The affair happened more than ten years ago. We worked together on a project with four other colleagues. She was married and had two small children.
Just before Christmas, we all went out to celebrate the coming holidays. After dinner, we continued drinking at a cocktail bar. It was dark and cozy, and Guns N’ Roses’ “Patience” was playing in the background.
“If I can’t have you right now, I’ll wait, dear . . . just a little patience,” Axl sang.
It was one of those moments that you shouldn’t analyze in order to avoid magical clichés. It was just my colleagues, her, me, and Axl’s voice. Still, I think it is fair to admit that Guns N’ Roses was my first true musical love. I think my mind was drifting back from a GN’R concert that I had attended in Germany, when she said, “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“What?” I said.
“I’m going to miss you during the holidays.”
I looked at her and said, “I really like you. I’ve never told you this before . . . You’re married, you have kids . . . but I do like you.”
I did. There was something about her . . . something that I desperately wanted.
“I mean it,” I said.
She took my hand, and we went outside the bar. I don’t know what the rest of the group was thinking; I was getting a bit drunk and not really paying attention. Outside, she dragged me around the corner and kissed me.
“I’ve wanted to do that for a while,” she said.
Then she went inside, and I went home. It should have ended there, but it didn’t.
During the holidays, she texted me several times saying that she was thinking about me. The first two or three messages, I ignored. I erased them. I seriously thought she was a no-go. The fourth time, I wrote back: “You’re married.” I thought that would end it. Simple. Decent.
She wrote me back: “I don’t care.”
Did I care? Should I care?
After the Christmas break, she asked me if she could drop by my place the following day. “I’ll bring some fresh bread,” she said. The idea was to work from home.
She showed up with three different kinds of bread: one white, one whole grain, and one with nuts.
“I don’t know what you like.”
Actually, we didn’t really know one another. It was there in my apartment that something began.
“Why aren’t you doing anything?” she asked.
“Doing what?” I replied. I guess I was being childlike and naive.
“This,” she said while letting her dress fall to the kitchen floor. “I want this.”
“Come,” she said and opened her bra. Her breasts came toward me. I had to catch them. Briefly, I thought about her kids hanging onto those nipples. Milk. Gravity. The elasticity of human skin.
The rest is obvious. It went on for a few months. Then one day, my mother called. “Do you want to spend the rest of your life with her?”
Fuck, I thought.
“Do you really love her?” my mother insisted.
I still didn’t answer. Sometimes you just don’t have to answer a mother’s question, as if the question were a hidden order.
That same evening, I realized that I didn’t love her—I never had. I was in love with the idea I had about her life. I wanted a family, I wanted kids—not her kids.
I felt as if I was watching my own illusory thinking fall apart. It made me sick. A month before our affair had started, I had met her husband. I’d liked him. He’d seemed cool. Now, I concluded that I had liked his life. What had happened? I had fallen in love with an idea about family life. Why had I not seen it?
To fall in love with an idea . . . can it be more Platonic?
Her husband didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve that the guy who his wife was toying with didn’t even love her. Instead, I fantasized about his damn family life. He made me do it. If only I had loved her, then he might have forgiven me. Love is such a decent excuse.
He had been the actual seducer. Yet he was not to blame. No one was. Or we all were. I had become attached to an illusion. That was the main problem. I had seduced myself. In other words: I had been seduced by her. Funny, I didn’t notice this having read Kierkegaard’s The Seducers Diary several times. I was Cordelia.
To be honest, I had forgotten all about this episode until recently at a conference on the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, where a younger boy, probably my age back then, asked, “Do we really know why we do what we do while we do it?”
“We do, if we pay attention,” I said.
It was there, somewhere in Rome while eating a salad, that I suddenly felt gratitude for this old experience. The affair had formed me, prepared me. I had become more mature during those few months than during years of previous flirty encounters. It had been real. It had also been the first time that I had consciously paid attention to my own thinking, feelings, and behavior while they had taken place. My mother had forced me to observe my mind.
“Do you really love her?”
My mother had challenged me to accept that what I had desired and done had been miles apart.
The same evening I let go of the married woman, I called her for the last time. Love is too important to play with. I deserted her . . . and she ran back to the guy I envied.
So, in a way, she got what I wanted. Call it a happy ending.
Cover image by Alexandra Bolzer via Flickr