#561: “I had an affair with a married guy three years ago. His wife just found out and rang me up.”

Edited To Add: If you wrote one of the many (now deleted) treatises on The Darkest Evils of The Other Woman And How They Deserve Our Collective Scorn and Hatred, and how they must accept the possibility of violence at the hands of those they’ve wronged as the forseeable fruits of their sins, thanks for the shortest window between posting a thread and closing comments in Captain Awkward history!

I have three things to say to you:

1) Sometimes married (or committed-ly coupled) people who are looking to get laid LIE not just to their partners. “We’re separated!” “The marriage is all but over, we’re just working out the details.” “We have an arrangement where this is all okay as long as she never finds out.” “We no longer even sleep in the same bed anymore.” “S/he’s cheating on me.”

2) This Letter Writer is not responsible for your pain. She stopped behavior that didn’t feel right to her and changed how she approaches relationships several years ago. She apologized to the wife. She read the hurtful, vitriolic email. She doesn’t have to absorb your vitriolic-emails-by-proxy that you couldn’t send to the people who your partner cheated with so now you dump it all on her. Her actual question was “I’m very aware of how I screwed up here and feel really guilty, but also she said stuff that makes me feel scared for my safety.

3) Not cool, guys. Not cool.

Dear Captain,

I don’t know if you can, or even want, to help me.

A few years ago, when I was younger and definitely more stupid, I slept with a few married guys. I was recently out of a toxic marriage and went a bit nuts with online dating. It was a revelation that guys found me attractive after the mindfuck my ex did on me. My rationale for being ok with sleeping with married guys was that their personal lives were their own business and I didn’t owe a duty of care to their wives or families.

I came to change my mind on that and stopped sleeping with married guys about three years ago. Since then I’ve developed two separate ethical non-monogamous relationships with great guys who know about each other and are cool with the situation. Both guys know that I slept with married guys in my past.

My problem is that one of the married guys I slept with has been busted by his wife. She’s also found his list of fuckbuddies, complete with the notes he made of all details he had on them. In my case, that included my full name, where I worked and my email address. She’s kicked him out and is understandably white-hot with rage. To ice that particular shit cake, he’s given her several STDs, one of which has developed into cervical cancer which she’s now battling.

I know this because she phoned me (I hung up on her because I was caught unawares and she didn’t give her husband’s name) and then sent me an email. She wanted confirmation of what he told her about how often we met and when we stopped seeing each other. I confirmed those facts. She then started getting nasty, and descended into vitriol, to which I didn’t respond. It’s been a few days and no more emails but I’m wary about my windows being smashed or car tires slashed. I don’t know how unhinged she is. I’m hoping she’s moved on to his other conquests and will leave me alone now.

I have two pre-teen children and a good job. I don’t want to endanger either of those things. I know that her husband is responsible for her situation, not me. But I was a contributing factor.

I feel very guilty about her situation and wonder what the right thing to do is. Any suggestions?

20/20 Hindsight Regrets

Dear Hindsight:

If it makes you feel better, I have no stones to cast in your direction, only a “Yup, I wish I hadn’t done that either” wince when I look back at my 25th year upon the earth.

Thankfully my Mr. Bad Idea Jeans wasn’t a total dumbass who keeps detailed notes of his extracurricular activities and then leaves them for other people to find. WHO DOES THAT? “Sorry, baby, I didn’t mean to sleep around so much, I was just gathering material for my memoir!

The damage — a LOT of damage– has been done. However, as shitty as her circumstances are, as terribly and righteously angry as she must be feeling right now, as regretful as you must feel right now, if you said “I’m really sorry” to her somewhere in that email exchange then there is literally nothing you can do that will make her feel better or make her life better. There is nothing either of you will gain from further engagement with one another. So you were smart not to respond to her emails, and you should keep doing that.

My prediction is that she will leave you & the other stars of Mr. Unfathomable Shitbeards’s Big Book of Ladies alone once she a) gets it out of her system and comes back to herself a little bit b) as long as people do not engage with her. Lashing out this way takes a lot of energy, and without a response to keep the conflict alive it will very soon seem pointless and not worth it. Anyone who does write back to one of her emails (or a public social media post) has just bought themselves 6 more weeks of unwanted contact.

There are a few things you can do to give yourself a little bit of control back while this spins out:

1) Filter her email address to a special folder that bypasses your inbox. Check it no more than once a month with a trusted friend and a glass of wine at hand –you need to keep anything that comes in to document in case things escalate, but it will be better if you control how and when you engage. If she calls, don’t answer. If she emails, don’t write back.

2) Lock down your social media accounts so they are friends-only. If she has accounts that you can easily find, preemptively block them without interacting — if she hasn’t found yours before now, to her it will look like you’ve never existed. Especially make sure your workplace information and your picture aren’t widely visible to people who aren’t already your friends.

Did I say block her? I meant block THEM. Both of them.

3) Vary up your routines a little. Take a different way to work, park in a different place so your car is less of a target for slashed tires and awkward run-ins.

4) Think through scenarios. How could you respond to someone you know who also knows Mrs. Bad Idea and who is uncool enough to bring it up with you?

  • “Wow” or “Did you really just ask me that?”
  • “I prefer not to discuss this at work” or “I prefer not to discuss it.”
  • “If you know the story, then you’ll know why I’m not keen to discuss it.”

Disclosure of something like this isn’t something you actually owe to anyone, but if you feel the need to elaborate, howabout this:

  • “I made some real mistakes with dating after right after my divorce, and Mr. Bad Idea was one of them. I apologized to Mrs. Bad Idea when she reached out to me, beyond that, I don’t see any good that can come from engaging with her.”

5) Get yourself tested for STIs if you haven’t in a while, since she might not be the only one nursing a nasty surprise from a guy who had so many things going on he had to keep a roster. I will cross my fingers that all is well there.

6) Forgive yourself and move on as best you can. This was more than three years ago, your involvement is long past, you ended the relationship because you realized it was wrong and have made major changes to how you do things that are more in line with your ethics. The dude put his wife at risk, kept NOTES (I’m really never letting that one go – journals are one thing, making your exploits identifiable and findable to others is quite another) and he is really the one who put all of you in this crappy situation. Once you feel safer and more sure that she’s not going to ambush you in the school pickup line, see if you can stop casting her in your mind as “unhinged.” What she is is really fucking angry. It’s easier to be angry at strangers than it is to be angry at the person you share your life and bank accounts with, but sooner or later the anger will all come home to roost in its proper place. Put your anger there too and move on.





60 thoughts on “#561: “I had an affair with a married guy three years ago. His wife just found out and rang me up.”

    1. Diloolie, I just posted my reaction to the whole situation, but I just feel the need to comment on what you have said. I get what you are trying to say, and if this were a current acquaintance judging the LW’s past actions with no relationship to those actions, I would agree. But the impact of our actions on other people’s lives absolutely is our responsibility. Our actions have consequences, and LW is facing one now. It is that idea of “I wasn’t married to her/him so owe them nothing” that let’s people rationalize what they know to be negative behavior. Like it or not, it is not just the LW’s past–in this, her past, the wife’s past, and the douchebag’s past are interconnected.

      She can’t change it, fix it, or make it never have happened. She should not beat herself up forever about this, but it is understandable, and I think commendable, that she recognizes she played a role in this woman’s life, and not a good one. She definitely needs to be careful, save documentation, etc., and see a doctor ASAP.

      1. Michelle, I think there’s a difference between “the impact of our actions on other people’s lives” and “other people’s reactions to your past.” Diloolie was reminding LW that if she faces judgment for her past decisions, it’s not her responsibility to try to change other people’s opinions of her based on something she can’t now change.

        1. I guess I read it differently. I know LW expressed concern with what to tell others, but I read Diloolie’s comment as about the wife, not others. I agree with the sentiment when it comes to other folks.

      2. Michelle, reading this post and the one further down, I realize you are hurt, and I’m sorry that happened to you.

        I don’t like this judgemental attitude to the LW (and other “OW”:s as you call them.) She later decided that having affairs with married men is not how she wants to live. That, to me, is the self-respecting thing to do – choosing to have relationships with those who respect her, not someone who is dishonest, to his wife and probably to the LW as well.

        This does not mean she, or anyone else, has to accept the blame for the cheaters actions. That is just another aspect of a patriarchal way of thinking. Men will have sex with everything that moves, and it is the responsibility of women to make sure that doesn’t happen. When it happens thought? All the women will be blamed, the sluts who are too easy, the wives who aren’t giving him what he wants. By reproducing these lines of thinking we are not doing anyone any favours.

        It is painful to be hurt, to have trust in the one you love break. It is natural to lash out at the person who is not in a relationship with you, particularly so if you still hold some hope of continuing the relationship. It is not right though. Put the blame where it belongs, put your anger where it belongs.

        This is, in a way, similar to the previous post – #559: Does “can’t be in a relationship right now” always mean “…with you”?

        He chose to not be faithful to you, this has nothing to do with other person, no matter how much you wished it was so

  1. Oh hai! I recognize that!

    Only mine has some added weirdness:
    – I called her and told, a year after it was over, because some things are in fact NOT best revealed via a restraining order because one’s hubby won’t stop calling.
    – It went like this: “I hoped I’d never have to have this call, and if you want to chew me out or never talk to you again those are your choices. You’ll never hear from me again unless you initiate that.”
    – Her first concern? Disclosing her STI status. (neither he nor I ever got it afaik)
    – She wanted some details, but once she heard them was done talking. I didn’t speak to her again.

    As a general comment on bad ideas: I worked out my own desire for non-monogamy as a result of this relationship. (Also, that it could be done ethically and that people had a word for it that wasn’t “crazy fucked-up slut”.)

    I wouldn’t do it again, nor would I date him now that he’s available. I wouldn’t worry about cheating, but at some point I noticed that lying to handle uncomfortable personal conflicts was a bad habit… and showed up in other areas.

  2. Yikes!

    LW, I did that once when I was 17 years old. Different circumstances*, but I definitely had an IRL and cyber stalker for a good couple of years. Eventually, I changed emails and blogs and accounts so often that she couldn’t track me down if she tried.

    Definitely follow the Captain’s advice on all of this, but ~especially~ the bits about taking different routes, switching up the routine and tightening up your internet security. And yeah, it would help to see the wife the same way I see wounded feral animals: She’s lashing out because she’s in pain. You’re not the one she should** be mad it, that would be her jerkbag husband and his Booty Livejournal or whatever.

    *We didn’t sleep together until 2 months after the wife had thrown married-dude out, but there was tons of emotional cheating going on beforehand.

    **I mean, this can be argued, but I generally think that the person with the commitment is usually most at fault in these situations. Your mileage or opinion may very well vary!

  3. Dear LW

    At this point there’s nothing for you to do.

    Your ex, her husband, is a rotten fella who wanted to be found out. You did wrong in the past. You’re not doing wrong now.

    Continue on that awesome path

  4. Wow. I have so many reactions to this. Context: Before I married I was in an emotional affair with a man who was in a power position over me when we met. This is relevant only in that I was working with/for him and was already involved long before I realized what it was. My situation changed, in that I moved into a different phase of life where he was no longer in a position of authority to me, but I continued to freelance–this is when communications went from a bit over-sharey an flirty, to very flirty. Things progressed much more slowly in the physical arena–stolen kisses, a grope or two. But I knew it was wrong and ended it–the timing was good for him as well–a close friend lost everything due to an affair. We talked, I urged him to seek a counselor to deal with his anger against his wife–he said I was “special.” Maybe, but I was also the first/almost. Just because I came to my sense and could not damage that family more than I had, doesn’t mean the next one won’t. It’s a slippery slope, I said. Even if I am the most wonderful, etc., the next one, and the one after that, won’t be.

    As this ended, I met the man I would marry. We had honest (I thought) conversations about these things. What I had done, what I had almost done, and why I stopped it (nutshell: mom cheated on dad with a cheat, they both divorced and married each other, blowing my and my sister’s world to crap without apology). He double timed a girlfriend with the previous girlfriend and felt so guilty it made him sick and ashamed years later. When he and I married 2 years later we agreed: no cheating–if you have a one night stand that means nothing, I don’t need to know. You fall in love with someone else, or are just done with me enough to have a full on affair, tell the truth and we part friends. Naive? Oh, yes, but I trusted him completely. Fast forward 10 years, and he is walking out–it is all my fault for various reasons, swearing there is no one else. After a year of dilly dallying, we divorced. A year later I find out he is married to a woman he was accused of having an affair with while we were divorcing–he swore it was not true. I believed him. Turned out it was a 3 year affair and they married less than a month after the divorce went through–and he still denied an affair. Men.

    I provide this as context for the next statement:
    The wife is not unhinged–as Cap points out, she is enraged. But more than that, her life may also be cut short because of her husband’s actions. And the actions of the women who knew he was married but felt they owed the wife nothing. Affair partners are not any less to blame than the cheating spouse. It is time we drop that BS. As human beings, we all owe each other a measure of respect, and part if that is not knowingly engaging in behavior that can hurt someone. Even if the cheater lied and the affair partner did not know at first. When you learn, you end it.

    LW, you say your ex mind-fucked you. What did this dirtbag do to his wife? I get that you grew up, and realized your behavior was unhealthy, but that does not absolve you of your part in this. Any married man you were involved with made you a part of the mind-fuck of his wife, whether it vomits up on your life later or not.

    For the most part, I do agree with CA that you should not engage–this woman’s anger at everyone will become laser pointed at whomever she can get to engage with her. That said, and picking up on CA’s presented assumption that you apologized, if you actually have not, consider it. Even a brief letter with no return address apologizing and admitting you acted selfishly may help her and you.

    She wants details–the how, the why, the when. She will never get them. I know I still want them, even though I have moved on and remarried. As far as I know, this chippie was the only one, but as my ex has proven to be a better liar and my friends to be not that loyal, who knows?

    She also, I am sure, wants to know who he picked up the STDs from. And you should, too. She may be lucky and survive her cancer. I hope she is. But to all the OW out there, this should be an abject lesson in consequences–there is no such thing as an affair where no one gets hurt. It just isn’t always in your face.

    Any woman this douchebag was dumb enough to provide identifying information on, should really be grateful when the enraged wife contacts them with her story, because regardless of who gave the STDs to him, you can bet that if he didn’t take care not to get her sick, he sure has hell didn’t care about your future health.

    I am sorry this has been unpleasant and that you know have concerns about your safety, your job security, and your kids. That really sucks. You should probably avoid ever having to face this woman, but if that does not work out, you need to take responsibility, apologize, and ask her what she wants from you so you both can move on. If nothing else, she will go away while she things on that last point, because all she knows now is she wants to hurt as she has been hurt, and she knows whatever your role or the role of his other OW, HE actively and materially hurt her and nothing you or the other women can do or say, other than validating that it happened, it was wrong, and she has a right to her anger.

    Finally, you are not a bad person, you don’t deserve to live in fear, nor should you become a huge guilt monkey. You screwed up because you were in pain, you needed that attention (that is how I got sucked in), you needed to feel wanted. You seem to have figured it out. Good for you. Now you have a chicken roosting–someday, I may too, who knows? Be a woman about it–accept you made mistakes, make amends as well as you can, and move on. Maybe your story will help some other woman or man think twice before saying yes to a louse of a spouse.

    And please get tested–maybe he was infected after you, but what are the odds? This bastard is clearly not someone you should have to die because of . . . .

    1. While I would never come onto a person in a committed relationship, I’ve definitely accepted advances of people (for purely sexual relationships) who are in committed relationships. I don’t feel bad about accepting the advances of people who have come to that decision independent of me. I won’t initiate or pursue a further relationship, but I’ll take the opportunity if I’m interested. And in that case, should the SO find out, no, I wouldn’t think I was as at fault as the cheater. I wasn’t in a committed relationship, and while you can indeed say I should respect the SO as part of respecting all humanity, I had no special interest or promises in caring for them like their partner did. I also don’t think sex is that important, honestly.

      I won’t do an emotional relationship, because I see sex as a fun physical activity that is easily shared and emotions as potentially taking away or competing with their relationship. But that’s my line; everyone’s got a different one.

      All that to say, LW, I don’t think you’re equally at fault as the cheater. I think if you’ve apologized (and it’s probably the good faith thing to do, at the very least), you’ve done everything you can. And don’t feel too bad. You did something you weren’t okay with; you evaluated your life and morals, and you changed for the better. People do this all the time and sleeping with a married man is not an especially awful mistake to make.

      1. You are right, we all have our lines, and if you are comfortable with yours, so be it. I agree you don’t owe the SO the same level of trust, etc., as the cheater, but you are neither absolved of your action, either, because you know full well someone could be hurt because of your actions.

        Pragmatically speaking, 15 years down the line, if you are like me, and unfortunate enough to be SO who is being cheated on, you will see that you are making a distinction without a difference. I hope it never happens to you, but if it does, know this: your past actions will not mean you deserve this possible future, and you are allowed to feel angry and hurt. I wondered if I did not karmically deserve it, even if my indiscretion was less than some, I still crossed the line, and am no more innocent than people who actually have sex. Emotional intimacy is as bad or worse.

        And it won’t be hypocrisy, because we do stupid things, we rationalize them, and face it, this culture in many ways let’s that rationalization stand.

        But hurt people react, they don’t think, they feel, and the feelings are valid. It is always a mistake for the betrayed to be angrier at the affair partner than at their betraying spouse, but that is not to say the AP doesn’t deserve a measure of anger as well.

        1. If it helps, my dad cheats (cheated? never really sure where their relationship is at) on my mother constantly, and I don’t think it’s the other women’s fault, nor do I blame them. It’s his choice and his actions and the other women don’t really matter.

          I think the spouse has the right to be mad at both people in the affair; I just don’t think they’re equally responsible.

          Sexual monogamy isn’t that important to me, so I doubt I would care if someone sexually cheated on me. Emotional monogamy is – emotions take time and effort and attention and thought. Emotional cheating would be a dealbreaker. Sex can take 15 minutes and be done with.

        2. I think the lesson here, in re: to people who have attitudes like Topper’s Books re: monogamy is, you have to accept that other people will have different values from yours and you can’t expect them to change.

          The best you can do is build your close relationships with, and invest your trust in, people who share your values. Someone you don’t know well or at all might not care about your wellbeing and safety in the same way you do, and that’s just sort of how the world works. But you can do your best to have relationships with people who will care about these things, and follow through on the commitments they make,

          You could attach responsibility for infidelity to the Other Person, but I am not sure it will get you anything productive. It doesn’t matter. What matters is, how will things go forward with the person you are committed to?

          Loving people isn’t without risk, and infidelity is a risk we have to accept. Apportioning responsibility for cheating to anyone but the cheater in your life doesn’t really do much to make the risk less, or less hurtful, as far as I can see, in the long run.

        1. I am not sure what you are asking me. Would I change my stance if my BFF was having the affair ? Absolutely not. In either scenario, if she were the married person stepping out or the OW. I have faced both, and my stance was if you want out, get a divorce first. For the
          OW situations, if he is unhappy and divorces you date him then, but married person will lie to the SO, don’t be surprised if you are also being lied to.

          1. I’m pretty sure the answer was directed at Topper’s Books, according to the nesting.

          2. I think they meant would you sleep with your best friend’s significant other and still not care if your best friend found out and was hurt.

        2. Would I sleep with my best friend’s husband? No. She’s made very clear to me that sexual monogamy is very important to her and I would respect that out of love for her.

          Would I tell my best friend that the real culprit is her husband, not the other woman, if it happened to her and that she needs to focus her anger on him? Yes. (If it was a close friend of hers, that would be a different case, I suppose.)

    2. Noooo no no, DO NOT ask your ex’s wife what she wants or needs from you. There’s nothing you can give her that will make her hurt go away, but there’s plenty of ways she can make you hurt instead. You’ve already done more than enough, answering her questions. Nothing you can say or do now will make it better, it’ll only provide fodder for your ex’s wife’s hurt. Captain was right, it’s time to hit ‘block’ and let her work through this herself, with Team Her.

      1. I agree, wholeheartedly. There is nothing you can give your ex’s wife that will actually help her. Block, block, block.

    3. Ah, I’ve been staring at this response feeling not 100% behind it and unable to work out why, and I think I’ve worked it out. It’s this line:
      ” Affair partners are not any less to blame than the cheating spouse. It is time we drop that BS. ”

      This is rubbing me up the wrong way. I don’t know if it would if the genders were reversed, but combined with the set up of the LW’s situation, it’s smacking a lot of gender stereotyping to me.

      Lemme back up – I agree that in an affair (assuming all parties know it is an affair, not a fling between two singletons/available to party folk) both parties bear some responsibility.

      I think, however, claiming that the other-wo/man bears as much responsibility as the straying SO isn’t true. That logic is based on the line ‘if the Other!person wasn’t up for it, Straying!SO wouldn’t be able cheat, because there would be no one for them to cheat *with*’.

      Which…well, that just isn’t true. These people are willing to break the life long solemn vows they’ve made – or throw away the relationship they’re invested in and building – and whatever family they’re part of jsut to get some Happy Pants feelings. Do we really think they’re going to have any qualms whatsoever with adding lying on top of that if they weren’t able to get any by being open about their marital status? There really isn’t that much subterfuge involved in slipping off a wedding ring before entering a bar. Or, heck, leave it on, and just claim you’re ‘separated’ if anyone asks. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do it. These people would cheat anyway, having sexual partners who don’t care or ask about their relationship status just makes the process faster.

      Claiming otherwise – especially in this situation – feels to me too much like the whole ‘boys will be boys’ line of thinking, where women are told to expect men’s bad behaviour and be responsible for controlling it. LW didn’t break any promises, or cheat on her spouse. Yes, she bears some responsibility for the affair, but this guy was obviously prolific (and…fastidious about record keeping apparently? Seriously, WTF at the note keeping!?), determined to cheat, and completely shameless about it, so claiming she bears as much responsibility as he does? Erm, I don’t think so.

      Also, ‘chippie’ is a gendered slur. Assuming the woman you’re talking about isn’t an actual sex worker (and if she is, just call her that) could we not?

      1. I’m not sure what this says about me, but I swear that until you just explained it, I thought “gee, I didn’t know they still had bus conductresses in addition to drivers”. No, self, that’s a *clippie*.

      2. Thanks for this, helbling. There is so much gendered bullshit tied up in how we think about married men cheating on their wives and it’s good to check our underlying biases. Also:

        “Turned out it was a 3 year affair and they married less than a month after the divorce went through–and he still denied an affair. Men.”

        Pretty sure being a lying, cheating jerk who disregards their partner and their agreements isn’t confined to men.

        Did not know that about the word “chippie,” either, as it’s not one I’ve run across. Thanks for the info!

        1. same, thanks – had no idea of the slur and didn’t notice the “men” bit. I do think the married person is the one who bears the greatest responsibility (regardless of gender). However, I think the AP, if aware of the situation, also bears some responsibility. For myself, not banging or having an emotional affair with someone in a committed relationship is mostly about self respect, I don’t really feel attracted to people who lie and cheat.

      3. Um, “Affair partner” I took to mean the cheater’s “fling”, for lack of another word. Not the cheater’s spouse. Although you made an interesting case…

    4. ” Affair partners are not any less to blame than the cheating spouse. It is time we drop that BS.”

      Nope. Disagree.

      The husband/partner/whatever who cheats is doing something far worse, they’re betraying their vows, their explicit and implicit promises, and the person they’re spending their life with.

      The person they cheat with is just having sex with someone who has such commitments. The two things are not parallel.

      Also I think this plays out in a sexist way, particularly where it is a cheating husband in a heterosexual relationship. The wife often feels a lot of anger, but doesn’t feel able to be freely angry with her husband, because of all the ties between them. She turns it outwards: it was all the fault of that XXXXX who tempted him.

      When actually, no. Cheating is mostly the fault of the cheater.

    5. I think this is a great reply.
      I also question the cut ‘n flee response to the Lw. IT would depend on the wife’s behavior, of course, but I think the Lw could consider an e-mail of sincere apology, similar to what she wrote here, for the benefit of the cheated-upon first, and her own benefit as well. Lw could also clearly state that with it, she is closing that book and will have no further communication with the wife. This could allow the wife to cross that off her, oops HIs, LIsT and move on from Lw to her real problem.

  5. Just to clarify: does Mrs Bad Idea Jeans have the details of the LW’s current workplace or her old workplace? LW mentions not wanting to endanger her job so I’m not sure.

    Mainly I think “P’SHAW! No work place would be silly enough to allow to the unsubstantiated allegations of an employee’s sexual behaviours more than 3 years previously to influence their working relationship! THAT WOULD BE ABSURDLY STUPID ON THEIR PART!” But part of me does worry.

  6. Glad to see I’m not the only one hung up on the “notes and details” thing…

    1. Yeah I don’t know why it is but for some reason I get way more angry about people who do shitty things in stupid ways. It’s silly because I don’t want them to get away with it, especially in a case like this where it’s done physical harm to his wife, but apparently part of me strongly feels that if you’re going to be a shit you should also be competent at hiding it.

      1. Also, dude, if you’re going to keep track of all the cheating you’ve been doing with detailed notes, maybe also keep some goddamned notes on your sexual health as a reminder to go the doctor once in a while, so you don’t give your wife fucking cervical cancer. At least that might have been useful somewhere down the line.

  7. LW, if this guy really did have a “roster” (ugh, gross) then at least his wife’s anger is going to be dispersed over several people and not just pointed at you. I’m guessing there are other people on that list who will engage with her more or whom she sees as “more” at fault (like the person responsible for her STI). I don’t know how many fuckbuddies we’re talking about here, but it would be a lot of work to sustain that level of anger at and continue to follow up with, say, five or more people. Captain Awkward is right, your best means of protection is to disengage and just be a little extra cautious about your surroundings for the near future.

    Just a note because it was mentioned in the response, I don’t see anywhere in the letter where LW said s/he apologized to the guy’s wife. I don’t think it would do any good to reach out now, just wondering if that was edited from the original letter.

  8. Yep, I too had my mistake with a married guy when I was 24 or so. I met him hitchhiking, which had the potential to be a particularly interesting how-we-met story or what it proved to be, a giant risk factor because I had no context from which to assess him. It was a summer fling while I had that summer job. It was the hottest sex I’ve ever had. It made me believe in pheromones.

    His story changed from I’m divorced, to we’re separated, to who knows what. He also had a story about having a stalker that he testified against to explain his precautions about being seen together. He manufactured a fight with his wife so that she’d move out. I moved in for a few weeks. Once I was in the home, I could see that there was a woman in his life. That’s when the story started changing. And you know what, I believed it because I wanted to believe that my faith in him was justified. So I explained away all of the evidence until I simply couldn’t any more. I was able to end it because by that time, I’d found another job across the country.

    I had one more contact with him, when I passed through the area again. I wanted to return his grandmother’s jewelry (or his wife’s???) that he’d given me, which I realized was completely inappropriate for me to keep. I talked to the wife once on the phone when I called him to set up the meet to return the stuff. She figured out who I was, but it didn’t get ugly.

    Oh, and I ended up with HPV after that summer, but luckily not cervical cancer. I like to blame him, though I don’t really know the source.

    I cried a lot at that breakup. Mostly I was mad at myself for wanting to believe his lies. At least you went into the relationship with clear eyes, and you ended it when you realized that this was not something you wanted to do anymore.

    You can’t undo the damage to yourself or the wife. But you did what you could to give her the information she wanted. And the Captain’s advice is right on regarding not engaging further with her as well as getting tested. It sounds like you are being as patient and understanding of her anger and grief as you can be. Take care of yourself.

  9. “The dude… kept NOTES (I’m really never letting that one go – journals are one thing, making your exploits identifiable and findable to others is quite another)”

    I want to underline this until my(metaphorical) pencil breaks.

    1. Seconded. He kept *notes*? Why did he keep *notes*? (don’t answer that, I can think of several reasons and all of them are icky)

    2. Yes. Notes. WTF??! That scares me. Not because of the possibly he’d get caught, but because I wonder about his motivation for doing so. It suggests a profound level of arrogance and objectification of his sexual partners. These women are human beings, not meals at a restaurant.

  10. So a couple of quick thoughts about the whole list/notes thing:

    1.) Mr. Bad Idea Jeans couldn’t keep the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of his fuck-buddies on his cell phone. OK, he could, but he probably would have been caught a lot sooner. Having an address book used to be not all that uncommon, and adulterers would have a second address book. So that’s one explanation that doesn’t suggest blackmail or stalking or foul play, just off-line organization. I’m not saying cheating is right or good, just that cheaters need to keep track of contact information, and all the modern approaches (cell-phones, shared email accounts, facebook) that we used for normal contacts don’t work so well for discretion.

    2.) Mr. Bad Idea Jeans might have had quite a few people in that address book, and having a little extra detail next to each name might remind him who he was talking to, so as to avoid using the wrong name or making mistakes in small talk. (“So are you still working as a bartender?” “I’ve never worked as a bartender…”) Again, it’s plausible and doesn’t require vanity, ego, or sinister motives. Also again, cheating is not OK, and a cheater who has cue cards for his mistresses is still something of a bastard, he’s just an organized bastard.

    3.) The hurt-and-angry wife of Mr. Bad Idea Jeans has an STI, which means he has an STI, and as I understand it, when a person tests positive for STI’s, the doctors recommend making a list of all sexual contacts so they can be notified. If said list were made with the purpose of contacting folks, well, anything that helps contact them with the news they should be tested would go on that list. Phone numbers and email addresses can change, and calling a workplace with “Hey, is X there? Can I leave a message on their voice mail” isn’t the greatest way to notify someone of an STI scare, but it’s better than not trying at all. It would be far more appropriate for Mr. Bad Idea Jeans to be making those calls than his angry spouse, but I’m looking for bright spots, and I’d like to imagine that he made the list with the intention of calling, but his spouse found it and acted first.

    For the LW: follow the Captain’s advice and do not engage! If you want to send an anonymous apologetic letter, or if contact with this person is unavoidable and you need to communicate something to her, please consider the following: she is angry at the person she thinks you were three years ago. She doesn’t know much about who you were then (confused, vulnerable, a little naive maybe) and has no idea who you are now and how you’ve changed since then. No, you can’t go back and undo the cheating, but you do regret it, and you have made sure that you won’t ever repeat those mistakes, and if this person is confronting you unavoidably, making her see you as you are now may help redirect her anger back at her cheating husband.

  11. I think the Captain’s advice was, as usual, spot-on. I don’t agree at all with Michelle when she suggests you ask the hurting wife what she wants from you, just because that’s not really going to lead any place happy for her. I mean even knowing you feel just awful about it all might kind of suck for her, because it would mean life has gotten better for you: that is, you’re a better person in a better place now than you were then. Meanwhile, she feels like her life is in a tragic downward spiral. If she’s a good person, which she probably is, she wouldn’t be made truly happy by knowing you spent your days gnawing on an old bone alone in the salt mines; on the other hand, she’d have to be saint (which she probably isn’t) to feel reassured by knowing you emerged a better person from the part of your life that included having an affair with her then-husband. Like, you are just all-around bad news for her so I’d resist *any* temptation to do *anything* to make direct amends. She’s got enough bad news in her life right now, it sounds like; taking steps to stay out of contact (minus one apology which hopefully you already communicated) is protective of her, too.

    If you feel like making indirect amends of a karmic kind (“I put this much bad energy into the world, so I’m going to try and do some concrete kind of good in the world to atone”) my own feeling is that couldn’t go wrong.

  12. It’s the LW here. Firstly, thank you Captain for answering my email. Lots to think about and I’m putting your suggestions into action. I have been tested several times for STIs since the affair and all results have been clear. I haven’t had any further contact from the wife. Just after I got the last threatening email from her, I copied everything to a close friend and also gave her the couple’s names and all the info I have on them, just in case anything should happen to me. Worst case scenario planning, I know, but I really didn’t know what the wife might do. My friend won’t do anything with the info unless something happens to me. Even though the wife knows my name and workplace, I’m not too worried about repercussions at work as the law in the jurisdiction where I live is pretty clear that non-work issues don’t affect employment. It’s just the general reputational consequences that I’ll have to deal with, if they arise, and I accept that. Thanks to everyone who’s commented. I appreciate and am working through all the viewpoints.

  13. What on earth could he have expected to come of keeping notes on such activities?! Did he WANT to be found out?! Good lord!

    I would block this woman’s contact in any way possible – block her phone number, block any social media, everything you can – and basically act as if she and her ex don’t exist. Protect yourself. She is wounded and hurting, and there is very little more dangerous than someone who is wounded, vengeful, and has a ready-made list of targets. (Seriously, a list? With personal info? What is this guy’s glitch?!) If feasible, maybe change your phone number and email. Keep yourself safe.

  14. I got a bad taste in my mouth at the LW’s use of the word “unhinged”. Because 1. The woman’s not unhinged, she’s (rightfully) angry and 2. Casual ableism much?

  15. Am I the only one getting the “She’s mental and it’s not my problem” vibe from the LW? She feels guilt, there is that. After being on both sides of this fence, yeah, the wife is ‘unhinged’ and when I consider the STD, rightly so. The wife doesn’t know that the LW herself isn’t responsible for her current round of chemo. How could she? Her husband told her LW wasn’t? Right, because both the husband and the LW have been so honest to her so far.

    I understand too well the need to have sex with married guys after a divorce with a horrible spouse. Mine shrugged off visits to an escort service and paid them with my money, having quit his job. I know the need to see if you’re as good as the other woman. There might even be deeper reasons to hurt the wife as a self-harm way, do to her what was done to you. Whatever the reason, the LW knew he was married, didn’t care, and now seems to be blaming the wife for being angry. I suppose battling cancer given to you by a cheating spouse makes a gal very cranky.

    I know all this seems harsh, and I know the LW is worried how all this will now impact her life. It’s valid. But I just keep going back to how this is impacting the wife’s live so much that it literally kills her. It’s just sad.

    1. It bothers me how the STI-talk here goes.

      You don’t give someone cervical cancer. Cervical cancer develops due to many factors, one of them is the STI.

      I totally get that the wife is angry. I also get that when you think you have a monogamous relationship, you think you don’t need to get tested for STIs.

      And I’m also angry at this guy who would keep tracks of his… activities, but wouldn’t bother to use barriers or do a STI-test in at least three years of multiple cheating. (really, what an a**hole).

      But the cervical cancer isn’t the other women’s or the cheater’s fault.

      1. Erm, if someone gives you an STI because they’re cheating on you, and that STI leads to cervical cancer (which sounds like it WAS the case here; no one said that’s always the case)… personally, yeah, I’d be blaming that one on my cheating spouse. Not so much his partners, but definitely him.

    2. Yeah, I’m… not really okay with the demonization of the wife here either. She may be quite literally dying because of the actions of her husband, which the LW also had a part in. I’d be a little “unhinged,” too.

  16. As someone who has been cheated on, I can’t tell you enough what a relief it is to hear the words “sorry” from a woman who has done this.

    Because after it happened to me, I didn’t just felt betrayed by my ex, I felt betrayed by other women and a callous, indifferent world. One woman did the ‘not my problem’ BS, the other has a million reasons why it was justified.

    So I found out that women would participate in my betrayal. That they could see this as an opportunity for personal gain, and that my pain didn’t matter. It was like being pecked at by vultures.

    So being cheated on didn’t just give me trust issues with any prospective sexual or romantic partners, it’s made it harder to make and keep friends. I look at people with such a jaded eye now – it’s horrible.

    I am glad you stopped doing this. I really respect you for seeing this and learning and changing. It’s the first time in a couple of years I’ve felt some hope that not everyone is like this.

    As for what you do now: I really do wish someone had apologised. I am assuming you did that and I guess there’s not much more and you need to protect yourself.

    If it’s remotely safe to contact her, you might give her a thanks for the heads up about STIs, and for telling you, even though she didn’t have to (she could have let you progress to cervical cancer as well).


  17. As others have noted, there’s nothing in the OP to confirm that LW has already apologized to Mrs. Bad Idea Jeans. If she hasn’t, would your advice be different? Engaging now carries certain nontrivial risks, but apologizing would be a decent thing to do. Not that “nice thing to do” necessarily outweighs “nontrivial risks” …

    I’ve never been cheated on (or at the very least, anyone who’s cheated on me has been smart enough not to leave documentation of said cheating where I could find it), so it’s impossible to know how I’d react in the ex-wife’s shoes. However, I do know that when I’ve been enraged about anything else, a good part of my rage has to do with my perception that the perpetrator thought he/she did nothing wrong. Am I naive to think that the ex-wife might feel the same way, and direct her rage against the other parties who didn’t apologize?

  18. LW here again. Just to clarify – yes, I did apologise in my first email to the wife. Using the word “unhinged” to describe her was wrong. She was enraged and somewhat irrational in her communication to me. For example, in one email she asked me for my rating of him as a sexual partner and later in the same email told me I was a skank and a whore. I did not respond to that email.

    1. The apology may not help her now but later it might, good that you did that. I was betrayed by my partner after 17 years together, his continuing to lie and continuing his affair while pretending to reconcile. His escalation to violence when I insisted on divorcing him broke me like nothing else ever had. I’ve lost my parents and gone into a severe depression, I thought that was the most pain I could ever suffer through. I was so wrong, the pain when I was betrayed by the one person in the world I trusted completely? That was so much worse. I had a total melt down and definitely went through an anger stage upon discovering I had an STI. I put the blame for these actions squarely on my partner. But, I also despised the woman he was having the affair with because she knew he was married from day one. Once I got past the grief and anger, if that woman had apologized as you did, it would have helped. She didn’t do any such thing, she decided she’d found her “soul mate”, which is sad really.

      At any rate, good people make mistakes and learn from them. We all sometimes do things we regret. If you have no regrets in life at all, you might be doing it wrong.

  19. I’m not sure there’s much to be gained in going over the ethics of being someone’s affair. Sure it’s a bad plan – people get hurt, and if nothing else you’re sleeping with someone you 100% know is untrustworthy. But people make mistakes and stone throwing now three years later helps no one.

    LW, I can understand why you might feel all kinds of guilt and sympathy for this guy’s (ex)wife – her situation is horrible. But it would be really sensible to keep those feelings separate from any decision making regarding your own comfort and safety right now. That you were involved in wronging her doesn’t mean she gets to use you as a receptacle for her rage. You might feel inclined to try to atone, but after an apology there’s really nothing left you can do for her. So feel sympathy and think of her kindly, and then keep a close eye on your boundaries and safety. You don’t have to hate someone or think they’re a bad person to keep them out of your life. Hopefully she’s said her piece and will stop contacting you from now on.

    Also, ugh, I hate this dude from afar. He have his wife *cancer* with his lying and cheating because he didn’t even care enough to practice safe sex. I do not wish him well. 😦

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