I initially met up with Maria because I'm in the midst of a job search. Maria is a well-connected writer and I am a less connected but experienced publicist looking for a position where I can mainly write (if such positions exist out there, consider this my informal want ad). But Maria gets right down to business -- the business that interests her most for today: men.
Maria is married to Carl, a handsome blonde veterinarian with chiseled cheekbones and a semi-permanent smile. They have been married for 15 years and Maria is starting to grow impatient with the relationship and the lack of "intense passion," an intense passion she is not sure that Carl and she have ever shared -- as she tells it now. I explain to Maria that maybe she doesn't have the right expectations about marriage. Passion waxes and wanes and sex will not always be hot and heavy. That's what happens with comfort and becoming best friends. Certain feelings come and go and then they return and you ride the wave as best friends ... yada yada ... but Maria is distracted.
"Do you remember when I told you about Ben?" she asks. My mind immediately flashes to my son Ben, then "The Bachelor" Ben on ABC's hit series and then finally settles on a Ben that Maria and I once knew in common.
"No," she says, assessing my fake blank stare, "Ben my boyfriend before Carl," she confirms. "I still think about him -- Do you ever still think about your exes?"
Now being forced to think about it, I do consider my exes but not in positive ways: I remember the one who suddenly got angry and locked me out of his apartment when we had plans to pack and go hiking in New Paltz, New York. I remember another ex boyfriend who pulled over on the side of the road when I made suggestions to follow a different set of directions to our destination. "If there's anything you should know about men," he had said with a clenched jaw "It's that we don't like being given directions from a woman." The demise of that relationship came rather quickly and as I try to remember other relationships (a.k.a. mishaps), I can't conjure up many good memories.
"Nope," I answer which elicits a "You are full of it" look from Maria.
Well, there was one ... he was hilarious and charming and dynamic, incredibly bright and ambitious, a Duke and Harvard educated lawyer ... but he was also that same volatile mood-shifter who suddenly locked me out of his apartment when we were supposed to get ready to go hiking. And he is the one who told me he could not fully commit to me despite the fact that we spent all our free time together for many months. If I were Nora Ephron, he would be that ex from the past that despite my moving on from, embitters me to feel bad about my neck .. .from time to time ... or something like that.
"I'm working with Ben!" Maria confesses.
"No! THE Ben?!" I ask, knowing I have just dropped the "I have no clue" charade.
"No, not the Ben. His name is David and he is entirely like Ben, and we connect. There's an incredible mutual attraction and I just don't know what to do about it."
If I were to give advice to Maria, it would be to stay far away from David in the way that I know she is intending not to, to stick with Carl and to work on their marriage. But Maria is not asking my advice. I can tell by the way her lips are pursed in finality when she says "I just don't know what to do about it." I can tell by the way her hands are folded and her back is starting to turn towards me as she pretends to seek out a low fat dressing for her salad.
Maria is quite possibly about to embark on some version of an emotional affair, because Maria has unfinished business with Ben and now Ben is David and David/Ben works in her office. It is all very confusing to an outsider, but I almost became a psychologist years ago. Today, observing people is what I do and I do get Maria For the next few weeks (at least), poor Carl doesn't stand a chance when it comes to receiving Maria's undivided attention.
Instead of giving her advice, I look in Maria's eyes and say "Why did things END with Ben?"
Maria sits and gets a far away look. I try not to be annoyed that we are still not discussing my job prospects, the firms she thinks I should apply to, the positions that I should be going after and ways to improve my resume. I try (and I'll admit that it's not to hard) to sympathize with Maria's need to confess something to a member of the same gender. With a nostalgic and impish grin, Maria is thinking about a no-good relationship that ended nearly two decades ago. As evasive as she will go on to be, she needs to share this.
"I don't remember why it ended!" she says with emphasis.
But I do, and in time, Maria will too.
I only hope that time comes soon enough.