I Quit a Seven-Year Affair

Credit…Photo Illustration by Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Why did it take so long? We were in love, I thought.


Jan. 20, 2020

For seven and a half years, against my (and many others’) better judgment, I was in a relationship with a married man. I’d never imagined myself as “the other woman,” let alone for as long as I was.

I could not get myself to leave no matter how hard I tried. I looked for loopholes, shortcuts and mantras. I tried therapy, road trips and seeing other people — anything and everything I could do to remove myself or change the way things were. Leaving the relationship was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Until, almost overnight, it wasn’t.

We had worked together for almost a year before it began. I knew he was married and significantly older than me. He had a young child at home, whom he adored and was petrified to leave. Were it not for their child, he and his wife wouldn’t have gotten married to begin with, he claimed.

Now they had an arrangement, he said. A don’t ask, don’t tell, situation.

By the time I was confronted with the alternative reality — that he had been lying to everyone around him — it was too late. I knew better. But I chose not to.

After all, we were in love. He told me they were getting a divorce — a divorce that had nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with me. He stopped wearing his wedding ring and started staying with me frequently. We talked about the future: the trips we would take, the house we would buy and even having children together someday.

As I patiently waited for that day to come, and the magic started to wear off a bit. I got antsy, panicked, horrified when I began to fear it wasn’t real magic, but a trick. One that seemed so painfully easy to figure out, except I was so deep in the illusion at that point, I needed it to be real.

But even Houdini knew that anyone who believed in magic was a fool.

More than a fool, I was half the person I once was, leaving me completely debilitated. So once his wife found out and came after me, it was that much harder to escape.

“Have you no self-respect?” she pleaded with me on several occasions, along with a laundry list of obscenities and insults. Unfortunately for us both, I was more concerned about losing the relationship I had with her husband than whatever self-respect I had left. Persistent gaslighting will do that to you.

To put all of the onus on him, in all fairness, isn’t right. It takes two people to make a mistake. For as deeply flawed as the situation was, there was a deep affection between us. When you find that kind of connection, even in an inconvenient place, leaving seems sacrilege. You don’t give up on love, let alone a soul mate, right?

After sustaining a long string of psychic assaults, and numerous humiliations, I became convinced I would succumb to the situation like some incurable addiction. I had tried and failed. No one was coming to rescue me. They had tried and failed, too.

Conveniently, when I stopped trying, or stopped hoping for some better outcome that had anything to do with him, is when something did start to change.

Sensing my fading fight, he brought up the subject of divorce. According to him it was always an ongoing discussion, but finally, he said, it seemed like it was going to happen. I was so devoid of hope or expectation at that point, I hardly flinched. But when he asked me, coyly, “What do you want for the future?” something went off within me.

He knew full well what I had wanted the entire time. We had discussed it. It was infuriating to be asked that question. No one wants to get into this kind of situation, but under the pretense of happiness, I had done it for him. For us. Little did he, or even I, know that those words, in the form of a simple question, were the ones that would make me disappear.

When I finally stepped away, he turned into someone I could hardly recognize. He became intimidating, controlling and scarily manipulative: incessantly calling, hundreds of times, showing up wherever I was — at work, with friends, or at home in bed in the wee hours of the morning.

But thanks to his behavior, I began to see this person for who he really was, or maybe had been all along. He left me no choice but to be done.

There is nothing hero making or glorious about leaving a situation you should never have been involved with from the beginning. But in the quiet aftermath, I’ve started to remember who I was again, even gleaning a newfound sense of fortitude for the hardships I’ve endured, despite having contributed to them.

In that strength, and the wild freedom that comes with it, downright excitement kicks in at the prospect of how my energy will be better spent. To think of all the time I spent searching for magic, imagined or otherwise, now I may even find something better. I may find something real.

I Quit!

21 stories of walking away.

Jess Magee is a writer and filmmaker who lives and works in New York City.

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Photo illustration by Tony Cenicola



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