Ending the Affair That Almost Happened
In all our wrongs, I want to write him
in a time
where I can find him.
Before the tears that came and tore us;
when all our history
lay spread before us.
-Lang Leav, Time Travelers
Before it even happens, I am writing to you to end it. End the affair that we are about to have.
It seems preposterous for me to suggest we are going to have an affair, as we are barely even friends. You are in town on business, and we have only spent a handful of evenings together. It’s been nothing other than conversation and a little harmless flirting. Well, sort of.
We are two good people, with two good lives. You are married, I am not. We’re of an age that we know how to manage ourselves, our jobs, our problems. We’ve seen ourselves through a few life crises, buried a parent, brought children into this world.
It was nice to connect with you again after all these years. There was a vague familiarity, but for all intents and purposes, we are strangers. We are decent people, working hard in life, friendly to our neighbors, good to our families. Our biggest flaw might be that we’re a bit naive. We ended up spending evenings together when you were off work and we laughed a lot during your trip. We bantered. We flirted a bit. Talked about politics and sports and our kids. After a few drinks you confided in me; I smiled too long at you; we touched hands and kept them there.
I know you love your wife, and frankly, you have a good marriage. You are a decent man, as I could see you controlling yourself, reestablishing your boundaries when you caught yourself getting too close. I saw the struggle. And I struggled too. My first thought when I felt it happening was, ‘this’ isn’t happening, but whatever IS happening I don’t want it to complicate your life. And I knew I was sunk because my first thoughts were of you, not me. Not my own protection, or heart. I was already falling for you.
I’m wise enough to know that I like you for reasons that have nothing to do with you, and you are magnetized to me for reasons that have nothing to do with me. But in the enchanting glow of enchantment, none of that matters.
We made sly jokes. We asked a lot of questions. I shared this painful thing that happened to me and you put your hand on my shoulder, squeezing with just the right protective understanding. You told me about your fear of needing more in your work and I looked at you with a supportive gaze that said, “Yes, I believe in you and I admire your drive.” My confidence in you buoyed you in a way you haven’t felt in a long time.
Why did we start spending every evening together? We were supposed to only meet for drinks on your first night in town. Well simply put, we liked each other. From the first hour we were together, we loved being in each other’s company. And if circumstances were different (like, you weren’t married) we would’ve called it an amazing first date.
Within the protective harbor of friendship, we started getting familiar. We weren’t doing anything wrong, but your hand stayed on my back as we moved through a crowd. I straightened your collar and smoothed it with my hand. I know your eyes were on me when I bent down to adjust the strap on my shoe. You could feel my eyes beam with pride as you talked to a stranger about your business. The maitre d asked “Mr. and Mrs….?” as his eyes skimmed down the reservations list looking for our name. I felt proud to be by your side. And you loved moving through a room with me.
Unwittingly you are meeting a desire in me that isn’t getting met: to be with a confident, secure man that eclipses my own power. And I am fulfilling a yearning in you that isn’t getting met: to feel the admiration and sexual desire of a woman that is fully turned on to you.
At a certain point, you started bringing up your wife a lot. Saying her name and weaving her into stories. I know you were struggling to keep your eye on your reality and not give in to the spark between us. I talked about my work and things like integrity and the fact that I don’t sleep around. It was genuinely honorable, what we were trying to do.
Honor mixed with attraction between two people is more intoxicating than overt sexuality. I don’t think there could have been anything that would’ve made me want to take you back to my place and go at it with you more than you bringing up your wife and showing me a picture of your child.
It’s your slight and reasonable withdrawal that makes me feel safe. And ignites an abandoned part of my soul that is dark and careless.
I clamor to hold tight to my virtue, but our struggle to be good makes my desire burn hotter.
Later, after we were in it several drinks, you buckle and propose something that I was somehow able to decline. I don’t know how I resisted; my strength was blunted by alcohol and aching desire. In the sober light of day, you apologized for suggesting it. It was a moment of weakness. We had been drinking, we didn’t act on it, and the point is, we made it through this trip unscathed.
You leave. And even though you are now several states away, we are entering into the real danger zone.
This is how our affair will unravel, my darling.
You are home now. Back to business. Life. Work. Family. Little league coaching. Business presentation. Dinner with the in-laws. You start thinking of me. In that order.
In this order: You leave and all I do is think of you. But I force myself back into work mode. Deadlines. Homework with the kids. New project to be outlined. Yoga. Back to business.
Then you write me a cute, two-line email. It’s nothing much. But I feel incredibly happy to hear from you. It was unexpected. My fingers hover over the keyboard as I smile and cock my head. Deep breath. I write four lines. I’m clever, but nothing much either. Back to work.
Soon, we are emailing regularly. It becomes personal. I know what days you coach, you know I’m dreading my upcoming presentation. You still talk about your wife, I tell you I’m going on a date this weekend. We laugh at the dumb stuff that happens in life, we throw in words of encouragement when needed. We compliment each other a lot. I tell you how handsome you are, you apologize for not being able to take your eyes off my lips when you were here. I say “What?” and pretend I didn’t notice. Or enjoy it.
Now I’m checking your social media regularly. You don’t post much, so I feel a shock of pleasure when you write something. I see photos of your coworkers and check out the females that work in your office. I feel relieved if their picture is unattractive. I check out photos of your wife, and I think she’s pretty. She looks like a good woman. Not the kind of woman I would ever want to hurt. The kind of woman that I would be friends with if we lived next door.
And now we’re texting. We stay in this mode for a while. Some days I don’t hear from you at all. And if I’m interested in someone I’m dating, I fade away a bit. But we always find our way back to each other. I fantasize about you all the time. You think about me when you’re in bed with your wife. You think about me when you’re on conference calls. You work out with fervor, wishing I was watching you. I start comparing all my dates with you. They bore the hell out of me. I sit across the table looking at them, thinking about you. You understand me so much more than them. And you’re a lot funnier. I know this isn’t healthy, but I make an excuse to end the night early. And I lay in my bed, half-drunk from my date, picturing myself walking down the aisle to you. It’s way more radical than my usual sexual thoughts of you. Because I know I want a life with you, and nothing else right now, in my reality, can make me feel as high as when I’m interacting with you.
You announce you are going on a trip to Europe with your wife and in-laws. You’ll be gone ten days. There won’t be much communication, you explain. Your wife and in-laws have every hour packed with wine tours, museums, shopping, and bus rides .. there won’t be much downtime.
I respond that I’m happy for you to be getting away. This is great! You need a break! Time with the family! But I feel my first stabbing pangs of jealousy.
As the days lead up to your trip we are in touch all the time, texting, emailing. One night, during cocktails with my girlfriends, I text you my first overtly sexual text. I don’t hear back for an hour. I get home — and still nothing. I feel so vulnerable darling, I just need to hear your voice. I need to know you are thinking of me as much as I am thinking of you.
I weaken and call you. I get your voice mail and hang up. I cry myself to sleep. I’m such an idiot! I need to pull my shit together for godsakes — I’m falling in love with a married man. God, I HAVE fallen in love with you. I’ve fallen for a man that I have only seen a handful of times. A ghost. And now I’m behaving like an idiot. I’m ashamed.
One week before you leave, you confide that you wish you weren’t going on this trip at all. You dread time with the boring in-laws, your wife is spending money like crazy buying new clothes for the trip, and you have a major deadline at work. It’s all just a ton of pressure. You ask me if I’ll be around tonight if you called.
Of course I will.
We talk for 42 minutes. As soon as we’re on the phone together, we’re so happy to be talking that all pressures of reality fall away. If even for a moment. We talk about this and that. You say clever things. I make you laugh. Your wife knows you better, but I understand you more, I think. You tell me details about your project — I listen and ask interested questions. Because I am interested. You ask how things are going with the kids and I share. You are supportive and say I’m a good mother. There’s a long pause.
“I’m going to Scottsdale for a conference when I get back,” you say. “How would you like to get away for a few days and meet me?”
Yes. Oh my god yes. But NO. I can not meet you and have an affair. Or sleep with you. Or give you any indication that I am going to do anything illicit with you. You didn’t even suggest that but I’m panicking. No — it must be on the up-and-up. So I quickly self-edit that we are just two friends meeting in Scottsdale for a nice time together. It will be business for you and a much-needed getaway for me. I have wanted to take a vacation anyway. Nothing is going to happen.
While you are in Europe, I throw myself into work. I miss our communication terribly, but I do not allow myself to indulge in longing for you. I must be very careful, I tell myself. After all, we are going to be seeing each other in a few weeks. I must remain cool. No matter how far I’ve taken it in my head, it’s time to reality-check myself. We are just FRIENDS. You are m-a-r-r-i-e-d. It’s the only way I can consent to this trip…to maintain a collected, respectable dignity.
The week of the trip finally comes. I buy a black dress but I purposely do not pack any lingerie. Just to prove to myself that I am NOT planning for anything to happen. The flight is quick and I check into my own room and get a text from you later that you landed. Your room is on the other side of the hotel. We make plans to meet in the bar, and from there we’ll head to dinner. You have an early meeting the next morning, and I know that it will be an early night. Good.
I’m so nervous walking downstairs to the bar, and this is where I just cut myself a break. I tell myself nothing — NOTHING — is going to happen, to let all the anxiousness go and just enjoy. Enjoy you. Enjoy this trip. Enjoy the time off. Just enjoy.
You look amazing. Even more handsome than I remember you. You are waiting for me and have already ordered both of our drinks. You stand when you see me and smile. We hug each other for a good ten seconds and from that moment on it is perfect. We laugh, we listen to each other…it’s just like it was when we met in my city. Only somehow better. We’re drinking. We go to dinner. Everything has that delicious, accelerated quality that sometimes happens in a new and unscripted situation. The food, the twinkle lights, the people, our conversation, you, me…..it’s just right. And fun. And free. We don’t seem to run out of things to talk about. As a matter of fact, there is SO MUCH to talk about with you. I love to hear your thoughts about things. The way you look at me makes me feel beautiful.
We’re maintaining decorum. But the attraction burns red hot and your primal urge to seduce me takes over. I can feel my insides giving way. Boundaries, and rules, and morality, and desire all melting together into a formless, indistinguishable molasses.
The hottest thing in the world is finding your match intellectually. And watching the good person sitting across from you glint with a bit of darkness.
It’s 1:30 a.m… not an early night after all. I stop caring about rules. You are staring at my lips, watching my mouth as I talk. And all I know is you are amazing, I feel amazing, and I want you to touch me. I marshall my strength and I say I should go, being polite, and you agree, being rational. You take my hand and walk me to my room. We stand outside the door and pause for a brief moment and I know it’s going to happen. You lean over and put your mouth on mine. We kiss each other with longing and hunger, losing our surroundings completely.
We don’t sleep together that night. But we do the next night. And it is incredible and raw and erotic and nourishing all at once, even with the pangs of guilt throbbing dull in the background. We spend all Saturday laying by the pool, drinking bloody mary’s, talking quietly like new lovers do, touching each other, kissing, and ignoring the fact that we have just had sex and we are having a bonafide affair. There is a foreboding. An uneasiness. A quiet, constant undertow of heaviness. You still wear your wedding ring and I hope to God people just assume you’re married to me. We’re tired and quiet and in our own thoughts most of the afternoon. We go back to your room and lose more hours tangled up in each other. We’ve both given in and, even with the guilt, we do not resist each other.
I go to my own room to shower for dinner and stand under the hot water. The exhaustion, vulnerability, and emotions collide and I start to cry. I love you, oh my God I love you. It’s too late to turn back now. My heart has been forced open by our encounter and I am free-falling. I can feel where you’ve known me inside my body and the images of us together flicker like slides on a projector screen. I can never go back to not knowing you. I’m not going to be okay just to walk away and never talk to you again. What have I done? I am not in control anymore.
Vanity takes over and I force myself to stop crying. I know it will show on my face and I want to look beautiful for you tonight. Even in the cold reality of what’s happening, what I’m doing, and the danger we’re in, my mind is still able to rationalize.
We have two more nights. And then it’s over. So make it good.
The rest of the weekend is more of the same. Talking, drinking, kissing, eating, loving, relaxing, sleeping. We are attached. We don’t want to say good-bye. I become quiet and sad-eyed.
You handle the stress differently. You care about me, but you must get back on track. The pull and weight of your responsibilities start to become forefront in your mind. Focus on the details. The flight itinerary. The report that you will need to write on Tuesday. I feel you growing distant. While you don’t necessarily regret what happened, there is a lot of guilt, and God you cannot let this get sideways or cause complications.
We ride together to the airport, you holding me close to you, my head against your shoulder. We kiss good-bye like we’ll never see each other again. You pull away first. We both get on our respective flights and feel numb all the way home.
Darling, you may think this is where it ends and we are safe.
It is not. Life ebbs and flows and five months later we do it again. And a few months after that you come back to my city. And then a thousand things start to unravel, all of which lead to the end of Life As We Know It.
Getting caught is a real possibility, but not the worst part. The constant state of conflict, day in and day out, and the managing of both worlds becomes burdensome.
Jolts of clandestine excitement followed by the forced return to boredom and pressure. The malaise of semi-depression. The highs, the lows. The irrational needing to be together one more time, and the always-present guilt that needs to be shoved back to its corner. Until you just don’t feel it anymore. As a matter of fact, you don’t feel much of anything anymore. And nothing is clean or simple. You wonder how the sight of your little boy up to bat can make you want to lose your shit crying…there is something about his innocence that sharply contrasts what you have to constantly deal with in your head now. You have a knowledge that makes you heavier, not wiser.
There comes that day where you wish you could go back to this you. The maybe-a-little-bored, but generally pretty good version of you right now. And I wish to have this ME back, the one that never knew the excitement of you but has her self-respect and peace of mind intact.
Out of love — the love we never knew together — I am writing this letter to end it. I wish you well, my darling. May you always feel the adoration, respect, and appreciation you deserve, and may we both always live a life we love.
Authors Note: While this letter is not my personal story, I know what it’s like to be in a wrong-for-you relationship with someone you can’t seem to let go of. I drew on the painful lessons, the naiveté, the denial, and the self-loathing that happens when you are in love with someone who is just … bad for you.
I wrote this post because a good handful of my clients have found themselves sliding on the slippery slope of having an affair and were either in denial about it or felt justified in hanging out with their hot coworker/ex/former classmate because they’re “just friends”. NO ONE THINKS I’m going to have an affair today. But we are all (and I mean ALL) susceptible to loving under dark conditions. So I wrote this post with as much vivid detail in how, tiny degree by tiny degree, affairs happen to normal people. Not monsters. Not depraved narcissists you can spot a mile away. No. Most affairs are going on every day, made up of a cast of normal people just like you and me.
If you know someone who needs to read this, won’t you please share it with them?
Stephanie St.Claire is a writer and personal advisor based in Orange County, California. Her work has been featured in The Huffington Post, Fast Company, Inc., Thought Catalogue, Greatist, Citizens of Culture, Mind Body Green and has been named one of Medium’s Top 100 Writers. She’s on Instagram and is the author of The SuperFoxes’ Guide to Life Planning + Organization