My small crisis over aging wasn't really about aging. A year before this conversation, my husband, our four daughters—the eldest of whom was 11—and I moved from Paris to Brooklyn. My husband's crise de la quarantaine, or midlife crisis, translated into an international move, the requisite sports car, and a career change. He now ran the edgiest art gallery in Soho. I ran errands and carpools for the girls, and temporarily stopped working as a psychotherapist. I lost myself.
As he fell in love with the newness of New York, I reconnected with old childhood friends. Then, just a few weeks after the take-a-lover comment, I attended my 25th high school reunion, which resulted in making my husband's benevolent wish come true, sort of, thanks to technology. That is to say, I had an e-mail affair with a childhood sweetheart—what my friends tell me has become the rite of passage for fortysomethings in long-term marriages. I think it had to have been with someone who'd known me at a time when I felt a particular way about myself that I'd forgotten: young, beautiful, and carefree, as one can only feel when there still seems to be unlimited time to make choices, before some doors of future possibilities have closed for good. Reconnecting with someone from that era of innocence filled me with guilt.
For those of you who think if you don't actually do it, you're not really having an affair, listen up: a chemical cocktail of dopamine, serotonin, and testosterone, what I call "fantasy fertilizer," pickled my brain and drowned my body. The drudgery of life magically disappeared. Missing my stop on the Q train while daydreaming, waiting for hours to see the pediatrician, being called in to speak to my daughter's school principal—all became curiously amusing. I'd smile or chuckle idiotically as I mentally turned these events into narratives my "lover" would later adore. This guy was writing me things like, "Tell me the stories of your life," at a time when my husband was too busy to take my phone calls. In no time, the "You've got mail" voice created a Pavlovian response of sheer excitement. No wonder psychotherapists dislike working with those who are "in love." I was almost literally "out of my mind."
It's difficult to describe the aliveness and creativity I felt—and the obsession. I'd wake up in the middle of the night remembering that I'd forgotten to ask him whether he liked the movie The Sheltering Sky, or that Japanese one about intense sexual passion and the hardboiled egg. Or tell him about the complicated relationship between two of my daughters, or about the time my baby had a staring contest with an ape at an animal sanctuary. I was compelled to write it all down at 3:00 a.m., planning to transcribe it onto the computer once my children were at school. I knew I'd lost control when, one day at noon, I was still in my bathrobe, hair like a wild-woman, and my husband teased, "Sweetie, the one thing I never thought I'd have to worry about when I married you was your personal hygiene."
It started with short, friendly e-mails and progressed to more dangerous, longer messages at such a slow pace that I hardly realized the deception I was engaged in. Initially, I avoided any talk of my husband; then I spoke of him only in glowing terms—charming, kind, intelligent, generous, sexy, gorgeous, paternal, strong—as if by so doing, I could avoid the reality of my betrayal. One night, lost in a series of I-love-you messages that were bombarding me on e-mail, I kept my Antonio Banderas of a husband waiting for 45 minutes at a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young concert that I'd pushed to attend. It became unmistakably clear that my loyalties had shifted.
Other parts of me were also shifting, changing, being discovered or imagined. My role in this second relationship left me feeling powerful, entitled, creative, and equal. I was falling in love with an updated, devil-may-care, sex-charged version of myself.