Bad things. Bad choices. Bad people.

I am a researcher. It is part of my DNA. No matter the issue or situation or challenge or victory, I research. Often when I’m watching a “historical” film, I pull out my lap top and begin to research to see how authentic the presentation actually is.

So when I found out that infidelity was a theme in my marriage, research immediately became a big part of the process. I researched to see the impact of divorce on older kids. I researched statistics. I researched methods of revenge. I researched practices for healing. I researched who and why men cheat. Why women cheat. How cheaters get away with their lies. Whether the betrayeds know. (How I could be so stupid).

I researched other women, and dug deep into the hearts of the betrayed. I tried to find evidence that there could be healing for me. Eventually, I looked into healing for us.

There is a recurring theme of conversations that niggles in my soul. It is about bad. Here is this healing, madly-in-love-with-her-former-cheating-HUSBAND betrayed’s view on bad:

Bad things:

Affairs are bad things. Period. No matter the situation or the circumstances. No matter the ten-year sexless marriage, or the financial trap, or the abuse. Affairs are not the way to solve problems, and ultimately only lead to more problems. If you are desperately – or even pretty – unhappy in your relationship – get help. If you have tried and your partner won’t (cause you cannot do it alone), get out. If you think you are trapped, that is a lie.  But so is the lie that an affair will be an answer. It is heaping more problems on an already really shitty situation, no matter how good it feels in the moment.

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Bad choices:

Affairs don’t just happen in an instant. There are always a series of small, infinitesimal choices along the way that get you to a place of vulnerability and risk. Choices like not addressing your spouse’s sadness at the dining room table. Agreeing to go separate ways more and more frequently, even in your free time. Not being brave or aware enough to see that the only thing you are talking about is finances, kids, or problems. HUSBAND and I both own these choices, and work hard now to press in to these places and not allow them to gather dust.

But then…there are choices like finding yourself talking about your spouse in less than positive ways. Sharing intimate details about your thoughts and hopes with someone other than your spouse. Forsaking real intimacy for porn. Hoping your feet don’t touch in bed. Every one of these moments is a choice. And then, taking her number, or texting back. HUSBAND shared that he sent a text to his last AP the morning after running in to her at his high school reunion, saying “Are you headed back to Atlanta?” (She had traveled to the event with her 16-year live-in-lover). She responded, “Not yet. Why…what do you have in mind?” His choice: text her. Her choice: respond provocatively. Choices. A series of bad choices.

The Town With Britain's Highest Youth Unemployment Rate.

Bad people:

No doubt, there are some really bad actors out there. Narcissists who are incapable of really deep compassion and affection for anyone but themselves. Serial cheaters who never own their painful behavior. Partners who continue to lie and deceive But aside from those scary people, the majority of people that end up in affairs and ripping the very soul out of their partner are men and women who can do and be positive and good in many ways. It’s one of the reasons I never suspected any betrayal…after all, HUSBAND was such a good guy. HUSBAND is the man who is the first neighbor to help in a crisis. He lends our equipment and stuff to friends, and shares our abundance with everyone. He loves to help people learn and takes time to teach the best methods of fishing and hunting to kids, to other dads, to anyone interested. He is dad-extraordinaire, creating fabulous science projects with each of our children and never missing a game or event throughout their lives. He was team-dad alongside me as team-mom, dragging coolers and water and meals and snacks and never getting cranky or frustrated (I did). He loves to engage and interact with anyone and has a real skill for making them feel good.

This goodness is real, but it was also a desperate and constant attempt to hide the dark side of himself, the reality that he was capable and culpable of lying and betraying and cheating the ones he loved most. His goodness convinced him for a very long time that ‘he wasn’t that guy’ and yet one day. One day he was gripped with the reality that he was that guy. That guy who cheated, who betrayed, who had taken the most precious ones of all and blighted them with lies and deception.

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As far as his cheating partners…one of them has evidence of goodness in her life too. She is married, and was married, when they had their year-long affair. To hear HUSBAND tell the story today, the work-place affair started years before with mild flirting and low-level sexual tension between them (see above: bad choices). They’d actually gone on one date many years prior to their affair, before either was married. It was around her ten-year and our seven-year mark that things shifted. All it took was that one choice – that one innuendo carried a little further with a “do we dare try it” kind of dangler and they were off to the races. Pure sex, nothing emotional on that one. If I’d known then, perhaps I’d be less able to see the evidence of goodness in her but…I see she reconciled with her husband. I see she loves her kids. I see she left the company after the affair ended. I see that she is caring for a dying family member. I see some good in this woman who stole from me without me having any idea at the time.

The other major AP…the one HUSBAND was going to leave me for…the one who showed up at his house before I was in the picture – when he was a young, single working man to tell him ‘she’d always wanted to jump his bones’ (after which they had their first roll in the hay). The one who came to our wedding and watched us pledge ourselves to each other. The one who, less than two years later, drove him to her house rather than home when he was too drunk to drive (where they rolled in the hay again) and then proceeded to engage in an affair – his first – while I unsuspectingly took care of his firstborn and was nurturing our second in my womb. The one who, 25 years later, asked the leading question after he made the (bad) choice to text and embarked on another affair with HUSBAND. The one who encouraged him to have the best rest of his life – with her – and to forsake me and his children and his faith and all that he deeply wanted to be. That one? I have a hard time seeing the good in her. Never married, works a corporate job, doesn’t spend much time helping others or making a difference in her community. Lies to her own long-term lover (and as it turns out, to HUSBAND as well). I do see evidence of her being good to her dog – guess that’s something.

And then I’m faced with the reality that she was someone’s little girl. She had hopes and dreams once. Now, she is at this stage in her life and can look at lots of things she has been able to accumulate, but little if any people and relationships in which she can find joy and hope and peace. When I can see her through those eyes, through the eyes of my Savior who gave His life for me – and for her – I feel sad. I don’t see her badness as much – I see her brokenness.

Bad people? There are some. Broken people? Seems like we all fit in that category. I’m grateful that there is a path from broken to healing, and that as rocky and dangerous as it is, I’ve found it. My plea for you is that whichever side of broken you may be…don’t stop fighting for whole.

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Still saving shards…

Susan

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Hard Things

This has been a hard few weeks.

But my Father whispers, Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

Hard things are first-world problems like my plane getting delayed and then delayed again and then canceled and then rerouted and the rerouted plane getting delayed and delayed again so that the connection was nearly missed and it was the last flight out to NYC for the night yet I finally arrived…5 ½ hours late and thinking the tide had changed…until my bag didn’t arrive and the massive delays and ensuing back up of flights resulted in an hour ½ wait for an Uber.

Hard things are sitting with a precious friend who had been excited to join her husband the next week on a little getaway before she faced a major surgery…until she discovered a social media posting by her husband’s former-but-not-so-former-lover at that same getaway place using all kinds of hashtags that made the illicit relationship clear.

Hard things are hearing my aging mom struggle with her purpose at this stage, saying that she wishes she was with my dad and that she lays in bed at night wondering why she is here.

Hard things are knowing that dear friends with whom we have shared a lifetime of marriage and kids and holidays and prayers and graduations and weddings and hopes and dreams are now considering those dreams may be over and watching the rippling out of pain across generations and places that they can’t really see because they are in the center of the storm.

Hard things are anniversaries of finding out the life I’d lived for just about the entirety of adulthood was based on illusions and lies and being triggered to uncertainty and doubt and knowing that double life is done but wondering if the triggers will ever go away. Completely.

But my Father whispers, Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.

And so can you, beautiful girl. You can do hard things.

Beautiful Girl Can Do HARD THINGS

Still More

A year ago, I wrote a post about how I began to understand the path to healing. Infidelity – serial cheating – rocked my world with four Ddays that started April 12, 2014 and finally ended two months later. Each revelation took me deeper and deeper into the abyss of pain and I had no tools, no belief, no comprehension that I could or would ever be able to become whole again.

But I have.

The funny thing is the whole I am now is MORE than I was before, when life was full of delusions that I could not see.

The path to my healing has been treacherous and raggedy and scary and I didn’t want to do it, didn’t want to go. My being screamed to run and hide and patch myself up with coverings and salve and platitudes and self-help books…to protect myself at all cost and be angry and build a fortress of protection.

Yet somehow, it didn’t work for me like that.

I ended up following the path forged by my Savior more than 2,000 years ago. The way was filled with stripping rather than covering. It required pouring out rather than patching up. It meant bleeding out rather than bandages. Nothing that made sense, and yet, it is in this dichotomy that I have found more…hope…more…freedom…more…love. I never would have chosen this way on my own. It was all because He went first, He did it first. All I had to do was follow.

CrazyLove

Trust.

We just passed a milestone in our world, HUSBAND and I. This past weekend, we passed the 3 year anniversary of the last time he was physically with SW, the last AP. Who was also the first AP twenty-five years before that, when we had a baby marriage of less than 2 years.

I remembered, not because I was overcome with a massive trigger this time. Not because I was fixated on the date or the questions or the anger or the despair. I remembered when Facebook sent me a memory of something I’d posted the day I arrived home from my trip that I’d been on, affording HUSBAND the opportunity to set up the tryst.

I remembered and looked at IT, looked at then and looked at now. Looked at what I thought was going on in my life, based on both the FB post and my memory, and what was really going on in my life, uncovered two months later.

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I remembered and considered how different everything is now: the person I am. The person HUSBAND is. The marriage we have.

People often ask how we got here, how we made it through not just to “stay married,” but to have a marriage we really never had before. A marriage of connectedness. A marriage of intimacy. A marriage of passion. A marriage of love.

And now, a marriage of trust. Trust?

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I would have sworn I couldn’t. Trust him again. Maybe anyone. Almost every adage told me my gut was right. Almost every saying on pinterest. Almost every book, and certainly ChumpLady. Yet…here it is three years out…and I realize that I do, trust him, that is. With healthy reservation, and intermittent verification, but overall, I trust him. So how did this happen, how did we get to this place despite the savage destruction of HUSBAND’s past actions?

He got sorry. Really, really sorry. During our marriage, HUSBAND would rarely say “I’m sorry.” The words sometimes came out of his mouth, but with that inflection that says I’m not really sorry and it is really all your fault but you are so crazy/bitchy/stupid/nasty that I’ll just say it to shut you up. Or sometimes the words came out of his mouth followed by all the reasons whatever had happened (that he was sorry for) was REALLY MY FAULT. But this time, once he began to embrace the bigness of his wrongness, he began to be sorry. No blame. No excuses. No hidden messages. Just sorry.

He received my emotions. Once he moved into real sorrow and began to see what he had done, he allowed me to feel. Somedays I felt rage. Somedays I felt disgust. Somedays I felt sad – really, really sad. Somedays I felt stupid or humiliated or embarrassed. But on the road to trust, for the first time ever in our marriage, I was not manipulated into thinking my feelings were wrong. He just allowed me to feel.

He did not hurry the process. HUSBAND did not say “aren’t you over this yet?” He did not ask me if I was going to punish him for life. He did not push me to move at any pace other than my own as I moved into my own healing, and began to consider whether I had interest in being married. To him.

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He allowed me to ask questions. And ask them again. And again. Betrayal is trauma. Trauma survivors often need to relive and rehash the times and moments as they work to put it all together in their brains: to assimilate the perception of reality with reality.  HUSBAND did not enjoy my repetitive questions, but he endured them. He endured them and answered everytime I asked. He did not act frustrated, or put-upon.

He practiced truth telling. Even in the little things. Instead of telling me he had left the office while he was still packing up, or that he was on the highway when he was still a mile from the entrance ramp, he started telling the truth. And if he reverted back to those habitual untruths, he told me. Quickly. “I told you I had a burger for lunch…actually, I had two.”

He became consistent, and wanted to show me. His actions started to match his words. They really never had, but they’d never been HUGELY off, so I was conditioned to just believing he was a poor planner, or miscalculated time or money or whatever. But once he moved into recovery, and he began to see truth and practice truth, he wanted to demonstrate to me that he was different. Going to Lowes? I was sure to get a text part way telling me where he was. And when he got there, a selfie with the store sign behind him. A text when he was leaving, and his arrival back home in a reasonable time frame.

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He became transparent in any way I needed. Or even ways I didn’t need. He shared all his passwords. He showed me his phone log. He told me when he spoke to people that I might have fear about. He shared conversations with coworkers and friends and neighbors. He told me any struggles or thoughts that he had about the process, and revelations as they unfolded in his recovery. When he didn’t know what to do with some of my pain, he held me. He held me and prayed for me and stroked me and told me again, and again, and again, how sorry he was. He became bare in every sense. Bare, and vulnerable.

And slowly, without me being able to perceive it happening, I began to trust. To trust this new man that had I shared my bed and my life and my heart with, yet whom had never really shared back. Now, after three years, our two broken souls have mingled intricately and I see that we are beginning to fill the wounds with truth, and with love.

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Intermission: Thankful and Thanksgiving

Taking another break from the chronicles of infidelity. Because I am overcome today with thankfulness that I can celebrate, no, really celebrate Thanksgiving in my home again.

In November, 2013, I have a moment encapsulated in forever. All my children had gotten home from college or travel, and were going about the business of reconnecting. HUSBAND was in the kitchen taking the turkey out of the brine and I looked up, was filled with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. I snapped a really awful iphone picture, threw it up on my social media captioned, “Heart is full…Everyone I love is right here…” It was just one of those moments, indescribable really, but the very essence of life.

Except that it wasn’t real.

I didn’t know it then, but HUSBAND was plotting the exit from our marriage to be with his AP. He was present but not present, figuring out when he could sneak his next text and make a quick call and send her a photo of the same scene I was savoring as sacred. He was getting through this last Thanksgiving with me, and his mind was anywhere but on the joy of our being together, the fullness of reaching this incredible stage of real relationship with our precious children. After discovery of his cheating then, and ultimately cheating numerous times, I was unable to process my naiveté, my foolishness and my complete ability to be deceived. I have not been able to spend a Thanksgiving in our home, to carry on the tradition of the 27 years…the pain was too great.

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But this year, we are home. This year HUSBAND and I spent days planning our meal together. It took trips to Costco, Fresh Market and Publix to get every detail right for the culinary prep which we started a couple days ago. It took purchasing flowers and arranging them just so. It took my mom helping me set tables and place candles. Our kids started arriving and there were hugs and joy and excitement. They weren’t aware of the pain related to hosting Thanksgiving. They know our story, but they don’t know details like this so we just gracefully decided to explore farm house dinners with friends and plantation dinners in other states for the last couple years. They don’t realize how special this Thanksgiving is for me, for us.

This Thanksgiving, I’m overwhelmed again. I’m overwhelmed to be able to look at the journey my life was on for so many years that had prepared me for the fight of my life. A fight for my sanity and for my wholeness and for my voice. I see the subtle brokenness that I so cleverly hid in myself and my marriage and that in its shattering was the choice to get rid of the pieces, or figure out a way to put them together to create something new, something so piercingly beautiful and so incredibly strong. I’m overwhelmed in thinking about the betrayeds that have gone before me, and shared their hearts and thoughts and struggles and pains and victories in this community – that have given me the strength to take one more breath and one more step and one more chance. That have helped me navigate my own screaming pain and challenge HUSBAND to be real and whole and transparent. I am overwhelmed with the understanding that it has been your care of me, your bravery to speak into me, your strength when I was weak that has helped me in this path that I never, ever would have chosen.

I am thankful that my house looks beautiful and welcoming, and that the seats will be filled by those I love so much. I am thankful that the smells are already permeating and that there will be laughter and good food and toasts and love. Yes, love. Real, true, love.

But around my table, I see each of you too. All of you…you amazing women and men who have taken time to care for me throughout these last 2 ½ years. I could not be at my table in my home with my family without you. You are here, tucked in every part of who I am now, and I am overwhelmed with my thankfulness, and my love, for you. Happy Thanksgiving.

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Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 6

Looking back through the life of my infidel…considering gaps and patterns and moments and experiences and ways-of-living that could give us both clues into how. Into why. This isn’t a treatise for explaining cheating; rather a process of working through for both of us…so we never end up there again.

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So now we were married. And in looking back…that blind eye…it was tough to open. Maybe all new marriages were like mine. I wouldn’t know, because I sure didn’t tell anyone.

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The day of my wedding, each of my parents privately told me their view of marriage. Mom found a quiet moment amongst the frenzy of the day, looked me in the eye, and told me the key to a happy marriage was to get what I wanted, but make him think it was his idea. I nodded and said, ok, and didn’t really think much about it at the time. But it is a key to who I am, rather who I was. Dad, right before we walked down the aisle, or rather as we began to step, said with all sincerity (although it is an interesting thing now that I know more about who my dad is and was in his marriage), “Wait. I know you’ve heard marriage is 50-50. It isn’t true.” He said it with urgency. “Marriage is 100-100. Ok?” I nodded and looked anxiously…the music was playing…we were missing our cue…

On the drive to our wedding trip, I was exhausted. I slept a good part of the nine hour drive and between naps made conversation, recapping the ceremony and the party and thinking about the food and the flowers. Somewhere along the way, brand-new HUSBAND mentioned that one of his friends had given us a particular wedding gift: pot.

I was a little stunned. Honestly, I was a lot stunned.

I didn’t smoke pot, and didn’t know pot was a big thing for my brand-new HUSBAND.

But I was also a brand-new bride and had absolutely no reference point for how to respond. In reaching back in my memory, I could not catch a moment in which my dad had told my mom that he had received something illicit from someone and was excited to share it with her. Nope, drew a blank. Had no resources to draw from to formulate how to respond. So I didn’t, other than to say something inane like, “Oh, wow. That’s a different kind of wedding gift…”

So my brand-new HUSBAND smoked himself some pot on our wedding trip, and I told myself it was an interlude since we were off and away. He didn’t do it too much, but I remember one flash-bulb moment on one morning when I was wearing a beautiful negligee and the matching robe, making us sandwiches for our horseback riding picnic lunch later that day. I was spreading the mayonnaise lost in thoughts about what had I done…was I really married to this guy…was it really for life…and I heard my name called, looked up and FLASH! He took a photo. I remember so well what I was thinking at that moment, but my face didn’t show it, and I didn’t tell him.

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When we returned from our trip, we moved into his little house in a before-it-was-an-up-and-coming-area area that was about ½ the size of my apartment that I’d shared with a roommate. I squeezed and cajoled my things into his home and tried to make it mine too. The first two weeks, HUSBAND would get home from work, and literally within 10 minutes one of his friends pulled up. They would be guys together, and several times walked out to the back of our little house. And light up a joint. I became more and more frantic as the days went by…that this new HUSBAND of mine was a pot-smoker, and that he wanted to hang out with his friends instead of me.

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Finally after those two weeks, I told him that we couldn’t draw a line down the middle of our house…we couldn’t have one side wanting to smoke pot (both illegal and unwanted by me) and the other with different rules. He agreed to tell his friend, and absolutely to not smoke…he didn’t realize it bothered me…no problem at all giving it up…and I believed him. The friend no longer stopped by. And he no longer smoked pot. I believed him.

We had weathered the first small steps of discord.

Because I believed him.

shebelieved

 

 

Anatomy of Infidelity, Part 5

Just looking back through the life of my infidel…looking at gaps and patterns and moments and experiences and ways-of-living that could give us both clues into how. Into why. This isn’t a treatise for explaining cheating; rather a process of working through for both of us…so we never end up there again.

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Our wedding…was magnificent. Sort of.

At the time, it was everything I’d dreamed of. I wore a stunning dress and long-white gloves (it was a thing, honestly). My attendants looked gorgeous in their deep teal, ankle-length, satin dresses (that they could wear again – lol) and all the flowers were white, only white. The groomsmen looked distinguished in their black tuxedos, and the flowers…the setting…the band…the food…it was overwhelming. I remember looking at my dad and telling him I felt like a princess. Thank you.

I’m not sure why, but at the altar with my groom, I talked. I kept saying things like, “we are really doing this, getting married. Can you believe it?”

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I think the reality is I couldn’t believe it. I think maybe, deep down in my gut, there was a little turmoil that I just could not allow to come to the surface.

That blind eye thing…even though I couldn’t see it, my gut may have had some insight that just disconnected before it hit my cognitive faculties. It’s hard to go back here, it’s hard to admit. But if I am ever to heal, ever to ensure that I’d never be in the same position again, I have to go here. Putting it on paper and owning my silence…I’m trying to be kind to this girl. I hope you will be too.

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The first thing that I can now see that was really discordant but I just breezed right past at the time? HUSBAND and I had gone out of town together with friends for a couple days. When we got back to town, we went by his house where I had left my car. We walked inside and his roommate told us that he’d had an unexpected visitor the night before, actually, in the early morning hours. Seems HUSBAND’s former girlfriend that had once been his fiancé had been dropped off at the house expecting to slip into HUSBAND’s bed and resume their up/down relationship. Odd that she felt the freedom to show up. Show up and expect…but I justified it in my mind that they’d had such a pattern in the past…

Several weeks later, after HUSBAND had reportedly called former girl to tell her to never come by again…that it was permanently over, and he was moving on, he picked me up. We were headed to a ball game, and we always took his dog with us. When she wasn’t it the car, I asked where she was. To my great surprise, he told me former girl had her.

????Former girl, who doesn’t drive. Who he’d told there would be contact or ongoing anything????

He was surprised that I was uncomfortable with this. You see, they’d both loved the dog. The dog had been part of both their lives for the four years of off-again on-again relationship and he couldn’t really be expected to keep the dog from her, could he?

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After the ball game, he took me home and I didn’t say anything about the dog incident. I did, however, disappear for several days. This was pre cell phones, and I made sure my assistant answered my phone at work. I went to a friend’s to spend the night directly after work. On the third day I came home to my apartment, and he appeared within minutes. I explained that I was not interested in sharing him with another person. If he wanted an ongoing we-are-going-to-share-dog-time-or-any-other-time with her, then I was out. He pledged his heart and apologized and I thought she was gone for good.

And she was, until he told me a few days later that she thought she was pregnant. Ended up she wasn’t. And I just kept plugging along.

Another day we were relaxing in his home, talking about our upcoming wedding. HUSBAND then decided to let me know that he hadn’t paid his taxes for the last three years. BOOM. When I asked why, he boyishly explained he’d just not quite gotten ‘round to it. And what does any smart, confident, independent young woman do when she finds out such a thing? Surely, she insists that he get it straightened out immediately…that he cleans it up and files and deals with whatever penalties and interest and admonishments that may be due. Right?

That is unless she turns a blind eye…justifying that he isn’t as skilled in finances as she is…that he didn’t mean to do anything wrong. And then SHE promptly digs through the past years, gets all the information together on his behalf, gets it all cleaned up. I did ask him to pay the accountant, which he did, and to pay the required financial penalties…at least that is something. I worked hard to clean up the mess. He said thanks.

Then there was our wedding night. I’m not sure what I expected…I was certainly influenced by romantic movies and thoughts of long-drawn out intimate moments and awe of consummating the commitment we’d just publicly made and being a wife. His wife. I guess I thought there would be a beautiful suite, and flowers, and candles, and champagne, and tender touches and…

But what there was instead was a regular hotel room (my folks said why waste the money on a special suite?) and taking his own clothes off and getting into the bed (okay, so I guess I take mine off too) and a self-satisfying romp (for him) and then roll over and proceed to a snoring sleep. Yes…there had been a crazy full day of festivities and food and spirits, but I was stunned. And sad. And got out of my brand-new marriage bed and went to the bathroom and started the bathtub and got in it, alone, and cried.

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Yes. A blind eye. I had it, but it is open now.