By Julie Feinstein
Tea Date (#1).
I didn't ask the questions. What are we doing? Does your wife know?
I've known other men like this one. Handsome, dynamic, tall, married or in a serious relationship for years. The sort who wait until the third or fourth flirtatious sentence before inserting the word “wife” into the conversation. First the seduction—a sticky web of warmth, and then the sting. It's already too late. I didn't ask the question because I hoped this time would be different. This time He will recognize how much younger, more dynamic, more spiritually-evolved, deeper, more right for him I am. I don't have to force this. I'll just shine this little light o' mine and eventually he'll tack his sails and float my way, effortlessly.
I had other rationalizations: We're just making friends. He'll see how great I am and introduce me to someone he knows who is just as cute and charismatic as he is.
I wonder why he married a much older woman. I've met her twice, a sweetly-repressed perfectionist with a voice an octave too high from all the unsaid thoughts constricted in her throat. A kind of stewardess-handling-a-difficult-drunken-first-class-passenger voice. Her face is pretty in a way that looks soft but is brittle to the touch. How she must explode when it all gets to be too much. Maybe that's what he likes about her.
I don't think I really want him to leave her for me. I want the temporary attention: that one-night-stand of eye contact and high energy conversation, each of us leaning in over the round barely-a-two-person table—so excited to speak we hardly let the other one finish. The way he shifted back, took off his dark blue sweater-cap, ran his hand through his spikily mussed hair, then returned hat to head, pulled on tightly, leaned in and began a new earnest topic.
But then there was the moment, towards the later end of the evening, when everyone in the cafe had cleared out except us, and the tattooed-and-pierced employees had put all the other chairs up on all the other tables—but still were letting us get every last drop out of our rendezvous. The darkness outside, the empty quiet deadness of after-midnight on the avenue. The two of us tucked in our corner table, against the thick glass window. And while I'm talking, he's looking at me, but he's also glancing outside. I'm too interested in making my point to stop, but when I am done I ask him about it. He says he was distracted by the memory of his friend being mugged at gunpoint just up the street. This could be true, but he was also glancing in the direction of his sleeping wife, just up the street.
Flirtation is a game, a batting of energy back and forth. If one person doesn't play, the energy falls flat, flies past the other person, dissipates, dies. We had a rally with the ball flying so fast, sentences breathless, half-completed—Did I ever finish that thought? Did he really know what I meant? Were we really speaking each other's unspoken language? Really?
Tea Date (#2)
Tonight he has an elfin grin, and a new soul patch to prop it up. Gray sweater cap with a navy blue stripe pulled down over his ears, perfectly framing sky-blue eyes that have the audacity to sparkle.
We're having tea again. Same bat-time, same bat-cafe, a table two-over from the window. I learn these things: he's been married once before, he married his second wife (the current—I say second because I'm already hoping to be third) when he was only twenty-one. He lost his virginity to an older woman. He dropped out of high school to be a professional surfer and then the company that was sponsoring him hired him to be their marketing director and the rest, as they say, was his-story. He's one of those infuriating people for whom things come easily, high-paying careers, wives. I hate him like I hate women who can go into thrift stores and come out with something just perfect every time.
Tonight, I get full body hugs, one coming and one going. I am in trouble. I know this. This is bad. Very very bad. He is my past, he is Richard, he is Stephen, he is Max, he is William, he is Jeff, he is every married and attached man I have ever lusted after, pined for, and/or slept with, but I am older now, therapized, spiritualized, duly processed, and I have NO excuse left. Plus I know his wife. I am screwed, or rather not screwed. My brain says—He's changed a lot since twenty-one. He needs a new and different wife. And then my brain says—he's left one; if he leaves another, he'll leave you.
We admit secrets to each other. In junior high, he used to break dance. In junior high, I won the Time Warp contest at Sarah Gabler's Bat Mitzvah, in the Rodeo Room at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The prize was a 45, Billy Idol's “White Wedding.” This makes him laugh, as much as it impresses him that I could recall it in such detail.
It's just that I haven't had sex in so long. I rationalize that I can have these hugs because I need the contact and they're so freely given: warm, big-shouldered, strong-armed, muscular-chested, all-encompassing bear hugs with an extra squeeze and a little sound—mmmmmmmmphh.
There have been so very very many wrong men. Were there some right ones in my early dating years, the heyday of my sexual attractiveness, ages eighteen to twenty-four or so, when I threw so many away? No, not you, you're too... needy.
This is karmic retribution. I'll never find an attractive man again. No one bright and funny and cute is ever going to look at me and say “Yum.” And age keeps rearing its ugly stopwatch, ticking away my skin tone, muscle tone, hair quality....
I'm thirty-four years old. Every ovulation is a tsunami, a giant screaming wave of desire. FERTILIZE ME. NOW! Ugh. Where is the man for me? I keep trying, failing. Friends keep saying, oh, he wasn't right for you. I could tell.
Recently, I saw a personal ad that talked about how all women want flowers and a big diamond, and all men want.... And I'm thinking this sounds really jerky but I'm also thinking Yesssssss. I'll take the diamond, I'll give the sex, just remember the flowers, inseminate me, don't cheat on me, and buy me nice clothes.
But really, I am waiting to meet this mystery-someone who is going to just click with me. And I'm starting to lose hope. Tonight Married Man said to me, “Wow, you're glowing.” And I said, “Yes, I've got glitter on my face.” Because I had. But that's not why I was glowing. How is it that these adorable, taken guys can flirt and make me feel beautiful and wonderful, can bring out my glow? And am I a bad person for going back for more?
Tonight we talk until midnight. He has to go back to work. He has a project he has to finish. He makes a comment about how we were out till 1:00 a.m. the last time. “I know,” I say. “Did you get in trouble?”
“No, “ he answers, pauses and then admits, “I didn't tell her who I was with.”
Tea Date (#3)
Third time's a charm. He called today to tell me he'd be at the cafe, instead of on a business trip. “Not that I'm the only reason you would go” he said on the message and said again when I called him back.
“Yes,” I said, “You are the only reason I would go.”
I arrive very late, later than usual. He doesn't see me walk in. Startles when he notices me, smiles. Was that a wink? I commence glowing. The hug he gives me is more a one-arm clutching, lifting me up against his body at an angle. We want to fuck each other. We haven't admitted this, but everyone in the room must sense it.
This time we sit at the last table at the other end of the row, next to the sugar shakers, the pile of old newspapers, the bus bin. But first, Buying the Tea. I get in line. I feel him following me in the crackling of energy at my back. I want to lean into him. I order, and step aside. While he orders his drink I want to wrap myself around the plush softness of his back.
We sit down, both on the bench against the wall, next to each other rather than across-from. He leans over and puts his head in his arm on the table in mock hopelessness, as he recounts a story about a recently-discovered missing credit card. I have to stop myself from laying my body over his and sliding my arms around his waist, resting my cheek on the back of his neck—to console him. I have never felt so drawn to him; perhaps it is because I know tonight I am going to confess.
I hope that this will somehow fix things. That the universe will right itself, that these desperate hungry feelings will go away. I feel pulled towards him in a slow but determined way. I am covered in a silken taffy net that also covers him and while we can squirm apart, we cannot extricate ourselves.
He talks for a while about himself while I watch him, hearing only the pull. I find an opening. I speak.
He admits that he too would like to... and that it won't happen. I wonder if I haven't made it worse instead of better—now that I have obliged us both to reveal out loud the content of our immoral thoughts.
He admits he's been in this place before, a flirtation with a friend that threatened to become an affair. He admits that perhaps his flirting is a problem, but he is not ready to give it up yet. Yet. I think maybe I am ready to give up my flirting with attached men, thought I had already cleansed myself of that defect, am surprised to find myself here again. I am sad because I am fairly certain our friendship won't survive the end of the flirtation. The friendship is the shell, the carapace. The lust is the meat.
Our bond as we experience it is the absence of bonding. It exists only in its possibility, or rather its impossibility is what feeds it, makes it whole.
This new idea turns over in my mind, smooth, cool, comforting, like an ocean-worn stone. There is no bond. The lust feeds on air, illusion, nothing. The me under my skin wants him more than anything, wants to rip off his clothes and have sex with him in that cafe. But instead I tell him, “I probably won't feel this way once I have a boyfriend.”
“You won't want me anymore,” he agrees.
He admits that he cheated on his wife when they were dating. A decision that led to couples counseling that led to the decision to get married.
I think perhaps their marriage is flawed. I am suddenly grateful not to be in it, not to be fucking this man, not to be The Affair, and thereby irrevocably, inextricably in-it.
We hug goodbye. Again it is a bear hug. He squeezes so tightly, I fear he will break me. The hug is long, and yet not as passionate as the others. It is still hungry, but tempered with regret and the creeping coolness.