The year was 2002. A Nickleback single was topping the charts that summer, so you already know it was a terrible time.
I was working in the sales department of the local paper which was, believe it or not, even more depressing than it sounds. I am not a salesperson. I hate bothering people into buying stuff. I’m folksy and awkward in professional situations and painfully honest, so how I ended up working in sales will forever be a mystery.
This was my job: I sat at a desk and made calls to business to see if they wanted to place an ad in our crappy paper. Oh, and I didn’t even have a computer, you guys. It was just…me and a phone. For eight hours. Every day.
It was torture. Not like, real torture with spikes on my chair or anything. But for a hyperactive, creatively minded person such as myself, my desk may as well have been an Iron Maiden.
But on June 24, 2002 all that changed, my friends. That day a maaaan was joining our little office (I worked with all women). For some reason I pictured him as plump and maybe balding, kind of like George Costanza from "Seinfeld." Because -- and no offense to my hometown -- the odds of working with a hot guy are like…I don’t know. Winning the Superbowl? I don’t think I understand what “odds” are.
When I walked in to work I heard a voice say, “Oh, there’s Jessie! Eric, this is Jessie, our other sales rep.”
He turned around and smiled at me and we both did this movie-moment double take. I think the people around us may have caught on fire from the sparks, but don’t quote me on that. Did I shake his hand? I don’t remember. But I do remember the first words I ever said to him: “Yay, a boy!” That’s me, Ms. Smooth. He laughed. I laughed. His desk was right behind mine, so I was very aware of his presence.
That first morning we shared small talk and then with some horror I heard myself asking, “Do you want to go to lunch?”
He looked surprised but said sure. I won’t bore you with details of our lunch conversation but I do remember feeling an instant connection. Not just hormones either, you guys. Like when you click with a girl and you just know you’re going to be friends? That feeling. We just…clicked.
But there was a problem. I was already married.
In fact, I was a newlywed. But in the period of the marriage when you're supposed to be blissed out all the time, we were not. We didn't seem to enjoy spending time together, particularly my husband with me, which, as far as I knew about people who have just gotten married, was not supposed to be the case.
After weeks of becoming friends with Eric and wondering what was wrong with my new marriage, there was what you might call an "inciting incident." I'd recently decided on impulse to have my husband read a funny little story I'd written in a college creative writing class, one that I was particularly proud of. He read it (without laughing even once, mind you), then looked up at me and said flatly, "I don’t get it.”
I just gaped at him. First of all, I thought, there was really nothing to "get." The second thought that popped in my head was, “Eric would get it.”
So I emailed it to him. I kept checking my email every hour until he replied. (I’m crazy, by the way.) I wish I had kept his reply, where he said he loved it and wanted to read more. I think he even asked me, “Why are working in sales? You should be a writer.”
I was thrilled by his response while simultaneously saddened, because I realized that was the exact response I'd wanted from my husband.
Eric and I kept up our regular lunches. You’re probably wondering if my husband knew about these lunches. Yes, he did. Did he like it, you ask? No, he did not. Did I care that he didn’t like it? Not really. Because we had the kind of relationship where we didn’t actually give a crap what the other person felt. I hated it when he stayed out with his friends until dawn, so why shouldn't I get to go out to eat with my friend? We each had a neat way to punish one another for ignoring or hurting the other. Isn’t that healthy?
After I left my job, (they fired me, because I never made any sales. I kind of judge them for keeping me as long as they did) I continued occasionally getting together during the work day to have lunch with Eric. But as unhappy as my husband and I were, my conscience bothered me. Deep down, I knew these lunches weren't just friendly.
I could tell Eric was attracted to me. I knew I had to break it off.
I couldn’t handle saying it in person, because then I’d have to admit why we had to stop seeing each other and I would just die of embarrassment. So I did the adult thing: I wrote him a dramatic email. Yes, I’m a wuss, but it worked.
I felt bad because I didn’t want to hurt him. But at the same time, I didn't want to cheat, emotionally or otherwise. I was married. I had to put my husband first. Right?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, my husband and I eventually split up, even without Eric Lunches to drive a wedge between us. We got into one of those screaming-things-you-can-never-take-back fights, and he told me he no longer wanted to be married to me. In his own words: “I’d rather be with my friends than with you.”
Well. That certainly cleared things up.
I left our apartment approximately 11 months after we got married. I moved back in with my mom and dad (to their utter delight, I’m sure). I was alone, unemployed, and living with my parents. My life, as usual, was right on track.
After about a week of never leaving the house and watching my leg hair grow, I realized I felt something other than utter desolation: I didn’t miss my husband. That’s kind of messed up. A week? I’ve mourned plants longer than that. (All right, that’s a lie. Who mourns plants?)
I waited a whole month before that moment of clarity to email Eric and tell him what was going on. Here is proof that there were no adulterous shenanigans -- Eric had no idea how bad things were between my husband and me. I had never let on that my life was anything other than newly wedded bliss. So naturally he was shocked and wrote back how sorry he was.
I wrote back and invited him to dinner instead of lunch. According to our society, dinner is skankier than lunch, but I swear, this was only an innocent meal to catch up with a friend.
Until I saw him. Heart fluttering, stomach jumping…the works. Was he always this cute? This tall? This nervous-making? We sat shyly across from each other at the restaurant and for the first time, I had no idea what to say to my friend Eric. You know what? After a year of being married to somebody completely indifferent to me, that kind of abject romantic terror was amazing. We ended up tentatively holding hands on the drive home.
That was nine years ago this month, and Eric and I are (very happily) married.
Some days I don’t know what to think about my first marriage. I mean, what was the point? I guess the point is: Don’t marry someone you don't want to be alone with a lot, forever. Weddings are a fun excuse for a party, but eventually you’ll sober up and be like, Whuhhh? Who did I just marry? And find somebody who cares whether or not you're happy, and whose happiness is paramount to you. I probably would have given up on writing if it hadn’t been for Eric. The opposite of indifferent, he nags me -- encourages me, I mean -- to this day to keep at it. And of course I encourage him in his talents, of which he has many. (Eh? See what I did there?)
Oh, and also: Try not to be married when you meet the love of your life.