As I sit here, half-past 10 PM, eating a sandwich and chips and listening to J. Sullivan, I recall the first time I knew that he liked me. My friend of eight years, who was about to get married in six months sent me a message on Facebook. I had just signed up, browsing the page on my day off. He hit me up in a chat saying, “I’ve always had a crush on you.” I panicked; I was scared, excited, and…angry. Why would he tell me now when nothing could be done, could be pursued? I didn’t remember what he said next, just some flirting back and forth. I should have ended the conversation, but something about the forbidden excited me. We were cool acquaintances before, but now, it seemed like more. It felt like we were connected, even though I knew we couldn’t be.
I don’t think most people start out having affairs with one decision; I think most indiscretions start out innocently. Something small happens, small but inappropriate, and then, gradually, it progresses into something more. At least, that was the case for me; first, we were chatting, then texting. I remember clearly how we “linked up,” as he liked to call it, for the first time.
I had to chaperone a football game, and afterward, I had dinner with a co-worker. However, I was distracted because he had been texting me throughout the game. I told myself that he was keeping me company, keeping my mind off of the fact that I didn’t want to be at work on a Friday night with a bunch of disrespectful, bad-attitude-having-ass, high schoolers. As I sat at dinner, the conversations continued. The frivolity of it all, in hindsight, is so absurd, but in the moment, it was…everything, romantic, fun, and intriguing. Most of all, it was seductive. I remember telling him about my favorite singer, Jill Scott, and my favorite song at the time, “Come See Me.” He responded, “I want you.” I grew warm inside. My heart and my head were all over the place, and I needed to understand what we were doing. Why was he saying these things now? What did all of this mean? Was he not going to get married? I’m not booty call material; I’m an all-or-nothing type chick. I sent him a message around midnight when I was leaving dinner: “We need to talk.” We were only going to talk, I rationalized. He responded, “I’m on my way.”
It was one in the morning when he arrived. In my mind, it made sense because I was strong and in charge. He walked in, looking and smelling good. We sat on the couch. “What’s up?” he asked. “The question is what’s up with you?” I needed to understand where all of this attention was coming from six months before he was to be married. His answer didn’t even matter. The real question was, what made me decide to play with fire? To entertain the foolish thought that this was nothing more than a conversation. To meet inappropriately after midnight with a man who was clearly unavailable.
I thought I was strong, and in the beginning, I was. I said emphatically, “This can’t happen. I will look like the other woman who stole somebody’s man. Nothing will happen to you. And, in the end, we will not be able to be friends again.”
He chuckled, “I have more to lose than you think, and we will always be friends.”
“If you have so much to lose, why are you getting married?”
With a slight shrug of the shoulders and the smirk that made my heart melt, “It’s just time.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. We had been talking for at least two hours. I don’t know how we ended up in bed together, but there he was holding me, but not touching me at the same time. I was still trying to convince myself that nothing was going to happen between us if I could just get through the night. He didn’t try anything; he just held me. He didn’t kiss me or caress me. The only thing he did was pull me closer to him when I tried to move away. He pulled me close, like I belonged to him, like he had claimed me. His breath on the back of my neck and his heart beating against my chest felt good. It was satisfying just to be claimed, and I was starting to believe the lie. Maybe he will change his mind, maybe he won’t do it. “Just be patient,” I told myself. I should have understood that I wasn’t being claimed. I was just a warm, breathing body next to a man with his eyes closed, eyes closed to the fact that he wasn’t ready to be married, and he was using me as a distraction. If I had allowed myself to accept that realization, I would have saved myself some heartache.
He didn’t change his mind, about her or me. I kept saying no, but he kept calling and texting, and we kept having our visits. He continued keeping me company on my late nights at work. I’m not sure when I started to become that chick, that crazy chick. That chick that rationalizes her bad behavior, the one who is happy one minute and crying the next. I think I knew in the end I would be left out, but I couldn’t pull back. It wasn’t so much that he had a hold over me; it was more than that. This was all about me. I needed to see what would happen, what could be, or what should be because in my heart I knew…he was the one for me. But he knew differently. He liked the idea of me but not the reality of me. I required too much, and I was his choice and his consequence all at the same time. His decision to see me, to love me, to care for me, meant that he needed to face the reality of who he was. He was a cheater. An adulterer. But in his mind, “I’m not married yet,” made a difference. To me, it didn’t, but I climbed down that rabbit hole anyway because one night over hot dogs and tater tots, he kissed me. He kissed me long, deep, and strong, and that kiss held a promise that one day he might love me.
He never did. I don’t hate him though. We shared a lot, an intimacy that I had never experienced before. In my mind, no one knew, but on the real, everyone did. We were connected. When we were in the same room, the energy changed. He was too attentive to me, and I tried too hard to ignore him. Looking back, I’m sure it was obvious to everyone but us.
I learned a lot, too, like what strength really means. It means picking yourself up when you are devastated, and you have no one to blame except yourself. It means smiling when tears are all you have. It means recognizing how scared you are of being alone and that you are willing to be second in someone’s life. I was desperate for love and craving attention. I was willing to sacrifice my integrity and lower my expectations for fear that I might miss out on knowing what it means to feel loved. I was willing to accept videos and hot wings so we didn’t have to go out, and secret meet-ups at Alvin Ailey because it seemed romantic and illicit and because I thought he loved me but was afraid to call it off.
Strength is accepting responsibility for your part in the destruction of a relationship. It is understanding that walking away when you know something is wrong is the only answer. It is writing this piece with the understanding that he might read it and know that it is about him, but not caring because you know it is time to release whatever guilt you are holding on to. It means letting go and moving on even when standing alone. There’s an old adage that says, “The best way to get over a man is under a new one.” I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about it. Yet, I knew that would only make things worse. Make me worse. I needed to heal. I wanted peace. I wanted to stand tall on my own. It took a while. More tears. Some alcohol. Some “come-to-Jesus” sessions with my girls and a few ratchet dates. But, here I am. Strength is learning never to say never. I had never been the side chick. But there I was. I will never do it again, even if it means being alone. I’m worth more than that.