A few bazillion of you sent the Universal Bullshit Translator the Guardian’s “I’m involved with a married man. Will our affair survive the lockdown?”
Penned by “Anonymous,” filed under “Relationships,” I’m not really sure what the point was. Is she looking for advice? (None is given. Comments are off.) Is she shouting her true love from the rooftops? Use a byline.
The love that dare not sign its name…
To tackle this, I’m going to have to pull the UBT away from its jigsaw puzzles. It’s been in quarantine so long, its transponders have gone soft. All it wants to do is eat lebkuchen, wear its stretchy sprockets, and assemble a 1000-piece Map of Fairyland.
This won’t be easy.
CL: Fire up! You’ve been lazing about too long!
UBT: Grrrrroink! Must. Complete. Border.
CL: No! There is bullshit to translate! Battle stations! Some woman in England is wondering when her married boyfriend will call her!
(UBT sulks until I promise it more lebkuchen.)
It’s 5.41pm, and I am worried. My boyfriend usually calls me on the dot of 5.30, and during these unusual times, I crave this daily check-in. The thing is, I can’t call him. Leo is married and in lockdown with his wife and two children. It was hard enough being a mistress (a terrible 17th-century word, but nothing else quite fits) in “peace time”, but Covid-19 has given our relationship a whole new dimension.
It’s 5:41 pm and I am worried. Beset with fleeting lucidity. Perhaps my I-can’t-phone-my-boyfriend relationship is not sustainable.
Let’s consider instead the injustice of the word mistress. A terrible 17th-century insult, up there with plague sore, bedswerver, driggle-draggle, stewed prune, and loiter-sack.
I wish to be known as Mrs. Loiter-Sack.
Call me, Leo!
Leo and I are both writers. We met at a literary festival last June. I am 51, a newly divorced Londoner, with a daughter at university. Leo is 49 and lives near Manchester. I knew from the outset that he was married: he wasn’t wearing a ring, but one of our first conversations was about family holidays. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, but he was funny and clever. Nice-looking, yes, but it was more his personality that attracted me; he radiated humorous warmth.
Out of a population of 9 million in London, I choose Leo — radiating his warm unavailability from 200 miles away.
Knowing and respecting the rules (married men are off limits), I said goodbye to Leo and got into my car. But two days later, I was pleased to receive a Facebook message. Witty texts led to WhatsApp and, finally, a phone call. Soon we were speaking twice a day, often for hours – his wife has a corporate office job, Leo works from home – and he wanted to meet again. I put him off a few times, but we both knew it was going to happen eventually.
Leo works from home as a “writer.” While his wife is at the office, Leo has many hours to talk. Hours that he could’ve spent writing a novel, dusting the living room, attending to his children, or stocking shelves at Sainsburys for an actual wage, instead he spends phoning me. I’m THAT irresistible.
Sure, I put him off a couple times, but we both knew we were selfish losers with less sense than God gave badgers.
IT was going to happen.
I was going to respect the rules.
In November, we had a passionate reunion in London. Yes, we had sex – the first time I had slept with anyone since the end of my marriage. My nervousness soon evaporated and it was lovely. Mostly, we laughed and talked.
My nervousness evaporated as soon as I forgot his wife and two kids. It was lovely.
Leo never says anything negative about his wife.
She pays the bills.
He insists she is “a good person”, but they have been together since they were 16 and complacency has set in. He feels taken for granted, and they are no longer physically intimate.
And I believe a man who lies to his wife and makes up things for a living.
Any concerns that he wanted me just for sex soon dissolved.
I also have a divorce settlement. #totalpackage
Leo is an attractive and successful writer; if he was after a fling, he could have found one nearer his own part of the country, surely.
Surely I am the only other Other Woman. If he were just after a fling, he wouldn’t know how to flirt by Facebook, WhatsApp witticisms, or sidle up to single women at conferences. I feel secure in this relationship, 200 miles away from a guy I can’t call.
I don’t feel great about adultery. It isn’t sisterly – and Leo’s wife sounds nice. On the other hand, I don’t feel guilty. I haven’t met her, and he says she has repeatedly ignored his requests to go to couples therapy.
Leo’s wife sounds nice. In that cold, asexual corporate, won’t-go-to-therapy way.
I don’t feel great about adultery. I just laugh and call the sex lovely.
In winter and early spring, Leo and I enjoyed several rendezvous, weekends away, even four days in France. When we knew coronavirus was coming to the UK, we sneaked in a last tryst in the Lake District. It was very intense, very loving.
We endangered Leo’s wife and our children by fucking around during a pandemic.
It was very intense. Very loving. I’ll remember my furtive orgasms fondly when I’m in an iron lung.
We have talked several times about the future.
I’m sure he never does that with anyone else in his zip code.
Leo is the main carer for his teenage children, and from the start told me they were his priority. So we are planning a life together after his younger child leaves home, in about four years’ time.
Teenagers, who can vote, drive, reproduce, and hack the internet require his complete supervision.
He will leave his wife for me in four years. WHO WILL SAVE HIM FROM THIS TORMENT?
This makes me respect and love him more. I can wait: I am busy with work, friends, my daughter.
And this giant vat of spackle. I respect a man who plots his wife’s abandonment for years, while enjoying her paycheck. Makes me love him more.
I know some people will roll their eyes, but Leo tells me his marriage is over and I have chosen to believe him. To critics, I would say: what would you do if you met the partner of your dreams, languishing in a marriage past its shelf life?
What would you do if you met the partner of your epiglottis languishing in a harpsichord of linguini?
(I’m sorry, the UBT appears to have broken down. Let me give it a whack.)
PAST ITS SHELF LIFE!
I AM 51, PEOPLE! DIVORCED! DESPERATE! PAST MY SHELF LIFE! Languishing! The only hope I have at affection and connection is flinging myself at self-published douchebags at literary festivals. There among the stacks of bad science fiction typeset in comic sans, Dr. Who cookbooks (it’s a tardis AND an appetizer!), and turgid memoirs, I FOUND LOVE. Is that so bad?
What would you do?
(Baskerville 10 pt., literary agent, burn the drafts out of mortification. Oh, I’m sorry, you weren’t asking me.)
He was a married, middle-aged man in a pilled sweater trying to get published with 700 other wannabes.
These days, the only time we can talk on the phone is when Leo goes for a run – and there is a limit to the number of runs a person is allowed. But these daily conversations are a lifeline. He will stop somewhere quiet, panting from the exercise. After four weeks in lockdown, Leo tells me his relationship with his wife has deteriorated further. (I don’t take pleasure in this.) She is, understandably, anxious and needy. The kids have cabin fever. He is the chef and chief “cheerer-upper”, but this has become wearing.
She is anxious and needy. Whereas I am stalwart and faithful. It’s 5:42 p.m. GODDAMNIT. WHERE ARE YOU, LEO?!
Less burdened with family responsibility, I try to make him laugh, and it isn’t long before he makes me laugh, too. There is less intimacy (he is calling on a suburban street, after all). Instead we show our love through psychological support and fantasies about our eventual reunion. As for the virus, Leo is a healthy man in his late 40s. But I do worry; if he became ill, I have no idea how I would find out – except from the radio silence.
It’s impossible that he would ghost me, unless he had died. And then it would be like that Demi Moore thing where we’d make sweet, sweet pottery together.
I don’t know his landline number or his address;
Ours is a love for the ages. Is your name really “Leo”?
I have met only one of his male friends. If the very worst happened, I would be that mysterious woman you see in the movies, lurking at the back of a graveyard with big sunglasses and a black trenchcoat. (This is what happens when a person with an overactive imagination goes into lockdown.)
This is what happens when a person imagines they are a character in a movie and not an actual narcissistic asshole conspiring against innocents and endangering everyone’s health.
The toughest thing is the sense of powerlessness that comes with most of our communication flowing only one way. Anxiety aside, I am an impatient person who doesn’t enjoy waiting.
Today, when Leo finally calls just before 6 pm, any irritation evaporates – partly in relief, partly in empathy.
A kibble! Whatever shred of dignity I had left evaporates.
The question is: do I want to keep putting myself through this? And who knows how things will be when we get back to normal. My philosophy is this: if things don’t work out between us, I will be very upset, but not destroyed. My corona affair has taught me that I can love again after a horrible marriage breakup – and be loved again in return.
And that’s the important thing. Me. My personal lesson about how lovable I am.
Send jigsaw puzzles and lebkuchen. I think the UBT has expired.