One woman learns through experience how men deceive themselves when they have affairs.
The last time I saw him was on a train. As we approached my stop, he looked straight at me and said, ”I feel invigorated, like I’m about to die.” Then he kissed me until the doors opened. I sighed, turned around, and walked away.
The affair had started unexpectedly and ended as soon as he grasped how easily it could destroy his life. He had a lot to lose. I had less. I was single, childless, but wanting. I was looking for a partner, not a lover. For a moment, I believed he could be the one. If he didn’t have a child, he told me, it would be much simpler.
I knew even the best case scenario—he leaves his wife, we live happily ever after—would carry serious costs. Still, I fantasized about it, and so did he. Initially I was much more skeptical of our future prospects than he was. I had had an affair in the past, although a strictly emotional one. That experience shook my understanding of how a man is supposed to make a woman feel. He accepted and celebrated me in a way I didn’t realize was possible. I gave up on what I had with a decent, if emotionally flawed, individual because of that affair.
That guy didn’t have kids, though his fiancée was older and was starting to demand them. Didn’t he owe it to her? he asked me. If so, I would never, ever want to be her.
They married just months after he had asked me, in writing, if I would move away with him. It was a question I refused to respond to while we were both in relationships. Eventually the momentum of his life before he met me won, and now they have a child and I hear he works 100 hour weeks and his wife sometimes feels like a single mother. When it ended, I poured my heart out and thanked him. I asked him if he had anything to say to me and he said, “Some things are best left unsaid.”
From that experience, I learned how men deceive themselves when they have an affair, and that the incumbent partner usually wins. I know exactly how hard it is to leave someone who wants you to stay because I have done it. I sometimes wonder if it’s harder for men. Not that it should be easy for anyone. I’m looking for my forever and I have little desire to be a homewrecker. But these men sought me out—they chased me in a way that I have gradually learned some men need to chase a woman—and each let me believe they had the courage to take a completely insane risk. Each time, I believed him.
Six years after the emotional affair ended, I lay in bed with my married lover, and he started to discuss steps forward for me and him. I was in awe of his optimism. I knew reality would curb it. Although we were infatuated with each other, we had only just met. I was sad for him. He and his wife had been together for five or six years, married for three, with an adorable child and another on the way. He hadn’t wanted the second.
What had gone wrong in his life? In my eyes he had it all—a family of his own, a satisfying if not perfect work life—and he was still deeply lonely. We never went into the details of his marriage. It was none of my business.
“Do you have the patience for this?” he asked me hopefully one morning as we were saying goodbye. He honestly thought it was up to me.
We agreed it had to stop, no matter what any distant future might hold for us. Yet we continued to interact online, sending each other flirtatiously ambiguous messages. After a while, he started slipping away. As I gathered through unsophisticated cyber stalking techniques, he appeared to have rededicated himself to family life. It was what we had discussed, the only possible path forward, but the reality of it hit hard.
The next day we spoke on the phone for the first time in weeks. What happened to that package you were supposed to send me? I asked him. What was it going to be?
A passage from a book, he said. “You know how sometimes things find you, just at the right moment?” he asked. He said it was a story of closure and how people come together during poignant moments but it was all ephemeral and…
I stopped him right there.
“Fuck you,” I said. “That’s complete bullshit.”
I had heard some version of the ”let’s just enjoy the moments” crap several times already. It was over, really over, and I was devastated. Because his action was equally predictable, perhaps, I found myself as shocked as I had been the first time he kissed me, grasping both of my hands, his icy wedding band burning my finger.
—Photo credit: Ed Yourdon/Flickr