Close to a year ago I found myself, for the first time in my adult life, single. It wasn’t a total shock. I had been preparing myself mentally for months, maybe even years but when the blessed event finally took place I didn’t realize that I would feel so unmoored. This man who had been my life, to the exclusion of all else in the world had been my anchor. Cutting that line freed me, but also set me adrift into the unknown. How would I steer the ship? Where would the currents take me? Why could I only think in maritime metaphors?
I wasn’t someone’s wife anymore. Sure, I had my kids and my family and friends. They were invaluable during this time but how long could I call them, day after day, wailing and sobbing at the indignity of it all before they got just as sick of me as I was of myself?
So I did what any woman, descending rapidly into her mid-thirties and single for the first time since the Clinton administration would do – I took a lover. A young one.
Just six weeks after the end of my marriage, I was on my way to becoming that which I had relentlessly mocked and scornfully derided. My timing was impeccable, as the older woman/younger man dynamic had reached a cultural critical mass. The term “cougar” had become ubiquitous. How convenient for me to have a brand new label to try on.
It all happened quite by accident. There he was, fumbling for his keys on the doorstep of my friend’s apartment building in the small, ugly hours of the morning, unable to insert key into lock and make the half-turn necessary to get inside. And there I was, fresh off an evening of vodka and sorrow and the heady intoxication of a freedom I never imagined I’d possess again. Of course I had to help him open the front door. That’s where my assistance should have stopped.
I’d love to blame the vodka for following him up to his apartment and into his bedroom, despite his insistence that he no longer needed my help. I’d also love to blame the vodka for flirting so shamelessly there in the dark that he felt obliged to kiss me and ask me for my phone number, which I gave to him without hesitation. But if I’m being honest (and why wouldn’t I be, safely ensconced in the anonymous arms of the internet) it was just the catalyst, the truth serum I needed to admit that I wanted to dive right into the dating pool. I just didn’t realize I’d be wading waist-deep in the kiddie pool my first time out.
Imagine my surprise when the next day, as I watched my kids cavort in the actual kiddie pool in the front yard, my phone made a strange, short beeping sound. What was this envelope icon flashing on the screen? A text message. Up to that point in time, I had maybe received a dozen of those. It was my first indication that I was embarking on something I was woefully unprepared for. In broken, abbreviated English, which I would later figure out was a function of text-speak and the fact that he was from another country, he let me know that I had left my sweater in his room, no doubt on purpose, and would I like to come by to pick it up?
For four weeks I deliberated and tortured myself. Should I text him back? Or would a call be better? What do I say? Should I have my friend that lived in the building get it for me and forget any of this happened? As maddening as it all was, he was able to do for me what nobody else, despite their best efforts, could. He distracted me, almost completely, from having to think about the painful reality of my disintegrated marriage and the fact that I was now a single mom with a special needs child. That psychic space was such a relief and allowed me to function when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball, eat ice cream and watch Hugh Grant movies. After all, I was now solely responsible for the two little people who I had brought into this world. Their father drifted in and out unevenly, wrestling with his own issues. I had to be the rock, the stalwart. Hard to do that when wallowing in self-pity and misery is your first and overwhelming instinct.
And let’s not forget the flattery angle. I was nearly 10 years older than him, slightly overweight, and convinced that my best years had already passed me by. Abused emotionally for years by a cruel and unrelenting alcoholic, my self-esteem was non-existent. Yet this young, cute European boy, with the sexiest accent I had ever heard, saw something in me, even if it was on a very superficial level, that made me take another look at myself. He said those three little words that I didn’t even know I had been needing to hear – I Want You. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had wanted me for my physical attractiveness, instead of for my intellect, or my kindness or for my paycheck. Against all my hard-wired feminist ideals, I was a sex object. And I LIKED it.
I was no stranger to being wanted. In fact, I was wanted on nearly a 24/7 basis by my kids, my husband, and my psychotically demanding job. Sometimes simultaneously by one or more of the dependents in my life. But this kind of want, the kind that was free of obligation, just a reciprocal exchange of one want for another was wholly new to me. New, scary and unnatural as hell.
The first time we had sex was comically tragic. At one point, right in the middle, he stopped and asked me, half in jest and half in seriousness if I had ever done this before. By this, I knew he meant sex but for me, in a lot of ways, I could have answered no. No, I had never done anything remotely like this before. I wasn’t even sure if I could go through with it. But in that moment, the horse, as they say, was already out of the barn.
I will spare you the intimate details, but suffice it to say that by the next morning (yes, I slept over which presented a whole host of new awkwardness to deal with) we had it mostly figured out. And now, after almost a year of doing whatever it is that we’re doing, we have become experts. But that is a story for another day.