CASE STUDY #1: The Intense Flirtation
There's this woman. Okay, fine: It's me. And the only reason I can write about this and use my real name is that my husband knows everything. Allow me to explain.
Years ago, when my husband was my fiancé, we were living in Rome - planning our wedding, subsisting on wine and carbohydrates. Life was generally perfect. I was working as a travel writer, and an editor sent me to Palermo to report on restaurants. I didn't know the city well, but my husband, also a writer, did - he had just returned from doing a story in Sicily himself. He suggested I meet his fixer (what journalists call their guides/translators in foreign places). Sure, why not, I told him. Can't hurt.
I arrived in the evening and arranged to meet Romeo - what was this, a Nora Ephron movie? - the next day. He showed up in the morning. On a motorcycle. In faded jeans, with two days' beard growth on a face that looked chiseled by Bernini himself. He had thick, dark hair and a heavy Sicilian accent. When he walked over to kiss me (on both cheeks, Italian style), I swear he moved in slow motion.
Knowing full well that it would be inviting trouble into my life - or at least calling up trouble to see if it was free for the evening - I spent as much time with Romeo over the next four days as I possibly could. To be clear, Palermo is not that big, and my Italian was pretty decent: I didn't need a fixer. But still, I invited him to lunch every day (I was there to write about the food, after all), he introduced me to his friends, and we wandered around the city. If we'd been holding hands, we would have looked like newlyweds. My last day, he asked me to meet him and some pals at a wine bar - a dark, smoky wine bar. I spent the afternoon figuring out what to wear and basically trying and failing to keep some perspective. I didn't actually entertain the idea of having an affair (really), but I was excited in a way I couldn't suppress. When I arrived, he was at the darkest table of all, no friends in sight. They couldn't make it, he said.
Let me get right to the point: We never kissed. We never even touched - no squeezing my hand to make a point, no cheek kiss goodnight, nothing. In fact, our lack of physical contact remains the strongest proof to me that Romeo felt something too. He was being a good guy to me and to my fiancé - which, of course, made him all the more attractive. The next day I flew home, and I never saw him again.
The truth is, if he had leaned in to kiss me, I wouldn't have stopped him. And I don't know if I would have told my fiancé. But he didn't (lean in), and I did (tell my fiancé) - because it probably would've been more suspicious not to say anything. My fiancé was hurt, but grateful for my honesty. Eventually we moved back to New York, and the "hot fixer" became a joke between us. And while I'm happy that 88 percent of you don't think I did anything wrong, I'm really happy that an ocean separates me from my dodged bullet.
CASE STUDY #2: The Secret Guy Friend
Elsa* is 39 years old. She lives in Los Angeles with her lawyer husband, who works extremely long hours, their three school-age children, and a cat. "I'm the cliché lonely housewife," she says.
One night last year, Elsa was out to dinner with her friend Jane when they ran into a few of Jane's work buddies. They all sat together at the restaurant, and Elsa found herself next to a "shy, sweet Latin guy named Diego," she says. "He was a landscape architect, incredibly funny, incredibly smart, and we spent the whole night just cracking each other up."
The next day, Elsa got an email from Diego inviting her to lunch. "He knew I was married and had kids, so I didn't see any harm," she says. "We were obviously attracted to each other, but who's going to have an affair at Chipotle?" Nevertheless, Elsa didn't tell her husband about her lunch date. "I still don't know why," she says. "I didn't want to upset him for nothing."
Elsa and Diego met for lunch that day. And the next. And two days after that. "It was fun," she says. "I hadn't had fun like that in years, because I'm up all night with the kids or falling asleep at some lawyer's dinner party." According to Elsa, Diego instantly fell into the role of her best friend and confidant. "If I didn't see him, we'd talk on the phone - he was the highlight of my day," she says. Elsa would call Diego if she'd had a fight with her husband, and email him "anytime I saw or thought of something that would make him laugh." She told her husband about Diego, stressing the friend part, and even hired Diego to work on her parents' house so she could spend more time with him.
"I never thought I was cheating on my husband because Diego and I never did anything," she says. "We'd hold hands sometimes; he'd kiss me on the cheeks. It was nothing my girlfriends and I wouldn't do. He was like a hot girlfriend." A hot, straight, male girlfriend who was clearly into Elsa. "We've never spoken about it, but you can tell," she admits.
After a few months, Elsa's husband wanted to meet Diego. "I honestly didn't see any harm," she says. But after what Elsa thought was a pleasant evening, her husband was visibly upset. "He didn't understand why I was so close to Diego, and basically ousted him," Elsa says. "I think he could tell there was chemistry between us. But if Diego were a woman, my husband wouldn't even have wanted to meet him!"
Elsa's husband asked her not to see Diego anymore, "in the nicest, most wounded-puppy-dog kind of way," she says. "To refuse him would have crushed him." So Elsa agreed to break up with her best friend - except she never did. "Here's the messed-up thing about the whole situation: I am now seeing Diego behind my husband's back!" she says. "It's never been sexual, but it still feels wrong, having lunch with another man and lying to my husband about it." As wrong as it feels, the relationship continues - and Elsa has no immediate plans to end it.
*Names and identifying details have been changed.
CASE STUDY #3: The Facebook Intrigue
"The trouble with Facebook is that it turns us all into voyeurs. It brings out the side of you that's looking for trouble." This is Annie. She's a 41-year-old fashion stylist in New York City. A few summers ago, about a year before her 20-year high school reunion, Annie was sitting at her desk at home, casually scrolling through her Facebook news feed. She saw a few friends mention the upcoming reunion, and she started thinking about her high school boyfriend, Sam. Normal enough, except that Annie's husband and 5-year-old daughter were in the next room, and "I wasn't just thinking about my ex," she recalls. "I was missing him."
So Annie did what any woman with a laptop would do: She tracked him down on Facebook. "As soon as I saw his profile picture - it was him on his family's sailboat, and he looked great - I felt like I was 17 again." Annie and Sam had dated for almost three years, and split up when they went to college. "I think we were 'the one that got away' to each other," she says. Further complicating the situation was the fact that they had seen each other a decade earlier, "before either of us was married. We had met at a bar, gotten drunk, and slept together."
Back on Facebook, Annie and Sam started a friendly, casual, "small-talky" conversation. "I told him about my work and my life, but I left out details of my family. I knew he was married, but he never mentioned his wife. And we sort of agreed to not talk about the elephant in the room: our hookup the last time we'd seen each other."
The casual emails continued for almost a year. Annie realized she was looking forward to checking her Facebook inbox constantly; she would update the app on her phone every five minutes. "I remember that my daughter once told me to put my phone down while we were having lunch," Annie says. "I felt terrible. It had become an addiction."
Then Sam escalated things with one simple email. "I had posted pictures of me and my daughter," says Annie, blushing at the memory. "And within minutes, Sam emailed me and wrote, 'Wow. You look more and more like your mother - and that's a good thing.' My mother had been a model, so the comparison wasn't as creepy as it sounds." But that email changed everything between them. "It was his way of bringing up the past, flattering me," she says. "We were going to see each other in about a month, and suddenly I was nervous, in a giddy way." That's when her double life started: If Annie got up in the middle of the night to get a drink of water, she would email Sam and tell him she was thinking of him. She got in the habit of closing the door to her home office when she was on Facebook. "I was telling him super-flirty things, like that I had dreamed about him," she says. "I posted pictures of myself with my hair in a ponytail, because he always liked that. And he would email things like, 'You're killing me, you know that?' I was going out of my mind wanting to see him - or to be more specific, wanting to have sex with him."
Finally it was reunion weekend. Annie panicked. She wasn't ready to be unfaithful to her husband, but she wanted to see Sam. At the last minute, she insisted that her husband and daughter make the five-hour car ride with her for the weekend. "When I walked into the party that night, I knew it was the right call," she says. "Sam was there, and it was obvious he didn't bring his wife. I knew he thought we were going to sleep together." So Annie grabbed her husband's hand, went to the bar, and avoided Sam all night. "Sam started flirting with my closest friend," she says. "He was trying to make me jealous, and it worked. I drank three glasses of wine in half an hour and left."
Annie and Sam haven't emailed or spoken to each other since. "I know the whole thing was wrong, but it wasn't that wrong," Annie says now. "I never so much as shook his hand, so it's not exactly like I cheated."
CASE STUDY #4: The One-Off kiss
Terry, a 33-year-old photographer in Seattle, describes herself as a "highly sexual and adventurous person," but when she got married in 2006, she took the fidelity part very seriously. "I really wouldn't trade marriage," she says, "but I do miss the thrill of meeting someone for the first time."
Two years after tying the knot, Terry went out for drinks with some old friends. Among them was Mark, "a hot gay friend," she remembers. "He's incredible looking, and I've always been attracted to him. And likewise, he can appreciate beauty in women." One drink became a few, and late into the night, Terry and Mark were outside on the sidewalk. "He went in for a kiss on the cheek and got my lips instead," she says. "I went, 'Oops,' and he said, 'Is it really an oops?' The next thing I know, we're completely making out with each other. He didn't seem gay at all." Their mutual friend, who was standing a few yards away, said, "Do you guys want to get a room?" Terry recalls. That brought them back to reality, and they laughed. The mood broken, they parted ways.
When Terry got home, she got a text: "You're an amazing kisser," Mark wrote. "I liked the confirmation," she says. "It's not something you hear every day, because one, you don't kiss as much when you're married. And two, your husband would never think to compliment you on your kissing. So I felt like a teenager when I got it."
Terry and Mark still see each other occasionally, but they haven't made out again. "I never mentioned it to my husband, because he'd be totally pissed that I had my tongue in another man's mouth, regardless of whether or not he is gay," she says. "I don't feel bad. It didn't lead to anything." She pauses. "And when I think back, I'm just turned on by how sexy it was to make out with a gorgeous man on the street in the middle of the night."
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