He is an attractive tri-athlete, a hard-body, disciplined, svelte, smart, and savvy. That he loves to cook aligns with my habit of surrounding myself with friends who love to feed me. And - he knows the best restaurants in the city.
“That’s my favorite place,” he pointed at The Boulevard as we drove by.
“Why aren’t we eating there?”
He glanced at his watch, recalculating. “We’ll have to go there another time.”
That implied there would be another time. Oncoming headlights reflected brightly off wet streets. We passed Fisherman’s Wharf in companionable silence and turned left.
The large see-through fireplace on Houston’s patio was well tended, flames licked at logs, a crackling invitation, the illusion of warmth for a dank night. We ordered wine and waited for a table inside.
“My next woman will be a bed-wrecker,” he said laughing.
“A bed-wrecker?” I guffawed, “That’s hilarious! But,” I grew serious, “You sound like you know there will be a next woman.”
“I know that long-term, my marriage won’t work,” he turned equally serious, and poked at the round cocktail table with a large finger. “But I don’t want to disrupt my girl’s life. I don’t want her going back and forth. So it’s a choice, I’ve chosen to stay until she graduates.”
“But here’s the thing Mark,” I leaned forward and dropped my voice. “Do you think your wife doesn’t know that? Can’t feel it? And it informs your marriage now; like it limits who she can be for you and vice versa. And if you think she doesn’t know; you’re fooling yourself. She knows you better than anyone.”
These are not easy conversations and there are no easy solutions. Having an out-loud conversation is a start. Freeing the conversation from cranial incarceration into dialogue with another is a great start. Having the out-loud dialogue with a woman for whom you hold great attraction is probably not the best strategy, though perhaps a practiced one.
Women are such suckers for this conversation. We just know he married the wrong woman and that we can be what she is not and can never be. I could be a sucker for this conversation except I too, am well rehearsed.
I swirled my wine and watched the reflection of flames and fireplace melt and twirl in my glass. I sniffed, a full and fruity bouquet jumped at me.
“Wow, this smells good!” Holding my glass by the stem, I extended and he guided its bowl to his nose.
“That’s a good bouquet,” he smiled, flames dancing in his eyes. His dark eyes were crimped at the edge in laugh lines and I often heard his laughter.
I sipped slowly, spreading grape nectar across my palate before swallowing. A fit man is always attractive. A well dressed, fit man gets brownie points. He wore black cashmere over camel colored slacks and two-toned Kenneth Cole loafers. Very nice; many brownie points.
“You know, an underlying conversation here is integrity to your commitments.” I began slowly, choosing my words carefully. “If you are committed to staying, then chose powerfully and stay. But there is no integrity to staying with the intention of leaving in two or three years unless that’s communicated. And there is certainly no integrity to staying with a roving eye and extra-marital affairs, unless of course - you have an open marriage.”
My fellow Americans brand California “The Land of Fruits and Nuts” and point to open marriage as yet another in a long litany of examples. But given that an estimated 60% of men and 40% of women will have at least one extra-marital affair, open marriages provide an alternative to lying, cheating, sneaking and keeping secrets. Which, by the way, 60% of men and 40% of women, do. But I digress.
“Do you have an open marriage?”
“No,” he shook his head. “I’ve tried to have that conversation so that some of my needs can be met, but she won’t have any part of it. I will always take care of her,” he looked me in the eye, “She will never want, but she can’t satisfy what I want or need any longer.”
Knowing that and verbalizing it is positive, methinks. When one can honestly assess one’s circumstance, peeling away the facade and pretense – integrity is, after all, more than going through the motions, more than staying because I said so.
If there is no conversation of how it really is and for what might work, then behavior is predicated on pretense and illusion, the pretense of “happily married ‘til death do us part” and the constant fabrication of a public persona to bolster that illusion. The inherent problem: the stench from a stinking kettle of fish.
The handsome, young maître d’ ushered us to our table. Mark removed his black, leather bomber-jacket and tossed it on the bench before sliding in.
“You know, I reached a point in my marriage where there was no integrity to staying because,” I poked a finger in the air, “I didn’t love him,” I raised a second finger, “Nor did I respect him. So while it sounds crazy, there can be a lot more integrity to leaving than staying.”
“Well, my daughter is the glue,” he defended.
“Kids are tremendous glue for relationships,” I nodded.
Our waitress popped in suddenly to detail the specials. She seemed intrusive and intruding and we pried ourselves from one another to heed her words. She highly recommended the Thai-noodle, steak-salad and its 17 ingredients. We capitulated and both ordered the salad.
He was by my reckoning, a man of faith. He professed faith and attended church with his family. He had contemplated attending seminary as a young man; I changed tack.
“You are a Christian man; how do you make this work with your faith? You agreed to love, honor, and cherish ‘til death do us part.”
“I didn’t agree to ‘til death do us part; I was going through the motions.” Stunned by his response, I pressed my lips into silence. Father of a teen, I wondered if pregnancy prompted said motions those many years ago.
I have difficulty with the separation of church and state of a marriage. Additionally, I acknowledge ease with casting stones at Christian marriages. I am guilty of saying, “If that’s a Christian marriage; I don’t want one coz in my world, forgiveness is more than a Sunday morning phenomenon.” For this I am hardly penitent.
Statistically, Christian marriages fare no better than the unclean, unsaved, heathens, pagans, infidels or gentiles. Why? I purport that tools for happy marriages are not proffered from pulpits, for if they were – proof/pudding, you know the adage. Secondly, we have our eye on the wrong ball. If we kept our eye on love, honor and cherish, ‘til death do us part would be a forgone conclusion. We don’t, so it’s not.
Our salads arrived and we dove in with vigor. They were a scrumptious blend of Thai noodles, chili pepper oil, spring salad mix, steak, cilantro, tomatoes, shredded carrots, peanuts and more.
We ate in silence for a short time and I toyed with the enticing affair. I ran a cost-benefit analysis, counted punch cards and hanging chits, tallied the scorecard and cost averaged. My calculations never favor the married man.
“I don’t quite have love, sex and attachment pulled apart,” I said after a time. “I tend to become very attached to the men I bed. Given you’re married, it’s best we don’t go there.”
“I’m not trying to convince you to have sex with me tonight but,” his hand touched his chest in gesture, “I am the perfect man for you.” He straightened, smiling broadly.
“How’s that?” I giggled, placing a hand on my chest to hold my laughter. Sometimes these conversations are equally fascinating and entertaining. Setting my utensils down, I settled back in my chair, folded my hands and gave him my full attention. Given that I don’t dine with duds, I had keen interest in his answer.
“You don’t have to worry about commitments or demands or that I’ll want more,” he said confidently.
Do people think I’m commitment-phobic?
“What if I want more?” I raised an eyebrow. “Let’s say I work out my attachments and think I can handle an affair. What would that look like?”
“I’d love to come see you for the night sometimes, without lying about it.”
I nodded and held his gaze far longer than was comfortable.
“That feels,” my eyes left his to scour the ceiling in search of the proper word, “Promiscuous to me. Not for you - for me.” My splayed hand touched my chest instinctively for emphasis.
Young adults have a term for this: fuck-buddies, a term more revolting than actual practice methinks. Conceptually, I have no difficulty with any kind of sex between consenting adults. But as a practice in my life?
“Those Judeo-Christian roots are hard to shuck,” I said in my defense. “Anyway, you guys are hard-wired to spread your seed. From that purview, your desire for other women makes perfect sense. Women are hard-wired for security, to create a nest and raise the kids. We look for big and strong, someone capable of killing the deer and dragging it home. From a woman’s perspective, spreading your seed is a threat to the survival of our brood. I don’t have a problem with it but I do have a bit of a problem participating in it.”
“I got what you are saying about spreading our seed,” he prepared to bolster his case, “But it’s not just with anyone; there has to be a connection. It’s not just about sex. At my age, sex is no good if there’s no connection.”
I couldn’t disagree and thought it probably THE issue in his marital bed as well. Unfortunately, the men for whom I held strong connections were married. That made them somewhat unavailable. Not entirely but physical intimacy was Kapu - off limits.
“I know that I am reliable to create another long-term relationship,” I started with my reasons, as if I needed them. “I used to say, ‘I’m not a No-Never; I’m a No-Not-Now.’ I can see that in the last year I have shifted to: No-Not-You. Not you, not you, not you.” I pointed at three spots in the space between us. “And if I become involved with you, unless I work out my attachments, I’ll be unavailable to the possibility of someone else. Like, I might not even notice him.” I had been known to not notice.
“I have a friend who went on Match.com and dated some great gals. You are so pretty, you could meet hundreds of men on Match.com.”
My hackles rose. This topic was a briar patch. I dove for cover, into a nearby rabbit hole, head first, full speed ahead. “Match.com is based on the supposition that I am looking; I’m not. There is no lack of men in my life. When I want to date, I will.” End of conversation.
We finished our dinner, split a cobbler dessert topped with vanilla ice cream and walked back to his vehicle, arm in arm.
“Here’s the hard part about this,” I said standing before him with my arms folded. “When it’s all said and done, you’ll go home and snuggle up for TV with you wife and daughter. Later, you’ll crawl into bed with your wife. I’ll go home to an empty house and snuggle with my cat. I’m not - that interested in becoming attached to you and going home to an empty house.”
We hugged before climbing into his auto. It is always a pleasure to hug a fit and trim man. I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent of a man. Ah… nice bouquet. We kissed when he dropped me at my hotel and that too, was very nice.
These are not easy conversations and there are no easy solutions. There is no right way, no wrong way. There is dialoguing with those of import, seeking workability and happiness. Having an out-loud conversation is a start. For that, the man gets brownie points. When he has it where it counts? Many, many brownie points.