So surprise, surprise, the married, nice guy who just wants to do kind things for me leans in for a kiss. Didn’t ask for it, didn’t want it, but immediate panic striking me when it happened.
That guy is married and he just kissed me. Did I lead him on? Did I not do enough to shut him down? Should I have expected that?
He told me he wasn’t going to pull anything. And I believed him. Was I just wilfully believing him and overriding common sense? Why do I still just have a hard time telling when someone is telling the truth or not? I’m like Timothy, the little mouse friend of Dumbo, telling myself that if I just believe in something enough, I can make it be true. Wake the hell up, Jennie.
I sat there in my car after “rich guy” kissed me and walked off. I remember the exact feeling. My palms were sweaty, and I gripped the steering wheel. I glanced quickly around to parking lot, just in case my luck would have some person there who recognized us. My next thought was a panic- my entire scholarship summer now depended on the plane ticket this guy had bought me. Should I give it back? I felt sick to my stomach.
I thought about calling him, but worried that his wife would be standing right there. Instead, I waited until the next day and sent him an email. I wrote:
I cannot tell you enough how much I appreciate the things that you have done for me. I have never had someone be so kind to me. But after the incident last night, I think it might be best if I return the ticket to you. I don’t want to do anything that might jeopardize a marriage, or create tension for my daughter on her soccer team.
He wrote back:
I am sorry for putting you in that position, and I was carried away in the moment. The ticket is yours, already booked, and no strings attached. I meant everything I said, and want you to have a wonderful summer.
The following week, a credit card was delivered to my house, in my name. $20,000 credit limit. I tucked it away in my wallet, knowing that I’d put it there, but never use it. Rich guy called me a few days later, and asked if I would meet him out for a drink, as he knew I was leaving in just a few weeks, and he already had something else for me for my trip. My heart beat pretty fast, but I agreed to meet him the next evening. I spent the next day and night working through all the possible dialogues in my head, each one ending in me standing firm with my boundaries should he try to get out of line again.
I pulled into the parking lot of a pretty nice wine bar and saw a very expensive car I didn’t recognize- but guessed was his. Sure enough, I walked onto the terrace, and he sat there, two boxes in the chair next to him. He looked handsome, confident. I felt like a sweaty mess. I summoned the strength to feign confidence and smiled broadly. He smiled back, but less enthusiastically than I had done. Okay, I thought, maybe I just need to get over myself. He kind of looks like he’s my dad, worried about me going on a trip.
As soon as I made my way over to his seats, he gestured at the boxes and said that they were for me. I started to say “no” but he just picked the top one up and handed it to me, “I don’t know your taste very well, but I know that a black purse is a staple you need.”
I opened the box and inside was a Michael Kors bag. Elegant, not too flashy. My head did a quick valuation of the purse- probably $300 or so. More expensive than any other bag I had ever owned, to be sure, but not extravagant the way that some purses might be. I tried to figure out if I needed to refuse it. I think I managed to say, “Oh, wow” when he picked up the second box and handed it to me.
“Open it,” he said. Again, it’s not anything big, but the color is beautiful and it made me think of you. You will look gorgeous in it.”
I took the box, and was embarrassed to see my hands shaking. I told him, “I don’t think I should take this.”
“Jennie,” he said. “I bought it for you, and you deserve it. Please open it. Here, sit down, please. May I order you a glass of wine?” He reached over, took hold of the box so I could sit down, and motioned to the empty stool next to him. I sat down as he nodded at the waiter. He then looked me in the eyes and handed the box back to me. Then he simply just said, “Please.”
I sat there, held the box on my lap, and ran my hands over the top of it. I was lost in a mixture of thoughts and feelings as I just stared at the box.
“Jennie,” he said, “you deserve it. I know that you don’t have very many nice things, but that’s why it means so much to me to be able to do just a few things for you. I want you to have these things.”
My eyes moved from the box to catch his gaze. His hair was graying on the sides and he really did look the twelve years older than me that he was. His eyes were a grayish blue. Very kind-looking. I felt like I was sitting across from my father. And I started to cry. Tears of confusion, tears of appreciation, I’m not sure which. I had never had anyone other than my father tell me I deserved anything. God knows I had never heard those words from my ex-husband, or any other boyfriend. They all seemed to feel that they as men were the ones entitled to things. And when I looked at this guy now, it seemed clear that he was telling me the truth. He truly did feel that I deserved more than what I had. And God, did that feel good to breathe in the thought that someone else thought I deserved more, too.
Rich guy handed me a handkerchief. Yes, he actually had one. It was neatly folded and pressed, and smelled slightly like lavender when I pressed it against my face to blot tears. I sat there for a moment, box still unopened on my lap. He handed me the glass of champagne that had arrived at some point. I let out an embarrassed half-giggle. My mouth was dry and I took an inelegantly large gulp. He smiled and then reiterated, “Go ahead, open it.” I nervously laughed again.
I put down the champagne flute and opened the box. It was a beautiful silk blouse. Sleeveless. A gorgeous bright purple color I’d never seen before. “You’ll look gorgeous in it,” he said again. Despite everything that had happened up to this point, nothing had prepared me for what came next.
“Jennie,” he said. “We don’t have to sneak around anymore. I told my wife that I am in love with you and that I want a divorce.”
I felt my brain leave my body. Did I actually just hear what I think I heard? Stunned does not express enough the way I felt. I hadn’t even held this man’s hand. He had kissed me that one time, but I had never even kissed him back. And he had told his wife WHAT? I was absolutely flabbergasted, no words would come. I sat there, that gorgeous blouse in my lap, and I stared at him in disbelief.
“I told my son about you, too. He’s 25, you know, and when I told him, he told me he didn’t care. He just wants me to be happy. He told me I deserved to be happy. And you make me happy.”
I finally managed to get words out. “I told you that I wouldn’t be a part of anything that created problems in a marriage. I told you that this couldn’t happen.”
And as is probably predictable, he told me that he had been unhappy in his marriage for a long time. And that it was ending whether I was in the picture or not. That I had just been the catalyst that had reminded him of how short life was, and that there was never going to be a perfect time to end the marriage.
Words finally made their way out of my jaw, heavy with shock, “You made me look like I’m complicit in this. The two things I told you I wouldn’t do would be part of destroying a marriage OR anything that caused problems for my daughter on her soccer team. You managed to do both with one action.”
I was upset and as seemed to be the norm now with this guy, my head just spun. He had told me that he wouldn’t chase me; he told me he wanted me to go have adventures and meet other men. He had asked for my social security number and I had been afraid he was going to scam me somehow. This wealthy man with more expensive cars than I could count, who had kissed me (without reciprocation) one time, had just told his wife he wanted a divorce so he could be with me?
“Jennie,” he said again. Surprisingly, the way he said my name had a calming effect. “My marriage has been over for a long time. Whether you want to be with me or not, my marriage is over. ”
I looked at him, knowing I had been fed the line that the “other” women get all the time. “Oh yeah,” I said cynically, “then tell me what the top three reasons your marriage is already over.” I expected to hear some things about her not paying enough attention to him, and to have him stumble over some lame story of it being too complicated to explain. Instead, he hit right back, much more definitively than I expected.
“Okay, fair enough,” he said. “One, she won’t let me have a relationship with my son. I have to sneak around to call him. He smokes pot and she thinks it’s immoral. He’s my son and I refuse to give up my relationship with him.”
“Two, she has become a super conservative Christian. We didn’t go to church until we adopted Madison. And it was supposed to be just to raise her with some kind of morals. Now she spends all of her free time talking about Jesus and the need to be reborn. She refuses to talk to anyone who isn’t a Christian. I can’t handle it.”
“Three, she has become very conservative politically. We both have home offices. You know I put her through law school, right? Well, I work about half the time out of my home office. I can’t even do that any more. She listens to Rush Limbaugh and those other conservative radio people all day now, and she gets worked up and comes into my office to talk to me about what they are saying. I’m not even a Republican, but she wants to convince me and convert me. I’ve tried to talk to her and tell her to stop, but she just won’t.”
“Those are probably the top three. Does that help you understand? The marriage has been over for a while now,” he finished.
Whoa. Those actually seemed like legitimate and serious reasons to believe that a marriage was irreconcilable. No wonder I seemed like such a prize. Most of his interactions in his daily life were with a woman who wanted to control everything he did, even though he made millions and let her live largely how she wanted to live. But still, this woman now thinks I’m a homewrecker.
“Did you tell her who I was?” I asked.
“Yes, well, she asked your name. And I said I knew you from soccer. She’s never seen you, but that didn’t keep her from saying nasty things about you,” he winced. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t matter what she says. She also insulted my manhood. She’s just angry.”
Well, great. Leave it to me to get blamed for the dissolution of a marriage when I haven’t really even done anything. Or had I? I hadn’t slept with him, but there would be no way of convincing her of that.
He may have said something, but I don’t remember what. My head was both sympathetic to this man who had thrown me under the bus, and trying to figure out how all of this had happened. I had no idea if there was any salvaging my reputation. Or my daughter’s comfort on the soccer team. We were sure to be a great source of gossip now. I needed to be alone.
I finally managed to tell him that I felt uncomfortable and needed to be alone. He left cash on the bar, picked up my presents and said he’d walk me to my car. My beat up minivan contrasted sharply to his gorgeous white car. I looked at the symbol on the grill of the car.
Later that night, when I couldn’t sleep, I looked up the symbol. A Maserati. This very wealthy man was in love with me, and I hadn’t even slept with him. But his wife thought I had. Guilt is my default emotion, but I didn’t even know whether any of this was my fault or not. It didn’t feel like it was, except for being guilty of being naïve yet again.
And although I was furious at this man, and felt used by him as a reason to end his marriage, I felt cared for by him simultaneously. I didn’t doubt that he wanted nice things for me, and I wept as I remembered him telling me that I deserved those nice things. I still cry today thinking about it.