As the seasons changed from fall to winter, training in the dark night got hazardous. On December 12 I noted, “Cool, quite comfortable night. In bed at 10:00. Run went real well tonight with the exception of a fall, so sudden I was unhurt, no bumps even.”
I also had a new running mate, a talented woman my age looking for a training partner. She was fast, and we did our workouts at a quick pace. I was super impressed with her ability and endurance.
One night the roads were icy and she took a tumble as well. I helped her up and brushed off the snow from her running gear. She was embarrassed, but I told her, “No worries. I fell down like that last week.”
On the third night that we ran together, she explained that the support system for her running was not that great at home. Her husband didn’t like running at all. “He just sits around the house,” she observed.
The conversation expanded from there. She went on to explain that not only was her husband lazy, he also paid little attention to her in many other ways. He was no good in bed, for one thing.
I realized this was a woman with several layers of problems going on, and she was trapped in a dull and boring marriage. I tried counseling her on ways to get her husband interested in her running because I thought that was safe territory. But the conversation came back to his general disinterest. I was trying to take the innocent path, rather than the route she was clearly interested in taking.
On the fourth run we did together, we started and finished at my house. She thanked me for the run and then leaned forward to plant a wet kiss right on my lips with her arms around my neck.
I was surprised, for a moment, and yet not surprised at all. I was torn about what to do in the moment, yet knew the right way to respond. I said, “That was sweet.”
Surely there could have been an affair in the making. I could have asked her up to my apartment right then and there, and she would have come. We could have turned our weekly runs into an excuse to have sex every week and the running might have stopped altogether.
There’s no question that I was interested in her on many levels. I would have loved having that affair. She had an amazingly fine body and a beautiful face. Her slightly wavy red hair shone under the streetlights as we ran. The color of her eyes defied even the paints in my watercolor box.
But I resisted her affections. Because while I was a jerk on my own time, and had my own issues with commitment and respect for a relationship, taking on the problems of a married woman did not seem like a good idea at all.
And truthfully, I thought about that poor dope she married, and how much it would hurt for him to find out she’d been cheating on him. Or worse, he might not care at all. Then she’d be cast adrift with nothing to show for the risk she’d been taking. And what if he came after me with violent intent? I knew that the seemingly quiet dudes are often the most and dangerous when inflicted by jealousy. Think Richard Gere in the movie “Unfaithful” with Diane Ladd. Don’t mess with the wrong married man.
I also wasn’t about to go down the road of trying to steal her away from that guy. That was a finish line I was not willing to cross. So we stopped running together. I greatly missed our weekly workouts, because she was a fun and joyous person when she wasn’t feeling sad and morose about the condition of her marriage.
Perhaps in another life, we’d have made a great couple. I’d always wanted to go out with a “runner girl,” and tried to set that up during high school or college. There were a few wishful attempts at making time with girls from other schools during summer track. Then in college, I had the chance to date the girls on the cross country or track team, but I was dating other people. Now here I was with a sweet and beautiful woman runner throwing herself in my lap, and I turned down the opportunity.
That was clearly the right thing to do. I’ll admit to wondering in retrospect how her marriage turned out. It’s not uncommon for people in the first years of marriage to have doubts. One of my former lovers contacted me a year or more into her marriage and said, “I made a mistake.” It went no further. I’ll leave it at that.
She did go on to have a happy marriage by all reports. My truth is that as a 24-year-old man, I was having trouble with the idea of committing to marriage so young in life. In many respects, that’s the healthier way to deal with conflicted emotions. It takes time for some people to get those second thoughts out of the way. Then when you do cross that finish line and start the of life together, there’s a clearer path than the one you’ve left behind.
But wherever that ginger-haired woman with the fast stride may be, I wish her well.