This email came from Annie P. She says:
I read your book… it was very entertaining and I like your style. I am 63 now and a lot of my history is not unlike yours: sex, drugs, rock and roll. I am widowed for 2 years now.
Just recently, a married man, a 65-year-old doctor, befriended me over a period of 5 months through tennis. He met all my requirements plus more. He confided in me he was a love/sex addict and had cheated on his wife many times and was caught. He had gone to therapy and a 12-step program for it at the time. He told me he was clean for 6 years before he met me.
We had an emotional attachment only, up until recently. Then, we didn’t. We both had a great time together. I know… I broke the rules and lost my morals.
He told his wife he kissed me, and now he is not allowed to have anything to do with me at all. I feel like I lost a good friend. Not sure how he feels. I am having a hard time forgetting him and feel like there is a hole in my stomach. Any thoughts?
I have thoughts. Many, many thoughts. Let me share some with you. First, I am so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how hard it is to lose a spouse — both of my exes are alive and kicking. (My son’s father will bury Keith Richards, I suspect, with a cigarette in one hand and a vodka in the other.)
Now let’s talk about this “relationship.” You broke your personal moral code; he broke his sobriety. His wife had her heart broken. It kills me now to think about all the wives I never for a minute considered when I was falling for their husbands. I was only worried about poor me never getting enough of his time and attention, what with the house and the bills and the kids. “Selfishness — self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.” The authors of the original AA Big Book sure had my number there.
Trust me, I know how delicious married men can be. There’s the joy of a shared secret, that adolescent thrill of naughtiness, and the ego-gratification that you’re more desirable than the woman he already desired enough to marry. The romance is blissfully carefree, what with no worries about the house and the bills and the kids. Plus married men are twice as loving and effusive as any regular bloke dares to be, because they have no fear of commitment. They’re already committed… to someone else.
When you say this man met all your requirements, was being available not one of those requirements?
Now, technically, he’s the bad guy here. After all, he was supposed to be working a 12-step program, so he didn’t just cheat on his wife, he relapsed in his program. And I had to laugh when he admitted to his wife that he “kissed” you. Even when he’s coming clean, he’s still lying! You don’t need me to identify him as a sex and love addict. He already identified himself. Like Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
It’s too late to warn you against getting involved with a married sex and love addict — you already put on your blinders and galloped forward, telling yourself (as he no doubt told himself) that this time, somehow, it will be different. What you are experiencing now is withdrawal, and no one deserves that. Maybe I can help you there.
Withdrawal isn’t the same thing as depression. Yes, you’re disappointed and sad and angry, but you’re also physically craving the feel-good neurochemicals your romance had been providing. The major culprits, as always, are dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. The good news is, sex and love aren’t the only way to give ourselves those happy hormones.
Dopamine is all about anticipation and novelty, and infatuation is as efficient a producer of dopamine as anything this side of crack cocaine. But there are other ways to bring novelty and anticipation into your life. Learn a new skill, take up a new sport, plan an adventure in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people… all of these create dopamine. Add a little danger if you’re up for it.
An anecdote for you: A gal coming off a series of bad relationships and dead-end jobs heard me talk about this, and she became an exterminator. Like, kill the snakes in your attic type exterminator. New skill, new place, bit of danger… she loved it. Ended up carving out a lucrative career and as an added bonus met a handsome homeowner with critters in his crawlspace. I told her I was thinking scuba or skydiving rather than snake handling, but whatever works.
Second important neurochemical is serotonin. Yes, antidepressants potentially increase your available serotonin, but you also get plenty of serotonin from a good massage. A fragrant bubble bath. A lap swim in a warm pool. A nice head-scratch with one of those claw machine-looking wire scalp massagers. No prescription, no side effects.
Then there’s the elusive oxytocin — the cuddle chemical, the reward of pair-bonding. But there are more ways of bonding than bumping body parts. Hug a dog (or, even better, adopt a dog.) Sing in a choir. Go out dancing with your buddies. Do service work in your community. All of these stimulate oxytocin, and none of them give you chlamydia.
Pick one from Column A and one from Column B and one from Column C, and you will spend less time in fetal position on the floor. You’ll still be sad, but that deep, gnawing physical agony will recede. And whatever you do, don’t pick at the scab! Don’t call him. Don’t answer his calls. Pack away any photos or gifts. Block him on social media. Find a different tennis club. Be as abstinent from him as an ex-junkie would be from heroin, because the last thing you want to do is go through withdrawal all over again.