I didn’t see it. I thought I would, but I didn’t. Our marriage had been struggling for years, and I had been fighting for so long that I somehow missed it. I was out celebrating a friend’s birthday with a group of girls from work at a country bar when I spotted what I thought was one of Chris’s old friends. I walked up to him to say hello. After he said he didn’t know Chris, I stammered out an awkward apology before walking back to my friends.
That was it. Nothing else happened.
A few weeks later, I found myself back at the same bar with Chris and a different group of our friends. Chris grabbed a beer with some of his friends and found a table in the corner. As my friends pulled me onto the dance floor, I glanced over at Chris. He hadn’t thought twice about me since we got there, and I was used to that. When the DJ played a slow song, I went to grab a dink from the bar. As I was waiting in line, I saw that familiar face again.
I prayed he had forgotten about my awkwardness, and I kept my head low. He had not forgotten. He came up to me with a big smile on his face and made a joke about his friend Chris. I laughed as I told him that I was actually here with Chris this time. He told me his name was Nate, gave me a friendly side hug, and told me to have a good night.
And that was it. Nothing else happened.
When my friend called the next weekend to see if we wanted to go dancing again, I said sure. Chris welcomed my more-relaxed approach to nightlife, and we soon became regulars. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t scan the room looking for Nate. At the time, I had no idea why. I was not the type of person that would cheat on my husband, and I was not looking to have an affair. But I looked for him, and he was there.
We became friends. He was charming, easy on the eyes, and he always sought me out and talked to me. When my friend noticed him flirting, she told me to be careful. Her husband had cheated on her, and they had divorced. She was concerned that I was playing with fire, but I assured her that nothing would happen. Still, the more I saw him the harder it was for me to deny the attraction.
And then it happened. We crossed the line.
He approached me with his familiar smile, and he whispered in my ear, “If you were my wife, I would not be ignoring you all night long.” Then he walked away. Suddenly, I found myself entertaining ideas that I had never thought of before. The verbal exchanges became more frequent and more inappropriate until I considered doing what I thought I’d never do. He had made his intentions clear, and I considered it.
Nate was off on Mondays, and I didn’t have any meetings. I left work early. As I drove home with the intention of calling him, my mom called. She asked me to go to lunch. We both worked on opposite sides of town so this was unusual. She met me for lunch, and I told her everything. I told her how alone I felt in my marriage. I told her how nice Nate was. I told her that I was unhappy. I told her that I didn’t want this for my life. She cried, and she held me as I cried.
After I was finished talking, she gave me the best advice. She told me that if my marriage was over, then I needed to make that decision apart from any other influences outside of my marriage. She was right. She told me that she loved Chris and me. She told me that she would support us no matter what. She told me to go home.
That night, I told Chris everything. It was a hard conversation. Even though it didn’t change anything in our marriage, it showed me just how easy it is to cross a line. I used to think that the line was clear like freshly-painted double yellow lines separating lanes in the middle of a busy highway. Instead, it was more of a faded yellow broken line on an old country road. It was there, but it was more cautionary than it was an indication of clear danger.
Even after I crossed the line, it didn’t necessarily mean that I was in imminent danger. But the longer I stayed in the other lane, the more dangerous it became. Soon I found myself facing oncoming traffic head on, and I was lucky enough to have friends and family that pushed me out of the way.
As I look back on our marriage and the trials we went through, the only real difference between Chris and I was the support we had. I had a family that I could confide anything to. I had friends that cared more about my character than my happiness. I had mentors that encouraged transparency. I had a faith that, while lacking in recent months, was foundational to my character. Chris didn’t have any of those things, and no one was there to push him out of the lane when he crossed the line.
You rarely hear about affairs that start with clear intentions of adultery. They almost always start as friendships, harmless encounters, or light banter…and then someone crosses a line. Among the hundreds of mistakes Chris and I made early on, one of the biggest was allowing each other to maintain friendships with people of the opposite sex.
It’s too easy to excuse inappropriateness as friendly banter or flirting as joking around when you are “just friends” with someone of the opposite sex. If you are not willing to give up your friends of the opposite sex, then you are not ready to get married. Period. It’s just too easy to miss the line and find yourself in oncoming traffic, even if you never intended to.