Infidelity Will Be The Death Of My Marriage
The Unbelievably Brave Story Of One Incredibly Sensitive Man’s Intensely Personal Journey Towards Divorce
[A parody freely translated from the original sad boner confessional] By Ian Mackenzie
8.2011 — The Space Odyssey
There is no easy way to open a personal essay by mentioning masturbation. But then, I’ve never been one to take the easy way out. Or to masturbate. I’m too good for that, too pure.
My name is Ian Alexander Mackenzie Real’ness New Paradigm Raven Way and I have short scruffy hair and a fuzzy Riker beard and I wear a button shirt. People tell me I look like Ryan Gosling, and if you don’t know who that is, get the fuck out.
At this moment I am 30 years old, newly married and financially stable, and attempting to have a baby. It’s not been clear to me at any point that I want this, but it’s what one does, right?
So here I am at a fertility clinic, watching but not quite really watching two voluptuous ladies having sex on a screen. I’m so self-conscious about the whole thing. Maybe it’s because I still find something about the act distasteful. Maybe it’s because I can’t help thinking — as I think every man has — that I’m less than five years away from describing this scene in a personal essay on the internet. Maybe it’s because the ladies aren’t that hot, even for porn actresses.
Suddenly: a rush of white light and a reflexive whispered apology, and then I’m screwing the cap back on the container and examining myself in the mirror. I have classic protagonist features. What comes back to me in this moment is ominous warnings about how getting your girlfriend pregnant will trap you and ruin your life forever.
I take a deep breath and square my shoulders and tell myself I am emotionally prepared to impregnate my wife who wants to have children very much.
That’s what you do.
5.2003 — First Blood Part II
I am 22 and a pioneer in the early age of internet dating, an early adopter of loneliness and an innovator in the field of awkward first encounters. No, you’re not traveling in time; I’m just telling this story non-chronologically. Pretty slick, eh?
Those numbers at the start of each section are the month and the year. If no man on earth writes dates in the fashion I do, it is only because no man on earth has suffered as I have.
I met my wife Katherine on Lavalife. What? No, that’s totally a real dating site. You probably haven’t heard of it. It lives in Canada. Katherine? Katherine is real, too. The realest human being I’ve ever met. I saw that her username was a self-deprecating pun that explained itself in the first line of her profile and I thought to myself, “If she likes mildly witty self-deprecation, she’s pretty much going to have to love me.”
I glance at her age. 26. 26 is 4 more than 22. She is older than me. Do I dare? I do. I must. I type her a brief introductory message. This is how human beings describe the act of writing something to someone. I am a human being. Within a day, she types me back. Over the next few days, we type each other many charming emails, as ordinary people do.
Less than a week later, I dial her a phone call. Her voice is sultry. Among the first things I tell this woman out loud is that she could be a phone sex operator. Meticulous in my compliments as I am in all areas of my life, I have previously called many phone sex operators in order to accurately formulate this comparison. I did not masturbate during these calls, because I am too good, too pure. They were strictly research.
I think the ladies — that is, the phone sex operators — with whom I spoke appreciated the chance to talk to a man who saw them as a human being, who was not there merely to exploit them for a rush of white light and a whispered apology.
Katherine arrives in my life on a roar of a motorcycle. She’s cool, a cool person who dates cool people. Look: I’m not going to tell you that I’m cool, but listen to my description of this woman who dated and then married me. She rode a blue motorcycle and took off her helmet in actual, real-life slow motion, shaking out her long, dark hair like the pretty but boring librarian character when she finally lets her hair down.
I look at her standing in front of me, seeing her as an actual human being: her green eyes flashing with vulnerability, her face a beautiful porcelain mask that bespeaks of inner turmoil and old wounds, and the quiet strength she won from it. As I look at her, I think about how this character will fit into the story of my life and what she — that is, her presence — will say about me.
Perhaps to say it was love at first sight would be a touch cliche, but it was that moment that I first knew it: this was the woman about whom I wanted to write personal essays describing the arc of our relationship.
We head for coffee and the conversation flows easily, punctuated by seagulls that follow our footsteps as we walk the trails beside the ocean, and I think this is such a perfect moment that I scramble to remember that thought in perfect clarity so it will be there, years later, for the essay.
She asks me, “When was the last time you cried?” I know this is not an important question, though. The real question is: how many times have I cried? And the answer is that I have cried exactly enough times in my life for her to know that I am sensitive, yet not so many times that she won’t know I’m a man.
She says nothing. In this silence I lean forward, lean into her, putting my face in close to hers.
Somehow, our lips find each other. It is purely spontaneous, completely mutual. Nested within this moment of perfect poetic bliss by the sea, I feel a moment of misgiving: if a kiss can happen so easily here, with her, what is there to stop it from happening later, with other women, who are not her?
A fly in the ointment.
I think maybe there’s a part of me that knew, even then.
8.2011 — City Under Siege
The city lies bathed in dull, flat, monochromatic greys that reflect my thoughts on the day we first go to begin the treatments my wife hopes will allow her to have children, an outcome I am determined to fully welcome.
Katherine is gazing out the window, quiet. I wonder what she’s thinking, but as I cannot decide what would be dramatically appropriate for her to be thinking at a moment like this, I can’t quite decide and have no other means of finding out.
It is the quiet moments like this that I almost feel like she’s another person who lives with me, and not just part of the furniture of my life. It’s strange what marriage can do to you.
We are seeking fertility treatments because my wife had an eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa. Somehow typing it out in full makes it feel less common to me, more interesting, more worthy of inclusion in a personal essay. Because of the damage it’s done to her body, my wife will need to give herself multiple hormonal injections a day. Her first attempt is shaky, halting, wincing. I record it, because let’s face it: this shit is hilarious. Comedy gold, guys, am I right?
Anyway, it’s not like there’s anything I could do to help her.
There are some demons you have to face alone.
The days fly by for me. Katherine becomes better at the whole rigmarole, but somehow her heart is less into it. With nothing left for me to do, I focus on my plans for Burning Man. It’s going to be sweet. What am I talking about? This is Burning Man. It’s always sweet.
35 days in, the treatment has taken hold and the doctors implant my contribution. She doesn’t even say thank you, but somehow I can’t hold it against her. Not at Burning Man time.
Of course I’m still going to Burning Man. What alternative is there: not going? I had plans with my brother. Some things are sacred.
Anyway, if I had canceled my plans, then she would have had another thing to feel guilty about, along with her body’s ongoing failure to produce the children she so desperately wanted. I couldn’t lay that on her. That would be cruel.
Two hours into the trip, as I wait to cross the U.S.-Canada border, I receive a text. Two words: it failed. I picture a miscarriage, blood in a toilet. My chest tightens. Tears well up in my eyes, but I cannot cry. I have cried several times in my life already. I am not quite at my personal lifetime limit, but I’m near the threshold.
Better save it for when it counts, I think. For when it means something.
Over the course of the next week, I will look at that text from Katherine many times and think, no two human beings have ever had the close, deep, emotional connection that we have. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be there for her.
9.0210 — The Voyage Home
As azure fades to amethyst to indigo and back to amethyst and back to azure, I realize that I am a changed man at my third Burn. Before I believed the rituals of loss and expiation at the Temple of Transition were just a bunch of trite bullshit other people did in order to feel deep.
Now I understand. Now I, too, have lost. Now I’m in the club.
I am aflame with the knowledge that I must craft a love letter. Not to Katherine, of course. She has so much on her mind, the last thing she needs is me bothering her.
No, I must craft a love letter to the Temple Herself.
I must have my camera, I must capture this. It is art. I am an artist. What is the point of love and loss if you can’t get a dynamite personal statement film out of it? I watch the Man burn. I watch the Temple burn. My emotions run high, but I do not weep. I must not weep. It’s still not the moment. It’s still not perfect. I know the moment is close, but it is not yet at hand.
Weeks later, I watch my film. I see the Temple, intact and unburned.
This is the moment. I feel it. I know.
10.2011 — Citizens On Patrol
Partying in the desert for a week is such an intense personal, spiritual, and emotional experience that it’s a bit like being in a submarine. You can’t return to the placid, mundane surface of your life all at once. You have to surface slowly, allowing time to decompress. You have to go to more parties.
The hyperbaric chamber of my spiritual awakening this year was hosted in a movie prop warehouse in Vancouver.
Katherine was there, though I lost sight of her quickly. I’m not sure why she was even there. She hadn’t been in the desert. She didn’t see the Temple burn. What on earth could she have gone through that would even come close to paralleling the profound transformative experience we Burners had known?
A young woman with dreadlocks sits in a chair. I crouch beside her, bringing myself down to her level. She tells me she is a poet. “Please share a poem!” I ask her. She shakes her head, embarrassed. I insist. She is visibly uncomfortable, and I understand in that moment that I have been chosen to help her overcome this discomfort.
I lean in, putting my face close to hers. “Please,” I insist again. She relents. Somehow, our lips find each other.
“I’m married,” I tell her, charitably without an ounce of accusation.
She’s immediately apologetic. I tell her it’s fine, she made an honest mistake and I don’t blame her one bit for her conduct. I’m too good, too pure.
“You don’t act married,” she says.
I heave a profound sigh. Tears well up behind my eyes, but I do not cry.
“I know,” I say, trying to convey in those two words just how tragic my dilemma is.
The saddest part of it is, I’m not at all sure in retrospect that I managed to succeed in doing so. Many things about that night haunt me still, but that perhaps most of all.
6.2012 — Dawn of Justice
Somehow, it keeps happening. Somehow, my lips keep finding other lips, always lips belonging to worthy women because I am too good, too pure to commit infidelity for any but the highest of reasons: comforting grief-stricken artists, honoring profound spiritual healers.
Somehow I keep meeting these women who feel things deeply and profoundly in ways that I know my boring, barren wife cannot, and who makes me feel them, too.
Somehow, our lips find each other.
Surely it can’t be cheating,when the women are so interesting and they slot in so neatly into the story of one’s life? I know that technically, on paper, I am going against the vows I made to Katherine because that’s what one does, and so I keep looking for an escape or a way to stop, but nothing presents itself.
Eventually, I craft a confession.
In a brand new house we just purchased together using our joint finances and signing both of our names to the loan, I am forced to tell my wife that other women’s lips keep finding mine.
Milan Kundera wrote, “Loves are like empires — when the idea that they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away.”
I knew the moment I read those words I would keep them close to my heart, for the day when my love’s foundation crumbled.
As I watch the color drain from my wife’s face, I know that moment has arrived. The words would not leave me yet, though. I would remember them still, for that time in the future when I would write a career-making confessional piece about it.
That time is now.
That piece is this.
11.2012 — Assignment Miami Beach
Six months after my confession and the question of “what to do” about the “problem” of my “infidelity” remains.
With nothing else to do, I agree to try one more time for children. I don’t want to draw a connection between my wife’s infertility and my urge to stray. That would be crass, so I’ll leave that for you the reader to do.
On the eve of the very expensive procedure, my wife looks across the kitchen table at me and says, “You don’t really want to have children.” The words sting. I never thought she would notice this, much less point it out to me. I say nothing.
We try again. The procedure takes hold. We’re having twins.
But in the end, it is for naught. Such a senseless waste. I processed all that grief out in the desert, not knowing a bigger, more life-changing tragedy would await me scarcely a year later. How much more poignant might my love-letter to the Temple have been?
I find myself wishing I could go back in time, find my younger self and tell him not to blow his wad. “You will lose more,” I tell him. “You will grieve deeper.”
I can’t, so I bottle up what I’m feeling and save it for the personal essay I know I will one day write. It will be good. HuffPo good.
1.2013 — The Final Friday
Katherine’s mother takes us on an all-expenses paid dream vacation to Maui, which emboldens me to make my dreams come true. We agree to spend another week at the hotel by ourselves, so we can have space to work through “the question” of what we’re going do, given the elephant in the room that hangs over our relationship like the sword of Damocles.
I.e., what kind of future we can have together if we’re not going to have children.
When I tell this to Katherine, her eyes go wide. It almost seems like she felt there was another question about the future of our relationship that needed answering. To this day, I can’t imagine what it might have been. The possibilities haunt me.
But I know what problem faces us: that we will be a childless couple. And I know the solution: an open marriage. I know in my heart that it goes against the paradigm of the dominant culture that reifies the sanctity of monogamous marriage over all other things, but on the other hand, I really, really want to do this, and if I can’t be true to myself, how can I be true to her?
I’ve brought her a book on it, and alone, together, for a week, we go over it and over it. As I read to her, she agrees with me the way she fell in love: eventually, and reluctantly.
We sign papers and everything.
It’s gonna be super sweet.
We return home. The days go by in blurs, turning into weeks and months. I feel like I’m becoming my best self, the sort of person who uses words like “polyamory” and “compersion” in sentences and then explains them to you without waiting to see if you know that “polyamory” is from the Greek and means “many loves” and “compersion” is the feeling of joy one feels in sympathy for a partner’s joy.
I take special joy in being able to explore my sexuality with new women, for in all the time I was unfaithful to my wife I never had actual sex. I was too good, too pure.
I think of my experiences as an exploration. That’s what I call it, exploring. I do not do anything so crass as fucking women or saccharine sweet as making love. I explore with women, planting the flag of my manhood in the undiscovered countries of their divine femininity. Yet I soon learn that while the world is full of unconquered territories, I have but one flag pole, and it is not always up to the task.
I mostly focus my exploration on one woman, who breathes to me in the whispered tongue of forbidden poetry and forgotten mythology. I bask in how brilliant she makes me feel, and because we are both 100% secure in a primary relationship with someone else, there is absolutely no pressure and nothing can go wrong.
For her part, Katherine takes to the whole open marriage thing like a duck I was kind of hoping would be more of a homebody to water I was hoping would not have seemed quite so inviting. She calls up ex-boyfriends, reveling in her newfound freedom and flaunting her sexual prowess. I see her every week at our check-in, and tell myself that it’s enough.
Late spring on a beach we talk about our latest sexual explorations. I casually mention her business partner of four years, Chad.
“Have you ever explored with Chad?” I ask her.
“But you’ve thought of it, right?” I say. “I mean, come on. You had to have. All those nights working together. Probably you thought about it before we even started exploring with others.”
“I’m not the one who cheated, Ian,” she reminds me.
“Would we really call it cheating, still?”
“Jesus!” she says. “Maybe I will ‘explore’ with Chad, if it will make you happy!”
“Fine!” I say. A little twinge of jealousy rears its ugly head inside me. Chad is everything that I’m not: fit, handy with tools, attentive, humble. I bury it inside me. This is not who I want to be. This is not compersive. “Do that!” I say, supportingly. “I hope the two of you will be very happy together!”
I throw a stick in the water. The beloved dog we share, Tobi, who factored very large in my life with her and about whom I cared very much, ran into the surf to pick it up. In that moment I knew that we would be together forever, and nothing would ever separate me from that dog.
But it was not to be.
7.2013 — Back In Training
Mysteriously, months after she completely stopped relying on me for support and affection, Katherine’s menstrual cycle reasserts itself. She’s like a completely different woman, happy and vibrant and full of life. I hear this from her friends, people who actually see her. She’s spending most of her time with Chad.
We continue our weekly check-ins, where she assuages my ego week after week, but still, I have misgivings. When I go away for a weekend musical festival with my girlfriend, I feel an odd sense of foreboding. Somehow, almost as though I have sixth sense, I can’t shake the feeling that she is drifting away from me.
Before I leave for the festival, I draw a card from a Tarot deck that I keep by the door for dramatic purposes. It’s the Tower. A burning tower. Like the one on the Temple of Transition that I filmed while I was processing what I thought was the defining tragedy of my life. Keep that in mind. I’ll come back to it. It’s totally going to pay off.
“I can’t say why,” I tell my girlfriend, “but I have the feeling that very soon, I’m going to be saying goodbye to Katherine for good.”
When I come back, Chad and Katherine host a barbecue party for their clients. I stay out of the way. We make awkward small talk. The next day, Katherine asks me to come outside so she can deliver a bombshell.
“I’m pregnant,” she says.
I do the math. We haven’t been intimate at all lately, so why is she telling me this? It doesn’t seem like it’s any of my business.
“With Chad,” she concludes.
“FUCK!” I scream. I’ve never screamed anything that loud, much less a swear word. I’m too good, too pure. “THAT FUCKER!”
“You’re the one who wanted an open relationship,” she says. “And you never wanted children, and I did.”
A dagger plunges into my heart. I am awash with an unfathomable mixture of despair and relief.
Somewhere, the Tower is burning.
And boom goes the dynamite.
8.2013 — The Legend of Orin
In the days that follow, I am a mess of uncertain expectations and unanswered questions: what do you want from me? Did you do this on purpose? Am I going to be stuck with this?
Amid tears and the ruin of our old lives, Katherine tells me that she can’t be in love with two men, which presents her with what I’m sure is a terrible dilemma.
Somehow, she chooses Chad.
I come back to pack up my meager belongings. All I have to show for my marriage is the Wii, the blender, an aging Subaru to pack them up in, and a properly poetic observation about how bittersweet and oddly freeing it is to have a life that fits inside a single vehicle.
We agree to a 50/50 split of the equity in the house, and Katherine keeps all its other contents, including our beloved dog Toni or whatever. I bid goodbye to her and the dog, and she tells me something that devastates me: she had been drifting away from the marriage ever since I first revealed my infidelity to her.
I know it doesn’t matter much in the long run, but somehow it doesn’t seem fair that she never told me. After all, I told her that I kissed other women, and that act didn’t do anything to damage the relationship.
I wish she would have told me, I wish I could have done something different. I would have given anything in that moment to be able to go back in time, to change the past, to make it so that I found out what I needed to say to make things work, or better still, to never have told her at all.
But the past is the past, and the past cannot be changed. I drive away, left with the knowledge that my relationship was doomed and there was literally nothing I could have done differently to fix it.
I did make one mistake: I believed that she was my One True Love. I think if I could go back and change anything, it would be that. I’d have told her every day, right from the start, that I needed more from life than she could ever give me.
I think too often, we let that go unspoken. Too often, we forget to say it at all. If you love somebody, as I’m sure I loved Katherine, then never let a day go by without reminding them what they mean to you.
9.2013 — Dead By Dawn
Early September, we mutually agree together to journey to a small cabin in the woods owned by friends. I have convinced Katherine to come and bring incense, a copy of our wedding vows, and her wedding ring.
What I have in mind will not be easy, but I believe that things must be done properly if I am to one day write about it in an absolute reputation-cinching personal essay that will make my mark as an artist of the new paradigm.
“Life does not feed life,” I tell Katherine as we arrive at the cabin. Her eyes dart around, but behind the apprehension I believe there is hope for a new beginning. “Only death can do that.”
“People know where I am,” she says. She has said this a few times since we left the car. It strikes me as a very profound statement, a latter-day koan of sorts. I’m not sure what it means, but I resolve to put it in the essay. It sounds deep.
We sit cross-legged on the cabin floor. I build an altar of the mementos of our ten-year relationship while Katherine eyes move between me and the door behind me. When I finish and we have read our vows and removed our rings, her relief is almost palpable.
“That’s it?” she says. “I can go?”
“That’s it,” I say.
“Oh, thank God!” she says. She rocks back, laughing and crying at the same time. “I thought I was going to die.”
I know exactly what she means. I could barely get through the vows myself.
“But only death can feed life,” I tell her sagely. “Did you ever think that our death, the death of us, might be the price for your fertility?”
“Jesus fucking Christ, Ian, please just take me home before I call the cops!”
Outside, the setting sun slants behind us. I reach out and take her by the hand, totally not to muddy the waters of our relationship status or assert physical control but to honor the sweetness, perhaps, of what had been lost. Our shadows mingle on the ground before us.
I tell her to remain perfectly still while I take out my phone and take a picture. I upload it to Facebook, reciting as I type the caption: “No one will ever understand us.”
The emotion of the moment overcomes Katherine and she begins to openly weep.
“I want to go home, Ian!”
Really, isn’t that what we all want? But you can’t go home again.
2.2014 — Their First Assignment
Katherine and I speak a few times over the winter, our conversations punctuated by long silences and odd clicks on the line. She assures me many times during these conversations that she is alone.
It is early February when I receive the text, a birth announcement: her daughter with Chad was born at 7:30 in the morning, at home, a natural birth. She weighs 7 pounds and they are all doing quite well.
For a moment, I am bowled over. For a moment, I am thunderstruck. Miles away, in a life that I am no longer living, a thing had happened that did not involve me at all, and I am momentarily at a loss as to how to make it about myself.
My fingers find the touchscreen keyboard and begin to swipe, almost of their own accord. The words that flow from my fingers are so perfect, they seem to have come from some secret muse, but they didn’t. They are my own unvarnished genius.
So this is love. The willingness to be broken, again and again.
I look at it, and I feel a little ache, knowing that if I live a thousand years and send a million texts, I will never craft a message as genuine and powerful as this one.
Then I text, “Congrats.”
Katherine recovers quickly. Within a few days, she has agreed to meet me at a public place. How does a human being act in a situation like this? Consulting my memories of books and art house films, I craft a response: cautious optimism cut with handmade artisanal anxiety.
We spy each other beneath an electric blue sky on a plaza buzzing with midday shoppers. She bursts into tears at the sight of me, and strangely does not stop sobbing as I get closer.
She shows me her daughter. We make small talk. I ask her about our beloved dog Momo whom I miss so much. After the the third time he walks by, I succeed in identifying her partner Chad wearing a baseball cap and a jacket with the collar turned up.
I look at Katherine. She freezes up, like a rabbit under the shadow of a hawk.
I call Chad’s name. He starts like a guilty thing, then comes over.
“Are you okay?” he mouths to Katherine.
“I’m fine,” she mouths back. “I’m fine.”
“Good to see you, buddy,” I say.
“Yeah, yeah,” he says. He won’t look at me. “You, too. Are you sure you’re okay, honey?”
And for a moment, we’re just three friends, three people whose lives have crossed and entangled and uncrossed in ways no one could have foreseen or guessed.
“Congratulations on your new child,” I say to Chad. “I’m really happy for the two of you.”
I notice how much relief has washed over his face, and I realize that maybe this is my role I life: I bring people relief. I’m a soother. I’m a peacemaker. I take away people’s fear.
When I part from Katherine for that second to last time, I know that I’m right. I’ve never seen anyone look as relieved as she does, in that moment.
5.2015 — Mission To Moscow
The divorce paperwork comes through and we find ourselves together once more in a dingy little notary’s office on a hot summer’s day. They’re not quite ready for us so we go to a bar for lunch. I have a pint. Katherine has a double gin and tonic, then takes one last selfie of us together and texts it to a friend along with my license plate number before I take her phone and send a copy to myself.
Our last photo together. It’s kind of bittersweet.
We drain our glasses and go back to the office, where it all becomes terribly real. We finish and say our goodbyes, and I realize that I don’t know when I’ll see her again.
At home, alone, so alone, I craft a poem into the quiet evening.
Today we filled out form 2B
or not 2B, that was the question,
asked and answered. Objection?
Overruled! The court finds for the plaintiff
but my heart was overturned on appeal.
Make no mistake. Marriage must end in death,
hers or mine, and why does she look so nervous?
It’s no one’s fault, and I don’t blame her for it.
And yet what remains, when the heart is broken?
Perhaps our remaining challenge is to craft a label that adequately conveys
what we become
and what becomes of us
We are still searching
and someday we will find it,
that rainbow connection,
and at the end,
behind it all
and a really
Ian Mackenzie is seriously a real person who thought the original version of this essay was a good look for him. He crafts conscious memes and he really really really really hopes his sad boner confessional as seen on Huffington Post will move you into sponsoring his new paradigm storytelling, because it’s not like HuffPo has any money for him, am I right?
Alexandra Erin, who translated his essay from douchebag, is a humorist, poet, and author who depends on crowdfunding through Patreon, (hint, hint) and a digital tip jar (hint, hint) to make a living. Find her on the web at alexandraerin.com.
And tell your friends!