The Accidental Mistress

After a lifetime of serial dating, Kym Canter thought she had finally found Mr. Right. Swept up in a whirlwind romance, they planned a happily ever after life together — until one e-mail changed everything.

Man and woman looking at each other
(Image credit: Andrew McLeod)

I MET ANDREW through a dating website last spring. He was good-looking, and we had a lot in common—we were the same age; we'd gone to art school and lived in Los Angeles at the same time; and we were both creative directors, he in television, I at a fashion e-commerce site. Our first date was at a French bistro in New York's Soho neighborhood, and we had a nice time, mostly talking about work and art. He said he'd been divorced for three or four years and had two kids, that they lived in the same New England town as his mother, and when the marriage didn't work, he moved to L.A. where he'd grown up. Then he was offered a television network job in New York, where he was working on a reality show based on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space exploration company. At the end of the date, he gave me a kiss good-night at my door. Over the next few weeks, I would get a random e-mail or text about having dinner again, but then he'd write that he was in Japan. Finally, three months after our first date, Andrew e-mailed, "I know I haven't been around; would you consider coming to dinner with me?" I thought 50/50 he was going to cancel, but when he showed up, he couldn't have been more charming. He told me, "I never stopped thinking about you. I always thought you were the right girl at the wrong time. I was traveling; now I'm here. I want to get to know you."

Our birthdays, which are a day apart, were in two weeks, and we started talking about going to Parrot Cay in Turks and Caicos to celebrate. But then he said his mother had suffered a stroke, and he had to go to her. The birthdays came and went. When he returned, we had dinner in the West Village, and that's when I decided I would give this relationship a shot. I told him, "I want to sleep with you but not tonight." And he said, "Well, what are you doing tomorrow?" Soon after, we were spending every night at my apartment or his, a chic one-bedroom in a luxury high-rise in the Financial District. It had Frank Gehry chairs, big TVs, paintings he had done, closets with clothes straight out of Mr. Porter—exactly what you would expect a TV executive's bachelor pad to look like.

A close girlfriend's birthday is at the end of August, and every year we go to a friend's country house and a petting zoo in rural Pennsylvania. It's a two-and-a-half-hour drive each way, and he offered to drive a group of us. The night before the road trip, he told me about how huge the Branson deal was going to be, that he and his coworkers were going to start a production company to make the show, and that we were going to be rich. I'd brought other boyfriends to Pennsylvania, but everyone, I mean everyone, loved him. He was a likeable, easygoing guy. Our vacation to Parrot Cay had been rescheduled for Labor Day weekend, but the day before the trip, he texted that the deal was falling apart and that he had to leave immediately for Branson's house to save it. I was disappointed, but I wanted to be a good, supportive girlfriend. We texted the entire time he was in London—he described how posh Branson's house was and how they talked about sailing, and I sent him pictures of the beach where I'd gone instead. My girlfriends told me I'd handled it right, acting cool and not hassling him. His assistant, Cal, e-mailed me, "I'm sorry your trip got canceled. When would you like to reschedule? Andrew says you can go anywhere in the world."

By that time, I had fallen hard. When a cousin visited from California, we took her out to dinner and he paid for her cab. When we had a family lunch, my mother and aunt came in from Connecticut and he dropped by as it was close to his office. He told my mother, "I'm in love with your daughter." A girlfriend of mine got engaged and he said "Congratulations! Kym's going to be next." He told me, "I want to spend the rest of my life with you. I'm in love with you. You're perfect the way you are. You make me so happy"—what you want every man to say to you. I thought, I can't believe this finally happened to me. But I'm a good person. I put myself out there. I dated a lot of turkeys. I held out for the good guy. I deserve this.

Smiling Woman

(Image credit: Ruven Afanador)

It was all about the deal going through at the end of November. He suggested I call realtors—I could have a $4 million apartment and a $2 million beach house. We never fought; I'm not a fighter. We were so compatible; we had the same temperament and the same interests. We were going to have this great life together. I thought I got lucky. But why shouldn't this happen to me? It happens to people all the time.

We'd gone to a big dinner with friends from India, and they were all saying we were the next ones to be married. And I was like, "I always wanted an Indian wedding," and they were like, "That's what you're going to do!" Andrew said Adam Carolla was his friend, and I thought, I'm going to ask Adam to marry us. We'd only been dating for three months, but it seemed like forever because we were so involved in each other's lives. He came out with me all the time and knew everyone important to me. Except I hadn't met anyone on his side. His kids would visit, but I didn't meet them because it felt a little bit too soon. He kept saying all of his friends were in L.A. and that he didn't know anyone here except the guys at work. There was supposed to be a dinner with the other partners to celebrate the deal, but it kept getting canceled. I didn't think that much of it because I once had a long-term relationship with an investment banker, and things like that got canceled all the time. I had lived through that life; I was living that life. I could decide on a Sunday to go to Thailand for work and be gone on Wednesday, and that would not be abnormal.

Finally, I was going to meet his childhood friends at a party in L.A. a week before Thanksgiving and his kids over the holiday. He and his friends had all gone to high school together; his ex had been his high school sweetheart. They were great and said to me, "We're so happy he's not with Jennifer anymore." Back at the hotel, I told him, "You keep telling me you want to spend the rest of your life with me and how much you love me. So is that a proposal?" He said it was but that I had to let him do it his way. I thought he would give me a ring for Christmas.

On our last day in L.A., the hotel landline rang at 4:30 in the morning. He had said he might have a conference call, so when a woman asked for Andrew, I assumed it was a secretary and handed the phone over. He listened for a bit, then hung up. He said it was his ex and that she was concerned about my meeting the children the next week. He had told me stories about how difficult his ex was. Once home, he told me he had to go to London again because things were looking very bad for the deal. At one point, he had promised me, "I'm going to support you." I would have no financial worries and could do whatever project I wanted. But now the deal was falling apart, and that's when I knew I really loved him. Because I didn't care. We had each other. All the other stuff didn't matter. On Saturday morning, I woke up and saw an e-mail from Jennifer. I thought it was going to be some nasty note about staying away from their children. The e-mail said: "Andrew is my husband. He's been lying to you. We're still married."

My jaw dropped. The air left my lungs. I shook from head to toe. I cried. I texted him, "I don't care where you are, you need to call me." When I didn't hear from him, I forwarded the e-mail to him with the question, "Is this true?" Then I forwarded the e-mail to two girlfriends, one who happened to be with someone who works at the Smoking Gun website and one who works in corporate espionage. The first friend called and said we needed to figure out who was telling the truth and started doing research on an iPad at a coffee shop. My corporate spy friend said Jennifer could just be a jealous ex-wife who went ballistic because he was bringing his girlfriend home for the first time. She called someone to start pulling records on him.

Within half an hour, we must have had 40 pages of documents on Andrew—no criminal activity but real estate and car and business records. A lot of things were based on truth. Then Jennifer texted a picture of him sitting in their living room to prove he wasn't in London. Then Andrew wrote, "It's true. I'm so sorry. I hate myself. I'm a terrible person. I never meant to hurt you. I was going to tell you." This was all by e-mail because she was controlling his phone and wouldn't let him call me. All this came out later, but according to him, she had run up a lot of credit card debt and they were now sharing one credit card. He had used that card at the hotel in L.A., and the credit card company sent an alert, which she saw. She called that morning to break his balls about staying in an expensive hotel and when a woman answered, she asked their son to get into Andrew's e-mail account, where she found all the e-mails we had written to each other. His "London" trip was actually a trip home because he'd been caught, which was a relief to him. It had gotten so out of hand.

Over the next few hours, I took a Xanax and called other friends—I was on the phone pretty much till I went out to dinner with the first girlfriend I talked to. Up until then, it hadn't occurred to me to eat or get dressed.

The next day, all my friends showed up—it was like a death had happened, and people came over with food. Everyone showed up with brownies, cupcakes—even my yoga instructor brought candy bars. Every day someone called me: How are you doing? Do you want me to come over? I felt really loved by my friends, but I was a mess. I felt betrayed. I felt used. I couldn't believe what had happened—no one who had met him could. What was real and what was fake? Was the deal real? (No.) Was the job real? (He said he was on a short-term contract with the network that ended between our first and second dates. For most of our relationship, he was a developer at a website.) Was the apartment his? (He paid rent on it.) Was his assistant Cal real? (Andrew had made him up and sent e-mails himself.) Had he done this before? (He said no.)

It sounds strange, but the one thing this has taught me is to finally understand what love is. Before this happened, I had never been in love with anyone or felt so loved. All of a sudden, someone comes along and you feel such kinship and happiness and commitment, you want to share your life with him. And to realize that that's possible had nothing to do with the fact that he lied. It made it sadder, but that you can have love is real. I've thought infatuation or sex was love many times, but here I'd deeply cared for someone who was a lover and a best friend. He taught me that that exists. It didn't have anything to do with him but with me. He loved me; that was not the lie.

My father was a great fantasist—he thought he knew the secret to the universe. He was a gambler, so he would invest a lot of money, or he'd try to sell his winning formula to the stock market, convinced he was going to make a fortune. He would come home with a new Cadillac, so you thought you would go on this fabulous vacation that never happened. He invested in all these railroads, but the closest we came to railroad riches was a train ride in the parlor car from Connecticut to New York. He was so charismatic and he had all these plans that you were going to be a part of—he wasn't like other fathers I knew who came home from work and watched TV, or played catch, or went to the mall with their kids. My dreams were constantly dashed as a child, but my father was not an evil person. It did not come from a malicious place. And that's a huge difference. This made me more sympathetic toward Andrew; I felt sorry for him. If it were within his power to give me all the things he had promised, he would have. He did this because he wanted to get in, as opposed to when people lie because they want to get out.

Just before Christmas, I saw him—how could you not want to find out exactly what happened to you? He was in my neighborhood when he texted to meet, and I agreed to meet at a bar. I was curious, and I thought I would never have closure if I didn't see him. And honestly, you can't shut off an emotion so quickly. It was awkward in the beginning, but he answered my millions of questions over the next few hours. He could not have been more sorry and polite and gentlemanly—he offered to apologize to each one of my friends he had duped and to take a lie detector test. His story was that he hadn't been happy in his marriage for years when he got this dream job offer in New York. He was lonely here and went online for companionship, which is a selfish thing to do when you're married. He said he had fallen for me, and when the lie started—this fantasy life he wanted so desperately—he thought if he kept saying it, he could make it real. It was hard to hear someone pleading with me that he still loved me and would do anything to get back together, but something like this can't be undone in a minute. I don't know if I could trust him again, even though he and Jennifer are getting divorced.

My friend and I were shopping the other day, and I turned to her and said, "I thought we were going to be here looking for my wedding dress." There are moments when I'm very sad. But I thought it would be harder in a way if I wallowed. I believe you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start to move forward because what's the alternative? Something like this can really mar you. What happened to me could create issues of trust, but just because one person lied to me doesn't mean everyone's going to lie to me. What a terrible way to live your life if every time you go out with someone, you don't believe his story. I don't want to become a suspicious, bitter woman. People might say it was too good to be true. But why shouldn't we believe we can have love? Or that a great guy will love us? I choose to learn from this—that love is out there. And I'm going to find it.

"I thought, I can't believe this finally happened to me. But I'm a good person. I put myself out there. I dated a lot of turkeys. I held out for the good guy. I deserve this."

"When the lie started—this fantasy life he wanted so desperately—he thought if he kept saying it, he could make it real."