A Date With the Man That Got Away

Even if you don’t want to relive a youthful fling, its memory can still tug at the edges of a happily married here and now. Joanne Kaufman dares to see him one more time.

by Joanne Kaufman
dinner for two photo
Photograph: Aya Brackett

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.

“You know?”

“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.

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First Published October 25, 2011

What’s your reaction?

Comments

Manny Halpern01.03.2012

At 45 years of age I see this sort of behavior all too often among my middle-aged brethren. Not only has infidelity hit the homes of some of my good friends and respected community leaders, but in my own marriage as well.
The author seems to feel that love and devotion is now, as it was in your youth, a game. That the people around her, those she affects with her childish, selfish behavior, are only there as set pieces in her fantasy. The trouble is they are not set pieces. They are real people who feel real pain when infidelity is revealed. Secret rendezvous' are not romantic and adventurous - they show a lack of true character, of maturity, of emotional growth.
And shame on More for condoning (by way of publishing) such behavior.

Ericka Calderon12.30.2011

I think this was beautifully written! Many women experience situations similiar to this one, hopeful that "their" situation is different. Most of the time they end with hostility (between lovers) and the married man continues on with his life. However, no one ever discusses this topic because it's a "no-no". Let's face it, we are human! I applaud the writer for her boldness and honesty!

djhk 12.27.2011

Joanne Kaufman's cavalier and narcissistic attitude toward her affair with a married man is shocking. After marrying, presumably aging and having children of her own she shows not a sliver of remorse nor empathy toward the family she destroyed. The last line of her article proves she still keeps her door open: "Now he'll read this and know he still matters to me." Why is More publishing writers who take whatever they wish, without boundaries or compassion? Her "soulmate" is married with children. That means other lives are involved, yet Mrs. Kaufman offers self-indulgent "epiphanies" and is actually proud of herself for meeting him yet again? Why is this article in a magazine that is about connecting with yourself and strong mature relationships with other women? I thought More was about beauty from within and women of substance and integrity. This is ugly and cliched prattle from a self-obsessed woman who has obviously learned nothing from her mistakes and certainly doesn't think of anyone else's family as she navigates her gigantic ego.

11.16.2011

This is a very familiar story -- I've lived it, except for the part about meeting someone new.

11.03.2011

I'm sure you were waiting for a comment like this one, so I suppose I'll be the first to say it.
I found the piece full of nostalgia and intriguing, and I enjoy good writing. But I had mixed feelings after finishing it, because the source of the material meant that you, the writer, ruined someone's else happiness.
All of us being young at time, we have regrets for doing stupid things. Youthful flings are like that. But I didn't sense a lot of regret...I sensed a lot of lust in the beginning, and lot of 'what if' in the middle, and it ended with a 'to be continued?' question mark.
In the end, I felt like I consumed a lot of sugar. It was a article over-bathed in youthful fantasies and superficality that didn't stick a small toe in the reality and messisess department, where hurt feelings, broken marriages, and other people's feelings reside.
I'd rather not deal with the sludge plaguing life and people today, it's a lot to deal with, the emotional and mental pain around you, but reading about a discretion that collaped a marriage decades, and years later, seeing faint traces of it picking up like it never left off its youthful indiscretion...is a lot to read, or for me, to read into.
It made me wonder if the writer had any present happiness at all.
Both still seem caught in the endless loop of wanting to matter to the other, hopeless in love with a twist, and, I suppose that's how life really is for some people.
I just found it rather unclear, with all boundaries blurred for easy crossing if necessary.

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