When he looks across the room at me, I will smile and look away. I will know that he has you, and even if I feel in some petty part of my mind that you don’t merit him, I know that your presence in his life must be respected. After all, there must be many people who look at me in my more unflattering moments and decide that I couldn’t possibly have deserved any of my partners. We are all experts on one another’s relationships until we actually have to live them — it is easy to accuse someone of being inattentive, but we all let love slip through our fingers.
He will talk to me, and the conversation will be light and easy, but so are all conversations when they have no history to define them. When your flirtation can exist in a vacuum, and you can imagine each other to be exactly what you are looking for in that moment, you have no need for real connection. I know that when someone is looking for a door out, almost anything can be turned into an exit. I would love to think that I am so irresistible that I drive otherwise-faithful men to cheat, but I know that infidelity is as much about time as it is about actual desire. If she is standing in this particular bar, on that particular night, right after that one very unfortunate fight — he will pick her. And she will have been no prize.
I will understand, at a certain moment, that I could sleep with him if I wanted to. It’s always a bit like getting the final piece in a puzzle — that satisfying click of “a-ha!” — when you realize that someone wants you. But I will remember your face, and it will obscure every good thing about our exchange. You will linger over our interactions like a thick, perfumed fog, and even though he will try to swat it away with light flirtation, it will get into his eyes and make it even more difficult to see who I really am. After all, I am just you, refracted through a different prism. All of my qualities are distinguished in how they differ from yours, and even while drunk I couldn’t possibly find that flattering.
Even if I wanted to, I would remember the time that someone said “Yes,” and took the man home. He was my boyfriend, and even in the routine of our worn-down relationship, I couldn’t imagine that my presence had become so unimpressive as to warrant temporary replacing. When I found out that he had slept with her, part of me wanted to know every last detail of the indiscretion, and part of me wanted to cover my ears and scream until all I could hear was a tinny, empty ringing. My own thoughts wrapped like barbed wire around my brain and I allowed “I guess you shouldn’t have let him get away” to become my only full observation. My own body was the traitor, because it could not keep him.
And I didn’t hate him; I hated her.
And you would hate me, too, if I did this. Even though, in all reality, it is likely he who should bear most of the blame. But I know that the blandness of this particular moment in your relationship is sure to become pointed ugliness if he were to cross that line. It would make a monster of you, because it’s so much easier to blame that one foul woman than the person who you love so much as to feel complacent in their company. I don’t want you to be a monster. You deserve to end things in dignity, even if they are in tatters.
I wish I could tell you that, because I will not sleep with him, he will remain faithful. I wish that it could be an isolated incident, a night where he almost flew too close to the sun but managed at the last minute to preserve his wings. But my sense is that this missed opportunity will only be the impetus to try again, as he as already gone far enough to prove to himself that he wants it. And if you knew that this was his real face, you would probably feel as limply disappointed as I do with him. You would probably look at him with the same mix of pity and resentment. But for now, you haven’t found the incriminating text messages, so everything can continue in its placid sameness. And when everything around you is disappearing in your hands, just as it did to me, you will remember how wonderful it was to be bored.