Her lover turned in his chair toward her and said, “Let me ask you a question.” He lifted his chin with curiosity (and a hint of contention) and asked, “Do you think that telling your ex-husband about me was a good idea?”
She paused. Over the past few weeks, as her divorce was nearing completion, she had pondered the very same question. She thought back to the moment she had finally divulged to her ex the secret she had been hiding for months. She had been sure it was written all over her face that she was in love with another man. In a strange way, telling her ex about her lover was a huge relief; she would no longer worry about “getting caught.” She had control over when and how he discovered it…she could take ownership for what had happened rather than stumble through apologies.
She thought back to the moment she told him. She had been attending an intense self-help seminar and one of the instructors had sequestered her in a supply room with a phone and told her to call her ex and tell him the truth. ALL of it. So she did. She told him that while she cared about him and did love him as a friend and the father of their children, she had always had doubts about their marriage and she didn’t want to be married to him anymore. In her quest for authenticity, she told him that she had fallen in love with someone else, and even though that person was not choosing to be with her, she felt her ex should know. The confession seemed suspended in the phone line as she felt her ex’s anger seeping through. She felt horrible to deliver such devastating news, yet relieved at the same time that it was now out in the open…a terrible inflection in their relationship for each to process and resolve.
Why did she tell him? It would be easy to blame the strong-arming of the instructor, but she couldn’t. She knew that she cared enough about her ex to give him the gift of honesty. Leaving him without telling the whole truth felt like moving out of a house and leaving it completely empty except for a bag of potatoes, hidden in the pantry and rotting over time, creating a stench and a pile of mush that would have to be cleaned up by someone else in the future. She already knew she would not be coming back to him, and she felt like she needed to leave him with a clean, empty house, ready to be shared with another. She had thought her lover might do the same and acknowledge the relationship to his wife, but he had not. Now though, it appeared he was thinking about telling her.
She sighed and admitted, “I don’t know. Mostly, I think…yes. I needed to have integrity with him.”
“I thought that if you and I were ever to be together in the future, that he would have done the math and figured it out anyway,” she added. “Since it turned out that you and I are not together…I don’t know. Perhaps I should not have told him.”
She looked away from her love and took a long sip of coffee, savoring the bitter, creamy liquid but yearned for something sweet. “I hated to hurt him. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do, but I felt he deserved to know the truth. While it was painful for him to deal with it, he did deal with it…over time…and now, I think we’re in a better place.”
She silently questioned why her lover had asked this of her and whether her admission would change anything. Since he had chosen to stay in his marriage and try to make it work, he might want to tell his wife so it would be out in the open and they could work through it and have a fresh beginning together, with a stronger foundation…but such a confession could alternatively pull the rug out from the work they had been doing. If he had instead chosen to start a new life with the woman, then she felt the answer would have been clear. He would have had to tell his wife, as the woman and her lover would not have wanted to spend any more time apart and the wife would have found out quickly that they were together regardless.
He had previously assured the woman that he hadn’t told his wife about her because he wanted the possibility of a life together with the woman, and he was concerned that if his wife knew, she would poison the future relationship between the woman and his child. The woman had begun to wonder though, if really, he hadn’t told his wife because he wanted to protect his future…with the wife.
That night the woman had a vivid dream:
She and her lover were at his home, on opposite sides of the living room, trying not to touch each other, circling around and around. Finally, he took one step closer to her, and like two magnets, they clasped each other, fell onto his couch and began kissing passionately. Suddenly, the woman heard a car pull into the living room and park. She could see it was his wife behind the wheel, and the woman said, “off, off!” to him, but it was too late, the wife had seen the husband on top of the woman and knew. The wife sank onto the couch and admitted to them that she had always feared there was something going on between the two of them. She angrily told the woman to get out.
The dream fast-forwarded to the woman talking with the wife in a different room in the house. The wife nastily told her that she was going to prove he didn’t really love the woman. She told the woman that she and her husband were going to undergo three intense months of marriage counseling and then everything was going to be fine between them and the woman would then know that she had only been a fling to him. The woman calmly accepted the wife’s proclamation and apologized for the pain she had caused but told the wife that she could save her three months of time by telling her right then what the end game would be: the connection the woman had with her lover was so incredible and unprecedented for each of them that even if he stayed with the wife, he’d always be thinking of the woman and what could have been.
Again, the dream fast-forwarded, but now the wife was bringing the woman dinner and the woman thanked her for her kindness. They walked out into the living room, where her lover had been making lists on a whiteboard of all the projects he and his wife were going to do together. He and his wife began flirting and joking with each other, just as he had joked and flirted with the woman many times during the discussions they used to have, and the woman realized that the wife was right after all: he had never intended to be with the woman…he had just needed the ego stroke that she had provided. All the fairytale-romance whispers he had shared with her had been empty words to keep her enchanted, but now he was putting the woman into his past and moving forward with the wife.
The woman’s immediate reaction was grief, knowing that her lover’s fantasies with her would never come to fruition, but a voice inside her head said, “Enough. Let go.” The woman quietly left her love and his wife to their plans and coquetry, and walked out of their house and onto a two-lane, state highway. Ahead of her was a vast, open desert, leading to mountains painted gold by the rising sun.
She inhaled the dry warm air, laden with the scent of sagebrush…and woke up.