By Emily Brandwin published
SAM STOOD IN MY APARTMENT DOOR with a duffel casually swung over his shoulder. "What's in the bag?" I purred, even though I knew the answer. "A few pieces and a couple of ammo cartons—you know, for work," he said, suspiciously looking around before quickly walking inside.
We stood in my living room after undressing each other with awkward abandon. Sam looked like he'd neglected the gym for a couple of months, but with his crystal-blue eyes and mop of shaggy blond hair, he was a sexy, grown-up version of Saved by the Bell's Zack Morris. "What took you so long to get here?" I breathed, while we dropped to the carpet. "I had to drive a surveillance detection route," Sam said, meaning a long, circuitous route with planned stops to determine if he was being followed. "Remember, no one at work can know about our relationship." He winked and smiled a devilish grin. "Just think of me as your asset. It's your job to keep me safe."
"Assets," "surveillance detection routes," duffel bags packed with weapons: These were not by-products of a kinky fantasy life. This was my very real relationship with a CIA officer. I'd met Sam, a 34-year-old weapons expert with a longtime girlfriend, a month after joining the agency. I was 24, a sexually inexperienced new officer, and completely blindsided by Sam's seduction. Our passionate encounters erased my reservations about being "the other woman."
We've all heard the warning not to date our coworkers. But soon after I started at the agency, I felt I had no choice. The CIA gives covert employees cover jobs so as not to arouse interest, and thanks to my vague government position, I was a complete yawn to potential dates in Washington, D.C., where everyone has a wildly impressive career and expects their dates to have the same. At least I could be honest with my colleagues about my work. Plus, everyone at the CIA dated one another; it was like D.C.'s version of Melrose Place.
But dating within the CIA adds a degree of difficulty to a process already fraught with therapy-inducing anxiety. The U.S. government trains intelligence officers to lie and sneak around to prepare them for the dangerous job of stealing secrets overseas. Adopting a new persona at a moment's notice becomes second nature. When you deceive successfully at the CIA, you don't get fired; you get promoted! And the men I dated were products of excellent government training.
After a solid six months of clandestine rendezvous in out-of-the-way locales and communicating in coded texts, I started to resent the fact that Sam was practicing his well-honed spy training on me. Did we actually need to drive a surveillance detection route to ensure that his girlfriend wouldn't spot us every time we went out for dinner?
NOT ALL OF THE CIA men I dated treated me so cavalierly; some had severe boundary issues. A few months after I'd broken up with Sam, I was stranded in my apartment one night during a horrible winter storm when my new office flirting buddy, Jeremy, called. "Whatcha doing?" he asked with his endearing Minnesota accent. "Just hoping the office will be closed tomorrow so I won't have to scrape the ice off my car," I said. "Oh, you won't have to," he announced. "I was just at your apartment and did it for you."
How gentlemanly—a former Midwesterner with a fondness for flannel, scraping the thick ice off my beat-up Honda. Jeremy went on to comment that I "looked so peaceful reading Us Weekly, all snuggled up under the blanket on the couch." But I hadn't told Jeremy my unlisted address, and at the time, Google-stalking was in its infancy, meaning that he'd not only done surveillance to find out where I lived, but he'd also watched me through my third-floor apartment window with night-vision binoculars.
In the CIA, following a girl isn't considered stalking—it's all in a day's work. I found it sort of sweet that Jeremy used his CIA skills to do something nice—albeit creepy—for me. I could handle a well-intentioned stalker if it meant my windshield was clean. But in typical stalker fashion, Jeremy became very clingy, very fast, and our relationship didn't last.
After Jeremy, I found real love with Bobby, whom I met on the first day of a specialized training class. He oozed ambition and had bright greenish-gray eyes. Within a month, we were head over heels in love. For two years, we valiantly attempted a "normal" relationship, but with espionage training and hopping on planes from one overseas mission to the next, Bobby and I spent so much time apart that it eventually took a toll. During 72-hour windows when we were both in D.C. at the same time, we'd discuss the future. "How many kids do you want?" I'd ask. "I don't know if we should," he'd reply. "We may be stationed in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I'm not sure kids are an option for us." Naively, I thought perhaps we'd get married and the CIA would station us together in some family-friendly locale. But Bobby would never be satisfied working without the possibility of gunshots ringing in the background. With both of us facing an overseas deployment a month before my 30th birthday, I knew we needed to end it.
Over six years at the CIA, I grew increasingly frustrated with my espionage life. I'd lost good friends because of the lies I was forced to tell. I'd return home from a mission to an apartment in desperate need of touching up. Exhausted from a 16-hour flight, I'd drop my luggage onto the floor and turn on the TV, where, ironically, Alias always seemed to be on. Jennifer Garner's undercover-agent character never had to contend with jet lag and clandestine meetings with misogynists telling her that she had "veddy nice teets for an American girl." Working alone overseas was exciting, sure—but it was also isolating and paranoia-inducing.
Even though I'd been lucky enough to be involved in several prominent covert operations, I knew that I would never call the CIA home. If I wanted a genuine relationship and a more normal career, I needed to leave. A year after breaking up with Bobby and the agency, I settled into a new life as a writer and occasional improv comedian in Los Angeles.
It was during one improv scene that I met Jeff, a dashing and musically gifted guy who also belonged to my comedy troupe. We quickly started dating, and to my relief, there were no lies, no quick jaunts to war-torn countries, no additional girlfriends. Two years later, we married. Still, I don't regret my years with the CIA. If they hadn't frustrated me both personally and professionally, I never would have found my way to Los Angeles, where I met my true match—and learned that funny, honest guys are much sexier than spies.
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