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But that night, sitting in my studio trying to think of how to respond, I pictured the new families they had formed — ones with husbands and children and homes in the suburbs. I felt far away from them then, left out and alone, a balloon that had slipped free from the bunch. I agreed to meet his wife, because, when I really asked myself why I didn’t want to meet her — it was weird, it might be uncomfortable, she might not be nice to me — all of my answers sounded hollow. When Alexis arrived, she slid into the booth across from me, took a sip from Neil’s beer, and exhaled loudly. She had made new friends — a group of young women in her area who all had children — but she had assured us that we were still her favorites.A few months later, when I was on my way to another residency, I found out for sure that Neil’s wife knew about me. But then I thought about all I had done in the past few months that I had never imagined myself doing: traveling around the country, living without a home, writing a book, being alone for long stretches of time. I met Neil at a dive bar down the street from his house, and we sat on the same side of the booth to wait for his wife. It’s just nice to have people who know what you’re going through, she said, and we had all pretended like we understood.I too had wanted those things, and when I met a man in my late 20s who was quiet and kind, I figured I had finally found it.
I told them that he had offered me socks to keep my feet warm, that he had found and followed me on Twitter, and that he had started direct messaging me when we were hanging out with other people, sitting across the room from each other and secretly talking shit about everyone else. Of course there was no way for me to know for sure that Neil was telling the truth, short of calling his wife and asking her myself. That, when they’re out picking up groceries, they’re not calling a woman they slept with two weeks ago and deleting her phone number before they get home.
I even told them how, when he invited me to his writing studio for the first time, long before anything happened, he had told me his marriage to his wife was an open one, that she had a boyfriend of her own, and that he had already told her he had been flirting with me. But didn’t we all have to take our partner’s word to some degree? “I guess I don’t know for sure,” I wrote and waited for them to respond.
Neil and I had decided to meet for a drink on my way through Madison, and I was only a few blocks from the bar where we had agreed to meet when he texted me, “Mind if my wife joins us? I had thought that so much of this trip would be terrifying, but none of it was. That night, the four of us didn’t talk for long, but we talked about a lot: writing residencies and freelance jobs, slush piles and waiting to hear back from editors, writing contests and how long it takes for a piece to be published. She was vulnerable and brilliant and quick-witted and kind, and I could see why Neil loved her.
” During our time in residency, Neil had told me about what it was like to be in an open marriage, how many of the men his wife met on dating apps were more than happy to sleep with a married woman, while most of the women he talked to were too suspicious of his situation to ever meet. If anything, being on my own made me feel alive again — wild, even — and I was starting to realize how many of my life choices had been made for the wrong reasons. After only a few minutes of talking, she confessed to me that her day had been terrible.
Four years before I met Neil, I fell in love with an essay his wife had written about the unrealistic expectations put on women once they become wives and mothers. My friends who were, back then, as childless and unmarried as I was.
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We read the essay and raged about the expectations put on women to behave, to follow the rules, to lose their identities in order to become first perfect wives, then perfect mothers.
I couldn’t comprehend how this was different from the things we had done before.
These were the friends that I had been single with, all of us tethered to one another for everything that we did: eating meals and drinking beers and dating men and running to the bar in the middle of those Vermont winters wearing nothing but torn jeans and tank tops.
But then, because these things sometimes happen — a short straw, a joker card pulled from the deck — I found out after five years that this kind and quiet man was not the kind of man I wanted to marry.
He was the kind of man who kept secrets, the kind of man who had a hard time being honest, the kind of man who lied about the things he was doing when he wasn’t doing them with me.