I also need to understand how all of the emotions expressed in that letter can simply vaporize seemingly overnight.
So back to my question. Does the length of the affair matter?
I think the answer to that question is probably different from person to person. For some, time and repeated exposure would increase feelings of attachment. In others who need the chase or the feelings of limerance, it would probably start the "familiarity breeds contempt" feeling. But I can answer how "feelings" can vaporize overnight. Remember when you were a teenager and you liked a guy who you only knew marginally and you built him up into something amazing in your head? You fell madly in love with this "concept" of him, wrote notes to your friends extolling his virtues, planned your amazingly romantic courtship, etc.? Then you got to know him and your prince turned into a frog. Suddenly all those emotions that felt so true and so real, nearly bursting your heart, were GONE. MANY, MANY, MANY of these affairs (though not all) are like that. When you were that young girl, you wanted to experience a feeling, you wanted to be swept away, you wanted to be a part of something exciting. And he was the best candidate for that feeling. Well, in this case, most of our spouses were dissatisfied in some way with themselves, their life, some sense of not "being enough". A very healthy, self-aware person would sense this in themselves and use their pre-frontal cortex to reason with themselves and figure out how to make their life improve - or at least their perception/experience of it improve. It's a form of self-regulation. But our spouses weren't that firmly rooted in themselves, nor did they have the emotional intelligence to do so. So they took the average teenager's approach to getting away from bad feelings/low self-esteem. They found a distraction that made them feel better - one that said they were valuable, sexy, worthwhile, etc They NEEDED someone or something outside themselves to make them feel that way because they didn't have enough self-love to do it for themselves. Some people turn to drugs, drinking, spending money they don't have, etc. But others, when facing this crisis of self-value, discover that adulation, the feeling of being pursued is their drug of choice. Usually this happens when someone they meet at work or in social circles starts paying them way too much attention and they find that it makes them feel good, alive, young, etc. And they fall in love with that FEELING. The person is mostly irrelevant - just as an alcoholic has a "favorite" drink - but when they need a "fix" they will drink anything available. But here's the thing - many of these people have lived generally honorable lives. They don't see themselves as cheaters, liars, etc. So they MUST find a reason to justify this craving for the attention, to tame the cognitive dissonance, so they begin to associate the feeling of "love" (for the feeling) with - "Oh, I must love this person. That is the only plausible reason that I could possibly be doing this out-of-character thing." And then like you as a teenager they put emotional energy into building up this fantasy of the other person because it FEELS good. Granted when they think about the guilt and about you, it doesn't. But they work hard at keeping the two things separate in their minds - and for a while it works. Then DD comes and they are suddenly faced with losing everything real. They can't keep the two things separate anymore. They can't tell themselves it is a "victimless" crime. And now they are faced with HUGE consequences. They may lose their family - their emotional HOME. Before it was like they got to "add" this little extra thing to make them happy in ADDITION to all the things they NEED and LOVE. Suddenly they are looking at being left ONLY with the little extra - and losing the BIG STUFF they care about. It's like buying a pool you can't afford - and then losing your house to foreclosure because you can't pay for the pool. Yeah, for a minute the pool was awesome - but not if you have to lose your HOUSE to have it. Now it seems stupid and you remember you hate the smell of chlorine! My husband has talked about his abject shame when he realized that his "feelings" for the AP pretty well vanished overnight too. He said realizing with such clarity how he'd used her - and hurt me, our daughter and himself (because he has to live with it for the rest of his life) - all to make himself "feel better" because he didn't seem to know how to deal with his depression and loneliness, was horrifying. That he'd tried to sell that it "meant" something to himself to smother the shame (even though he was clear that he had no plans to leave me or continue the affair after the project ended and he went home). But then after DD he realized that even if I left him, he didn't want to be with her. And he was horrified that he'd nearly lost it all for something he didn't actually want. It is such convoluted emotional/mental gymnastics that happen in their brains that this may still not make sense. But hopefully it helps some...
BS - Female
Married 27 years, one adult child DD May 2016 “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” - V Frankl