Now, I am in no sense a qualified counsellor, but based on my experience of long term relationships, and anecdotal evidence I’ve collected from others currently enduring them, a contributing factor in the demise of many marriages is that thing where you’re not supposed to sleep with anyone else. This is a restriction that seems to make an awful lot of people do precisely that, because… Who knows why? Potentially the same impulse that makes us push buttons we’re told not to push, and crave bread only when we’ve given up gluten.
Affairs are destructive, and those who’d rather not risk their domestic stability/the mental health of their children on the full marriage-busting deal, might like to consider an alternative. An affair-lite, if you will, with a lover that-never-quite-was: a gentle, extended flirtation with a man whose path you often cross, with whom you’d almost certainly dally if things were different. Only they aren’t, and so you don’t. These men come in an assortment of forms …
- The coffee-shop boyfriend
As the desire to take control of our worklife balance persuades more of us to leave conventional employment and start working for ourselves, many of us wind up conducting professional activities from our nearest or most convivial coffee shop. The alternative (staying at home where no one can see you, so no one cares if you never get up, or wash, or get dressed, or brush your hair or even teeth) can get a touch depressing. Coffee shops, on the other hand, provide a reason to make yourself presentable to the wider world, while offering free Wi-Fi and a not inconsiderable supply of men you don’t yet know – aka Coffee-Shop Boyfriends.
These come in three formats:
1) Baristas: generally young, usually hipster, twinkly and good-humoured. They always remember your order, compliment your clothing choices and can begin to seem like they’re sending you coded love messages via the medium of milk art. It is useful to remember this lot are professionally obliged to be nice to you. Still. They are reliably good for a flirt, and who cares if it’s all predicated on them hoping that you really are able to help them realise their dreams of becoming an actor, as you keep hinting you can? (You can’t.)
2) Latte papas: stay-at-home dads who unashamedly exploit their toddler charges to endear themselves to passing women, using them to engage you in conversation, or as evidence of their enlightened feminist leanings, or both. May also go under the title of DILFs or OPHABs (Other People’s Husbands and Boyfriends).
3) Freelancers like you: they are as bored as you, as keen for distraction from the work they’re supposed to be doing, as happy to ditch it all and play hooky by going for a wander through a nearby park on the grounds that it’s sunny. Classically, first encounters are made when one of you asks the other to keep an eye on their laptop while they nip to the loo. This then escalates into a pseudorow over access to the one remaining pain au raisin, and before you know it, you’ve established flat-white rounds and started messaging each other needily if one of you fails to show for two days.
- The work husband
He made you laugh once in a meeting (only you, mind – literally everyone else is too joyless/dim to have got the joke), then proved he had your back in another. So then you found yourself looking forward to the next meeting, and was it your imagination, or did he save the seat next to him for you, like you’re at school? And you started seeking each other out in the canteen at lunch, and you know damn well HR raises its eyebrows when the two of you beetle off to the pub a little ahead of everyone else. But there’s nothing going on, so who cares?
Only, yes, admittedly, the barely discernible tension between you became more obvious on that overnight trip, when the wine flowed and the hotel rooms were located awkwardly close, and in the end you had to make an excuse you weren’t entirely sure you wanted to make, so that you could go to bed early – and alone.
Work husbands are the original, most established breed of faux boyfriend. They break the monotony of office life with how unexpectedly cute they look in a certain suit, and the way they roll their eyes behind the back of whichever colleague you’ve bonded over in mutual loathing.
They’re most easily identified by their tendency to start casually emailing you after hours from a personal account, rather than their work account. Or, more daringly yet, texting. Or (the ultimate suggestive message medium) WhatsApping you about stuff that has nothing to do with work.
You’d hate to have to explain the WH (work husband) to your AH (actual husband), which is why they’ve never met. Nor will they. You’re not stupid
- The social-media boyfriend
You’ve never met him IRL, but you really like the cut of his jib on Twitter. There’s something about his mastery of the #, the economy of his gags, the integrity of his political stances and the purity of his takedowns of Kim Kardashian and/or Donald Trump that bedazzles you. When he retweets you, you feel as giddy as a dervish; when he DMs you, you blush.
- The yoga boyfriend
Originally, you took the mat space next to his because men just aren’t as good at yoga as women generally, so he probably wouldn’t show you up. But then you made him laugh by groaning in protest when the instructor promised to “progress” an already unbearable stretch – and then you found yourself dropping not inconsiderable amounts of dosh in Lorna Jane on some sexy new Lycra, in a way that reminded you of the way you once spent money on preposterous lingerie to impress a new “boyfriend”. You always turn and “Namaste” him at the end of class, and you’re pretty sure it’s only a matter of time before he suggests the two of you swing by the cold-press juice bar next to the studio to grab something overpriced and cleansing. And you’d be fine with that: you are ready to take it to that level.
- The platonic cub
You are no cougar. Let’s get that straight. But, if you were to have an affair with a man considerably younger than you, completely theoretically, because you have absolutely no intention of doing any such thing… But if you did, it’d be with this young buck (or “cub” in the common parlance of the cougar), who you first met after he hit on you – allowing you the opportunity of rejecting him thus: “Young man, whatever are you thinking? I’m old enough to be the alluring older woman you have an entirely inappropriate crush on!” Since then, you’ve encouraged him – while pretending you’re not encouraging him at all – by asking him to set you up on Apple iMusic, even though you are more than capable of doing it yourself. As an added bonus, he’s so young that no one thinks anything of your friendship, least of all the man with whom you share a home. His youth: it’s the perfect cover for the affair you are not having.