….a term coined c.1977 by US psychologist Dorothy Tennov to describe an involuntary state of mind which seems to result from a romantic attraction for another person combined with an overwhelming, obsessive need to have one’s feelings reciprocated. (Wikipedia)
You never meant to fall for Him. Because you thought being married ring-fenced such feelings, made you immune to them. You didn’t even like Him that much, that first time you met. He was pompous, self-centred, overly eager to impress you. He was wearing navy socks. He lived in a normal house in an ordinary part of suburbia. He was everything you had not expected: His very ordinariness was a shock, and when you left, after that first meeting, that interview, you felt an overwhelming sense of disappointment. Yet, there was something, vague and indefinable, an exchange of glances, a shared joke, the mirroring of your movements that set your belly fluttering in a way unfelt for over 20 years, like the half-remembered sensation of a teenage crush, and a time when sex was still as much a puzzle as a thrill.
And so a correspondence begins, your messages bouncing back and forth in the ether with all the intensity of an ace tennis volley. By the end of the weekend, you’re certain there is “something”, a connection and a chemistry more profound than anything you’ve experienced in a long time, maybe ever. You walk around Notting Hill where you work with a spring in your step. You catch sight of your reflection in shop windows, people smile at you in the street, you’ve got the pollen on you! Yet it comes as a shock to realise that the boundaries of your emotional life are not completely impermeable, that being married does not make you resistant to another person’s attention. You anticipate, and look forward to contact with Him in a way that is all too consuming, and before long, you find he has filled a space you hadn’t even known was there. You tell yourself it is foolish to pretend that these email ‘conversations’ have anything in common with real ones. By its very nature, communicating by this means is subject to stringent self-editing; these are self-conscious, self-selecting versions of truth, offering mere illusions of intimacy, yet soon a relationship begins to grow, built on paragraphs and punctuation in the soundless, faceless, anonymous world of cyberspace. Each day you long to see the little envelope icon in your in-box, to tell you He is thinking of you, and the churn of a secret life is potent and addictive. You spend your days in suspense, waiting. Waiting and waiting.
You re-read His latest email, re-reading and re-reading until you have memorised every word in the short message, and you watch your feelings rearrange around it, like the splinters of coloured glass in a child’s kaleidoscope.
And then – oh joy! – the chance to meet again. It’s public, with others. It will be easy. But of course when you see him the symptoms flood in, strange uninvited feelings, as though something has colonised and taken over your mind and body. Just seeing him sets your heart racing, banging around in your chest as if you have been running hard. You want to appear cool, sophisticated. He’s standing in the doorway, talking to someone else, but His gaze is fixed on you. He’s impatient to come to you. You’re edging towards one another now, imperceptibly, and then suddenly He’s striding towards you, smiling, smiling, and there’s the “Oh-my-God-is-it-really-you-ness” of meeting Him again after a long absence, and you’re touching the fine wool of the sleeve of his suit and you’re kissing, public and chaste, but a kiss nonetheless, and He’s talking to you, and now there’s no distance between you at all. You’re talking, laughing, it’s friendly and easy, and the hive of nerves in your stomach settles because you haven’t said anything stupid.
You wrap the moments around you like a soft warm shawl and walk back to the station with a secret smile playing around your mouth. But as the train trundles through the Surrey countryside, and the distance between you grows, again, all the anxieties creep back again and threaten to overwhelm you. Your insecurity, your hopeless desire for the things you cannot have, your need to be in touch with Him, to have His attention, His flattery and His affection, flood you and erase most of the pleasurable feelings of the encounter. Your eyes prickle; you are close to tears.
An email drops into your inbox at 4pm. Brief. Significant. Sufficient. You read it and reread it. Again, and again. Later, in bed you bring it out again, like a precious, secret object, always hidden, always close. Read it. Reread it. Again. He invades your actions and your thoughts, and your fingers stray between your legs, remembering, remembering, replaying, trying to balm the ache.
Each day you tell yourself it has to end. But how can you end something that has hardly even begun?
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