I blame my mother. She was the one who set me up with a married man. I was studying for my undergraduate degree in New York, and early one afternoon, I got a call from her.
‘Get dressed, get pretty, and get over here,’ she said – ‘here’ being the hotel on the Upper West Side, where she was staying while visiting me.
It turned out she’d struck up a conversation with a charming man while sipping a flat white at the hotel bar, and she’d got it in her head that we’d hit it off. She wasn’t wrong; coffees turned into Irish coffees, then neat alcohol as the light wore into dusk.
He was captivating – not much older than me, but so much more a man than the boys I’d met in college.
We kept in touch throughout my time in the city. He asked me out a few times – dinner at P.J. Clarke’s, drinks the day I got my diploma – but I always found a reason to cancel last-minute.
Even now, I don’t really know why. I was definitely into him: we had started sexting, and the thrill that came with seeing his name light up my phone’s screen never blunted. But I had been sexually assaulted while in New York, a secret I kept from my parents and which, subconsciously at least, complicated things with men for a while.
After graduation, I moved back to the UK. We talked on the phone a couple of times, but soon faded out of each other’s lives. Then he called me at the end of 2019 completely out of the blue. I was single, am still single in fact, and was intrigued to hear from him. He said he was sorry we’d lost touch and that he wanted to catch up.
As we talked, our conversation took an unexpectedly intimate turn. He told me one of his biggest regrets was that we’d never made a go of a proper relationship and that I was never far from his thoughts, even though years had passed. To prove it he sent me photos of a product he’d designed and named with me in mind (he’s an entrepreneur). This is also the point at which he told me he was married.
Despite the revelation, things soon picked up where they’d left off in New York, with the usual sexting and – a first for me – phone sex. Before lockdown we were in touch pretty regularly, speaking on the phone sometimes several days a week – often for hours at a time – and texting in between. Most of the phone calls weren’t explicit at all.
We just talked about our days, our careers, the state of the world: normal stuff. The texts, on the other hand, typically weren’t as PG.
There was plenty of graphic late-night texting, and the odd photo sent across. Being in lockdown made it harder for us to speak on the phone, so that happens more sporadically now, but the content of our calls and texts has remained the same.
I never feel guilty in the heat of the moment, but reservations do tend to creep in with the cold light of day the following morning. I suppose our interactions feel like a lesser sin because we’ve never crossed any physical lines – never so much as kissed, even – and because he says the marriage is unhappy. Still, I know what we’re doing is wrong.
If I were married, whether unhappily or not, I’m sure it would torment me to find out about my spouse’s covert connection with someone else.
I’d always assumed illicit relationships must be logistically nightmarish, cloak-and-dagger affairs, but that hasn’t been my experience. We have a tacit understanding that he always calls me, not the other way around, so I don’t worry about his wife intercepting the call.
He has to drive to several different states quite regularly for work, and given that he’s an entrepreneur and the backbone of his business, he’s continued doing so (albeit less frequently) throughout the pandemic, so he calls me when he’s on the road.
From my side at least, the whole thing feels pretty safe – and not just logistically, but emotionally, too. Looking back at my romantic history, it reads like a roster of unavailable men, and I’ve had enough therapy to understand that this is, on some level, an active choice I make.
I have a deep-seated fear of abandonment originating from childhood trauma, and in an attempt to circumvent that fate, I get involved with people who can’t leave me because they can never fully be with me in the first place.
In the past, I’ve mostly been with men who were just emotionally unavailable, but who’s less available than someone who’s married to somebody else?
If I’m being totally honest, I have no idea how this is all going to end. He asked me once, before the lockdown was introduced, if I would come visit him in New York.
Lockdown made that impossible for a while, but even once international travel becomes feasible and safe again, I doubt I’ll go. Ethics are definitely a factor: I know it’s bad logic, but the idea of crossing that physical line feels really different from conducting a virtual flirtation. But I also think going to see him would mean ruining the fantasy – which is, I suspect, what we’re both in this for.