One of the great songs by the Roches is called “Married Men”. Maggie, Teri and Suzy sing: “Oh the married men, the married men. Makes me feel like a girl again to run with the married men.”
I’ve been humming that song all day. Last night in a women’s meeting the woman who chaired was celebrating two years of sobriety. She shared that she had been dating a married man for five years, and was now struggling with that and realizing that soon she’d need to end the relationship. Her shame and pain were palpable. Now, with two years of recovery she was experiencing the reality that sets in with clearer eyes. It’s less easy—though not impossible --to rationalize and justify having an affair when you are sober.
Being in a women’s meeting it was possible then for others to talk about this particularly effective way that we hurt ourselves. When I spoke I talked about the married men in my life before and, yes, even in recovery. For those who have not had an affair with a married man it is only another “yet”.
I was dating a married man when I got into recovery. I went to my first AA meeting with him because he was court-ordered and he had lost his license. I was helping by driving him to AA on Sunday mornings. We went to AA and then we went to “brunch”. Brunch was saturated with alcohol. But the gift was that less than a year later, when I was ready to go to AA for me, I knew where to go and I knew that the people were nice and I had a sense of the protocol of meetings.
I am tickled though that we all use the word “dating” for married men. When I was dating my married men, the court-ordered one and yes, the 13th stepping one in early recovery, there were no dinners, no movies, no flowers...so where was the “dating”?
Now, I must admit, as I said in the meeting, I still play in this dangerous water. No more affairs but I flirt, and I fantasize. What is that? I have had many other addictions: smoking, food, work, exercise but never, so I said, self-mutilation or cutting, but isn’t that what married men are for sober women? Ways we can cut ourselves or throw acid at ourselves? That is how great the pain is—and the shame.
So what to do with this addiction: I try to apply the same principles I learned to apply to alcohol to my desire for a married man. First, don’t romance the drink. Stop the fantasies of romance and love. He can’t. End of story. Yes he’ll say all the right words. Married men always do. They can say “I love you” faster than any single guy because there is NO commitment for them.
Second, and maybe this should be first: don’t pick up the drink. It may be the first flirt, the seeking and accepting of the first too-intimate compliment or the first hint of “You’re so special”—bait I particularly crave. And then, as with all dangerous and addictive substances: recovery is one step and one day at a time: don’t email him today—just this 24 hours. Don’t call and don’t even check your messages hoping to hear from “Him”. For one day—and sometimes for just this hour—say no, call someone, pray, do service, call another recovering person, go to a meeting, and remember that it only gets worse not better when you talk to “Him” about it. As Susan Cheever writes in, “The Other Woman”, conversations about “Why we can’t have sex” almost always result in heated and explosive sex.