The first time she catches your eye, it’s at the lobby of your office building. It looks like she’s waiting to attend a meeting, standing with two formally-dressed men. White tops and black bottoms. You figure they must be lawyers.
She’s beautiful — not model-like, but more like the girl next door. A face you could imagine waking up to for the rest of your life. You walk off to lunch with your colleagues, bitching about when HR is gonna start hiring more women.
For some reason, it’s always men. And not even men you can hang out and have a drink with. Always lifeless old men.
But in life, there are always seasons where you win. This is one of them.
The next morning at the office, there she is in the board room with her black and white outfit and two colleagues.
“I’d like to introduce you to Ivy,” your boss says. “She’s part of the external audit team who are gonna be here for a few months. Please give her your full cooperation.”
The Most Beautiful Smile in the World
It starts off innocently enough. It always does.
There’s a reason why auditors sit isolated in the meeting room. But whenever she walks over to ask for files from you, you can’t help notice how sweet her smile is.
You realize one day when she leaves your cubicle you have a stupid smile on your face. Those little moments brighten up your day. You start longing for them. You also start comparing.
“She doesn’t seem to be sooo friendly with the other guys at work. She doesn’t look at them the way she looks at me. And there’s always something for us to talk about beyond work. It’s not just me asking questions too. She’s always interested to hear my stories…”
“Does she actually like me?”
You like her.
“Hey, do you wanna have coffee sometime this week?” you blurt out one Tuesday morning, finding courage to make a move. It’s just two of you in front of the water cooler, but the temperature in the room drops to zero.
She looks at you, and you see struggle in her eyes. Forever goes by.
“Umm… technically speaking I’m not supposed to go out with staff of companies we’re auditing,” she finally answers.
“But since it’s just coffee… I guess it’ll be all right,” she says as if to reassure herself. “If you promise not to tell anyone, of course.”
“No problem!” your excitement betrays you. “It’ll be our secret.”
Away from the office, it’s as if a burden has been lifted. She’s even more fun to hang with than you expected. Smart, funny, and you even like the same kind of cheesy Taylor Swift music.
Before you know it, it’s 6 p.m., and you’ve both been away for an hour. “Let’s head back,” she says. “I don’t usually disappear for coffee break this long.”
“Okay, I had fun!” you reply. “Coffee again some other time?”
“We’ll see.” she says with her million-dollar smile.
“We’ll see” becomes a regular thing. You meet for coffee twice a week. Each session even more fun than the previous. You start having your own inside jokes.
One 6 p.m., you push it further. “Screw late evenings at the office,” you say. “Let’s go catch a movie.”
“Okay.” She’s always liked the rebel in you.
It’s at the end of the movie when you first place your hand on hers. She doesn’t take it away. You squeeze her hand gently. She squeezes back.
You’re the luckiest guy in the world. The movie ends, and people start walking out. But you stay for the post credits. Content with your girl’s hand in your hand, you lean back and enjoy the moment.
“Hey, there’s something I need to tell you,” she says. You turn and look at her. In the dim light, you can vaguely make out her face. It’s a look that you’ve seen at times before; the look of struggle.
The lights come on.
For Better or for Worse
You’re not a bad guy; you’re not a family wrecker. It’s a bro code thing. Try all you want with other girls, but you never cross the boundary with someone’s wife.
You know you have to walk away. You promise yourself you’ll dial it back to being colleagues who occasionally hang out. But when you see her puffy eyes in the morning, your heart melts.
She tells you she’s unhappy at home. That her husband doesn’t desire her anymore. He’s obviously a jerk. (You’re not). You’re just someone helping a lonely lady who’s in a difficult position. The rules don’t apply to every single situation, do they? There must be some exceptions. What about all those unhappy people in failed relationships looking for a way out? There’s something romantic about all this.
Your coffee dates are more intense now. You sense honesty in the relationship and you start to believe. She’s not a bad person. Your hands find each other again.
But at random times when she feels guilty, she lets go.
The Toxic Loop
You’re caught in a cycle of “goodbyes” and “I miss yous.”
You both know you’re not supposed to see each other like this. But why does it feel so right when you’re together, like you were meant for each other? You used to feel guilty, tasting the forbidden fruit. Now you don’t feel anything without her.
She leaves her home one night and comes to you, saying “it’s over.” In between sobs, she tells you she’s leaving him for good. It’s the best night of your life.
When you kiss goodbye the next morning, you think you’ve made it. Sure, there’ll be lots of messiness in the inevitable divorce. But at least she doesn’t have kids. She’ll have to go through lots of pain and it’ll take time to get over her ex-husband. But you’ll be there, the one for her, a calm, comforting shoulder she can lean on in her most difficult times.
You feel like a hero.
She stops replying your messages that day.
It’s not over. She finds an excuse to come over.
You swing from extreme to extreme, in a haze of f*cked up emotions. You feel like you’re going crazy.
If she loves you, why does she still go back to him? And after she goes back to him, why does she still want you back? Why can’t she just choose one and put you both out of your misery?
“It’s complicated,” she says. “Give me some time. I’ll make things right with you.” You always give in, but every goodbye feels like a knife plunged into the depths of your heart. Deeper and deeper each time. Is this what a toxic relationship feels like?
Your friends tell you to move on with life. That she’s just playing you. But what do they know? They’re all stuck in boring relationships where there’s no more passion; together only for practical reasons. They’ve obviously never felt a love like this before.
You read about an economic concept called the “sunk cost fallacy” — where people stick with losing investments, just because they’ve already invested too much in them. People are irrational, the behavioral economists say.
But you brush it off. Love is meant to be irrational, you say.
The One: Soulmates Forever
In life there are always seasons where you win. But you’re not so sure anymore. Sometimes this feels more like a loss. Will you go through life always wanting what you can’t have? Will you fight to the end for a love only you believe in?
You don’t really trust yourself anymore.
Work feels like shit. You used to be ambitious; a top performer. Now all you think about is meeting her after hours, hoping she’s not in the “what about my family?” mood.
Maybe this is the price to pay for being a romantic. Deep in your heart you know you’ll never meet anyone like her again. The connection you have — it’s a once in a lifetime thing. Your friends keep reminding you there are millions of single women everywhere. But you can’t imagine ever being with anyone else. Who else will talk about Taylor Swift with you at 1 a.m. on WhatsApp?
You’re soulmates, and nothing will ever change that.
Not even if she chooses him.
– – –
Ivy’s last day comes and you see the auditors packing up their work in brown boxes. You nervously make your way to the conference room, but she’s not there.
You panic a little. It’s gonna be a professional setting, but you still wanna say goodbye. An excuse to see her for five minutes. You don’t know how your relationship will change once you stop sharing an office. What if she really ghosts you for good?
You figure she must be on her way out, and rush to the lifts. You see her standing somewhere near the spot where you first saw her. A wave of nostalgia hits you. Is this where momentous things happen?
You look closer.
She’s talking to a guy you’ve never seen before. No, that’s definitely not her husband.
She’s looking at him the way she used to look at you.
– – –