After all this time, I still hope he leaves you.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. We sit across from one another at the Greasy Spoon diner, reaching over the table to touch hands, caressing thumbs with the tenderness of a violin player. We must be touching, always touching.
We joke and laugh, we talk, we sit in pure adoration. I know every inch of his face and he knows every inch of mine. I order his food (one Belgium waffle on the soft side, a plate of crispy bacon) and he orders mine (a short stack, no butter, a bowl of fruit, a side of extra crispy bacon). We sit, together in our love, relishing every second.
A car pulls up outside and warrants his cursory glance. The glance holds on a bit too long. The couple in the car comes inside and he follows their every move. They sit two booths behind us. He stares for a moment, then snatches his hands back from the table.
The divot in his ring finger catches the light, reminding me of the torture I so often hide when we’re together. He fumbles in his pocket, quick with fear, and slips his platinum wedding band back on his finger. My heart is in shambles. We get the bill and pay for our unfinished food. Outside, he apologizes. I say nothing and drive home alone in tears.
You would think after three years of dating a married man, I would be used to this.
But it still stings just as much as the first time we ran into a relative of his and I had to “hide behind the oranges” in the grocery store. In truth, this was an infrequent occurrence. Maybe that made it worse? I’ll never know for sure. I suppose the fault is mine. If I had never let things progress, I wouldn’t feel the hurt tugging on my heartstrings when we needed to disguise our relationship or feel the jealousy when he went home to his wife, as he always did.
So why did I do it? Why does anyone do it? At the start of it all, the perks of the situation swam happily in my mind. Imagine the freedom! Imagine the absence of committed responsibility! I was a secure, confident woman and was not willing to compromise my life for a relationship and everything that came with it. Like most modern women, I felt I only needed a man for one thing, and a coupled lifestyle was not that thing.
So I figured, who better than a married man? Moreover, a married man with kids! He had his responsibilities with his wife and family. There would be no awkward morning-afters, no constant phone calls or texts. I could have all the space I wanted and I would hear no complaints from his end. It would be easy and stress-free.
But what started out as a simple, no-strings-attached relationship (or at least the illusion of one) evolved into much more. You can never have your cake and eat it too. Maybe it was the jolt of electricity we both felt when we first met and shook hands or maybe it was our mutual understanding of the other’s troubles. Either way, we grew to rely on one another. We became each other’s go-to when one of us needed support.
And the casual friendship-with-benefits morphed into a caring, loving relationship. I could see the aurora dancing in his eyes when he saw me, and he could see the sparkle in mine. We knew each other inside and out, our lives so intertwined we were hard to tell apart.
But I didn’t count on the pitfalls of this type of relationship.
I thought I had it all figured out. I didn’t expect to grow to need him. I didn’t expect to miss him when we weren’t together, I didn’t expect to become so attached to his children that they felt like family, and I definitely didn’t expect to fall in love.
Or for him to fall in love with me. What I thought could be something simple ended up being a stressor. We had to hide. Our time together was constantly cut short so his wife wouldn’t find out.
I was jealous and angry and crazily in love, and at times, so hurt I could barely stand. I hate being second in line, yet I was. He would tell me grand stories about how we’d be together full-time someday. He would leave her and be with me. A small part of me believed him, but the rest of me knew better. Yet still I stayed. We had such an intense connection that I was convinced living without him would be so much worse than enduring the agony of sharing my man.
Like most everything else in my life, our relationship became punctuated by song lyrics I felt described our situation.
Sugarland, “Stay”: It’s too much pain to have to bear / to love a man you have to share.
The Wreckers, “Leave the Pieces”: You say you don’t wanna hurt me, don’t wanna see my tears / so why are you still standing here just watching me drown … You not making up your mind / is killing me and wasting time.
Nickel Creek, “I Should’ve Known Better”: Your love meant trouble from the day we met / you won every hand, I lost every bet.
Zac Brown Band, “Colder Weather”: And wonders if her love is strong enough to make him stay / She's answered by the tail lights / Shining through the window pane.
Listening to them made me feel better. It reassured me someone went through the same things I did, that I wasn’t alone in my torture. But even through the music, I could feel things starting to fall apart. I began to obsess over his life with her. What were they doing? Where were they going? Was he having more fun with her than with me? What was so great about her anyway? Our love for each other stayed strong, but the relationship had collapsed. I knew what I had to do, as much as I tried to ignore it.
On an unseasonably warm March evening, I ended it.
The chill had left the air and incoming Spring filled me with the power and motivation to do the hardest thing I knew I needed to do. My tears fell as fast as the first thunderstorm of the year.
“What are you saying?” he asked me. “I think I’m breaking up with you,” I said.
“Maybe you should think about it more,” he pressed. I told him, “I won’t come to any different conclusion. It’s over."
And that was it. There was no pomp and circumstance. Just plain cold truth. We spoke sparingly over the next few days and it eventually faded to no communication. In silence, my world was ending. I gave up on love, on life. I stayed in bed all day and didn’t eat.
My friends and family were stuck. They didn’t know what was going on; all they knew was my seemingly unnecessary depression. I trudged back and forth to work amid discussions of counseling, tentative hugs and attempts at forcing me to eat. In the end, I was still broken. The only thing worse than bearing that heavy a weight alone is carrying it yourself.
And then he called.
He wanted me to know his wife knew everything. That he loved me and couldn’t function without me. But he wasn’t ready. Could I wait, please. He needed me. He would be with me when his kids started school again. He would be with me in September. Yes, of course I would wait. He was my love.
The next few months were a whirlwind of elation and doubt. We were together nearly every day, as together as a hidden relationship allows you to be. He talked of long-term dreams, about our future house and trips we would take and having kids eventually. My heart longed for it and wanted to trust him. My brain knew better.
I sat by, clinging to hope, and watched him as he bought new furniture with his wife. They got a new car. He hired a landscaper and started repairs on his house. I became a Monday through Friday, nine to five girlfriend.
For those forty hours a week that his wife was working, he was mine. He loved me and worshipped me and spoke of our future. But September came and September passed. The sun and moon rose and fell. And I was still alone.
He told me we’d be together in September. So every first of September, I wait. I go to the same Greasy Spoon diner and I wait for him. For my love. And as the years go by, my hope does not wane. It naively stays strong. Maybe one day, after all the lost time, he will join me and my September will come.