Two months ago, I met a married man. My friend Brad was in town for a visit and we stopped for a drink at a bar where the Married Man works as a bartender. It was our first encounter, the Married Man and I, and the only time he’s seen me sober.
For boredom of Brad, I struck up a conversation with M.M. At first pass, there was no burning impulse to jump over the bar and claw at his uniform. He was off my sexual radar. I didn’t even notice his wedding band, which would later seem as wide and impassable as an eight lane highway.
But I liked him. From our light conversation, I was able to pick up on a couple of key attributes. He had a dry sense of humor, and he hated people.
We ran into each other a month later. It was 3am, and I was in quite a spirit, with a motley platoon of drunks in tow, when the Married Man suddenly appeared, looking like a hot, electric plot twist. I closed down the bar with M.M., sitting side-by-side, prattling about my Aries nature and god-knows-what-else. Mostly, I remember gushing over how cute, how beautiful, how stunning, his face.
He was flattered, but married. Happily married. Yes, still in love with his wife. No, not in need of a mistress. No, never cheated. No, not the cheating type. No one knows how to beat a dead horse better than me, and I expected one of two reactions from him: annoyance or encouragement. Married Man was amused, but wasn’t throwing any logs on the fire.
We were the last in the bar, and I called a cab, but it arrived too soon, so I waved it on.
“I’ll take you home,” he said.
“But where do you live?” I was insistent, or more accurately, incredulous. He lived far away, in the opposite direction of my home. This will speak to my confirmed disappointment in men, that something so simple as the offer of an out-of-the-way, late night ride home, felt like an act of human kindness. Special, and more than just decency.
Two days later, there was a friend request from Married Man. From a thorough inspection of his page, I determined that he wasn’t married in the sense that I imagine most men in the service industry are married. That is, willing to cheat. The Married Man was Very Married. Married in a nice, suburban way. Just like in the movies. Pictures of such stability and happiness. Pictures of running in lawns, chasing after delighted children. They weren’t a trashy family – like he might have to contend with one of her baby daddies who stops by on occasion with a jug of moonshine and a baseball bat. Nor were they a moneyed and miserable family full of plastic surgery, pre-nups, cocaine and Louis Vuitton smooth-over gifts. They were what you’d call normal-looking, compatible in their dailyness. I could tell he spent quality time, that there were regular “date nights”, that he wasn’t prioritizing a bunch of pot-bellied drinking bros at a dive bar somewhere. He was at home, cleaning out the gutters on Sunday morning. Throwing a ball around with his son. Helping with the dishes. What in the hell was he doing seeking me out on the internet?
I wrote him, “Sorry for hitting on you and thanks for taking me home. Shame on you for being so cute.”
He wrote back: “No worries, Aries. See you around. Next drink on me.”
My journalistic and philosophical nature compelled me to seek information and wisdom from my comrades in the service industry. I walked over to Miguel as he was polishing wineglasses in preparation of the restaurant opening.
“Get away from me. I don’t want to hear any more of your stories,” he said.
“Oh come on, they pass the time.”
“Leave me alone! Next you’re going to tell me about how you hooked up with a one-legged midget.”
Then, I approached Joe, another server.
“Joe. You’re a married man.”
“Happily. Twenty-seven years.”
“Have you ever thought of cheating?” I asked.
Joe put his hands to his temples and massaged deeply, worriedly. He lifted his head toward the sky and released a long, stressful sigh. He closed his eyes as if in pain and placed his hands in prayer-form to his lips, breathing into them as an asthmatic does into a paper bag. “Give me a moment, please. Let me think of how to say this.”
“Take your time.”
“April. There are a few women I think about. You’re one of them. But I’m not going to throw 27 years of marriage in the toilet. Part of me wants to so badly, but I know the next morning I’d wake up in your arms, not only full of lust, but full of regret.”
“I was actually talking about someone else.”
“I just don’t think I’d be able to live with myself. Just please. Don’t ask. Please.”
I could smell the liquor on Joe’s breath. We were, after all, just starting the shift. I patted his arm and went to the place one goes when one needs to escape: the bathroom.
I talked to the Sous Chef, Kevin.
“Do it.” He said.
“You would? But what about your two year old child? Wouldn’t you feel guilty at least about that?”
“I don’t have guilt. Plus I’m a good liar.”
I told Sha-Lisa in Room Service what Kevin had said.
“WHAT? Girl, he is LUH. KEY to get what he has! He needs to get down on his knees and praise Jesus there’s at least one woman who will fuck him.”
Sha-Lisa herself was involved with a married man. He treated her like gold, she said. She loved him. But it was the age-old story you always hear. He wasn’t going to leave his wife.
The next drink-on-him was a few nights later at his workplace. My hooligan friends and I took seats around the bar, drank tankards of gin martinis, and caused the usual spectacle. Married Man had a million dollar smile on his face. So did I.
“I met the G.M. of this place the other night.” I told him.
“That guy?” he said, indicating the young man in the corner. “He’s not the G.M. He’s a manager like everyone else.”
His snarkiness gave me heart palpitations.
I messaged him from the cab ride home.
“You are beautiful and dangerssiisjshg.”
“Dangerous. Cab hit a bump. Did we pay the bill? I will come in and make it right if not.”
“No need.” He wrote the next morning. “But your presence is always welcome.”
“We’ll stop by tomorrow.” I wrote.
But we didn’t. Late that night, M.M., probably in an inebriated state, “liked” a few of my photos on facebook and wrote “You didn’t stop by.” The next morning the “likes” were gone, but there’s no canceling a sent message.
“Fire. Fire. Fire.” Miss Alexis texted.
The next night – wasted again – we returned. After his shift was over, we had a nightcap together in a darkened industry bar. As we walked there, I tried to link arms with him, and felt him tense up and ease away from me. It said everything – he was married, remember? And he wasn’t just paling around with a drunk friend. He was putting a toe in to check the temperature. Boiling.
“How many years have you been married?” I asked.
Thirteen years ago, I was 19. Since then I’d gone to college in Long Island. I’d lived abroad in Prague. I went to graduate school in Manhattan. I had a successful career as a book editor. I’d lost everything and worked in an eyeglass store. I’d sold everything I owned and left New York. I’d taught composition at a small college in Indiana. My family had fallen apart. I’d lived in Florida. Then Boston. I’d moved to New Orleans and learned how to bartend. All in 13 years. I’d fallen in love a few times, and had several relationships. Never with a married man. I wasn’t the type who would.
“I’m drunk all the time, and insane, and hot for you.” I told him on the way home. “Why are you encouraging me? You’re playing with fire.”
“I don’t think you’re insane.” He said. “There’s a difference between being drunk and being insane.”
Was there? Also, he didn’t know me very well.
“I think you’re intriguing.” He said.
I knew what that word meant. I didn’t need to look it up in the dictionary. But he was responsible, I kept telling him. A good guy.
We stopped in front of my house. I ran my fingers through his hair, tentatively, Excited, but afraid, and brushed his lips.
“Please get out of the car.” He begged. “Please just get out of the car.”
My two week gin bender culminated shortly after, in quitting my job. “I feel like I’ve been drinking so much, that I’ve submersed my heart.” I told my friend Steve over coffee, who has been married twice.
“You feel guilty about his wife.”
No, I did not feel guilty about his wife. I didn’t give a shit about that. I felt guilty for provoking a situation that could forever change his life, bring it crashing down. As a single woman – and one who comes from a rigid, abstinence-obsessed Southern Baptist background – I don’t believe in the sanctity of marriage. I’ll admit I’m a hedonist, and a manic romantic, and Married Man is right to keep his distance.