“No one can be someone’s everything.” ~ Dan Savage
I was having lunch on a restaurant patio. A man sat at the table to my right by himself, waiting. When the server offered him a drink, he declined saying he would order when his friend arrived. He wasn’t glued to his phone passing time staring at his screen like most people these days. Instead, he eagerly watched the street scanning each car as it passed, looking for a specific one. When it came he lifted his hand and waved.
She arrived at the table wearing sandals and a white, cotton sundress with spaghetti straps – not overly dressy, also not typical for lunch with a work colleague. They said their “hellos”and fumbled awkwardly through initial conversation. She smiled non-stop, like she couldn’t help herself. His nervous excitement was palpable.
He propped his foot on the chair next to him resting both hands on his bent knee, attempting a relaxed pose. He fidgeted unconsciously, rubbing his hands back and forth against each other — an obvious tell that contradicted the casualness he was trying to project. A gold wedding band glinted on his finger in the sun.
She, too, wore a wedding ring though they clearly weren’t married to each other. They exchanged stories about their kids and it was evident they knew each other professionally, but something else seemed to be brewing at that table. A building attraction isn’t hard to spot if you just pay attention, even when people think they are keeping it on the down-low. The I’m-dying-to-know-you-better energy between them claimed space like a living presence. They eventually left, walking to their cars and parting after an embrace that lingered well beyond the merely cordial.
As if that interaction wasn’t interesting enough, the group at the table to my left was discussing polyamory (a.k.a. consensual non-monogamy). A couple people at the table were in polyamorous relationships and were discussing what that’s like, lauding the fact that it was guilt-free and satisfying precisely because everything was out in the open with their partners. One guy who wasn’t poly said there was absolutely no way he could do that. He respected the fact that others could but he knew he just couldn’t handle it. The emotional work of dealing with varsity-level human dynamics of that kind was overwhelming to him. He also seemed, at least on some level, to be conflating cheating with non-monogamy.
How interesting to find myself sandwiched between those tables. At one, the discussion involved relationship openness, negotiated consent, and transparent knowledge about the situation amongst all involved parties. At the other sat what appeared to be the beginning of something with the incendiary potential of a napalm bomb — a secret, building erotic attraction that could burn families to the ground and char anything in close enough proximity to be splattered by its searing residue.
All of it made me ponder what exactly is cheating? Where is the line that divides behaving and betrayal? What does it look like? What does it sound like? Continue reading