The Secrets I Refuse To Tell My Man

Self-help for when there are no good choices.

Photo by Hailey Kean on Unsplash things in your life get too shitty, it’ll scare people away. To keep people around, keep the worst things to yourself.

I read a lot of self-help articles about how to make good things out of the bad.

They’re usually written by twenty-somethings who have overcome some challenges. Say, they missed the bus, but they stuck to their guns and waited seven minutes for the next one, and if I just stick with it, gosh darn it, I can make it too.

If only life were that easy.

The self-help advice you never see is the stuff telling you how to move from the unbearably crushing end of the spectrum to slightly right of that. The advice that tells you to jump on the least-bad option before it’s gone. The advice you know to take because of how much worse things can get.

So what’s an example of a least-bad option? Having an affair.

When life is at its worst, the only thing keeping me afloat is my affair partner. His wisdom and reassurance, only a text away, gets me through. I doubt he knows he does that for me.

I doubt it because I don’t share too much of the living nightmare my home life is.

You get used to living with a high level of personal stress, but it hardens you. It hardens you to the people around you and makes it difficult to empathize with them.

When you live with stress, you learn to protect your heart from disappointment. The disappointment of not getting the future you’d hoped for. You protect it from thinking about the future at all. You protect it because getting through the day is sometimes the long-term goal you’ve set.

In the middle of the night, I’ll wake. Hoping to go back asleep, I leave my phone where it is, and turn my thoughts to my affair partner.

Ours is such an unlikely love story that its clichés would be embarrassing if they weren’t true.

We both have spouses with serious long-term health issues. We both went without sex for a decade before looking. We have adult children. Our troubled younger ones grew up after the illnesses began, which explains why they act out.

It feels like we were made for each other and what we have is special. I sometimes think fate brought us together, and it feels as if it was meant to be.

All of which is, of course, completely absurd. There are no fairy tales, but I’m grateful none the less.

I’m a realist who’s never believed in soulmates. I’m an atheist, so I’d never look to any god and thank her for sending me the man I needed, at the time I needed him.

Yet here we are.

If only I could rewind the clock for a do-over. In the darkness, I wonder what our babies would look like. Would they be a good mix or gingers like me? With no illness taking away from their childhood, would they have gotten the time they needed from us to thrive?

How would he and I be together? Would we be in love after so many years? Or would we have grown apart and found lovers, as we have now?

I don’t know why, but something in me says we’d still be in love. I think any lovers we took on would be in addition to what we had, and not to fill holes in our lives.

We’d have money to retire and plan our future together. There’d be no reduced or lost income, and we’d own our home. A home we’d make ready for grandchildren and the last stages of our lives.

Instead, we have little savings, uncertain futures, and darkness. Life has been hard, and as we age, it gets harder. Unless something changes, our futures will be no different than what I have today. As time slips by, the windows and doors of opportunity shut around us.

The only future I see looks like an eternity of today. I can’t see past the now — today’s uncertainty, misery, and dread wait for me each morning exactly where I left them.

Among all of that, my boyfriend is the only ray of sunshine breaking through.

In the darkness, I yearn for his light. I lie and keep my secrets from him, so I don’t extinguish it. I worry I won’t keep his eye or his heart. I fear that my life’s too much for him. I protect him from the worst because I can’t face life head-on without knowing he’s there.

So that’s my self-improvement advice — lie to yourself and those around you so they’ll be there when you need them. And if taking a lover is the least-bad option, go for it.

I can’t face a life of endless todays without the slightest sliver of hope there’ll be a different tomorrow one day.

And my lover is that sliver of hope.

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© Teresa J. Conway, 2020

By Teresa J Conway on .

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Exported from Medium on April 8, 2021.

Author of How to Cheat: Field Notes from an Adulteress, several short stories, I'm active on Medium @teresajconway where I sometimes share my blog posts.

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