Then and there, I began planning my wardrobe (skinny jeans, long-sleeved Petit Bateau cotton crewneck), my deportment (a hug is OK, but nothing lingering) and my pronouns (use weas often as possible).
Stephen was waiting for me outside a café on the Upper East Side. We awkwardly embraced, and I gauged my reaction to him—wary, curious, and yes, my heart was thumping a bit—as though calibrating a terrorism-alert threat level. Over cappuccino (mine virtually untouched), I covered my nervousness by asking about his work, about his now-adult children. He asked if my husband knew about our meeting. (Of course he did.) Didn’t his wife? (“She asked me if it was something I really wanted to do. And I said it was.”) Perhaps he’d like to meet my husband? (“I don’t think I could bear it.”)
I told him I was still an obsessive swimmer and had taken up cooking and gardening with a vengeance, all things I’d written about in various publications.
“Yes, I know,” he said.
“I’ve been following your work for years. I’ll start to read something, and honestly, I can tell it’s you without looking at the name.”
We had never been very good at sitting across a table from each other. Stephen had barely gotten to the bottom of his coffee cup when I suggested we adjourn to Central Park, where we wandered and talked for the next three hours. I learned that he had been in New York several times over the years but hadn’t gotten in touch. He’d done so this time, he said, because “I didn’t want to not see you again.”
Before leaving me in the late afternoon (to meet his wife’s brother for dinner), he spelled out his preferred terms of engagement: OK to the occasional e-mail, but please, no phone calls, “because we know where that has led.” I considered retorting, “Oh, where was that?” But for one of the few times in my life, I shut up. I returned home in the euphoric state so familiar to me from my love-affair days.
I have a long-married friend who sees her college boyfriend for lunch once or twice a year. She has no residual sexual or romantic feelings for him, but she hears his voice and instantly remembers what it felt like to be 18.
Well, I don’t want to remember being in my twenties, hopelessly in love with a married man. I want what I got on that unseasonably warm autumn day: validation that I had mattered to the married man. But it turns out I wanted much more. I wanted to know that I still matter.
And of course now he’ll read this and know that he still matters to me.
JOANNE KAUFMAN writes often for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.
Originally published in the November 2011 issue of More.
Don't miss out on MORE great articles like this one. Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter!