Want to know a bad thing? I’ve slept with women who had boyfriends. Apologies if one of them was supposed to be “yours.” Not that it makes much difference, but at least half the time I didn’t know she was off the market until long after that particular detail should have been proactively divulged. Maybe I should have just asked.
Sleeping with a woman who had a boyfriend was never something I planned, but rather one of those bad things that seemed like a good idea at the time. I won’t trouble you now (though I will later) with the nuances of those encounters, nor why I have now adamantly, irrefutably, unwaveringly (or, you know, at least temporarily) sworn off gals with boyfriends. For me, the odd thing wasn’t so much that it happened, but that for a while there it wouldn’t stop happening. For reasons that surpass my meagre ability to comprehend, there were four of these women in a row. Yeah―four. In a row. I winced as my friends joked about my sudden predilection for the company of unavailable women, the accusations that I was getting off on being that mistake. Maybe there was some truth in there, I honestly don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that I should have been better prepared for the arrival on the scene of the girl who could have been number five.
I met Miranda by accident on a crisp October day when I was supposed to be somewhere else. At the risk of sounding unspeakably lame, I knew right away there was something about her. Sure, sure: she was smart, funny, beautiful, had an absolutely killer smile―the usual precarious combo. She also had these unusually quick, expressive eyes that suggested there lurked deep within her a weathered spirit marching to the rhythm of its own uniquely thumping drum. My kind of girl, I thought. When I caught myself glancing at her (slightly surreptitiously, of course) as she smiled in the sunlight and laughed at something I’d just said, all at once I thought of that line from Fitzgerald about how she was “the only girl I’ve seen for a long time that actually did look like something blooming.” It was a nice moment, and even as it was happening I knew I wanted to stay in that moment a bit longer. So of course I got her number and asked her to join me for drinks.
That’s when things got complicated.
A day or so later Miranda sent me an email. Amid a series of brave, earnest, and beautifully conflicted sentences that floor me still, she came right out and―to her credit―proactively divulged that most annoying detail: she was committed to a boyfriend. I’m nearly ashamed to admit that I spent the better part of an hour grappling with whether or not I cared. Because really, with sparks like that, wouldn’t it be madness not to go out at least once? If we didn’t, wouldn’t we always wonder? Wouldn’t we always regret? Maybe those sparks meant something, maybe they meant nothing, or maybe they just meant we were destined to be extraordinary friends. How were we to know if we didn’t at least try? I told myself I was already haunted by too many roads not taken, and that life is too short to live like that. Besides, the boyfriend thing was her issue, not mine, I reasoned, knowing full well that even thinking such a thought made me sound like an asshole justifying his reckless mistakes. Which is exactly what I was, I guess. In any case, we decided―perhaps inevitably and probably for all the wrong reasons―to grab those drinks.
That’s when things got really complicated.
Ah, the first date. I’ve been on my share of those―perhaps a few more than I care to count or admit―and of all the romantic truths I’ve stumbled across, none are as irrefutable as this: it’s all about chemistry. Miranda and I? We had it. Not just chemistry, but that rare and unexpected cataclysm that resonates and reverberates like a physical force and changes something inside you. To make matters worse, as we were telling stories and getting the feel of each other, I sensed for a flickering instant the most incredible thing: this woman could see me. Not just me, but the me I wanted to be, the me I hoped one day to become. Trust me on this one: it is not a trifling thing when someone looks at you like that. When someone looks at you like that, you’re already in way over your head. Especially when you begin to suspect you might be looking at her the exact same way.
I was thinking about all that as we were sitting in a cozy corner of a quiet bar, three drinks in, and she was laughing again at something I’d said. Such a great laugh: fiery, feisty, a little bit flirty. When she paused we peered at each other and sighed.
The moment of truth was upon us. Of course I knew I would kiss her soon, and so did she, the same way we both knew that the possibility of this moment was the reason we had both bothered leaving our apartments that night. Even though she had a boyfriend. Now that just seemed silly. She wanted that kiss, and not because three pints, the intoxicating thrush of mutual chemistry, and whatever reckless assuredness I was projecting were weakening her resolve. She wanted it for the same reason I did: because it felt like the right thing to do. Because as much as she would regret kissing me, she would regret not kissing me even more. The waitress came over and glanced at us with eyes somewhere between indifferent and bemused. Apparently she’d seen it all before.
“Another round?” Miranda asked me, a little too enthusiastically. I hadn’t noticed until then how close her fingers were to touching mine. My answer was immediate and decisive. “Yes.”
The waitress couldn’t quite suppress a smirk.
“This is a really bad idea, isn’t it?” I said, thinking about her lips. I knew the words would make no difference now―we had already made all of our choices―but I felt obliged to at least say it.
“Absolutely.” She looked at me with the same ruefully coy grin I imagined myself projecting.
“Two more, please,” I told the waitress, who seemed curiously immune to our magic. Maybe she just didn’t care. Our drinks came. We sipped.
The kiss, as first kisses go, was exactly what you’d want it to be. Soft and curious, loving and greedy. Filled with longing and tenderness and a little of that I-want-to-rip-your-clothes-off passion. Hungry, with a faint background murmur of mutually ignored shame. Complicated. And that’s the problem with kissing a woman who has a boyfriend. She has a boyfriend for a reason, usually because she’s incredible, kisses like she means it, and is utterly worth it. Kissing her merely reminds you that you’re not allowed to kiss her, which sucks even more when the kiss you’re not supposed to have is so good it’s shattering.
She sighed, mock exasperated. “Oh man, where have you been for the past year?”
“I swear I got here as fast as I could,” I said. Funny how something can sound simultaneously ridiculous and like the perfect thing to say, and when you say it and you’re about to flinch at your own ridiculousness, you find that somehow the words did their work. So I smiled, glanced from her eyes to her lips and back. She did the same. Way way way over my head. We kissed again.
Miranda and I did not sleep together that night, though we very nearly did. A sudden last-minute attack of sanity kept our pants from falling off. So, you know: good for us. But after I left her apartment I stopped at a bar near my place and asked the bartender to make it a double. As I sipped, I spent a few luxurious moments wishing Miranda didn’t have a boyfriend. But of course she did, and I wasn’t about to go on pretending she didn’t. I was done with women who had boyfriends, or trying to be at least. So where did that leave me?
Like a lot of ruined romantics, I think too much about the almosts, the could-have-beens, the ones who got away. As the warm, stultifying swirls of whisky worked through me, I began to accept with rather less grace than I should have that whatever it was Miranda needed―and her date with me made it clear she needed something―it sure as hell wasn’t me complicating the shit out of her life. Besides, you don’t swagger up to a woman and ask her to toss away the last year of her life based on some sparks and a few extraordinary kisses. Unless maybe you do. I don’t know. I just knew if something were to start with Miranda, it couldn’t be like that. So I walked away.
Well, more or less. We agreed―preposterously―that maybe we could be some sort of friends, so we met a few times for coffee over the next few months until she told me she had to stop. I respected her for that. It’s not her fault that I always end up exactly where I always seem to start: at the inconvenient intersection of happy accident and terrible timing, in the exact place where alcohol and bad decisions have a tendency to dwell. All I know for certain is that, regardless of right or wrong, I don’t regret those drinks with Miranda, nor do I regret the way I kissed her that first night, one final time, as I slipped out of her apartment into the cold and empty darkness.
“Take care of yourself,” I mumbled, which felt like a dumb thing to say, but I didn’t know then how to articulate what was on my mind. I wanted to sign the night the way she’d signed her first email to me, with the words that were beginning to feel as though they were meant for her all along. “As always, I remain,