I Had An Affair With A Married Man -- Now Our Daughter Is 7

by Shannon Ashley
Originally Published: 
Woman Hiding A Pregnancy Test Behind Her Back
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It’s hard to believe that back in 2013, I wanted to die. It all started when I met a married man online — this pseudo-spiritual blogger who approached me on Facebook — and we began an ill-conceived, whirlwind romance. As an outsider, I know it’s very easy to roll your eyes and think, “Well, that was stupid.”

And it was.

The whole affair was so, so stupid, but when you’re in it, it’s just not that simple. I didn’t intentionally ignore the major red flags. I likely ignored them because I wanted everything to work out. There was nothing really good in my life, either. Nothing that made me feel proud or worthy to exist.

I just went to work, came home, hung out with some friends on some weekends, and… survived. Plus, I was already used to toxic relationships and was just getting out of a five-year engagement. When a new and fascinating stranger took an interest in me, I was hooked.

He was married, he already had three children, and he was selfish. So incredibly selfish. But for a lot of women, I think we can be sort of conditioned to love selfish men. It’s as if their selfishness affords us endless ways to “prove” our worth as we try to prove our love.

Of course, I was selfish too because I thought it was all “worth it.” I thought my happiness was worth all of the sneaking around. Not that any of my happiness back then was real, obviously. But I was very naive and desperate to be loved.

Like a lot of other broken people, my sense of self-worth was contingent upon the idea that someone else loved me. If nobody loved me, well, I didn’t think I really mattered.

A lot of people feel that way about themselves, but I don’t think many people will admit it. We live in this society that looks down on single women while simultaneously telling us that we’re not supposed to care too much about finding romantic love. And yet, the overriding message about love remains this idea that a romantic partnership is everything, and if we don’t find that, we are nothing.

Nothing or hopelessly flawed.

So, while I knew I wasn’t supposed to equate romance with happiness and self-worth, I did precisely that, and I didn’t know how to say no to the mere hope of love.

On the other side of desperation for love is the addiction to bad love. When we talk about extramarital affairs, that seems to be so frequently overlooked. I didn’t understand it at the time, and I didn’t understand it for a few years after it was over, but I was addicted to the highs and lows of our deeply dysfunctional relationship.

When he left me just six months after we moved in together to begin a whole new life, I was pregnant, and I thought I’d be better off dead.

I couldn’t imagine raising a child alone. Worse yet, I thought I might be a really awful parent. Not just because I struggled with certain “everyday” tasks or basic relationships, but because I thought I might resent our child.

The end of a relationship nearly always represents the end of certain dreams. A future you hoped for and believed in. In my case, though, at that point, the loss was devastating. For a long time, I thought it would be impossible to look at our child and not see her father.

And I thought that a life like that would be pretty awful. Like so many ill-fated romances you read about in old novels. I worried that I might be something like Miss Havisham —  broken-hearted, mentally and emotionally tortured by a lost love, and unable to move on.

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There are so many negative jokes and so much stigma attached to women who get dumped — especially while pregnant. Even worse, we’re often expected to do all of the hard parts of parenting alone while making our children available to the whims of their (frequently irresponsible) fathers. If we don’t do that, and we don’t facilitate a parent-child relationship for them, we’re typically seen as bitter, jaded, and simply spiteful shrews who couldn’t get past the fact that a man didn’t want us anymore.

I went into motherhood with all of those feelings. Of wishing I was dead and thinking that the best thing in my life — my future — was gone. It also didn’t take long to see how the world viewed me as a single mom. Especially when my daughter was a baby, people couldn’t help but ask what happened to my husband or make suggestions about how I might find a good man.

In our world, a single mother without a romantic partner is always incomplete. And not in the respect that she’s a work in progress just like everybody else in the world. As a single mom, it’s more like people are sizing you up to figure out why he left you and what’s wrong with you that’s prevented you from finding love right now.

Thankfully, I never did resent my daughter and I quickly discovered that looking at her wouldn’t remind me of her father forever. I did, however, resent him for a very long time. Mostly, I hated how he got to move on with his life virtually uninterrupted and undeterred from following any of his interests while I had my entire existence flipped around.

Our daughter turned seven yesterday. For whatever reason, seven seems like such a big number, and it’s hit me a bit more profoundly than any of her other birthdays. I’ve been a mom for seven years now, and that’s strange because all of it still feels so new. Maybe that’s the reality of only having one child, or maybe that’s simply what happens when you conceive a child under such unconventional circumstances.

I likely never would have become a mother if I never got involved with that married man. And if I’d never had my daughter, how different would my life be now?

A couple of nights ago, it hit me. I’ve been a mom for seven years and I am so, so lucky. My daughter was having trouble getting to sleep because she was so excited about her birthday, and we were talking about our plans for her big day. She was so happy about turning seven, and I told her that her birthday means I’ve been a mom for seven years too. I looked back on all of that time and thought about how hard it’s been.

Her dad has never really been there — I mean, he participates more like a friendly uncle or cousin. He stopped by for a few minutes yesterday to wish her a happy birthday. They chatted in the parking lot with masks and I held back inside to give them their space. But frankly, he doesn’t do anything for her beyond sending over about $200 a month. He doesn’t call and has only visited her once since the pandemic began, even though he lives 30 minutes away. He suggested stopping by to visit because her birthday happened to fall upon a Friday where he was picking up his sons.

Stuff like that used to bother me so much. In her early years, I used to think I could change him. Or like… if I just tried harder he’d be more engaged and involved in her life. It took a long time for me to grow up and realize that I can’t control his behavior. Eventually, I realized that I don’t even want to.

My daughter and I have such a great bond. Sometimes, I have a hard time believing that this is real life. It’s hard for me to believe that something could be so hard, yet, so easy. I feel like one of those idiot parents as I say this, but I have a really good kid.

Her teachers all say the same thing that she’s smart, creative, and sweet. That she’s kind to all of the other kids and does her best to make others feel better when they’re frustrated or upset. She’s never had a “frowny face” in school; she comes home each day with a “smiley face” report for the school day and I’ve realized that she’s one of those kids who’s just never had a bad day.

Clearly, she’s human and a child, so she definitely has her grumpy moments, but they’re so few and far between. I’ve been looking back on everything that’s hard being a single mom and none of it is about her. I mean, she had colic as a baby and has posed several challenges with anxiety or sensory processing, but she’s never upset me, exhausted me, or left me near tears.

My “worst days” as a mom have never been about her and her behavior. I think it’s pretty normal for kids to push your buttons. And it’s only natural that parents would sometimes feel truly annoyed or frustrated with their kids. I haven’t been through anything like that with her, though.

I keep waiting for the “brattiness” that so many people talk about to come out. When your kids are rude or angry, ungrateful, or inconsiderate. Yet anytime we run into even the hint of an issue, we talk about it and move on. I keep waiting for it all to happen, but it never actually does. The temper tantrums, the fits.

Seven years, and I’m still waiting.

The other day, I had to tell my daughter “no” about going to a birthday party she really wanted to attend. I felt awful about it but explained why I wasn’t comfortable sending her to a Nerf gun party at an indoor gym with no one wearing masks. It was a letdown, but I explained my reasoning and how it didn’t make sense for us to forgo a regular party with friends but put ourselves at risk by attending a party for someone else. That we’ve done so well with avoiding COVID, I didn’t want to make the wrong decision just because we’re tired of staying home.

I wasn’t sure that she’d get it, especially after she asked me to “please say yes,” but she did get it. And then, she was happy focusing on her home birthday party that was happening just with us.

Honestly, I don’t even know how I lucked out with such a great kid. It would have been completely understandable if she had been much more upset about her disappointment — and I told her that. But good grief, I’m fortunate. And considering what an emotional mess I’ve been for most of my life, it seems all the more amazing that I’d enjoy such a wonderful connection with my child.

Seven years ago, I couldn’t even picture my life as a single mom. Well, I couldn’t picture this life. I was so caught up in my toxic relationship with her father that the idea things would ever remotely “work out” seemed so far-fetched.

Plus, I had all of the baggage of my own unhealthy — and unhappy  — childhood. All of that makes her seventh birthday seem like a miracle now.

How could I be this lucky?

Back when I was so depressed about my pregnancy and her father leaving me, people used to say these really… trite things. Like how I couldn’t possibly imagine love until I had a child. Or, those who knew about my deep, deep loneliness would suggest that maybe this was God’s way of giving me the family I’d always longed for.

Honestly? I hated everyone who spoke to me like that. I really just wanted them to shut up. It felt like they were completely clueless about the pain and trauma in my life, and it pissed me off that people might believe I could look at a child like some answer to my prayers or wish fulfillment. I have very strong opinions about people who expect too much from their children, and the idea that having a baby would make you happy or somehow exist just to enrich your life irked me to no end.

People love to say that having a baby makes you a better person, like you’ll be less selfish and more forgiving —  things like that. But they act as if that just magically happens and I’ve known way too many horrible parents to believe it.

Somehow, I guess I always knew that parenting had to be more about the kid and less about the parent. And much more about ending toxic family cycles.

Is that how me and my daughter even got to this place? Where love and understanding feel “easy” and I’m not plagued by constant frustration or self-doubt? If that’s a big piece of the equation, I’d have to liken it to choosing happiness. I mean, I know I’m not a perfect parent just like I know I’m not a perfect person. I know I’m a work in progress, but I also understand how that —  should — apply to everyone.

However all of this happened, it still feels strange. Seven years ago, I thought I needed my daughter’s father just to survive parenting at all. Today, I understand that he would have only held me back or made things harder since we have such different philosophies about parenting.

For a long time, it seemed as if the most interesting thing about me was the fact that I had an affair with a married man, and he left me when I got pregnant. And for a long time, I thought it was exactly what I deserved. He left his wife to be with me, and while I understand he was always going to leave her, the fact that he left with me did make me feel worse. Like all I ever could be was someone’s dirty laundry.

When he left me, I felt like trash.

People are so weird about affairs that they really do blame the other woman before they ever ask what the hell was going on with the man. Hey, I blamed myself more than I blamed him. Somehow, his cheating was never so much a reflection upon his flawed character as it was upon mine.

I’m the one who fell in love with a married man when I should have run far, far away. I’m the one who ignored red flags. I’m the one who felt so fucking blindsided and couldn’t let go. You see how that works? I’m the one who …

Dot dot dot …

Thought her life would be forever defined by the fact that she was once someone’s mistress. Or that her child was the result of an affair.

For so many years, I held myself in such contempt and virtually left him off the hook. No matter how many times he showed his true colors, I took on all of the guilt and shame.

But then, our daughter turned seven. Suddenly, I realized how little I think about that time and how differently everything turned out. I never knew that being completely wrong about the future could feel so good.

Today, I can talk about the affair without pain, but it feels like the least interesting and most predictable thing about me — I had a lot of terrible ideas about love, and I wound up addicted to a really awful relationship.

The incredible thing is how it no longer defines my life.

What a difference eight years makes.

I like to tell people that pain doesn’t heal on any specific timeline, but pain also never reveals the full picture. Sometimes, all we can see is the pain and there’s nothing anyone else can say to help us get through it. In the moment, it never feels too spectacular to choose “getting through it.” Or, even trying to get through it. In my case, it never felt like much of a win to try at all.

Even so, it was that choice to try and get through it that opened up the possibilities I couldn’t see through all of my pain.

Now, even my worst days are filled with laughter. When I’m worried, scared, or feeling like a failure, I still have this kid who can’t help but make me smile. It’s not magic. It definitely feels like magic, sometimes. But it’s not.

If anything, I think it’s just… choices. Choosing to break cycles and move past your doubts. Choosing to try and wait out the pain.

I wish I could say it’s magic, but even the most magical moments seem to be born from seriously mundane choices.

Like waiting to see if things really could get better, and suddenly realizing seven years later that they did.

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