Pulled in Two Directions
Mark lived between two choices. He could end the affair and try to save his marriage, or he could end his marriage to Anne and try to build a new life with Linda.
If this decision has been simply cognitive—if simply deciding something could have been the end of the matter—then Mark has no doubt the affair should be put to an end. That choice may have been conceivable at the beginning, before he crossed the line into the affair, but now his heart ruled his mind.
Mark was not a helpless victim. His turmoil was a consequence of the choices he had made. But regardless of how he got there, he found himself in a place where he was continuously being pulled in two directions. If he could have flicked a switch to turn off his emotional and physical desires for Linda, he would have done it. But he couldn't and he didn't know how. He couldn't "just say no" and just forget about her.
Mark tried. There were times he stopped seeing Linda while trying to patch things with his family. But his encounters with Anne always ended up being unpleasant. Her trust in him had been so broken that even when he was truly trying to get it right, she disbelieved his intent.
Occasionally, Linda just waited for Mark to come back. From time to time, she actively pursued him. Either way, he unavoidably ended up at her door again.
Trying to hold on to Linda and his family at the same time couldn't work because they were moving in opposite directions. Mark knew he’d eventually have to make a choice, but he didn't want to face the pain of letting go of either one. In his indecisiveness, he began to lose both.
The split between Anne and Mark continued to broaden and deepen until it became a chasm. They tried to cross it. Anne took hesitant steps and so did he, but never at the same time. It seemed that whenever one of them was reaching, the other was pushing away.
Linda, who had always encouraged Mark to be more confident about their chance of a life together, began to doubt that he would ever be able to make a commitment to her. They started talking more about what Linda’s life might look like without Mark. For months, they discussed this, and finally decided that they should stop seeing each other.
One afternoon, Linda and Mark said their goodbyes. Afterwards, Linda left. Mark felt the feeling of finality that had never been there before. He searched through all his possessions, gathered up every reminder of her (pictures, letters, cards, keys, gifts), and drove to Applebee's where he threw them into the trash bin. This was not an act of anger, but of mournful resolution. Mark believed that his best hope for moving past the loss of Linda was to let go of everything that had been a link to her.
Their favorite stories tend to be the ones where they get what they wished for. Mark danced between two desires and lost both of them. Linda was gone and Anne filed for divorce. A couple more useless attempts were made at saving their marriage, but they didn't work.
Anne blamed Mark and vice versa. The lawyers did their thing and their marriage was over. Not a happy ending.
Two years before, when Mark dared to hint his feelings for Linda, all he could see ahead of him was the hope for good things that might come from being with her. What if he could have had a glimpse of two years into the future? What if he could have felt just a little bit of the pain that would be poured out on all of them? What if he could have seen those dreams stuck to the bottom of an Applebee's dumpster?
But he’d made his choices. Now he had to find a way to move on, even if he was exhausted along a big bag full of unsettled issues. And so he did, until an ostensibly normal event delivered a blow that stopped him dead in his tracks.