One night when I was 35, single, and living in Charlotte, N.C., I was out at this dance club, when a cute guy approached me. He had short, really curly hair, and a nice muscular build. I wasn't sure that I was attracted to him, but he asked nicely, so I said, "Yeah, I'll dance."
His name was Michael*, and as we started talking, I realized he was a really fun guy. I was intrigued by his job, too. He worked as a helicopter pilot for a federal agency. His assignments were top secret, so he couldn't tell me a lot, but I found the idea that he was always running off to bust up drug rings -- and packing a pistol at all times -- exciting. It was the bad-boy appeal, except that he didn't seem to be one.
In fact the only problem was he was leaving town the next day. "Why don't we get together the next time I come to Charlotte?" he told me.
Instead, we met up in Daytona. At the time, I owned a jewelry business involved with NASCAR -- selling little checkered flags and race cars, so we were both traveling a lot.
Right from our first date, I knew Michael was special. We went out to dinner, had a really nice time, and afterward he walked me to the door of my hotel room and didn't even try to kiss me good night. I liked that he took it slow.
And just like that, we started dating. The two of us would just laugh and laugh. I really liked that he didn't push the sex -- he didn't even kiss me until our fourth date! He really seemed like a good guy. He had a good heart, was fun to be around, and he was really into me, which is always attractive.
Pretty soon we had met up in just about every major city on the East Coast -- from Key West to Philadelphia. He was in Charlotte so often on business it almost felt like he lived with me. And I fell madly in love.
At the six-month mark, I took him back to Delaware to meet my parents.
They loved him. I loved him. Despite the distance, Michael always let me know that he was thinking of me. He'd call me four times a day, using different voices. Once, when his partner flew into Charlotte for an assignment, and he couldn't make it, he sent a long letter with his buddy, telling me how sad he was he couldn't be there.
He was always writing really emotional, hand-written love letters. He was just very romantic in general. And, of course, the muscles and the dangerous job didn't hurt: I used to love when he'd fly in to Charlotte and "buzz" my condo with the helicopter, flying low over the pool.
When we were together, things just seemed magical. Once we were out on a riverboat in Savannah one afternoon, and this woman stopped us. "I can just tell the two of you are really in love!" she said. "Oh, God, I want that."
I was so giddy over the fact that we'd found it. In fact, I remember one night, we were out dancing: Michael was sitting at the bar, facing the door, and when I walked in the room, he just gave me that look -- the kind a man and a woman exchange when they're really in love, and know it. When I walked over to him, he said, "You know, I could just sense that you walked back in the room."
Soon we were making plans for our future. We'd already talked a lot about our pasts. One night he showed me a video of his 40th birthday party -- someone had put this whole photo collage together. Part of it was him with his family, his ex-wife and three kids. He had been divorced for two years he'd told me. The kids lived with their mom. He lived with his brother.
But he was thinking of moving to Roanoke for his job, and we talked about my moving in with him. I remember sitting in the park one day soon after, and I got the distinct feeling he was backpedaling.
"I don't know, I'm not really sure," he said. "I talked to my son, and he might want to move with me."
We had a huge fight, and he left early to go back to Jacksonville. I can still see him standing at my sliding glass door, crying. I couldn't understand why he was that upset. It felt like there was something he couldn't tell me.
So he left, and he called a few times that week, but I wouldn't answer the phone. That's enough
, I thought. It had been a year -- and an intense one. It wasn't like we were just hanging out.
Then a few weeks later, I finally answered the phone. I had kept up my resolve and not talked to him, but I was miserable without him, and I just wanted to see what he would say. It was all hemming and hawing again, and I said, "You know, this isn't working for me. I'm done."
And that's the moment everything changed.
"Well, since you're done," he told me, slowly, "there's something I need to tell you ... I'm not actually divorced."
The silence on my end of the line was deafening. I was just devastated. I mean, how could you be lied to like that and really, seriously believe it? I'm a smart woman. And by that point we'd been together for nearly a year.
I think I called him a liar and slammed down the phone, but I was in complete shock. "Liar" didn't do it justice; I couldn't believe how good
he was at the lies. How I'd been suckered into that.
I cut him out of my life completely, and a couple of absolutely miserable months went by. Then, one day, the phone rang, and it was Michael again. He was really shaken. He had nearly been killed in a drug raid. His partner was hurt. He was just so raw and emotional and telling me how much he'd missed me. And I got sucked in all over again.
We saw each other a few more times, and the connection was just as intense as it had always been. Then, one weekend, he was supposed to come to Charlotte to see me, but he didn't show up. He also didn't call, which really wasn't like him.
I called his job, but they were, predictably, very tight-lipped. Legally, they couldn't
tell me where he was. I did manage to get out of the guy that Michael was on his way to the airport to catch a flight to Asheville. Which was weird on two counts: When you fly a helicopter for a living, you don't usually fly commercial. The guys would just get in their choppers and go wherever they wanted to go.
Guess he's not on his way to Charlotte
, I thought.
This time, I was just angry. In fact, I was so mad that I called the airport in Asheville to find out when flights would be coming in from Jacksonville: One was too early -- he wouldn't have been able to get there in time. One was at 8 o'clock at night. It had to be the one getting in at 2:30, I thought.
I didn't know what I was doing, but I knew I needed closure. So I took a quick shower and put on the prettiest dress I owned. I felt like I looked good; I also felt like I was going to throw up. Instead I got in my car and drove two and a half hours.
And I sat there -- waiting, waiting, waiting -- for that plane.
When he got off the flight he saw me immediately, and at first, the look on his face was pure surprise, but then I saw sadness wash over him. We walked over to a corner where we could talk more privately, but he was just standing there fiddling nervously with a piece of paper.
"What, Michael? What is it this time?" I spat.
He couldn't even get the words out. And he had always been a talker.
"There is nothing for you to say," I said.
All the way down there I had been listening to this CD by Jo Dee Messina, and in the airport parking lot, I'd taken out a big black marker and circled the song, "Bye Bye." In my head at least, that was our breakup song. In that moment, with him standing there stammering, I knew it was really over. So I shoved the CD at him, turned on my heel, got in my car and drove all the way home. I think the whole interaction took less than five minutes.
Getting over him, however, took me two years. Part of it was the deception -- I couldn't get over the fact that I was that suckered into his act, but it was just as hard to live without him. It was like he was a drug, and I didn't have it anymore.
Then, when I did get up the courage to start dating again, nobody measured up. Michael had been the perfect, romantic man, and most guys just aren't like that. They weren't as exciting as he was. They didn't have the cool job that he did. They didn't look at me the way he had.
Of course my friends all rallied around me. They had been around him, too, and they couldn't believe he had lied like that either. There was just something about him. I remember taking him to church with me one time when we were dating. At the end, everybody holds hands, and there was an older lady on the other side of Michael, and afterward she said to him, "You have the most loving touch."
He was just a very sensitive, overly romantic kind of guy. And now, boom, all that was gone.
It took me a long, long time to even talk about it without crying. But eventually I started to get some distance, and the good news is, when I look back on it now, I know it never would have worked. If he could lie that much, and be that good at it, I'm sure he would have done that to me too, in time.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason -- and that I wasn't meant to be with him. About three years after we broke up, I finally met the real love of my life.
We were just friends for a long time. Then we moved in together. And I know for a fact that he would never cheat on me. Neither of us really dated around, and I like that we can go out in the town where we live and not run into a string of ex-lovers.
The difference between this relationship and the last is that this guy genuinely loves me. When I look back now, I see that my relationship with Michael was an exciting time in my life -- and I don't know if I would go back and change it if I could -- but what I do know for sure is that I could never live through that again.
*Name and profession have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
Jess Kennedy Williams is the author of "Heartbreak-Free Dating," her effort to keep other women from following in her romantic missteps.
More on infidelity on Lemondrop:
+ "My Boyfriend Was Living a Double Life"
+"I Want to Cheat on My Husband, but I Haven't Found the Right Guy"
+ Eliot Spitzer's Wife Blames Herself for His Affair