From the beginning we knew our relationship looked like a cliché—perhaps plucked from a boring episode of “Mad Men.” You, my 21-year-old millennial intern, me, your 30-something married boss with two kids. Yet unlike an often-soulless Don Draper, our intentions weren’t laced with malice, it was simply a matter of two people falling in love.
We both agree that nothing would have happened had we not ended up in the same city for the same event over that beautiful spring weekend. The air was cool, the music vibrant, and the beer and margaritas plentiful. For months, I had carried a secret crush for you, but I never thought of making a move. Yes, my marriage had been all but over for four years, and we were simply limping along for the sake of our children. But cheating had not been an option.
Our weekend together brought me to life. And on that last night, when I asked if I could kiss you and you said yes, my life changed forever. The next morning as the sun sliced through the curtains of my hotel room, and we lay naked, talking for hours, I knew something special had begun.
Things moved quickly after we returned home. It was barely more than a week when I told my wife I wanted a divorce. I couldn’t be a cheater, and you couldn’t be a mistress. We knew what we wanted and we wanted each other.
Those first months were exciting and scary. Nights in dark dive bars to avoid coworkers, dancing on the dock of the river, and kisses stolen in an elevator, were all magical and addictive. We never seemed to run out of things to talk about, and we couldn’t keep our hands off each other.
Yet soon the realities of our situation set in. The early puppy love turned serious and differences emerged from the shadows. You were finishing college, looking for jobs, and beginning to become an adult. I was going through a major life transition and adjusting to dating, and dating someone much younger.
We discovered that our common backgrounds also forged common problems. Anger, doubt and fear infected our relationship. We both agreed to change, to work through the problems together. I began seeing a therapist, I read books and articles, and I did everything I could to make myself worthy of your love. You encouraged me and acknowledged how much I was changing. But our fights turned louder and uglier. We both hurled insults that demoralized and left lasting scars.
Despite all my progress, I made many mistakes. I threatened to expose how we got started when you threatened to leave. I held on to jealousy for no reason, I had moments of neediness, and I said things that hurt, things I regretted the next day and regret still. I wish I had changed faster, that I had transitioned from marriage into dating more seamlessly. It haunts me because I know it was the final deal breaker.
The experts say that we shouldn’t be afraid to walk away from a bad relationship. You finally had the courage to do what I couldn’t do, even after you were kissing and making dinners for your neighbor behind my back, when you got together with ex-boyfriends without telling me, and accepted dates from other men, but didn’t call them dates because you didn’t think they really were.
When you lashed out at me for no reason, called me bipolar and hurt me with your biting words, repeating over and over, “This is why I don’t want a boyfriend!” I stayed. Even though you often acted years beyond your age, I kept lying to myself, refusing to believe you were young and naive. You had committed to change and I would be patient. I had to be patient because you were being patient with me. To me, you were worth all the patience in the world.
My life is fuller and richer because of you. Our year together, from every breakfast conversation over The New York Times, to our travels, to nights spent building crafts with my kids, and to the meaningful discussions about politics, careers, life and our future together, reinforced that up until you, I had yet to really live life.
You said many times that you looked up to me, and you were never shy about seeking my advice. But the truth is that I’m the one who always looked up to you. I’m so proud of you and all that you’ve accomplished. You have an amazing future ahead of you, and even though you’ve chosen to continue without me by your side, I have some final words of advice:
1. Continue to work hard. You got to where you are today because you refused to stop. The sky’s the limit for you and I know you’ll go far.
2. Continue to value family and friends. While some friendships will fade, don’t give up on being the type of friend and family member worth keeping in one’s life.
3. Continue to make your bed. I know you did it for me, but it truly made your day better. But remember too, that it doesn’t matter if you leave your bed unmade and your clothes all over the floor. You’re fantastic the way you are and those who love you don’t really care.
4. Don’t give up on your dreams. But be flexible and open to the idea that what you thought would make you happy can and will change.
5. Be comfortable with your body. Don’t let small imperfections define you. You’re beautiful, attractive and sexy, morning, day and night.
6. Don’t be afraid to give a part of yourself to someone else. Relationships aren’t zero-sum games. You don’t lose your independence by making the one you love a priority in your life.
7. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Many of us are good at seeking help for our career, but too often we refuse to seek help for our personal life as well. There is no shame in admitting you don’t know everything about how to be a good friend, lover and partner.
8. Don’t let society define what life should look like. Our relationships, marriage and lives don’t need to meet a particular stereotype to be a life filled with love, happiness and success.
Despite our differences and our history, I hoped to give you the world. There’s a big part of me that still does. My friends and my ex-wife tell me that time will heal my wounded heart. I hope they’re right. I hope to once again wake up and not look for you next to me. I hope to be able to masturbate again without stopping because I can only see your body and your face. I hope I can once again think about being with another woman. I hope the loneliness fades. But for now, I still can’t fathom a future with anyone but you. Ending my marriage was hard; losing you has been even harder.
I love you.