I dated a man who was a kaleidoscope of selves: himself, whom he wasn’t, and whom I wished he would be.
Simon shoved his tongue into my mouth, and I accepted it, albeit somewhat unwillingly. It was the first time we’d kissed, just five days after I’d left my husband.
“I’m so glad we got that out of the way!” I said, laughing. “I was so nervous.” I stretched my jaw, not particularly liking the way he had made me open it so widely.
He took my hand and led me into his home. I watched him as he cooked me dinner: steak and garlic mashed potatoes. As he was preparing it, he’d often stop to come peck me on the mouth.
I expected my heart to be singing. We were together. This was happening. I expected to be bubbling with excitement, but my heart was flapping like a bird with an injured wing in my chest.
All of it felt…not right. Like I shouldn’t be here, like this wasn’t what I actually wanted, like this was another kind of mistake. Yet I persevered. I placed my palm over my heart and tried to will it to still.
I had left my husband for many reasons, but this man in front of me had been the crow bar I’d finally used to wedge myself out of that annihilating relationship.
I’d been a coward in not leaving years before, in not leaving as soon as I filed for divorce three months before, in waiting to leave until after this man got me alone in his office and pointed to the soft spot below his ear and said, “I love your short hair. It makes me want to touch you right here.”
The heart is an extremely forgiving muscle. It airbrushes defects when we love someone.
An affair is another type of airbrush altogether. The affair is always postured in antithesis to the partner we chose them over. We fill in whatever gaps they have. What’s left is a liberal delusion: a man spackled and glittered until he was a kaleidoscope of selves: himself, whom he wasn’t, and whom I wished he would be.
It didn’t matter to me who he actually was. I clutched whoever I thought he was as if he was a piece of wood in the middle of the Atlantic after the sinking of the Titanic. I leapt right in — stupidly, recklessly.
We ate dinner. He talked in detail about the end of his previous relationship. Talking about an ex on the first date. Great first date talk, I thought. I tried to pretend I was interested by asking questions, but I wasn’t. I was annoyed. This wasn’t going as well as I would have hoped. He was sweating and kept rambling. He mopped his forehead with his napkin.
After we ate dinner, we sat on his couch talking and then he excused himself to go to the restroom. I could hear him going to the bathroom. Loudly going to the bathroom. I could hear all of it. He ran water, but it didn’t matter. I tried to ignore it. Tried to pretend it wasn’t going on.
When he came out, we kissed. Tentatively.
“We could move this to the bedroom,” he said.
“No, that’s all right,” I said.
“It’s just right there,” he said.
“It is right there. You’re right,” I said.
“Sheets are clean.” He prodded.
“No,” I reaffirmed.
People always show exactly who they are if we’re looking for it. The problem with dating someone I’d had an affair with was that I wasn’t looking for it.
I was participating in yet another active campaign of denial, something I’d been used to doing in my own marriage, which explained why I’d stayed with someone for years that I’d been miserable with. I ignored Simon’s faults, like if I didn’t really think about them hard enough, they wouldn’t be real.
The thing about delusions is that they reside only in the mind.
My heart could never love Simon, would never love him. Hearts are resistant. They know what they want, and they won’t settle.
When the kaleidoscope I’d been seeing him through fractured, I had only myself to blame. I’d been selfish and self-absorbed, insensitive and careless. I’d let myself be intoxicated by the delusion of a love carrying me out of the roughed-up dregs of my marriage.
My affair and the relationship that ensued with him always had an expiration date. Instead of saving me, I’d only brought another person into the chaos of my own self-destruction as I tried to run from the consequences.