Then He Told Me He Had a Mistress (When Cheating Becomes Love)

I am frequently mistaken for a priest.

People confess things to me. I don’t ask them to tell me their secrets, but I must have a non-judgmental face, because in under five minutes flat the gentleman in seat 2C on my flight from Denver to L.A. confessed he had a Catholic wife, two sons in Brea, California and a mistress in Schenectady. 

when cheating becomes love
(I told you. Just like a priest.) 
I blame it on the tornado.

If it hadn’t been for the damned tornado, my seat mate might not’ve confessed. I’ll set the scene. I was sitting in a wine-and-cheese bar at Denver International airport when a booming voice shouted over the P.A.

“There’s a fucking tornado coming this way! Everyone get to the shitter!”

(Or something very similar to that.)

Instead, me and a blonde woman with four kids back in Kansas got mildly tanked and ate enough Meunster to empty Wisconsin. Apparently, the tornado missed the airport, so I was able to weave my way onto my flight a mere hour and a half late.

Just after boarding, as my airplane was taxi-ing to the runway, under the onslaught of what appeared to be hailing locusts preceding the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the same fucking scary, booming voice came on over the P.A. inside the plane.

It was like this guy was the omniscient God from the Old Testament, all pissed off, vengeful and everywhere.

“Denver International Airport is now shut down!” he bellowed.

Why? I wondered. Did the tornado still have us in its crosshairs? Was this to be my last day on earth? 

This is when I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated on my right, cheating death by ignoring it. The gentleman, whom we’ll henceforth refer to as Francois, looked just like my Uncle Teddy, tanned, a balding pate and a Cheshire cat grin. Which made me immediately distrust him.

(My uncle Teddy had done a little time in a British gaol, due to some questionable import/exporting.)

But as Francois and I chatted, I was impressed to discover his expertise in his field, which I’m not at liberty to discuss, as he might have to kill me. Then he asked what I do for a living.

“I’m a blogger,” I said, feeling under-qualified for this conversation, considering his high-level security clearance. (Which I can’t talk about, unless I want to wake up being smothered with my own pillow by a Ninja in black face).

“What do you write about?” Francois asked.

“Mostly about parenting, but also about body image, beauty and, strangely, married sex.”

Suddenly his eyes took on a mischievous glint — I believe brought on by our imminent tornado-related deaths and my married sex column — then he blurted, “I have a girlfriend.”

I glanced at the gold wedding band on his finger, momentarily befuddled, because this admission happened so abruptly lacking, what seemed to me, any discernible foreshadowing. As is common with me, my anthropological curiosity got the better of me. “And you’re still married?” I asked.

Francois grinned with naughty delight and just like that, I was complicit in this perfect stranger’s duplicitous life.

We were briefly distracted as pilot informed us we were clear for take-off. As our plane climbed through the cataclysmic clouds, it might’ve been a good idea for me to dive into some Martha Beck advice in my May copy of O Magazine, instead I ordered another glass of red wine from the stewardess, turned to my companion and asked:

“Are you in love with your mistress? Is this a story about when cheating becomes love?”

Initially Francois denied being in love with his mistress, whom we shall henceforth (and for obvious reasons) refer to as Emmanuelle. He told me that if the affair threatened to destroy his marriage (to a wife who cut him off sexually years ago), hence the well-being of his two children, then he would end the affair.

Very quickly, I smelled a rat. Francois relished telling me the details of meeting Emmanuelle in a bar in Dubai and, after their affair began, of dining at the next table while she dined with her grown daughter in New York.

His enjoyment of their forbidden passion was palpable.

He regaled me with the details of their arrangement.

  • How often they see each other.
  • The excuses they make to their spouses (she lives separate from hers, according to Francois)
  • The time they hired a “professional” for a menage e trois; “The most fun three people have ever had in their lives.”

(I had to wonder about the call girl. Cynicism can run deep in that profession)

At one point, I tried to steer the conversation in a different direction because, in listening to this couple’s sexual exploits, I began to feel like I was passively participating. It seemed like Francois wasn’t just getting off on having an affair, but was also getting off on sharing it with me.

I was beginning to feel like the “professional” in a mental menage a trois.

We talked about politics and war, but somehow all roads led back to Emmanuelle. Francois showed me his Jawbone. Not the one on his face, but the black Jawbone bracelet he wears that tracks all his activity during the day and his sleep patterns at night.

He pulled out his iphone and showed me the data he downloads into it from his Jawbone, so he can track his progress. Then he showed me a second set of data cozied right on top of his.

“This is Emmanuelle’s data. We’re linked so our data downloads onto each other’s phones.”

Emmanuelle’s data was represented in a fluorescent purple, Francois’s data an electric blue.

“See, she slept four point two hours last night and I slept four point eight,” he pointed out. “We each had only two periods of R.E.M. She walked nine thousand steps yesterday and I walked ten thousand five hundred …”

Francois’s eyes seemed to caress Emmanuelle’s data. His face softening at the thought of her.

At the age of sixty, he feels the weight of his mortality upon him. And Emmanuelle, being a cancer survivor, has the same prescient sense that time is limited, and if she isn’t going to live now, then when?

As we landed at LAX, Francois’ phone came alive with a ping and a text from Emmanuelle, checking in, as her own airplane touched down. He showed me their texts.

“When my friend or I travel,” Francois said, “we always let each other know when we are taking off and send a text, OTO-OL (one take-off, one landing). This is a reminder to fly safe and keep the number of take-offs and landings equal. When we land, we send a note, ‘cheated death again’ as a reminder that it really isn ‘t natural for us to be at 35,000 feet.”

The glint in his eye now seemed less mischievous and more ecstatic. Ecstatic that he’d found this woman.

“You lied to me,” I said.

“What do you mean, I lied to you? I just told you more about me than the closest people to me know.”

“You lied when you said you weren’t in love with your mistress.”

He smiled, caught out. Then looked tenderly down at his phone, the inanimate object standing in for the flesh-and-blood woman who brought him back to life and the, perhaps, illusory dream that he can have it all.

If you enjoyed this article (when cheating becomes love) you’re going to relish Shannon’s book, “Married Sex: Fact & Fiction.” You can grab it HERE!

32 thoughts on “Then He Told Me He Had a Mistress (When Cheating Becomes Love)”

    1. Hey Shitastrophy — I waffled between discomfort and curiosity. It’s hard to really judge someone else’s story as we just don’t have all the details.

  1. Rosie Carrillo

    Quite an encounter, to say the least. Why does it make me feel sad for the people limned in your tale?
    They make their own choices …… Evilly, I hope the wife has a lover, too.

  2. Rambling rose

    One should not judge. This man obviously is in love with his mistress. Happens more often than not (for both men and women). Along the road we call life who has the right to say we only have one soul mate. It’s easy to sit on the sideline and yell “get a divorce” . If you are so fortunate to meet a person that wakens your inner being whether your husband, wife or lover think of yourself as living life. The heart is never to small to love…

    1. Rambling Rose — You are the first to see things from Francois’ perspective. I couldn’t help but wonder if his home life was a barren wasteland through no fault of his own. There really is no way to judge because we can never know the path another has walked.

  3. When I traveled a lot I met men like Francois but usually their biggest regret they shared with me was being a father. The thrill of being naughty or contrary to strangers, I just don’t get!

    1. Haralee — I think most people really do want to be their authentic selves. In Francois’s circumstance perhaps he felt he could trust a stranger to know his heart and keep the secret safe?

  4. I wonder what his wife’s wide of the story would say? So crazy! I hope the wife has a lover as well, but with 2 kids, when the hell would she find the time. If I had time for a lover, I’d rather use it for sleeping, reading or watching Scandal. Lovers are too much work. Fascinating to read about though!

    1. Susan — I love that Scandal would replace a lover. Same for me. Tony Goldwyn on screen is plenty naughty enough por moi.

  5. No matter the circumstances (justifications, etc.) it’s always wrong to receive and lie, especially to someone you have vowed to love and honor. Perhaps it would make since for a couple to end their marriage, or perhaps they might give each other consent to take a lover, each situation is unique, however this should be discussed honestly BEFORE acting selfishly, unilaterally, secretly.

    1. Hi Christina — it’s so funny how phone auto correct always somehow ends up being Freudian. I agree with your comment, however I must say that I was touched by Francois. I can’t really articulate why, other than he seemed so happy and even grateful to find someone he could fully be himself with. Is it wrong? Maybe. But I’m certain it’s not for me to judge.

  6. Rambling rose

    @shannon…I am walking his path now….almost 5 years. I have been the person on the plane on my way to see my lover who has confessed my sins…to a man. Our marriages are not wastelands.

    1. Hi Rambling Rose – my next question is this .. are you Emmanuelle?? (and I really judge you not, I married when I was 106 and had sewn my oats far, but not entirely wide. The human heart is the last great mystery).

  7. Sorry, no I am not….just your average wife on the westside who now enjoys stolen moments of the most amazing sex ever!

    1. Hi Susan — is this to say that my prose is so irresistible that I should start another phase in my development, or is it to say this story is execrable?

  8. Mistresses, lovers … call them what you want. Men and woman have been having extra-marital relationships since the beginning of time. In many countries, this is considered perfectly acceptable. Matter of fact, quite frequently it discreetly occurs in their own circle of friends. Too often husbands and wives forget they were once lovers (or maybe they never really were). Kids, jobs, bills; pile it on. I’m not advocating that every married person run out and find a lover, but if the shoe fits …

    1. Diana — I completely agree with you. As time goes by and I think about my encounter with Francois I recognize he was thrilled to share his story to someone he felt it would be safe to talk to. I did, ultimately, wish he and Emmanuelle the best. We simply cannot judge.

  9. Do you really think it was safe to tell you? Were the flight details true, and the description?

  10. First, I love you O.T. God voice. I could see you sitting there, drink in hand as the voice comes over the loudspeaker. I do not think he thinks of you as a priest. I think you are somewhere between that “professional” and a bartender (or the stranger at the bar?). In any event, you are anonymous, and someone who he will never see again – at least in all probability.

    Your question made me think of my sister-in-law. She was married to a great guy who had a sever illness and was in constant pain. As he got older he did not want to do anything. Skipping a lot of detail, she ended up meeting a guy who filled some needs she had. She finally confessed it to him at that pretty much ended their marriage in many ways. However, in his last days, he asked her to come and take care of him which she did. My wife was pretty much the last person to find out about the affair, which hurt her. My sister-in-law did not share it with her because she figured that my wife would not approve, which was partially the case. The thing was, my wife could see her sister’s side of the situation and really did not judge her.

    Your title question is simple and I think there is a simple answer, no; but there are always things that complicate that simple answer.

    Ultimately, I ended up feeling sad for him because his life had been very rough, but at the same time they did have many good years together. I felt both happy and sad for her because I know she loved her husband but also found someone who fulfilled needs she had.

    It was just another example of why one should not be too judgmental. While we may not agree with the actions, we never truly know the full circumstances.

    I ramble too much – best quit before I decide to use you, and your other readers, as my confessionalist :).

    1. Hi Doug — I love your comments. They give me reason to write. I agree with you entirely. We can’t help but judge, because we’re human and very judgey by nature. But compassion tends to be the best course when hearing other people’s secrets.

  11. *Every* married man I’ve been hit up on has tried to soften me up by saying their marriage is sexually sterile. It’s the start of the mistress grooming, breaking her resistance down.

    Sometimes the lack of sex is blamed on the longevity of their marriage and needing spice, sometimes she’s too busy for them with kids or her own selfish interests, sometimes she’s ‘got issues’ psychological or physical. But you know, she’s a great gal. They’re friends. He loves her. They’re comfortable, or have to raise children. Or something that means he’s a great guy for staying.

    You know, so he can always say “I told you I’m stuck!”. It’s the perfect game. He’s the sainted martyr and you a saving angel to lend him a hand, so to speak.

    Here’s what I’d say because it was so fun to watch their reaction, “Oh that’s interesting! Since you’ve got an open arrangement it would be so interesting to talk with you and your wife sometime to see how that works for you two. You hear about that kind of thing, but who admits to doing it?” Stopped. Them. Cold. They sputter about how she doesn’t need to know. I look at them with eye brows raised. They STFU.

    I step out of the way and let those folks find each other.

    No judgment! 😉

    1. Veronica — love love love how you weed out the liars and cheats. I suppose there are some open marriages that work, and I haven’t even delved into the polyamorous lifestyle folks yet, but it’s great you don’t brook any BS out in the dating world. You’ve got your own back.

  12. Meredith in SA

    Entitled? Hmm.

    Are any of us entitled to love? Is love necessary to life? Those are two different questions.

    Is physical love necessary to a marriage, and is the lack of it reason enough to end a marriage? Can love and marriage be two separate realms of our lives?

    Which part is the betrayal: the desire for love/sex? the denial of love/sex? or the dishonesty (we assume) in finding love/sex elsewhere?

    Or are dishonesty and discretion actually gifts from the straying husband to the self-isolated wife? Confession is only a relief to the unburdened, after all.

    I think it’s too complicated an issue to really deliver any judgement on. You never know what goes on between two people … or three … or four … in a relationship.

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