My ex moved into the same neighborhood as I a few years after our breakup and really this wouldn’t have been an account worth telling if it hadn’t been for one trivial and somewhat frivolous fact. Really nothing that should be mentioned with a lot of pomp. Something that is just a “by the way” in an adult’s life. I mean, most of you would probably marvel at how ingenious my creativity is to even make a whole blog out of it. In the world of big occurrences the significance of the forthcoming fact is almost zero but because it’s not absolutely zero therefore it occupied a certain amount of real estate in my mind and kept me awake some nights, not all. And sometimes made me choke on my food. And even though it’s almost zero it was a walking, talking, living and breathing fact and it is this……… when he moved into my neighborhood he wasn’t single anymore. He was actually married. I was painfully single. And aware of that fact even before his wife paraded before me many times everyday.
The fact that she was prettier than me, was employed at a prestigious office and also had a husband was enough to remind me of how unfair the powers that be are. She could’ve been shortchanged for something, you’d think! But no! She was given everything and then some.
Her husband who was my ex isn’t a particularly coveted specimen of nature, might I mention! He’s actually quite ordinary with a receding hairline and a waistline that has turned into a belly over the years. But hark! He was my lover once and even though I would never like him back in that capacity, I dearly still wanted to pass a law that condemned him to a life of celibacy and singlehood until, that is, I found a partner more desirable and over archingly more accomplished than he was.
Fate does have a way of disappointing us, however, as this little turn of events so aptly proved. He was married and happily so. I was single and had never been more unhappy in my life.
I had just broken up with my sixth boyfriend in a year and as glaringly unjust that is when more self-centered people than me are matched every day, it was nothing in comparison to the injustice that had been unleashed on me in the form of a former flame and his wife setting up house across the street.
He saw me as I was exiting my house after downing three shots of scotch. I was a little tipsy and he smiled sympathetically at me. In my drunken daze I assumed this to be some sort of a “come hither” look and brazenly walked up to him, hoping to reignite what we had.
Guess he had changed his ways from philandering to committed after all, at my expense. He not only chastised me for forcing myself on him but also reminded me quite brutally how we had been broken up for two summers. Also, he slipped the little factoid in there about him being married. So there ended that heaven-shattering kiss.
For a woman who was swaying on cheap scotch I did recover remarkably quickly and congratulated him on finally finding the one. Which was odd because he did give me a birthday, a New Years, and a Christmas present all with themes around “The One”. This just goes to show the fickle nature of that expression.
As with all resilient women, who learn resilience at the hands of men, my ex and I soon settled into an estranged blissful domesticity that was not quite domestic but was blissful nonetheless. It was neighborly and that was also something.
He decided that the best foot forward would be to accept that the past is in the past. I know what you’re thinking! Easy for him to say! Here I was scrambling through dating websites and lusterless parties in hopes of being paired up and here he was suggesting forgetting my past with him. Sigh! How little men know about the emotional upheaval that their crude commentary on a past we shared with them has on us.
But even though I disagreed with him, I pretended that the past had gone up in a smoke of his marriage. That my attachment to him was just another one along the journey of finding a wife and therefore of no real consequence. That we weren’t meant to be. That why life really brought him to me was so we could have an intensely passionate relationship only to break it off so he could move on. The tyrannical approach of life to women is something else.
Another rule that he made for this newly minted relationship was that his wife mustn’t know of our past either. See how men continue to make the rules in the name of protecting women? According to him a genuinely affectionate relationship with his wife was only possible if she didn’t know that I was the woman her husband professed undying love to just a few moons ago. I complied.
This new domesticity was hard to settle in but settle in we did. He picked up my newspaper and I alerted him if the garbage truck was going to be late. He mowed my lawn too when he mowed his own and I shared some treats with them occasionally. He watched out for mischief makers on Halloween night for his and my mailbox and I made sure his car wasn’t snowed in too deep if it started snowing in the middle of the night.
But I couldn’t help but notice that even though he had given me a new script for our relationship, he took liberties with it. An undetectable wink in my direction when his wife was present also, the smoldering eye towards me, the occasional rogue comment, an occasional hint to our past together. I distinctly remembered that he had forbidden me to remember the past then why did he look like he chose to live in it in some choice moments?
Soon I realized that what he had said in the beginning was so outrageously stupid that of course he was joking. How could we forget and mentally erase the past that we had together? We had been close and had talked about marrying each other. We had loved and sacrificed for one another. Had it not been for some very critical deficiencies on his part, one being the wandering eye, I might have been living in matrimonial harmony with him. Of course he was joking. He didn’t really mean that script in seriousness. He meant it as a joke.
May be he was teasing me, was another wild thought I got. May be he still has feelings for me, I conjectured. May be isn’t happy with his wife, I hoped.
Rejuvenated with these thoughts and happy that my past still meant something to him I decided to follow the new script. We could be discreetly indiscreet.
I started chatting with him when we were alone. When he mowed my lawn and I talked about our electricity bill. When he came to give me the newspaper and I asked him how work was. He engaged a little more, I noticed. When I mentioned work he complained that since I had left it wasn’t the same. When I talked about electricity he reminded me of the nights when we were so tired after partying that slept with our nice clothes on.
This got better. I realized that his flirting was benign and that of an ex-lover. I also understood that it was something that we couldn’t engage in when his wife was around. The subtle subtext of infidelity didn’t register. My conscience didn’t bat an eye lash. An unsuspecting woman was at the heart of it all, I ignored. All that mattered was that he had taken our new relationship that had started from “it’s in the past” to “we can flirt when she’s not around”. For a woman looking for straws, this was a giant piece of the finest bamboo.
Flirting is a benign activity, most would agree. It causes no heartache or trouble, many would observe. It is almost healthy, a few might say. But should married people flirt with people they’re not married to? Jury is still out on whether it remains a benign activity then.
Soon our flirting started to hint heavily at how good we were together. A lot of the innuendos were sexual. In a relationship that was domestic for a while, sexual for the most part, we certainly had many memories of our own. Treading platonic waters with a romantic ex might be easy for him but this was no particular skill of mine. Soon I realized that I couldn’t even breathe without having one of our lurid exchanges every morning.
Our conversations were usually innocuous when they started and then invariably, a few weeks in, they started to turn in a direction where he’d casually mention how we should’ve worked through our relationship and not called it quits. He never said he regretted breaking up with me but indicated jealousy at various men who picked me up for dates. He actually never said anything. But the subtext continued getting stronger. It was an exciting but essentially dissatisfying game of cat and mouse. I couldn’t get him back, I knew. I could have him back in some capacity, I surmised from some of our exchanges.
It got heavier. We started talking about the past more. The same past that was to be stored in a repressed corner of my mind was now freely flowing in conversations. His wife faded in the background. His marriage became an afterthought.
But there were mentions of his wife too. How she was so good but wasn’t me was mentioned often. This wasn’t an insult but when he said it, it sounded like an insult to his wife and felt good to me. Was it petty? Yes. Was it sustenance? When the man you named your life to becomes married suddenly, you take whatever you can.
This continued to evolve. This non-affair that smelled of illicit undertones continued. I became accustomed to the notorious “the other woman’s” role in his life. He remained aloof but also strangely, as close as we were before.
We started meeting away from our neighborhood. He happened to be in my office building once at lunch hour and it seemed like a great reason to have lunch together. We picked a spot which if we had any discretion we wouldn’t have. That place still screamed of the passion we once shared. Our lunch reeked of an insolent disregard for his marriage and my respect for myself.
Then we decided to get drinks. While drinking we kissed, just in solemn celebration of the past we had. And because we kissed that day and it didn’t lead to anything more salacious, kissing became okay. We started kissing more. From two neighbors who had been lovers in another life, who had decided to leave the past in the past, we moved into a comfortable semblance of our past except it was our present. And there was an unsuspecting woman in the middle of it who didn’t even know she was.
We slept together. One dry afternoon when I had come home early and he had been pruning the shrubbery. When his wife was down for a nap. When he came to me with tears in his eyes about how his wife was a cold fish and how he was thankful for his marriage even if all it did was to remind him of how amazing I was.
Consolation prizes have been handed out to men throughout history by women. We have validated their insecurities most of all. Each time a man says “I screwed up” we feel sorry for them. Patriarchy is so strong and gives such a huge sense of normalcy and strength to women that its weakness scares us too. If it became weak, we fear, the world wouldn’t be how we know it. That’s a huge fear that a woman has. So each time patriarchy feigns defeat, women fold and reward bad behavior by being contrite themselves. Mind screw? Yes!
Oddly, I didn’t feel good about our sex together. He was in a rush to get out and so it was not the familiar thing that we had before where we’d sleep in each other’s arms. He extricated himself from the bed clothes and was on his way before I could get my bearings or an orgasm.
I didn’t see him for many days. In a way I was thankful because having sex with a married man wasn’t my finest moment. But I was curious also so decided to text him.
He didn’t return my text for days. The tension got heavy. The days got long.
I finally saw him mowing his lawn two weeks later. He waved me over. Excitedly I went over, knowing that I was already late for work.
“She’s pregnant”, he said, beaming, sunshine and rainbows in his face, “I wanted to tell you first of all. This is the happiest news that I’ve ever had. I just realized I haven’t been fair to her. She deserves better. How about we leave our past in the past? It’s no use living in it or talking about it. It was good, what we had. But I have something spectacular with her, a family. I don’t want to screw that up”.
I nodded, like a nice patriarchy-raised girl. I understood, like another subtly twice-scorned woman. I commiserated, like all women who identify with patriarchy more than themselves.
I lay in bed at night wondering how I got where I got. I didn’t want to live the past with him and had happily accepted the new script. I didn’t want to have lunch and drinks with him but the script changed when he pretended he happened to be in my office building. I hadn’t at all wanted to sleep with him but assumed that the new script was that he wasn’t happy with his wife and was looking for new beginnings.
The whole narrative was changed by him so many times that my own intelligence and wisdom stood questioned. My memory of it all was a blur now. He had been naive, he had led me to believe that and now I blamed myself for not being a little more sympathetic towards another woman, someone who was my own kind.
I lay in bed blaming myself, fate, karma, my singlehood, the stars, my decision to buy a house in this neighborhood.
I blamed myself for many years until I saw another woman going through it all. Another one of his old flames met me and told me of what had transpired between him and her.
Suddenly it all came into focus. Suddenly it made sense. The self-doubt that society has planted in me is so strong that I couldn’t trust myself but I trusted this woman when she told me of what happened to her. How he cheated on his wife with her too.
I rationalized and intellectualized it all. For years. Many seasons changed and the winds changed for many of us. Our kids grew up. He had all daughters and surprisingly I had all sons.
We met one day. He told me how he tells his girls to beware of “all men” when they go out. To not trust men. Patriarchy not trusting patriarchy with their women? I wasn’t surprised. I was old and had many experiences of my own.
I am in bed tonight, my soulmate no one, my life partners the many nameless sperm donors from sperm banks. I prefer my partners nameless and faceless now. My kids know they don’t have a father that their mother knows. It’s okay. They’re men and no one asks men where they come from. A man’s mother’s chastity and transparency is presumed.
I lay in bed tonight relearning the script. I lay in bed blaming him for the first time. He shouldn’t have given me a script if it was going to be subtexted so badly all the time. If he was going to alter it on his terms all the time. If he was going to be lax with it and even, unfair to me. He shouldn’t have given me any script. All he needed was a disclosure that he treated women as trophies like all men. That would’ve been enough to lure me in as I’ve always been so intent on pleasing men and patriarchy that I would’ve folded much sooner.