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I'm the bad guy

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I want to preface this by acknowledging that I'm the one to blame, that I do feel profound guilt, and that I don't expect any sympathy. I think I'm posting this partly to confess, and maybe partly because I want others to confirm that I do, in fact, suck.


Several years back, I'd finally come to a place where I was addressing my depression and alcoholism. I'd been sober for a couple of years, was in therapy, employed in an okay job, and more or less stable. Even so, I was essentially existing. I wasn't miserable, but I could see the arc of my life, and it was bleak.


During all this, I'd remained friends with an ex (Mike). The friendship was far healthier and more sustainable than the romantic relationship. Post breakup, he'd married (Rex) and settled in another state. They were getting serious about kids.


I told Mike where I was in life, and he offered me an unusual but generous opportunity: come and stay with them for awhile, change it up, and see if I could maybe find a new path, while in the comfort of friends. I did think it might be strange, especially for Rex. Your husband is having his ex move in? But Rex told me he was fine with it. Even said he thought it was a good idea. 


I accepted the offer. And while it took us a little while to find the rhythm, we became a good team. Then, after about a year, they welcomed their first child. I'd never thought of myself as good with kids, but I slowly bonded. I became a kind of live-in nanny. Two years later, a second child. It was challenging and exhausting work, but I'd never felt more fulfilled. I'd found my purpose. Found my tribe. Finally, I was happy.


As the kids grew, Mike grew more volatile. Nothing criminal, but things were moving in a bad direction. I fully recognize that he had so much on his plate: a stressful job, two kids, a house to run, an often-lazy husband, and general life chaos. But our attempts to ease his stress weren't working. And suggestions for therapy were falling on deaf ears. The home was becoming toxic.


In that period, Rex and I grew closer. We became a good duo, especially when dealing with the kids. And I suspect our similar backgrounds of growing up in hostile environments led to black-and-white thinking, us gradually vilifying Mike rather than supporting him.


I can honestly say that I never felt sexual attraction to Rex in those initial years, and I was relieved about it. It made the dynamic in the house much more stable. But in that period of volatility, he shared that he was attracted to me. That he wished he'd met me first. And while I initially brushed it off, the thought grew. Him simply saying it activated something in me. When Rex opened that door, narratives and desires flooded in. I thought about what it might be like, the two of us. I thought about "breaking the cycle" for the kids, blocking the "big bad" who was imperiling their childhood (I wanna make it clear here that I see I was deluded. That I was justifying myself). I thought about a life I didn't think was possible for me. And also, yes, I felt increasingly horny.


Before things got any further than thoughts, I spoke to Mike and confessed that I was developing feelings for his husband. I didn't share what Rex had said, keeping it focused on my end. I told Mike I needed to get out and start dating again. That it was surely misdirected horniness. That it was not my intention to upset the apple cart. I meant it.


When Rex learned of this conversation, he immediately went into self-preservation mode, but also asked Mike what he thought about "opening things up." Mike was, understandably, very hurt. He did not want to be poly, but he also wanted me to stay. Things became more tense in the house, jealousies arose, but we continued to make it work.


Afterwards, slowly but surely, I did begin to return Rex's flirtations. Those flirtations became overlong hugs. And those hugs became an affair. I knew better. I knew it was wrong. I knew it would crush Mike. But I did it. 


And just as anyone could've predicted, once I bonded in that way, I became addicted Rex. This slightly-underwhelming guy who I'd always thought of as a well-meaning goof, now felt like my everything. Again, looking back, I don't think it had much to do with Rex at all. I think I had serious attachment issues that got stirred up, and I fell into love addiction (and addiction to a fairy tale). If true, that justifies nothing, but because I feel bewildered by my actions in retrospect, I do think there were deeper issues than just horniness.


Mike picked up on the emotional shift, and it further destabilized him. He became even more volatile. And this fed our narrative that Mike was the problem, that our love was good and healthy, and that we were meant to be together. 


This is where things get much darker. I got so entrenched in my fantasy, of us "saving" the kids, that we started talking about what it might be like if we made those fantasies real. But, of course, instead of focusing on the real-world devastation of a divorce, of a broken home, of what it would mean to the kids, Mike's absolute devastation, we were focused on us. 


Rex told me that he wanted a divorce from Mike, and I became obsessed with the idea. Rex probably would've said anything to keep access to me, and I think I wanted it so bad that I looked past all the signs he wasn't serious.


As the months went on, I got increasingly weird and intense. Instead of taking a moment to really look at all the hurt and damage we were causing, I was like a teenager, focused on the fantasy, acting as if the magnitude of the ramifications were negligible. I became a cliché (or more of a cliché), asking why he wasn't acting. Instead of seeing Rex's hesitation as proof that he wasn't ready, I felt more and more hurt that he wasn't "choosing me." Hurt that I was an accessory rather than a partner. I kept saying, "If you don't want this, please just tell me and let's end it now." But he kept assuring me that he did want it. To give him more time.


All the while, I refused to confront the horror I was bringing Mike. This doesn't excuse anything, but I can honestly say it wasn't malice. I was lost in the storm, in my childlike need to be chosen, and I didn't see my friend.


Eventually, it got to a breaking point. After many failed attempts to initiate a divorce, I asked Rex if it would help if we did it as a team. If we told him about the affair and our desire to be together. Rex almost immediately agreed, seeming relieved to distribute the load. His only request was to not reveal the affair. He wanted us to simply say we'd fallen in love and that he wanted a divorce. I agreed.


We came to Mike, I recited a script Rex and I agreed to, and naturally he was enraged, horrified, heartbroken, betrayed...but more than anything, he was resolved to stop it. I now see he knew Rex much better than I did. I suspect this may not have been their first rodeo with Rex's cheating. Mike knew that Rex didn't like to be thought of as a bad guy. That he hated conflict. That once the pressure was on, he'd do almost anything to end the stress. Within just a couple of days, maybe hours honestly, Rex did a 180, said he needed to give Mike another chance. And Mike had developed his own narrative that I must have preyed on Rex for years, planning a scheme to destabilize the marriage and steal his life.


As an aside, I suspect Rex was far more sly than I first thought. He'd carefully kept of the most damning, salacious bits to verbal exchanges, leaving very little in way of a digital trail. I didn't think that way, so it was easy to spin a narrative that Rex was a simple man, taken advantage of by some cunning mastermind. Mike did later learn that Rex was more culpable than that. Also, even if the ratios of who-did-what are off, the depths of my betrayal can't be minimized. I acted monstrously to Mike.


Anyway, just when you think it can't get worse...as I was packing to leave the house, I confronted Rex, asked him why. He said he got scared. He asked me to stay. I told him that was insane under the circumstances. But as I was leaving, he said he'd make it his top priority to divorce Mike. That he couldn't be without me. He said to give him six months. I think I knew it was bullshit, but I clung to the damaged fantasy, and I wanted so badly for it to be true.


Leaving was excruciating. I'm not the kids' legal parent, but I was there every day since their birth, helped raise them. Emotionally, they feel like my kids. And that was the only place in the universe I ever felt truly at home. I destroyed it all.


Over the next six months, I checked in almost every day. And every day, it became more and more clear that I was deluded about Rex. He did initiate paperwork, but it never got much further than a couple of meetings. Once things got stressful, he dropped the petition. It's a strange thing, simultaneously knowing that you caused all of your own misery, that you betrayed one of your closest friends, but also being consumed with the loss of a fantasy, with feeling abandoned. I don't think I even really wanted him to divorce, but I was addicted to a feeling. I burned through all of my morals and another person's heart chasing it. I got everything I deserved–probably got off easy, all things considered–but still, I feel like I just dropped out of a very large whirlwind, and I'm looking around at the wreckage and the hurt and the suffering I caused, my heart in tatters, and I'm thinking, "What the hell happened?" All I want is be with my family again, but there's no home to go back to.


It's been over a year now. Rex still contacts me from time to time. Says he'll divorce Mike...someday. Says he's sorry, but that he's forgiven himself, and doesn't like to feel guilty. Says he has to look towards the future. Says if he wanted to feel bad, he could get that from home. He reminds me, "You know, you didn't *have* to leave."


More than anything, more than even the guilt of hurting Mike, the thing I wish would have cut through my selfishness and fantasy and make me take pause, is the kids. I know they'll be fine, that they don't need me, but facing a life without them, it's the worst thing I've ever known. I deserve it, but still.


So here I am, starting over. Again. Most friends have rightly distanced themselves. I know feeling guilty doesn't fix anything, and should have been there to pump the brakes before the sins ever happened, but I do feel guilty. Sincerely. I can't make amends. The best I can probably do is leave them alone forever. And to attempt to be a better person. I don't know what I'm expecting here. Maybe I just wanted to say I'm sorry. 

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I'm sorry you're here, OP, and it seems the passing of time and increasing space from them has given you insight and clarity.

It is definitely going to be the best choice to leave them all alone for good, yes. Please block Rex. He is bad news and you won't really move on until he is out of your life completely. 

Start over with yourself. Hit the reset button so you can meet someone who is totally available and can offer you a real relationship. This man never could, and I don't think he ever had any intention of actually doing so. You will find your happiness again, but not until you put this Rex character in your rearview mirror. 

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@ExpatInItaly: Devastating clarity. If only I'd had that clarity before I acted.

I do think I can eventually get over Rex. But the kids? I don't know if that heartache will ever subside.

Thank you for your reply.

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mark clemson

When you look beyond morals, what you often see in affairs is unhappy people trying to feel better about their romantic lives. Sounds like at the core of it, that's what happened with you and Rex.

As you realize, there's no point in letting yourself be strung along by Rex, who's probably still lazy, probably still unhappy, and probably still unable to do what might be needed to move past it. For your part, I'll note that while moving on isn't always easy emotionally, it has the advantage of being a clear and straightforward path that's much more likely to get you to where you'd ultimately like to be (ie, in a committed and happy relationship).

Edited by mark clemson
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