While it’s nearly impossible to get a sense of how many people cheat on their partner (data is scarce because, well, people who are unfaithful aren’t always the most reliable or forthcoming), it happens. A lot. In fact, the rate of infidelity, per social scientists, has risen steadily over the past decade. That it happens is not a surprise; the why, however, is always a bit more surprising. Sometimes it’s because a close relationship with a coworker went too far during a long night at the office or a drunken mistake was made. Other times, it’s not a mistake at all, but a conscious decision.
Tyler*, not his real name, falls into the latter category. He cheated on his wife for roughly 20 years. He set up affairs with various sex workers whom he met them on now-defunct websites like Backpage and Craigslist. Tyler says he always figured the affair he was in would be his last, but he kept finding new partners. In fact, he only recently got caught after one of his relationships called his house and tried to blackmail his wife. Tyler, who admits he’s a sex addict and is currently seeking therapy, is still with his wife but he admits he doesn’t have romantic feelings for her.
Here, Tyler talks to Fatherly about why he cheated, how his desire to feel younger fueled his habit, and the state of his marriage today.
So what happened?
I don’t like to call them prostitutes, but, I saw them for a number of years without ever getting caught. Life was going along pretty well. And then I got involved with one a little too heavily. And I did get caught. That got ugly very fast.
How long did you have affairs before your wife found out?
That’s a long time to cheat.
It was always, “This is the last one, this is the last one. I won’t do it again.” And, obviously, that didn’t really happen. I could probably add that it’s become quite clear to me that I have a problem. I’ve been going to therapy for sex addicts. There are, surprisingly, a lot of them around.
When did it become clear that you had a problem? That it was more than just affairs?
When I got caught, and threw up everything that had been going on.
How did you end up getting caught?
One woman called my house and basically told my wife what was going on. She was trying to extort money. She had addiction issues of her own.
Would you say that sex addiction was solely responsible for the 20 years of unfaithfulness?
Part of it was also a desire to be younger. I wasn’t looking for 50-year-old women. I was looking for 20-year-old women. I’m on the wrong side of 40, and the woman I got caught with was on the right side of 40. On the right side of 30. It played into my ego, I’ll have to admit. And she played into my ego very well. I thought we were on the same page. I thought we had something.
Did you ever consider confessing to cheating before you got caught?
Because I wasn’t sure how it would be taken, and it would have been a lot of guilt. And frankly, fear.
But surely you felt guilty about the cheating as well. Just not enough to admit to it.
I just felt dirty afterwards. But I kept doing it. It’s not like that feeling of guilt happened just once. That happened multiple times. But like any addict, you stop and you go through a period of, for lack of a better word, sobriety. But the call is there.
So what’s going on with you now?
I’ve been in therapy for over a year. I have not pursued any other relationships. The desire is still there. But the home life is more important than fleeting pleasure.
So you’re still with your wife.
Has she forgiven you?
There are good days and bad days. You can never forget, but you can forgive. That’s her attitude.
How do you feel about staying with her?
She still has the same feelings about me as the day we got married. So there must be something I’m not seeing about myself that she does.
Do you have those same romantic feelings about her?
Then why are you staying? To rekindle the feelings? To be there for her?
Seventy-thirty. More for her. Going back, would I have gotten married? I’m not so sure. I get temporary emotionally, or emotionally temporary. I feel a connection to my wife, but it’s kind of superficial. Let’s be blunt about it. Appearances are everything.
So you were pretty bored in your marriage.
Do you regret having the affairs?
It was a lot of wasted money. At the time, I didn’t consider it wasted money. And it wasn’t family money, but obviously, in the long term, it was family money. I didn’t spend it on my family. I spent it on me.
What’s therapy and recovery like for you?
I’m a different person. But am I completely, for lack of a better word, reformed? No. Given the opportunity, would I do it again? If I did, I would be a hell of a lot more careful. Do I think about it constantly? No. Did I used to? Yes. Besides the money wasted, I wasted time. I can’t tell you how many hours I would spend at the computer, “One more hour, one more hour. I’ll look for one more hour for somebody.” And all of the sudden, it’s three o’clock in the morning.
Do you feel like the therapy is helping?
I should be working harder at it. I go to group therapy, and other people come into the group after me and have moved on to the next stage. I’m still stuck where I am. I don’t do the homework as much as I should be doing the homework. Other people go to Sex Addict meetings, and I just go to group therapy, and that’s it.
Why aren’t you working harder?
The thrill of what was and the loss of that thrill. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see someone my age. My brain isn’t there. Most of my body is kind of there. But I don’t think of myself as that age. I forget who I am.
Do you worry about cheating again?
I think, were I to travel out of town, I would easily be tempted. I have very little self-control. In reality, I guess it didn’t really start on an out of town trip, but it certainly increased the frequency.