It was a full decade ago and I was in a markedly different phase of my life. I was 27, married, and happily so. Life was consistent, stable, and mostly hangover-free. But, like many 20-somethings, I was still struggling with my career path.
At my wife’s behest, I started taking classes at a local community college. It was a bustling campus in Tampa’s historic Y-bor district, a former holding ground for many Cuban cigar factories. Between the noisy roosters roaming the cobblestone streets and the area’s thriving LGBT community, it was a colorful place to study, and welcomingly so. But this would soon be the place of a very personal predicament.
It started so benignly
I had a twice-a-week math class with a too-strict professor. We met in a fairly large, rectangular classroom. It was filled with rows of large, shared desks. The class had a diverse mix of people, from all walks of life, as is often the case at community college.
There was a memorable day when the class broke into groups for a collaborative project. By chance, I was paired with a classmate, Nicole. She was short, with long brown hair and piercing blue eyes. The contrast between the two was quite striking. She was young, maybe 21, and attractive by any measure. She had this vibrant, youthful energy that seemed to pulse outward from her.
We immediately hit it off. I’m a bit of a joker, always looking for the next laugh. I think she liked my sense of humor. She certainly appeared to with her cackling. Which is why I assumed she sat by me every day after that.
When I sensed our growing bond, I got a bit concerned. I deliberately changed seats a few times. But she’d still laser in on me, totally unaffected by my moves.
She had this endearing way of entering my world each day. She’d get to my desk and abruptly toss her bag on the ground with no abandon, then plop down into her seat and say “Hey!” with her magnetic smile. She always seemed so happy to see me, so eager to be in my immediate proximity. My wedding ring, which was always on, seemed totally invisible to her.
I’d sometimes groan with this mix of pleasure, pain, and anticipation when she came through the doorway. It sometimes felt like God had sent this beautiful archangel to tempt my faith in marriage. Was I true? Was I the man I’d pledged to be?
Temptation brings you up close to your priorities
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy her company, our joking, goofy, whispered conversations in the back of the class, like two troublesome high schoolers. She was light-hearted, friendly, and smart. It was charming. Getting married hadn’t turned me into an invincible faith bot. I was still a human that drank water and breathed air. The eager attention of a beautiful young woman, who hung on my every word and laughed at all my jokes was quite intoxicating.
There was a voice inside of me, you know, the one you hate to listen to, because it is usually right, “Get away from her, man. Run. C’mon Sean. You’re starting to enjoy this too much.”
The voice was indeed right and about two months down the line, things sort of came to a climax. Class adjourned. We stood up to leave, getting our bags. We filed out of the classroom and were the last to leave. I’ll never forget what happened.
We were standing just outside the doorway, on the quasi-busy student walkway. We drift-walked for a few minutes, chatting. Then, she turned and looked at me, and, suddenly, the energy had unmistakably changed. It was anticipatory. There was a sense of nervous wanting, an undertone of hunger.
Nicole touched her hair, looked down, then looked up and said, “Hey, so, do think you could give me a ride to my place?” She ended the question with a smile and a wink that seared a glowing hole in my chest.
Immediately, I felt my heart thud several times in my neck, revving up to a fast beat. A wave of electricity rolled down my arms. There was no mistaking what her question meant. Every part of my DNA was shouting. It was primal.
There was a moment of contemplation, of consideration. Then, I swallowed and said, “I — probably shouldn’t.” With a bit of a stammer, I added, “I have somewhere, in, like, 15 minutes. So I shouldn’t be late.”
It was painful to get those words out. And I don’t say painful with any sense of pride. That’s just me being honest. I was always, with no exceptions or bending, faithful to my wife through the duration of our marriage. But to say there weren’t occasional moments like this would be disingenuous.
In the chest-splitting moment of Nicole’s thinly veiled invitation, I’d seen a door in my mind. I could see myself stepping through, and with it, this rush of lusty imagery that I could partake in.
I’d have surely reveled in all of it. But it could have only continued for so long. I’ve known men who stepped through that door. I’ve seen what happens next and it’s never pretty.
Once that door is opened, there’s no going back. You will keep going. And it will take you to a place, where you’ll do things that can’t be undone. And all that is good in your life will be unraveled.
Everything has a price.
In these situations, you need to use your head. You need to think vividly about consequences, or those consequences will become your reality.
Most importantly, you need to pay credence to the love and respect you have for your wife. It can all go away, faster than you’d imagine. There’s this punishingly long, ugly tail that comes with infidelity. It starts with neuroticism, lies, paranoia, and often, quite paradoxically, jealousy. Then, when the cards fall, everything else does too. Even if you are OK with cheating, the fallout never seems worth it.
In the years since, my marriage eventually did end, for other reasons. There’s this funny thing that happens with guys when I tell them this story. Because I’m now divorced, they’ll say, “Don’t you regret not doing it?” Or they’ll near-beg me to reach out to Nicole, despite a decade having gone by.
I suppose it’s a funny and logical thing to ask. But I actually don’t have any regrets. I’ve made enough terrible mistakes in my life to know the value of doing right by those around you. There’s this sense of solace in not being shady, in knowing you took your commitment seriously when many others wouldn’t have.
And also, being faithful is a lot less work. In the words of Mark Twain, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” So I just stick to that. I suggest you do too.
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