"The romance and suspense are gripping, but the story line is fantasy. Affairs do not end with everyone living happily ever after."---Jeff
"It's so painful. I cried much more than I laughed with her."---Jeff
"It's a drug, and it captures you, and you become its slave."---Jeff
The Addiction of Midlife Affairs
The Bridges of Madison County has all the pluses and minuses of an actual midlife affair," says my friend Jeff (not his real name). "The romance and suspense are gripping, but the story line is fantasy. Affairs do not end with everyone living happily ever after." Jeff should know. Eight years ago, when he was 45, he too was involved in an extramarital affair. Since then he has embarked on a private crusade to warn others of the devastating nature of the behavior.
You may remember The Bridges of Madison County as a compelling story of midlife romance. In it Meryl Streep stars as Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife who at 45 has a four-day affair with National Geographic photographer Robert Kincaid (played by Clint Eastwood). I have mixed feelings about the movie. I'm glad Hollywood has discovered that midlife love stories are some of the best. But I'm concerned over the glamorization of midlife affairs. Anybody who addresses this age group knows that some of the most devastated people on earth are those who have succumbed to this temptation.
Jeff's story is a case in point. It began when a business associate flirted with him. "Here's this attractive young lady," explains Jeff, "who finds me attractive. That's pretty heady stuff. It's hard not to be flattered and respond in kind. Of course I never expected it to go as far as it did."
I ask Jeff if he felt especially vulnerable to an affair. "My wife is not only my lover," he says, "but my best friend. Yet we were in a time in our lives that was rather traumatic. Because of a job change, she was less available. I had much more time alone, and much more access to this other person." Jeff also believes that midlife played a part. "I was feeling used-up, unattractive--like all the good times were behind me," he says.
Jeff says the affair developed slowly and imperceptibly but always with another compromise on his part. "I kept drawing lines and saying 'I won't cross this line, but I'll get right up to the edge.' But you just keep crossing the line, and pretty soon you're over your head."
Jeff says that The Bridges of Madison County did capture the intense emotion which is the main allure of affairs. "And yet it's not what you think it is. It's so painful. I cried much more than I laughed with her. You see that in the movie too--I mean with Streep and Eastwood." Jeff believes the emotional pay-off to this pain is addictive. "It's a drug, and it captures you, and you become its slave."
Jeff talks at length about the terrible costs of affairs. He feels lucky to have escaped in time to save his marriage and family, but the affair did cost him a job and important friendships.
Jeff has a warning for midlifers who use affairs to deal with their midlife blues. "Having an affair will lift you out of the doldrums very quickly," he says. "But when you fall again--and you will fall--you'll go down much further than before. It's simply not worth it."
Jeff has specific advice for both preventing and stopping affairs. He shares it with us in another column.
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