My husband and I just found out today that the marriage of long-time friends of ours is breaking up because the woman (I’ll call her Mary) has been carrying on an extramarital affair.  The couple has two kids–the girl is about ready to graduate from high school and head to college and the other, a boy, is only 12 years old. So far they have been doing what the husband (I’ll call him Harry) considers to be a pretty good job of shielding the kids from the pain, but the divorce proceedings are imminent. It’s only a matter of time before the mom is moved out of the house and the children, if they already haven’t picked up on the clues (and I guarantee you that they have), find out the entire truth.

My husband met Mary at a mixer for students in our city who were about to embark in graduate studies at a university in another city. In that school Mary soon met a funny Woody Allen-type man from Chicago. They quickly fell in love and despite their differences (she, an Irish Catholic and he, an agnostic who was raised a Jew) married when they graduated with advanced degrees in hand. Mary moved back to our city as did my husband and I and our two little girls, and Mary married Harry here. My husband was in the wedding party.

Fast forward 20 years later. We now find Mary and Harry in a long-term marriage and they now have two children. Going against tradition and because she appeared to be the more career-driven one, Mary worked full-time while Harry became self-employed. Harry was there when the kids needed rides to and from school, when the kids were home for the summer, when the kids were in need of a hug, or a meal, or a parent to be present. Mary worked.

Mary’s job took her out of town. Mary’s job put her in contact with other career-driven people, including a boss with whom she started the affair in 2009. Now knowing a little bit about Mary, you wouldn’t think she is the type. Coming from a good Catholic family, she raised her kids in the faith; her daughter even attends an expensive private Catholic school. Looking at Mary, you wouldn’t think she is the type. Not homely, but not overly attractive either. Her complexion is drab and she looks well beyond her years. “Hot” is not an adjective one would use to describe her, but, according to Harry, neither is the guy she is seeing.

What he is, however, is wealthy, accessible, and surprisingly (or not) married. To be married and carrying on an affair is horrible enough, but to be married and carrying on an affair with someone who is also married is unthinkable. Inexcusable.

Harry has every right to kick her out of the house, but he’s going slowly, making sure that he isn’t stiffed for all he’s done for her and the kids over the years. He will get the children–or at least the young boy who in a few months will be the only minor. He will, deservedly so, get the house that he cleans, he makes meals in, he has raised the children in. And that’s the way it is. Another marriage bites the dust. Another couple goes their separate ways. And the children are left picking up the pieces. But there’s no doubt with which parent they will be spending the holidays with, which one they will have an allegiance to. If I could, I’d ask Mary straight to her face, “Is this the legacy you want to leave for your children? Is this what you want them to remember you by?” Of course she would answer no, but it’s too late. What she wants is never going to be an option. She has given up her family, her life as she knew it, her life as the children and her husband knew it. And for what? Another loser just like herself.