I had just scooped up the last of the dessert when it happened. The moment I‘d been waiting for the past year and half, but didn‘t know I was waiting for, if that makes sense.
It sounds romantic, doesn‘t it? Like I was expecting a proclamation of love, or a ring in a champagne flute, but really all I wanted was an agreement on what it was we were and what it was we were doing there together, despite having agreed to never see each other again. And perhaps an idea of what we would, or could, be in the future (if anything).
I‘d started a relationship with the man with whom I was now sharing a yoghurt panna cotta (with pistachio macaroon crumble, rose, and pomegranate) 18 months earlier. Like most affairs, it happened unexpectedly. You don‘t actively choose to fall in love with a work colleague.
It happens slowly, a surreptitious unfurling of emotion that comes with seeing someone at their best every day.
You do, however, choose to go ahead with betrayal and deception. There‘s a moment that arrives, one where you can choose to go home to the person who loves you, or stay with the person who sees you. I chose the latter, falling into his arms, and stayed there for a long time.
I wanted to be the really cool mistress, the one who was fine with being the side course. I knew he‘d never leave his wife, and to be frank, I would never have asked him to. I told him, and myself, over and over again that we could have it all. We could be “perfect” partners to the people who waited for us at home, and still be star-crossed lovers at night.
Our attraction to each other was almost biological, instinctual, the way beasts bay at the moon involuntarily, seemingly illogically. Lust and longing were directives I tried to argue with, tried to reason with. We tried to talk each other out of it, ending the relationship over and over again, only to find ourselves twisted up in sheets a few days later. We knew there was no chance of making a life together. And yet.
Okay, it‘s easy to make it about the sex. We were passionately infatuated, yes, but I thought our connection also transcended the physical. The real craving for me was an emotional union, one that was lacking in my life with my “real” partner. You don‘t need the details of what we did or how we did it, but you do need to know that I thought I was in love. My brain tricked me with its chemicals: dopamine, endorphins. In reality, in the moment I was elated to be desired, seen and appreciated.
But the aftermath is where the truth lies. Every time we‘d part I‘d feel terrible. I‘m not sorry to say that this awful feeling wasn‘t guilt. And I‘ve tried to articulate the emptiness that I‘d feel each time I said goodbye, locking the door behind him. It wasn‘t the sadness of knowing where he was going (home) while I stayed in my apartment (alone). It‘sadarker sadness, one lodged in years of loss. But it‘s not something I‘m using to get your sympathy. I own my actions and everything they lead to.
You‘re judging me but not as harshly as I judge myself.
It took me ages to figure out how to write this because although we may be interested by how affairs get started we don‘t really want to hear about the details. We‘re obsessed with how transgressions arise but the endings are important too. And when they end badly, we say gleefully “Ahhhh, she got her just desserts.” I got mine. I had it comin‘. Over dessert, the man I loved told me that to him, I was just like dessert: something he wanted, but not something he needed. At the time I laughed it off, mainly because we were in public and my heart told my brain not to make a scene. They made a pact to store this bit of information away from me until I got home from work.
So, late at night what he said came back to me. I was furious but what right did I have to be? I had been fine with being dessert for over a year. Who was I suddenly to demand respect when I‘d never demanded it from myself?
Affairs are full of different truths and countless cliches. “He made me feel alive.” And the answer to why did I cheat lies in this overused and undercooked truth. My affair was never about my partner and our failing relationship. My affair was never about the guy I was dessert for. This was personal revision via betrayal: I wanted a new life, or was longing for a past one.
The entire experience was about transformation and growth. Something Octavio Paz refers to as a “thirst for otherness”. And in exploring someone new, Ifound myself. Yeah, that‘sathing. In my day-to-day life, I was invisible, or at least I felt I was. And not just to my partner, I became invisible to myself. That‘s no one‘s fault but my own. I was lost and ready to be found.
However, Iwanted to be more than dessert. That‘s one truth. I didn‘t want him to blow up his life for me, that‘s another.Ididn‘t feel like I‘d be worth all that heartbreak.
I should‘ve been happy with being a chocolate cake.
Guilt-free. Satisfying, albeit briefly. My best friends tried to make me feel better: everyone loves dessert! Maybe it was a compliment? Or maybe it was his own, deep truth.
That I was never going to be anything more than empty calories. The best of the besties said “screw him, you‘re a f***ing degustation menu”. Bless ‘em. We all knew what he meant, even if when confronted, he didn‘t.
Maybe you‘re reading this because you‘ve been here, are here, stuck, and you want to relate to me. Maybe you‘re the cuckold, or the wife waiting at home, and you want me to hurt like you hurt. Maybe you‘re on the precipice of making a big change yourself. A mistake? He was never a mistake to me though.Ibelieve in fidelity.
I believe in love. I believe that everyone cheats, and if you haven‘t yet it‘s because you haven‘t yet had the opportunity. Or the right shade of blue eyes hasn‘t come along yet, taking your hand over a candlelit table, with slow, sad music in the background, and your wine tasted like the promise of something better.
THE WRITER‘S NAME HAS BEEN CHANGED.