To say that I didn't mean for this to happen doesn't begin to express the disappointment I felt in myself when it did. I had been married (technically, I still am, because divorce is expensive and living separately is unthinkably so) for 11 years, with two school-age children together and one I brought from a previous relationship.
I realize how cavalier I must sound. I'm 46. I shouldn't be behaving like this, right? I'm a mother. My pleasures, if they're not able to be harmlessly integrated into family life, should be set aside. What matters most (and here's the thing: I know this) is my children's happiness, safety, and security.
To make it worse, I met him at hip café — the only one of its kind in our town, and a gathering place for the small population of would-be beatniks and cheerful outsiders in an otherwise unremarkable suburb. He's 21 years my junior. And he had a manbun.
No lie: I genuinely thought he was a model on his way from a far more populous and sophisticated burg to a photo shoot somewhere else. He was tall, slim, broad-shouldered, and had an almost balletic grace.
He started the conversation with me — at least that's what I think, and I'm going to roll with that, because although my motivations were far from ulterior, I need to know I wasn't trawling for a boy-toy, even subconsciously. I'm a flirt, but not the kind who makes others uncomfortable; just the type inclined to compliment friends on a particularly flattering outfit with a wink and a sly smile. I don't unpack that right away, though. The most I could say about this first brush against the man who I now consider to be a great love of my life is that our interaction involved a pleasingly mutual charisma and the excitement of shared ideas.
I never, ever thought I would appeal to him. I wasn't holding that card in my pocket, hoping to pull it out during some future moment of (drunken?) vulnerability, thinking I'd "get lucky." He was a ten. And bright, gregarious, humble, and hilarious, with just enough ambition to be interesting.
My husband and I had been negotiating some murky waters. We hadn't been getting along for years. Our sex life had become perfunctory and joyless, an obligatory flail at intimacy once or twice a month at best. There was so much conflict and resentment between us that it didn't even feel good to touch each other. He claimed, when I pressed him for a greater mutual effort at sexual connection, to have little to no sex drive — until I found out he was masturbating several times a day. NOT. GOOD.
And incidentally, why had I continued to find myself in long-term situations with people who had rage issues?
At that point, I asked him for a discreet open relationship in order to allow me some small freedom to pursue potential sexual and emotional outlets as they might come up. He wasn't pleased with the idea of an open marriage, but made cautious, cranky concessions in that direction. I won't lie and say that part ever gained total resolution. Though he wasn't eager to make it bilateral, I was completely comfortable with the "openness" extending to him, as well.
I was also going to therapy to sort out what behavior felt righteous and respectful, though I had felt betrayed by his intimate abandonment and wrangled bitterly with that. And for the record, he ultimately received frequent, compassionate therapy to help with what must have been a horrible set of circumstances.
I am not asking for — or expecting — absolution. Just some understanding for how it came to be this way.
In addition to the sexual desert our marital bed had become, the differences in our interests, attitudes, values, activity choices, and tastes in everything from food to movies, television shows, books, the very rhythm of our days and nights, our vision for long-term goals and for where we saw ourselves in five, ten, or more years down the road, and even whether essential oils would or wouldn't be used in the house for cleaning or otherwise became deeper and more divisive.
It was the trivial stuff, sure, but the bigger, more meaningful things as well. And we no longer wanted to even spend time together. It wasn't just that we were no longer lovers; we weren't even friends. Our personalities clashed, with his desire to have frequent, challenging arguments "for fun" complete with relentless, near-belligerent insistence on defending his own (often seemingly arbitrarily chosen) stance, bringing out a frustrated, bratty, and ultimately dismissive cascade of responses from me, which, in turn, made him feel unappreciated and less-than-enjoyed.
This new man, now my companion of almost 13 months, became my best friend almost instantly. His demeanor was gentle and encouraging. He elevated, enhanced, supported, refined, and helped develop my creative output professionally and otherwise. In contrast, my husband had been filling a role — also important in society — as the "breaker" of things. Not a natural inventor himself, his automatic inclination is to take what is presumed and turn it upside-down, to provide challenge and vigor to an innovator's creation. The personality leap between us — from maker-of-things to breaker-of-things — put us at frequent loggerheads.
What was clearly a mismatch from the start was obviously in the throes of its endgame. And slowly, this beautiful, kind, intriguing and exciting new man began to reveal what he would become: the catalyst for the dissolution of my marriage.
We had been platonic yet inseparable for two or three weeks before, when on one fateful night, while only slightly tipsy but drunk on a certain giddiness involving research into mutually unheard-of information about the behavior and basic excellence of sloths — and with the Yes station on Spotify providing the soundtrack — we crossed that line you can't uncross.
Much growth, some struggle, and a lot of progress on everyone's part ensued over the coming year.
Yes, there was the darkest moment of all, which came about three weeks in: my husband came home with the specific intention of surprising us having sex during the day, and even picked the lock to fling the door open to the master bedroom. My sweet companion fled the scene, and I expected I would never see him again. Amazingly, my husband felt bad enough that he called my lover a few minutes later and apologized for freaking out, and hoped he hadn't driven him out of my life forever because he was clearly making me happy.
What was awkward and sad became weirdly lovely and surprisingly functional over time. With a lot of careful and gentle therapy, a marked maturity and excellent behavior from everyone involved (after that shameful and rocky start) and an overriding sense of rightness to all that was happening, we have become a kind of patched-together ramshackle extended family unit.
I dearly hope my estranged husband and I can afford to divorce and live separately. I long for him to find a partner who suits him and appreciates him better than I did or could. And the optimist in me sees the great good fortune I've found — in my mid-forties — in this far-younger man, who so deeply (oddly) acts as though he's getting the better end of the deal.
It is, hands-down, the most functional, pleasurable, rewarding, and fulfilling relationship I've ever been in. I really do wish it hadn't wrought such destruction in the process of its creation.