"Have you ever been unfaithful?" we asked. "Were you betrayed?"
Family Life readers took it from there. A quick sampling of the flood of responses:
"Sure, I've cheated on my wife. Every chance I get. . . . "
--Cyrus, Newport Beach
"After our first motel room stop--even hiring the room was a scene right out of "The Graduate"--I felt so guilty that I had a nightmare that I had killed someone and hidden the body. . . . "
"She was a divorcee, nine years older than him. I suspected and confronted him but he denied and said, 'Why would I want to have an affair with her? Besides, when would I have time?' They were very, very clever!"
--Pauline, Santa Ana
"When I found out, I felt angry, betrayed, dead, a failure. . . . "
"Rebelliously, I had a one-night fling with a co-worker. I felt guilty, and decided my sex life with my husband could be salvaged. Little did I know, it couldn't. . . . "
--"Judy," Santa Ana
"When my husband came home . . . and informed me, minus his wedding ring, that he wasn't sure about 'us' anymore, I told him he was free to go and 'explore' but in so doing, he would probably burn the bridge back to me. . . . "
--"Mollie," El Toro
"I have forgiven my husband, because I can put myself in his shoes and realize that his needs weren't met. . . . But I will never condone his solution to our problem. . . . "
--Kay, Santa Ana
"My advice to others? Think twice about it, or better, don't let such ideas enter your mind! If you entertain such thoughts, look to find the reasons and correct them if you can. . . . "
--"Ann," Santa Ana
"He lost. I'm not sure yet what my winnings are, but somehow feel God has something somewhere waiting for me in the future that will make up for all these miserable years. . . . "
One reader began her letter with an observation that may help to explain why so many people wanted to share their stories. "There are many subjects too painful to discuss, and others so painful they must be discussed," wrote Lynda, who lives in Orange. "Infidelity is the latter. Try as one might to keep it as a deep, dark, shameful secret, it has such impact on the lives it touches that it demands its hearing."
For the next couple of weeks, we will be sorting through the letters and touching on various aspects of infidelity. But let's begin the discussion with the stories of three people who chose to be unfaithful--all for very different reasons.
Nearly all our correspondents said infidelity, their own or their spouse's, made a profound change in their lives--sometimes for the better, more often not. But for one man, that wasn't the case at all. For Cyrus, infidelity wasn't a turning point. It's a way of life.
"I've been married 47 years, am 66 years old, in the peak of health and still very virile. Women of all ages are attracted to me, and why shouldn't I partake of as many of their charms as I can? I make love to my wife four or five times a week and I have plenty left for a full-time mistress and various other encounters from time to time, usually on my many out-of-town trips which I still take as the main salesman for the company I own.
" . . . I know what women like--not always the same thing by all women--and I supply them with as much of what they like as they want. The only consistent thing women want--all women, from 19 to 65 years old--is constant praise and attention. They're all on ego trips and by satisfying that one item, I've laid over 1,500 women over the years."
Cyrus says his successful business has made his chosen life style possible. "Since I'm the boss, I can take off whenever I want, both during the day or up to a week or so at a time on a 'business trip' for trysts with my mistress or woman of the moment. My wife has never found out about those other women. She thinks I've been faithful all these years. (She) is of the old school: She doesn't pry into my business life. . . . We've always gotten along well together and I've never given her cause to doubt me."
Cyrus insists he's been "careful--so careful I'm not about to include my phone number in this letter to you." (Too bad. We wanted to call and ask how often he goes in for an AIDS test.)
No regrets for Cyrus, perhaps, but not so for "Ann," whose letter begins with a familiar theme:
"The why in my case was rather complicated. The how it happened was so easy. Essentially, I was bored and looking for something else, maybe just a little new excitement and maybe to fill a lacking that I had inside. I didn't think it would hurt anyone or change things. It ended up ruining me, my husband and my family, and his, too.
"Our marriage had been great; our family life was great; our sex life was great. Everything was great--except in myself. I was suddenly bored and wanted to prove myself in a career. . . . These emotions started to set in at about the 20-year point in my marriage.