Flirting, is not Cheating

For 25 years I did extensive business travel, in the end I was gone 4 days a week, 30 plus weeks a year. We joked that it was the extensive travel that let our marriage last as long as it did. In that time I enjoyed seeing the country, every nook and cranny of little towns. I attended minor league ball games, art museums, caught plays & concerts, and drove hundreds and thousands of miles of scenic roads. But mostly I met people. I had lunches, and dinners, day after day and week after week, with the most intelligent, fascinating, and worldly people I know. Yes, we would talk about their projects, and their companies and I would dole out advice about how best to proceed. But I would eventually ask about their kids, and their hobbies; where they met their spouse, where they went to college, their favorite vacation place. I met new people week after week after week.

Many know that I “retired” unexpectedly, and suddenly. That I flew off to work one day and was stricken ill. With some spurts and sputters here and there, I have never again enjoyed my previously dynamic life. It was five full years to just get myself back into physical shape, to this day with waxing and waning abilities. But it would be a full decade before I would dare to even leave the Tampa Bay area except under the most guarded way, with my son or wife in tow “just in case”.

Climbing the walls

As I began to feel better, as physical therapy and job retraining was leveling out; my now ex-wife started to drop the hammer on me. There would be no more socializing, unless my lunch partner was male. Sure, I could join a golf league (I hate golf) or a poker club (I hate poker) or hang at the bar with the guys (I would rather die). I was also allowed on “double dates” with her and other couples she dug up, whom she found fascinating, dynamic, and great storytellers but within 10 minutes I comprended their lives and was ready to move on.

By her rules, I could not socialize one-on-one with women, unless she first met the other woman in my presence and “approved” further contact. I thought she was kidding, but she found a marriage counselor and psychotherapist and doctor to support that standard. It took a couple years of arguing, and my escalating the issue, but this became the main basis of our divorce. To this choir of her women supporters I was “cheating”, on vows I never made and therefore had no intention of honoring.

A Busy Guy

I joined a church (two actually) but was not satisfied with junior high style “group dates” and potluck dinners. First, I have difficulties hearing and big table dinners are just so much unintelligible rumbling. Also, if there are 100 people attending and sitting randomly at tables of 10, I don’t want to look forward all week only to pick the lottery in the last 5 minutes of the big day, to be stuck next to 8 people interested in fishing or a bowling league or worse yet Washington politics. I want to have lunch with somebody, of my choosing, that I find interesting. I want to hear their stories, share mine, and then stand up and go on about my business for the day. If we have continued interests, then schedule another meeting, otherwise say thank you and move on with life. And simply put, someone of either gender.

During this time I was also very busy doing social justice work (protest marches, citizen boards, speaking at meetings). I volunteered with charitable organizations and even did tutoring in school. I was a full time mom at home; cooking meals, laundry, setting up doctor appointments, and paying the bills. But I still liked the fun of having a “coffee and gossip” at least once a week, and with new people as they came into my sphere. Sadly, after a dozen months, I shot through new people; making some long term friends, finding others boring, but needing to seek out new ones to keep my interest in life. My job used to deliver new people up like parcels from the UPS man, new faces every week. But not now, stuck in retirement.

Abandonment, Trust, Fear and Jealousy

As I’ve done my research on this subject, time after time the jilted spouse complains that their feelings are hurt by their more charismatic spouse’s “neglect”. They want to dote 100% of the time on their expressive mate, and expect in turn to be doted 100% right back. That, in their world, is “love”. The opposite is “cheating”, “neglect”, and “abandonment”. My instinctive reaction, which I said to both my ex-wife and her counselor, is for the introvert to resolve their underlying issue and become more confident, to self-actualize. Go ahead and make your own friends, have your own coffees. If you don’t like social one-on-one time, develop a hobby to provide solitude like gardening, walking, or watercolor. Find a way to enjoy our time apart. But to shackle your dynamic spouse to your introverted (or depressed) ankle is both childish and criminal.

My attitude was not considered “enlightened” or “helpful” (asking her to resolve her fears of abandonment). Instead I was branded a “narcissist” that was “unrepentant” that should be “taken to the cleaners” at the divorce. When I said that my marriage vows only included not having sex (oral, anal, or PIV) and made no other stipulation, I was laughed out of the house. Yet, when anyone talks of some man (real or fictional) that marries a dynamic woman, then out of jealousy or control locks her away from society for himself… we say he is evil, broken, and she should run from him. There is nothing kind or dedicated about a man kidnapping his new wife. Yet turning that table for the poor homebody woman, shackling the newly retired dynamic husband, she is somehow a poster child for a victim? Give me a break.

I hate male privilege, getting (or taking) from a position of unfair social power. But I hate female privilege more, getting (or taking) from learned weakness. Stand for yourself; ask, earn, do, be.

A Long Happy Career

I was raised in a blue collar home, and went off to college to figure out my way. During my first jobs I met people in sales and management, both men and women, and it was obvious they carried themselves certain ways new to me. They were always dressed well; the women desirable, perfumed, in heels with complimentary jewelry. The men in sharp suits and crisp shirts, wearing expensive watches and rings. They were fit and trim and their cars were kept clean and tidy. They spoke with a certain dignity in meetings, then laughed loud and had a separate raunchy lingo around a team beer. The men loosened their ties and the women took off their blazers, and we all danced at celebration parties when a big contract was closed.

Was that flirting? Or was that energy, and professional success?

During my consulting, I provided long term one-on-one advice. I love to tell how when in small towns I would arrange to go home with the clients, buying pizza with my expense money and shooting hoops with their kids. I’ve stopped at Home Depot then unloaded bags of mulch with one, and attended little league games with another. The job would have been unbearable to me to treat it like all the other consultants on staff, hiding in the hotel, drinking beer and watching sports on TV in the bar.

Once I started doing training, my engagements were exactly one week. It was new faces, new places, every week. It fed my thirst for the new. So I had no problem over lunch enjoying the quick intimacy of sharing secrets and insights. Sometimes I’d just talk to someone at the airport or on the plane, even sharing a car with a stranger if weather canceled our shared flight. It was a wonderful life to me, yet others considered this almost a mental illness, to be fixed upon my sudden retirement. Now, they said, you can settle down and stop all that silliness. You can “do the right thing” and live in a one man / one woman relationship for your physical (agreed) but also your social, emotional, and psychological needs. But to me, the wedding vows were only for physical.

And in my career, from time to time someone’s job promotion was affected when a jealous spouse would call from home, checking up on a co-worker. Where they cheating? Yes, it happened, and it was sad and embarrassing. It eventually happened to me, but at least after retirement.

He Said, She Said

There is still one last argument, all about timing. I say I was true to my vows. Yes, I was flirty and fun, charismatic and social, and invasive where other folks often had barriers. The internet changed things. You needed to use the internet to find new friends. This caused a tremendous upheaval in social rules. If I found a friend through church, or a protest march, this already caused some consternation at home. But it became obvious to me that to find a steady stream of new people, with different outlooks and different experiences, I would need to use the internet.

So we had great arguments that I needed to be chaperoned to do this. I would need to submit every note for prior review, and all profile searching would be done together to decide which are permitted for submitting those approved notes. I laughed that concept off, saying my vow was only “keep it in my pants”. Adding, if you are upset that I am full of life and bored silly, get a hobby, or find friends of your own. At the end of the day, over our dinner, we can only tell each other what fun we had if we had done different things. If we lived 24/7, every minute of every day shackled at the wrist and ankle, there would be nothing to share at bedtime. “What did you do today, dear?” “You already know, you were there for every second of it”.

The policy was these actions CAN lead to cheating. In modern parlance, since actual cheating is often preceded by internet texting and coffees these texts, coffees are forbidden. “Where there is smoke, there is fire”. By this standard, nobody should drive a car, since all pedestrians are hit by drivers. Nobody can eat food, all poisoned food is eaten. The legal term for this is prior restraint. Life is about trust, and the inability to trust, the feeling of abandonment, is not the problem of the dynamic spouse, it is something for the victim to fix.

I spent 30 years among dynamic people, yet did not stray. But her spiral of fear and doubt grew. At any point my ex-wife might have started suspecting my fidelity; started following me, spying on me, accusing me of being unfaithful. The fact that she didn’t do this while I was working probably attests to her raising kids, being busy with me out of town, not having time to worry like once I was in retirement. The fact that nobody else chose to see her actions as symptoms to be resolved was the real problem here. It cost me a lot of money, but it also set me free. And now I finally understand. This was not my issue to resolve.

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