very early in life, especially before the age of eighteen months, when we start to record our first memories.

When a child receives this, the parent is leading and helping the child to find feelings of calmness, safety, comfort, and relaxation. When our parent holds us, babies us, and loves us enough times, even when something’s happened earlier that made our parent scold us, we’re learning that life is basically good, and we’re guided to find our own way to this calm, comfortable, happy, safe, relaxed, playful state all by ourselves.

That memory of our parent’s enveloping love standing at the back of our consciousness teaches us to find this state, where we can happily connect now with others, and, someday, parent our own children. It teaches that love is real, and that we are good little children, and good enough people, and we deserve love and all of life’s good things. When we’re securely attached, we feel that bedrock certainty at the core of our being.

In the life of an avoidantly attached person, like Chi’s wife, parents and other attachment figures weren’t available enough when the child was distressed and needed them to reach out with an attitude of love and care. This child gave up on the parents and walled off her own needs for love and care. Eventually this child walled off so much of herself that, as Chi used to say, she came across as “an emotional cipher.” Chi never had any idea what she was feeling, I came to understand as I researched, because she had become unable to know that herself.

Chi and I have the opposite problem. We had parents who loved us … sort of. Intermittently, our parents loved us and acted as if they cared about our feelings, and then — Wham! Suddenly, Chi’s mom would be passed out drunk and dad would be trying to pretend nothing was wrong. And my mom would upset the entire household with a screaming, crying rage that threatened to get even worse if everyone in the entire household didn’t back down and agree with her that she was right about whatever she was screaming about. I never knew when my mother would just take off and drive someplace and we wouldn’t know where she was, or when she would start screaming and slapping herself in the face, or when I’d get whipped with the flyswatter because my ten-year-old self didn’t want to run the vacuum when she wanted me to run the vacuum.

Chi and I grew up with serious, serious doubts about whether we were okay people or not. We grew up feeling inferior, like something deep inside us was terribly wrong with us, and we’d never be happy or loved because of it. Chi and I spoke one another’s language.

But I had worked so hard all my life on my emotional problems. And I had made progress! I had gone from falling in love with people who were so far out of my league they didn’t know I was alive, and never would, to a guy who thought I was okay to sleep with and treated me okay, but would never marry me because I was overweight and didn’t want kids and a house. I was okay to use for a while, but he didn’t love me and always told me that, and after a while, he moved on.

I hit the jackpot with my husband. Despite me being liberal and him a conservative Republican, and despite the typical male/female squabbles over time and housework, we’d overcome all that to have a very happy marriage. Our last two years together were very special. My award-winning writer husband had a tumor in the speech and language area of the brain, and I helped him finish his last novel, correcting grammos and typos and finding his missing words. Together we battled to reach “The End” and get through one first rewrite before the end came, and we got there.

We received word that two publishers wanted the book two weeks before he died. It made for a sad but triumphant end. Surely, if I were capable of a relationship like that one, I must have healed from my childhood, right?

Ah, but here I was now: An anxiously attached person, left with NO attachment figures.

No close friends, no family, my husband and best friend gone, and now … no Chi.

Pia Mellody writes that when an anxiously attached person loses a pivotal relationship, the pain is so intense, it’s truly like no other. People will become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Crazy with pain, people will commit acts of vandalism and land themselves in jail. People will kill themselves, their children, or someone else. Mellody calls it, “relationship withdrawal.” It happens because, having never received that marrow-deep knowledge that our parents thought we were special enough to really care about, we missed that deep, relaxing, connecting experience that all children need in order to be able to find it in our minds in adulthood when we’re alone.

I had been so traumatized watching my husband die of cancer that I was sure the rest of my life was about to come crashing down. I was sure that any day now, I’d get diagnosed with cancer, too. Having witnessed what happened to him as he died, and knowing full well what would have happened had I not been there, I pictured what would happen to me when it was my turn to die and no one was there. I felt naked, unprotected, and all alone. When the next crisis hit, who would I turn to? Nobody.

I didn’t know this was relationship withdrawal. I didn’t know that deep, yawning sense of emptiness now that my husband was gone and Chi was gone, and I had no one left who cared about me, was the gap in myself left by parents who couldn’t love me enough.

I didn’t know how to just be sad and that was it. I thought that with no one left to talk to who loved me, who understood me, who thought of fun things to do and thought I was the only one he wanted along, life was absolutely over. Everything was dust and ashes to me. I went around lost in a deep, terrible, sad, aching, empty hole, every waking hour, for nearly six years.

And even though I had read about it over and over, I still didn’t get that anxious attachment, codependency, and relationship withdrawal was what I was experiencing for the better part of four years after Chi left me to move back home. Instead of committing violence to myself or anyone else, instead of turning to alcohol or drugs, I overate, overspent, and overdosed on attachment theory and relationship books. And kept on missing the point.

I also got into astrology.

To my astonishment, our three horoscope charts and all our transits told the story of what had happened, perfectly. (Details about that are on the Yods tab here.) Everything I read in the books, I read in our charts. And they did something else, too.

They predicted that Chi would make contact with me again in October, 2017. Relationship-addicted me lived for the day.

October 2017 rolled around, and — it happened!

It happened. Chi Facebooked me and we talked a couple of times on the phone.

I got to hear the story of the last two and a half years.

Chi’s wife remained her vague, snappish, inscrutable self all the way through therapy. He said she insisted on going and then acted like she didn’t want to be there. She tried to understand his complaints about her lack of emotions, her deadened walled-offness, and she tried to meet him a little closer to halfway, but she didn’t really understand the reason for his unhappiness or what was missing. He was in the process of moving back into their empty in-law suite. All their friends and relations had punished him for moving out by threatening to cut him out of the family, and he felt bad because they were so upset. He would miss his children too much, he would miss his grandchildren too much. He knew it wasn’t his North Star, but for these reasons, he was electing to stay.

But, could he come back to the club and see me again?

Here’s where I found astrology to be extremely valuable. Astrology warned me about this.

As I followed our transits further and further into the future, months before Chi ever showed up again, I saw this storyline unfold. We started talking again. I knew he was unhappy, and I started working on him again. But you’re so unhappy, you should leave. This isn’t how you should be treated. And in this storyline, he left again.

Eventually, I won, but at a high cost. Three years later, his transits said, You’re trying so hard to win someone else’s approval that you’re agreeing to things you eventually won’t be happy with, and mine said, You’re too controlling. Stay out of power and control. Every astrologer who has looked at my chart has told me the same thing.

Then, three years after that, we were unhappy. Three years after that, he cheated, and ten years after that, we finally splintered apart in a horrible, horrible breakup. We’d be seventy-one and eighty-one. And all through that storyline ran the thread of unhealed anxious attachment and an enmeshed codependent relationship.

And I never would have believed it, if I weren’t concurrently reading Pia Mellody on the consequences of codependency in relationships, and the unhealed dynamic of avoidantly and anxiously attached people ducking and pursuing each other continually in a painful, neverending game of pushmepullyou. I never would have believed it if I hadn't been studying the wonderful videos by therapists Mark Smith and Jerry Wise on the Family Tree YouTube channel.

I couldn’t stomach the idea of ferociously hanging on like a bulldog and willfully destroying someone’s marriage. I knew without a doubt how to win, but now I also knew without a doubt what would happen if I did.

I didn’t want to be that person. Chi’s wife was already that person, and I had hated her for it, before I understood why. So why would I turn around and treat him exactly the same way? The whole point was, Chi needed to learn how to think and direct his own life for himself. If I hung on, I wouldn’t be giving him the space to do that. I’d be moving in and taking over for Chi’s wife, who still directed him in all things, and had their entire marriage.

And I saw one other thing: Weaseling dishonesty. Chi wanted to see me again, “as a friend,” because he still wasn’t getting his needs for love, attention, sex, and companionship met in that marriage. But he was afraid of the social ostracism if he stood up for himself and left. So, he was trying to use me as a way to keep meeting the demands of his family, getting all his emotional support from me on the sly.

Not only that, but I was pretty much the only person this man could be himself with in an intimately personal way emotionally. If he was willing to structure his life so the few crumbs of real understanding and emotional support he could get would only be from me, for an hour or two every other week, he really wasn’t giving himself his due at all. An hour or two of real emotional connection twice a month, when other people go home to a full, steady diet of rich understanding, fun, playfulness, laughter, and love every single night, and carry it to work and everywhere they go every day?

Chi was selling himself way short there. That’s low self-esteem, still, after four years of obviously incompetent therapy, and I wasn’t about to let him get away with it.

But I still loved him, and I didn’t want to let him go. What to do?

I pored over the transits some more. Overwhelmingly, they stacked on the side of me seeing him again in two more years no matter what I did. That helped me out.

I decided to roll the dice. If it looked like I’d get him back again anyhow (and with his wife’s behavior, any sane person would leave), I didn’t have anything to lose by taking the high road. So, that was what I did.

I said, “If I still love you, and you still love me, and we see each other every two weeks, we’ll just end up having an affair. You’re telling me you want to stay married, so, we just can’t do that.”

And he said, “Yeah. You’re probably right.”

We apologized for everything we’d done to hurt each other, said we loved each other, and that was that.

We did the right thing. Instead of coming on here to write, “I was the Jezebel Other Woman who broke up someone’s marriage,” I am now here to write, “We decided not to have the affair.”

That’s not a headline you see too often, is it?

So, what happened?

I’d formally taken up the study of astrology by this point, so I knew what to look for. In astrology, there is a point called the vertex in everyone’s natal chart. When transiting planets aspect the vertex, it reflects either a fated, predestined meeting with someone important in the life, or an important, fated event. This is how my second astrologer, way back in the early days of 2016, told me I’d hear from Chi again in October of 2017.

This year (2019), I have three big periods of multiple hits on my vertex, occurring in the months of January, May, and October. Here’s how it’s working out: By the end of January, I realized I was dealing with an event. Chi Doesn’t Show Up, and I realize he’s never coming back.

As I said, I’m an anxiously attached person, with NO attachment figures. And now I see that my last attachment figure isn’t coming back, and I’m truly alone for real. I have given up all hope. I Am All Alone.

January was not a good month.

I spent all winter sick, lost my voice the entire month of April, felt so grief-stricken I had insomnia and sleepwalked my way through the entire winter and early spring. I ate garbage, gained ten pounds, and made it to St. Patty’s Day feeling like my life was truly over and wishing it was, too.

And that was when it really hit me: This was why. I am anxiously attached.

The whole point was to learn to calm myself down when alone, stop beating myself up over how my life’s turning out, and lead myself to a calm, relaxed, confident, happy, comfortable feeling all by myself.

Finally, I get that.

My May spate of big vertex hits: Another event. I finally, finally, finally reach this state of being all on my own.

I get up and go to work, come home, wash the windows, clean the porch, enjoy the beautiful weather outdoors eating strawberries and cream, make healthy food for myself, and start jogging again. And I finally wake up without this horrible, heavy, dark hole in my heart. For the first time in my life.

I only thought it was gone while I was married, and therefore, I must be well. No — the truth was, my husband and I were so well-matched that I just didn’t feel it anymore. None of that meant I was healed. Now, I hope — I think — I am.

I still love Chi. I always will. I see both Chi and his wife in their flawed, wounded humanness, as I see myself, and I hope they find their way to a satisfying existence for them both.

I hope they do it soon. Sixty years is an awful long time to endure the pain of a wounded, broken childhood, a self that can’t feel its own okayness without another person always there to buoy and baby us up. And that was the whole point of the exercise; to learn to feel for myself, at age fifty, what the luckiest little boys and girls graduate into adulthood naturally able to feel, because they were raised in the milk of human connection we three didn’t get to have.

I don’t know what the spate of vertex hits in October is supposed to be for.

I’ll let you know.