This week’s guest post comes from Elena, a 20-something running-addict from Washington DC. You can find her on Twitter @Elena_Allegra
He was just supposed to be a boy in a bar.
Let’s set the scene: I’m twenty years old, American, studying abroad in London for the 2011 Fall Term, and I’m newly single. I’ve been in this new country for about three weeks.
Shortly after arriving, I go with my new friends to a bar down the street from where some of the girls are staying. This is only my third or fourth time out legally drinking. Two drinks in, suddenly I find myself standing alone. Looking around for a familiar face, I see my friend talking to a group of four very attractive older men.
I walk up and gently place my hand on her lower back. She turns, lights up with the assistance of alcohol and introduces me to the guys. They’re talking about dating. I lock eyes with a tall blonde across from me, “I just broke up with someone, and I am determined not to rebound,” I say.
The blonde smiles, “That’s very good to hear, because I think you’d be very hard to resist.” Be still my tipsy heart.
It’s like a switch has been flipped. As if in a film, our eyes meet, my focus zeroes in and suddenly I can concentrate on nothing but this man. I take in a small gasp of air, realising I’ve forgotten to breathe. I laugh nervously. “No… No, no, no, I’m a good Catholic girl.” I cross myself and place my hands in a prayer pose.
“That was kind of sexy.” Those eyes, Lord, give me strength.
“Sorry what’s your name?”
Within a few moments, Jack and I drift into a conversation, just the two of us. He buys me my third drink that night and then before I know it, it’s nearly 2 am and my friends come to collect me.
Feeling bold, I blurt out, “Can I do something I’ve been wanting to do for a while?”
I lean up and catch him by surprise in a kiss. He doesn’t pull away, so I kiss him again. And then my friends are beside me.
“I wish I could give you my number.“ I say.
“I can’t take your number –“
“Sorry!” I call as I’m pulled out of the bar by the arm.
I’ve never done that before.
Skip ahead to Monday, I’m checking my email after a long day of class when I see a LinkedIn request and message from a Jack. I nearly fall out of my seat: he found me.
We agree to meet that Sunday outside Oxford Circus tube station.
When I get there, I see him and trip over my own feet. “That didn’t happen, you saw nothing!” I shout.
He laughs and walks toward me. I go to shake his hand, but then he brings his face close to mine, so I kind of go for a hug while he kisses me on the cheek. It’s all a very awkward, startling affair. Americans do not kiss each other on the cheek in greeting and it all feels far too intimate.
We walk into Hyde Park, and he gestures for us to sit on the grass.
His tone suddenly turns serious. “There’s a reason I couldn’t give you my number.” I tense up, anticipating something terrible. “I have a girlfriend.” Unsurprising.
“Ok, but can we be friends? I’m living here for a few months and I’d really like to make some English friends.” He smiles and agrees.
We head back to Oxford Street and I help him pick out a few shirts at H&M that he can take to Africa for a safari with his girlfriend. Girlfriend.
In Liverpool Street station, right behind Paperchase, we say good-bye. I smile up at him; in my mind I’ve decided I’ll probably never see him again, so I reach up, give Jack a quick kiss on the lips and depart.
Oct. 4, 2011 – Jack:
I can’t tell if my butterflies are attraction or apprehension. All of my friends are telling me to stay away, but it’s not always that easy.
Oct. 4, 2011 – Elena:
Oct. 6, 2011 – Jack:
I try to distract myself from this unavailable man, but a few weeks later I get a call from a blocked number. It’s Jack asking if I’m available to meet for a drink, and somehow I’m unable to resist.
I’m in a very short skirt and a very tight top, with a bow in my hair. I probably look about sixteen. Jack is in a full suit, looking incredibly grown-up and handsome. There’s less awkwardness this time as I’ve learned the English custom of a cheek kiss.
We walk to a bar on Shoreditch High Street, where he buys me a drink and we cover all sorts of topics, from religion to relationships.
After a couple hours, he walks me back to my student building. We’re standing maybe two feet from one another and he is about to say something, but then stops himself.
“You can’t do that! You can’t just start to say something and then walk away!” And before I know it, he’s pulled me to him and we’re kissing frantically outside of my student building. And it is amazing. I have never felt so wanted in my life, nothing has ever felt so right.
After what could have minutes or hours, he pulls away. I can feel the guilt start to creep into my gut. Without a word, I turn and go into my building. Both incredibly happy and sick with what just happened.
The next day I find this message in my inbox:
I don’t reply, and he messages me again:
Reading this, I feel a heavy weight settle in my stomach, and simultaneous butterflies in my chest. I feel sick, but I can’t deny that I also felt a very powerful attraction to this man. I felt an almost physical need to see and be near him. I tell myself that I only want to go to tell him that I can’t see him ever again. I tell myself I’m going to end things. But I also know that I have never felt this strong desire, this almost ache to be near another person before.
I get to the bar at 6.35 and see Jack immediately; he’s in a gorgeous dark blue suit that fits him perfectly. I can feel myself shaking as I walk in and make a beeline for him. He’s surprised to see me so soon. We get a couple of drinks and go to the basement.
He tells me, a little uncomfortably, that things are not going well in his relationship. That it’s not just me, that I shouldn’t feel responsible for this. Jack says that he has very strong feelings for me, and I can’t help but feel excited butterflies, and then immediate guilt.
They are going on holiday next week, though, to Africa. I’m also about to go traveling, so he can’t break up with her now. Convenient. But I agree to see him again, when we’re both back in London.
I do have a date later that evening, though, and as he walks me part of the way, he smiles, touches his chest and says, “This is new. I think I’m jealous. I haven’t felt this in a very long time.”
Highs and Lows
When he gets back from holiday he finally breaks up with this girlfriend, and we start seeing each other. We chat online every single night and I start sleeping over at his once or twice a week. Finally, I’m happy. And then suddenly my time is up, and my study abroad is over. I have to go home.
Back in the US, I move into a house near my university with some girl friends, and four days later, Jack is at my door.
Over three days, he meets my friends, we go the beach, and we have sex. A lot of sex. In fact, it is during these three days that I experience my first orgasm during sex. Looking back, it’s not surprising how attached I become.
But after he goes home again our conversations start to become much less frequent. By my birthday in late January, he’s never online. I tell myself it’s the time difference, I tell myself I’m overthinking it. But the once pleasant butterflies in my chest have died and are now leaving a deep pain in pit of my stomach, a weight that doesn’t leave me.
By email Jack confirms that he’s back with his girlfriend, but he would like to see me while I’m in London. After reading this, I pour myself a large glass of red wine, sit down with my journal and try to work out what I will say.
I keep my mind on the bigger picture, my parents always told me that you can’t force someone to feel something they don’t. If he truly loved me, if I made him happy, he would still be with me. But if he doesn’t love me, if I don’t make him happy, then I don’t want him to force himself to try. I want him to be happy, if he’s happy with his girlfriend instead, then he should be with her.
We meet at a pub in Central London. As we sit across from each other, I ask that he let me speak first. I’ve rehearsed this.
“Jack, a few months ago, I realised that I love you. And because I love you, I honestly just want you to be happy. And if your girlfriend makes you happy, then you should be with her. Your happiness is much more important than us being together.” I feel mature.
He laughs. Not the reaction I’m hoping for. “You make me happy. I came here tonight to say the same to you.”
“We’ve broken up, in fact, she’s actually dating a man your age now!”
My eyes widen, I take a sip and break eye contact to collect my thoughts. Those once dead butterflies seem like a phoenix to have risen from the ashes. My pulse quickens and something warm starts to spread through my chest, an uncertain, tentative tendril of hope. My thoughts are a confusion of ‘I shouldn’t be happy they’ve broken up’ and ‘does this mean he loves me’. Nothing is certain, but suddenly I want to believe that all of my hopes from last December might be a reality.
After another few drinks, though, I learn that he still loves her, but he also loves me, and he can’t choose.
We’ve had at least four drinks, and I still have no tolerance. We leave the bar and as he walks me back, we start to make out against a wall. But even in my foggy drunken state, I realise this doesn’t mean that he’s ‘chosen’ me. Mid-kiss, I break away because I’ve started to cry and I can’t stop. Between tears I say to him, “What do you want?”
His face very close to mine, looking anguished, he says “I don’t know.”
“You do! You do know!” I’m so angry that I punch him in the chest. He stumbles back, genuinely surprised.
After regaining his breath he approaches me again, “I wish I knew, I wish I could say, but I love both of you. I hope one day you’ll understand. I can’t control what I feel, but I do want to make the best choice for everyone involved.” His hands move to my hips as he closes in. “I’m sorry, this isn’t easy for anyone.” We kiss and the tears slow.
He walks me back to where I’m staying and I leave him, heading back to the room I’m sharing with my sister.
We see each other two more times while I’m in London, and he tells me that he’s booked another flight to come visit me in the US. And there’s that hope again. This time I don’t even try to stop the day dreaming on the flight back, I let myself indulge in imagining our life together once I graduate university. I’ll move in with him in London, we’ll get married, obviously, and have two beautiful British children. Blonde, like him. I allow myself to drift off in happy delusion, because surely if he’s coming back a second time, that means that this is real and that he’s chosen me.
Two weeks later, Jack is back in my house. But this time it’s awkward; it’s becoming apparent how separate our lives are.
Back to London
The following September I return to London to take up a place on a Postgraduate course, and of course I get in touch with Jack to let him know I’m coming back.
But by now he’s is engaged. So we become ‘just friends’. His fiancée is in another country, and we meet up about once a month. Just friends.
Not really friends of course, that would be too simple. I’m angry. But I want to seem ‘adult’ and ‘grown up’. When we were dating he talked a lot about how young I was, and I wanted to prove him wrong. After the first few times meeting up, my anger eases, the conversation becomes less stunted. We become comfortable with one another again.
But then, a few months later, I wake up naked next to him, not entirely sure how I got there. I know we went out for drinks, I know I came back to his ‘for wine’ after already drinking plenty at a bar. I remember not resisting when he pulled me onto his lap, and as I’m lying next to him, the entire blur of the night starts to come back to me. But he’s engaged. My chest feels tight, I edge as far away from him as I can on this bed.
He wakes up, I ask him what this means. If anything.
I’m not pleased about the situation, but we keep seeing each other. I believe him, I have no reason not to believe him, and why would he lie? Sure, sex is wonderful, but is it worth lying to get? I don’t think so. I tell myself it’s fine; I tell myself it doesn’t matter because I’m dating other people anyway.
And when my course ends and I leave London, we only meet up once every couple of years, for a day or two.
Two Years Later
It’s Valentine’s Day. I’m back in Europe, and Jack and I meet in a bar. He’s married now, and it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since I gave him a blowjob in a doorway at 1 am just hours after graduating. I’m nervous, but I am very good at denial. I tell myself that this time will be different, surely now with a child he won’t be interested in sleeping with me. We’ll have dinner, he’ll tell me how attractive I am and that will be that.
He goes to get drinks, and on his way to the bar he leans down to kiss me, just as if we’re still together. I pull away and he looks at me, questioning and confused.
“Go on. Get the drinks!” I tell him, not making eye contact.
As we drink, he tells me about his new family and I just feel more and more apprehensive. He’s still looking at me like he did when we first met. His eyes are still assessing, the air of his attention is not simply cordial and friendly. He wants something.
Later we go back to my hotel room and talk.
“Have there been others?”
“Besides me.” I’m persistent.
“One. But I didn’t love her; you were the last woman that I fell in love with. I still love you.” Those eyes. Those words. How could I resist him then?
But afterwards, he leaves. I don’t see him again, and that immediate departure has been weighing on me every time I think of that night.
Another year later, I send him a message on Whatsapp.
“How would your wife feel if she knew you and I were talking?”
He responds, I can imagine his brows furrowed, and his tense breathing, just like when I would confront him when we were dating.
“I imagine it would hurt her. But we don’t look at each other’s phones. We give each other a lot of freedom. We have an understanding.”
I don’t know if I believe him, but he and I have our own understanding, mostly to keep me from getting hurt. We are not connected on social media. We do not talk about our significant others with each other.
I am wilfully ignorant. I like to believe him whether he’s telling the truth or not, because it absolves me. If he’s lying, I’m complicit.
I love him. He says he loves me. But I think it may be time to say good-bye for good.
I come back to London the following October. Jack and I meet up, and it’s awkward. Our very different lives were once an interesting topic of conversation, but now it’s become a divider. He spends all of his time with other parents, where I go out with girlfriends constantly, have time to run marathons and focus on a career. It’s almost like talking to a different person; the butterflies have gone. They’ve fled to a less jaded environment.
Perhaps it’s modern dating, perhaps I’ve just grown up, and perhaps I simply don’t want to delude myself into thinking that some great ephemeral love can overcome separate lives and separate families.
What he and I had was once wonderful. But it is over. We are different people. And I think I did need that confirmed for me. Closure.
If you want to know more about Elena, you can find her on Twitter @Elena_Allegra