By Maggie Anderson
To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, singular power of self-respect.
It all started in a coffee shop in Chicago. It was November 2012 and I had just returned from a business trip to find no work waiting for me back at the office. To help while away the empty hours, I retreated each morning to the coffee shop around the corner. Undercover-style, I would tuck my Kindle inside my winter coat, wedging it in my armpit, before I nonchalantly padded toward the elevators.
"Tall vanilla mocha," I'd say. My hand would dip into my coat and the Kindle would appear from the dark recesses. I couldn't help but notice that there was a ruggedly handsome young man whose daily routine also involved a roughly hour-long interlude with coffee and a book.
November and December blew through Chicago, and this man and I continued to get our caffeine fixes and work through our reading lists. I fancied sometimes that his eyes would glance my way as he passed near to get his sugar. I observed that he seemed well liked by the baristas; he was a friendly sort of guy. I noted that he was careful with his trash, and would even clean up after others; he was a courteous sort of guy. I knew I would never talk to him, but I thought that if I were a weaker woman, I just might do it and like it. But I was married, so he would always remain a mystery.
I went on a wonderful vacation with my husband from Christmas to the New Year. On vacation, we were perfect together. But the problem is, most of life takes place out in the real world. Out there, I was the camel and my husband was the straw-loader. I habitually shrugged it off, and was dealing well enough, until the day my parents held a sort of intervention for me. It all happened so fast. My dad had hired a private investigator. My mom and dad wanted to tell me together that my husband was a pathological liar and they had the proof in writing. It didn't hit me too hard then. It was a spacey feeling. My knee-jerk reaction was to fly to counseling and fix my husband's lying.
But in the wake of our first lying counseling session — during which the therapist advised my husband to do things that would upset me and then practice telling me the hard truth — I began to have my doubts. Suffice it to say that evening did not turn out well. That night it hit me that this camel had just had a log thrown on it. I was in some serious trouble.
The Monday after my intervention, I spoke to the coffee guy. "Is that the new Kindle Paperwhite?" It seemed scandalous and I felt guilty, but I was so hurt and angry and altogether felt like my mind was unraveling and my life was falling apart — I threw caution to the wind. Pure weakness.
Over the next few weeks we fell into a routine. We sat at the same table, me with my double-steel-walled mug and him with his Venti cardboard cup, and we talked about books. It was great. It was more than great — it was wonderful. He was smart and interesting, and he just seemed so very, very easy to be with.
Almost exactly a month after my intervention, unbeknownst to my husband, I finalized moving plans for him. It was such a wretched feeling. I felt like a crouching predator, a slinking spider in her web, waiting for the kill. Meanwhile, I imagined that Venti must be wondering what sort of cruel joke I was pulling on him. After all, I'd been wearing a wedding ring this entire time! And by the fourth week the innocent book talk had evolved into discussion of family, jobs, school, likes, dislikes... basically, it had begun to take on the feel of the longest first date ever. And all along I tried to avoid mentioning the obvious and I felt he tried to avoid asking questions that would result in me mentioning the obvious.
That was one of the worst weeks of my life, feeling like a lurking villain at home and a conniving adulterer at the coffee shop. I was despicable. How had I screwed things up so badly?
That second weekend of February, my husband moved out. Monday found me anxiously waiting at our table, wedding ring gone. Venti never showed. I didn't have his phone number or e-mail address — nothing. I was too late; he'd slipped through my fingers. I held my Kindle in my hand, but I just stared over it at the door, waiting.
My paranoia ended the very next day. I told Venti everything and the following evening we went on a date. That's right; we left the coffee shop. So wonderful, but so terrible too! I had a date for Valentine's Day the week after my husband moved out. It was wrong, wrong, wrong! I was so ashamed I didn't even tell my very best friend, with whom I typically share every last disgusting detail of my life. I waited many weeks to mention Venti to my family. It was a shock for them. I saw my book club in February and told all my friends that I was getting a divorce. Only a couple weeks later I met up with them all again and brought my new boyfriend. Scandalous!
And from there ensued a series of awkward incidences and conversations with friends, family, and co-workers. I hated that I had to be secretive and ashamed about my new relationship. I wanted to shout to the rooftops what good luck I'd had, to find such a wonderful man so quickly. I desperately wanted to be able to share those blissful feelings you have when you're flying through a whirlwind of a romance. But I found this incredibly indecent. I felt weighed down by guilt. It was a mental game to let myself be happy. If I could've changed things and met him at a more respectable date in the future — would I? Should I? Was I horrible for answering no?
And finally it clicked. My friends, my family — none of them were judging me. They were only worried about me. I was the one judging me. All of my closest and dearest family and friends, the ones I really cared about — never once did I feel their judgment. They understood because they know me. Trust in your family and friends; you may find they are kinder to you than you are to yourself. Through them, I am able to accept that it's okay for me to think of my tale as a love story, instead of a scandal.