Dreading the empty nest, too early

The thought of my empty nest and of a less intense life began to trouble me. Everything was suddenly becoming easier than it had ever been – my children were older and needed less supervision, they were spending more time with friends or doing activities without me.

My husband and I could, and did, go out regularly – we went to the cinema or for drinks or supper with friends, enjoying doing all the things we’d rarely had the chance to do when actually dating and that we’d always promised ourselves. We had weekends away.

At the same time, I was forming ever stronger friendships with the wonderful women who still shore me up daily – I had people to talk about my new overthinking and anxiety with, but it didn’t seem to help. I just felt too young, again, for the life stage I was in. A step ahead of everyone I knew, whilst in reality a step behind.

Life was good, but I just couldn’t seem to live in the moment. I was not content. I fretted and overthought everything and felt intermittent panicky bursts of a sense of time running out, of opportunities missed, of life options narrowing.

I felt like the fierce grip I had always had on my life was loosening, and I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able just to be happy or content with my lot. After all, wasn’t this, now, what I had always wanted? I felt like a spoilt child.

I tried to talk to my husband about it, but he didn’t fully understand, and I understood why he didn’t understand. I barely got it myself, and I couldn’t articulate it well enough for myself, let alone him.

I was 35 years old and had been intermittently feeling this way for some time when a previously barely-noticed, married male acquaintance of mine from my running group began watching my Instagram stories assiduously, commenting acerbically on my Facebook photos, striking up conversations when we saw each other at the gym or in the street, adding entertaining snippets to the previously businesslike emails we shared about the group’s running arrangements. It seemed harmless. I was clueless.

He and I batted this sort of shallow exchange back and forth for at least a year. He shared my political views and humour and taste in food; he was funny and seemed clever and he didn’t care who he offended. I felt proud and pleased to have been singled out by him for friendship – he seemed very selective in his choice of companions, and I’d seen him be ruthlessly brutal to people who didn’t interest him or who he deemed stupid or basic.

I knew clearly from his social media profiles that he wasn’t kind or nice, but I didn’t think that these traits particularly mattered in someone who would simply be an entertaining new friend to me. I thought that he was fun. I thought that he was different. We were both married, after all, and neither of us had ever flirted with the other, so it didn’t seem risky.

So I invited him and his wife for dinner.

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