Though I prefer premium channel dramas like The Wire and Newsroom, it seemed everyone I knew was enraptured by the ABC series, Scandal, so I finally gave in and watched. Not bad. Possibly the most fascinating plot thread is the on again/off again salacious affair between the President of the United States (Fitz) and Olivia, the principal of the Pope and Associates PR firm.
I recently discussed the fictional affair with my cousin -who is happily married- and to my surprise, she declared that she was “Team Olivia and Fitz” because they were made for each other. When it comes to morality and ethics, most people think they have clear-cut lines. They will quickly attest that murder is wrong, but cheer for a gun-wielding Will Smith in his latest summer flick. Some will say gay marriage is despicable, but “awwww” when Mitchell and Cameron of Modern Family make up after a silly fight. I’m sure if I conducted a poll, I’d learn that people believed cheaters were wicked, yucky individuals.
Until it was you.
A few days ago, I was catching up with a friend -let’s call her Melanie- and she casually asked me if I knew anything about a guy named Austin. I did. He’s smart, funny, handsome, charming, and genuinely someone most people would consider a “good guy.” Several months back, while in DC on business, Austin ran into Melanie and they really hit it off. They weren’t physically intimate; but they were up to the wee hours of the morning discussing the election, religion, Katt Williams, and everything else. Neither wanted the night to end, but he had an early flight back to Boston, so they reluctantly agreed to keep in touch. They developed a friendship in the way that twenty and thirty somethings do… via gchat, text and funny forwarded emails. There was always an underlying “What if” but neither pursued it. So imagine Melanie’s excitement when Austin called to tell her he’d be in town again for a conference and was hoping they could grab dinner. They met up. Again… the connection was there, and it was as if no time had passed since their last meeting. Half joking, half curious, Melanie said, “I don’t know how you manage to stay single Austin.” And that’s when he dropped the bomb, “Actually, as of two days ago, I’m not…” Allow me to take creative license here; I presume this is where Melanie calmly set down her wine glass and did her best to appear happy as she congratulated him.
At this point in our conversation, Melanie hesitated and I knew she had more to say. Something in me told me that I had to tell her a story, one I hadn’t told anyone else. So I did. And now, I’ll tell you.
Several years ago, while in college, I met a guy at a house party. The day after we met, we spent the next two weeks together, ordering take out, watching bad movies, taking in DC’s landmarks like tourists, and even a Wizards game. But the timing was horrible. He was graduating that spring and moving home to Atlanta. I still had more school to go. So we let it go. Over the years, we kept in contact, but it was minimal. We were in different cities, and one of us was always in a relationship. And then… I moved back to DC as a single woman, and he was there too, after recently being reassigned by his job. We were so excited to be in the same city and hang out again. But he didn’t come back to DC alone; he had a girlfriend. (Notice a recurring theme here).
I gushed that I really wanted to meet the woman who was making him happy. I thought it would help me to see him as a completely unavailable man. But every time the 3 of us planned to get together, something would come up last minute in her schedule, and it was just us. So we’d go to dinner and talk like old friends or take in a movie. Eventually, I started to think that he was purposefully setting up times for the two of us to hang out, and to my mortified surprise… I was pleased. I liked him. He was thoughtful, playful, affectionate, and a critical thinker. He consistently mused that he didn’t see how someone like myself was single. (Don’t they all say that?) We told each other corny jokes and created inside jokes so funny to us that our sides hurt. He grabbed my hand when we crossed the street. Our “hangout sessions” were starting to feel less and less platonic. I knew this was bad news. I knew that although we weren’t crossing any double lines, what we were doing was dangerous. One day as we weaved our way through Silver Spring to an indy theatre, an older woman stopped us on the street to tell us we were a “couple fit for Hollywood.” He gave me a once-over, turned back to the woman and said, “Ma’am I think I agree with you.” And my stomach flip-flopped.
That night, as he walked me to my door and I fished out my keys, I looked up to offer the obligatory “Good seeing you, I hope to see [your girlfriend] soon.” But the words caught in my throat. He was looking at me intently and before I knew it, we’d kissed. I’d like to say I pushed him away. I’d like to say I was disgusted. I’d like to say I told him off and never spoke to him again. But none of those things are true. I kissed him back and it was one of the most beautiful/ugliest moments of my life. I loved it and I hated it. He apologized. And I did too. And then we kissed again. I managed to snap out of it and bustle inside, alone with my thoughts. For the next few hours, I vacillated between youthful glee, intense guilt, and everything in between. I even found myself thinking, “What we have is special... it’s unique… It’s impossible that he could feel as good with someone else as he does with me… right? Wonder if he’s thinking that right now. Could this work? I’m single, so… technically I’m not wrong right?”
It was this #anncoulterlogic that led me to decide that it was best for us to not be friends at all, because I didn’t trust either one of us to be responsible. After I shared my story with Melanie, she broke down and confessed that towards the end of Austin’s trip, under a haze of alcohol that they'd kissed and it was magical. When they were laughing, talking, and sharing, it was easy to forget the truth. It was easy to believe that what they had was real, genuine and right. But when the club lights come on and sobriety comes in, the truth is a bright glaring light to your hangover, reminding you that you’re a wicked and yucky person, as indicated by the hypothetical poll I took earlier.
So what did I tell Melanie? The same thing I told myself a few years ago. “Create a space between you two. Accept that while what you two may have is special, it’s not enough for him to leave his girlfriend; if it was, he would. When you find yourself reliving those special moments, look up his Facebook profile and let the reality hurt you. Don’t send that text. Don’t make that call.”
The truth is, Melanie deserves better. She doesn’t deserve a piece of someone. Austin and his girlfriend deserve better. They deserve an honest commitment. And while Olivia and Fitz seem caught up in a whirlwind of passion, they deserve better than stolen time, whispered words, and weighty secrets.
It’s easy to become Olivia Pope. But it’s not easy to live as Olivia Pope without making exorbitant sacrifices.
The floor is yours.