I met him at a food-industry event. I lingered around his booth at the conference after he smiled and complimented my purple eyeglasses. We rolled our eyes at ourselves talking about how hard it is to find time to cook at home when you work full time and live in New York City and then he asked to exchange information, professionally. I walked away feeling a bit radiant. It did cross my mind that he was attractive, but I pushed the thought aside, as I’m a journalist and thought I might write about his company at some point.

We exchanged several emails about his business and made plans to get together for what I thought was a purely professional conversation. But within minutes of meeting and ordering drinks, the mood shifted. We had obvious chemistry, and what I’d expected to be a business meeting was clearly a date. 

We laughed and bantered and drank, the last two patrons closing down the bar; lingering and stealing kisses before walking into the night, holding hands. He stopped me several times to kiss me tenderly on the busy sidewalk.

I emailed him the next day with a clever callback to our meandering conversation the night before. He replied: “This email was the highlight in an otherwise totally exhausting day.” And then … nothing. Now, I can handle rejection, but I was a little confused that what seemed to be a strong connection had faded so quickly. 

After about five days of silence, I Googled him.

Up popped a newspaper article about his wedding a year earlier. I couldn’t believe it. Next, I found a full spread of their elegant wedding Upstate in a lifestyle magazine, and there he was, grasping his wife’s hand, wearing a goofy, joyful grin.

I wasn’t upset by his rejection. I was mad about being lied to, about being an accomplice in a minor affair without my knowing he was married. I thought of his beautiful wife and how she should know about her husband’s behavior, but tracking her down and contacting her felt egregiously meddlesome, petty and self-serving.

I thought of the people I know who are in open relationships. Those relationships work only when all parties are aware of what’s going on. I had not known, and even though we had only kissed, I felt complicit in his deception.

This wasn’t the first time a married or otherwise unavailable guy had pursued me. Several months before I met this most recent man, I’d split with someone else I’d fallen in love with — one year after he’d allegedly divorced his wife. Although I’d been apprehensive about opening up to a newly divorced man, our connection was instant and strong. He was so convincing when he said he was over his marriage that I believed him. I found out much later that his divorce was not finalized, and our relationship imploded after moving along at breakneck speed.

As I told my friends about these situations, I realized what a common experience this was, at least for women in their 20s and 30s.

I wanted to know: Was there something I might be doing to attract unavailable men? Were there red flags I could be more attuned to recognizing?

Rick Reynolds, a social worker and founder of the Austin Affair Recovery Center, said that, in my most recent situation, I might’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. He told me that people like the married man I’d met just want the excitement of chasing someone new like myself, and that they lack empathy. “They don’t care about the other person. That is what’s scary,” he said.

On some level, married folks who habitually pursue other prospects have what is similar to drug addiction, he said. “It’s an ego boost, that desire for getting that validation,” Reynolds said.

Or, oddly enough, they’re seeking perfection. There’s the rule of 80/20 in a relationship,” Reynolds said. “Someone will marry their 80, and end up looking for something they’re missing in their relationship — that 20 percent — which is part of how they end up justifying that stuff.”

But was I doing something to attract these guys? For those of us who repeatedly find ourselves in relationships with unavailable partners, is there something in our behavior we should pay attention to and alter?

I spoke with two therapists, Genny Finkel and Jim Walkup, who specialize in marriage and family counseling, and they suggested that there may be a part of me that subconsciously picks up men who can’t fully commit. Walkup said he might compare me to a woman who falls in love with a priest.

However, Walkup pointed out, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the connection or feelings are not real. Both people may have legitimate feelings for each other. But there are needs that are perhaps not being met somewhere else. Or even if they are being met, “they’re yearning for excitement and affirmation; to be listened to. And even though they’re married, they know, for instance, the wife is busy with the children, so they’re very excited to be with someone who really believes in them,” he said.

Unfortunately, the reasons for cheating on one’s partner are legion, and none of the psychologists I spoke with were able to trace a common thread.

But Reynolds did say to look out for smooth talkers who say all the right things. It’s like watching a movie that is so self-aware that it contains exactly the right combination of emotional viscera and an enjoyable storyline, while still feeling contrived.

There’s no clear way to know whether someone will deceive you, he said. But the red flag I’ve learned to pay attention to is a partner who moves quickly and seems easily enthralled with me. Of course, it’s important to know you’re a great catch, but an equally great catch who’s emotionally available will take their time getting to know you.

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