My affair wasn’t the beginning of the end, but it was the end of the end.
I went to a work conference in a town five hours away with Simon, a colleague I knew only casually. It’s normal to hang out with other colleagues at these things, and I didn’t think anything of it when he told me he wanted to skip a session to check out a local bookstore. I went with him. We walked around the city and talked. Things were easy and comfortable and light.
Simon was ugly. So ugly in fact, that he seemed harmless. On top of that, he was older than me by eighteen years.
My husband is handsome. Why would there ever be something between me and Simon? I found myself thinking, justifying the amount of time we were spending together.
Inside one of the used bookstores we visited, he handed me a book and told me to buy it. “It’s one of my favorites. I love it.” I appreciated the recommendation and smoothed my fingers over the cover before taking it to the register to purchase.
Over dinner that night, I discovered that Simon had been divorced not once, but three times, and he was recently out of a long-term relationship. I told him to download a dating app, and he casually sat and swiped on pretty women in the area while we chatted.
I told him my story, the great awful of it (my husband’s addiction and embezzlement, my second miscarriage just a month before), how I didn’t know where I was with my marriage, how I didn’t know what my future would be. He listened attentively, told me the right things like, “My God, Tara, I’m so sorry.”
I got up and went to the bathroom.
When I walked back to the table, I watched him look at my body over the rim of his glasses.
When we separated for the night, he asked me in the hallway outside of the elevator: “What are you doing later?”“I’m going to take a bath and go to bed,” I told him.
We went to our separate rooms. I took a bath and read the book he told me to buy. The book was sensual, and I found myself aware of my own naked body sitting in the bathtub. Reading it felt like a sort of intimacy, like he chose to share something with me when he told me to purchase it. I thought about my husband while I read it. You may never know how many holes a cup has until you use it to hold water.
When my bath was done, I dressed and wondered if Simon would come knock on my door and what I would do if he did.
Simon and I had breakfast together the next morning. I paid attention to him while I sat across from him. I was aware of how physically unattractive I found him, but he kept making me laugh. We talked about my writing. We talked about things that mattered to me, things that I was hungry to discuss with someone, anyone. We then got into our separate cars and drove home.
I told my husband about Simon, how we had such a nice time, how much I loved going to used bookstores, how fun it was to walk around the city. I was aware in my telling that I was wondering why my husband and I didn’t do the same things together.
The next day at work, I ran into Simon into the hallway.
“Come here,” he told me, and I followed him into his office. He handed me two books to borrow.
"I had these in my collection and thought you might like to borrow them,” he said. I was so touched. He’d been thinking about me while I’d also been thinking about him, though I didn’t want to admit it. Even to myself.
“I think Simon has a crush on me,” I told another colleague.
“No, no,” she told me. “He’s just nice. Don’t think too much into his nice gestures.”
“You’re right,” I told her. “He’s so much older than me anyway.” But when I returned to my office and saw the books on my desk, I ran my hand over the embossing on their covers. I didn’t think these were just nice gestures, and I also realized that I didn’t want them to be.
“I have a crush on Simon,” I told another colleague the next day.
“Remember the age difference you talked about yesterday? And how we’re not reading too much into the nice gestures?” she said.
I brought Simon into my office to tell him that I needed to quit talking to him. I know how to set boundaries. I know how to be clear, but I was not clear this time. I said, “I have a crush on you, but I need to work on my marriage.”
I knew as the words are leaving my mouth that I didn’t really mean them.
That night, my husband was a jerk.
Is this a sign? I wondered. Am I being guided to an ultimate conclusion? A marriage ending, a kind man waiting?
I took a bath once my husband left, read and touched the pages of the book Simon recommended.
I talked to Simon on the phone after. Our conversation was brief, nothing untoward even, but when he said he had to go, he followed it up with, “I didn’t have much time to talk, but I wanted to talk to you.”
I took his want like it was a shiny bauble back to my nest called “self-esteem” and put it with everything else I was trying to collect that would add up to me being okay one day again.
Saturday night, I went on a date with my husband. He dressed up for me, wore cologne. He didn’t reach for me though. I longed to be touched so much that I could feel the hunger along the skin of my entire body. I reached for my his hand, which he held briefly before returning his to the steering wheel.
He didn’t touch me the rest of the night.
It was too much. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and texted Simon, “I’m thinking about you.”
“I’m thinking about you too,” he texted back immediately.
Over dinner, my husband and I fought. We returned home and didn’t speak the rest of the night. I laid in our bed and read a book while he played a video game in the living room.
Before I went to sleep, I texted Simon, “If I was available to date, would you date me?”
I woke up to his answer: “Yes. Of course.”
I shaved my legs in the shower the next day. I rubbed lotion into my skin and thought about Simon undressing me. I felt like I would see him this night. I felt like if we spent any time alone together that I knew what would happen.
But he had other plans that night. I could choose to call him when he was free or I could be intimate with my husband. I chose the latter.
While my husband’s mouth was on me in the dark, my phone screen lit up. My husband touched the smooth skin of my legs, shaved just for Simon.
Afterward, I read Simon’s text: “I can talk now if you can/want to.”
I texted him back, “Got tied up…need to go to bed now. See you tomorrow!”
My husband told me later that he’d never felt me so excited, that he could tell I really wanted it.
I could still feel my husband’s hands on me the next day as I talked to Simon in the hallway at work. I thought that it would be easy for me to cut things off with him since I’d made the decision to give my body to my husband, but I kept going back to talk to Simon throughout the day. I just couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to do the right thing, so I didn’t.
Alone in his office, Simon told me, “I love your short hair,” and then he pointed to the soft spot beneath his ear and said, “It makes me want to touch you right here.”
I stood up and walked out. It was too much.
That night, I was intimate with my husband again, but I wasn’t present. Not one bit.
I talked to friends who asked me questions like:
If you found out your husband was doing the same thing that you are doing, how would you feel?
Are you trying to hurt your husband or just trying to escape how you feel?
What happens if you cheat with Simon? What do you think that’s going to do?
I didn’t know why I couldn’t get it together. I didn’t know why I couldn’t see that I was playing with fire. I didn’t know why I felt relief at the idea of my husband cheating on me instead of anger or betrayal. My husband seemed not to factor into this at all: his existence, his marriage to me, irrelevant.
And when my friends asked, “When are you going to stop talking to Simon?” I simply said, “I don’t think I will. I just don’t want to.”
So I prayed. I prayed for clarity. I prayed for the willingness to do what I needed to do. I prayed for the strength to do what I needed to do. I prayed for three days in a row, begging God to help me commit to my marriage and to cut things off with Simon if that’s what I needed to do.
But, after three days, the clarity that came to me was that I didn’t want to be with my husband anymore. The clarity that came to me was that I was done.