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Love now and for always.
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Did you fall in love?
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Just tell her I love her.
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Love is stronger than anything you can feel.
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For the love.
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And I love you more than anything.
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(SINGING) What is love?
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Here’s to love.
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From “The New York Times,” I’m Anna Martin. This is “Modern Love.” Today, relationship drama in spin class.
Before we get into it, I just got to say, I take a lot of spin classes.
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3, 2, 1. Let’s go.
And there are so many social dynamics in these sweaty, dark rooms.
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Keep fighting! Come on!
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Rev that gear now.
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We do not quit.
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Self-pity is poison. [GRUNTING]
The dynamics between you and the other riders, between you and yourself, between you and the instructor. The spin instructor is your leader, your idol, your drill sergeant.
I’m the dominatrix. [LAUGHS]
Christi Clancy knows all about this relationship because she herself is a spin instructor.
What I love about it is you’re sitting in the front of the room. Everybody’s there. They’re all waiting to begin. They chit chat. And then my favorite moment is when I walk to the door, and then I shut it.
I’m getting chills. I’m getting chills.
Because the power shifts to you at that moment. They’re waiting for you to tell them what to do. So you’re the god of the spin room for 50 minutes or an hour, however long the class is.
For Christi, the studio is a kind of alternate reality. It’s a place where she can control a lot — the pace of her class, her music, how hard she gets people to work. But years ago, when someone unexpected walked into her class, Christi decided to exercise her power in a different way.
So, Christi, your “Modern Love” essay was published in 2011, and it starts with you getting ready to teach your spin class, just like usual. You’re dimming the lights. You’re cueing your music. But then someone walks in who totally throws you off. It’s your best friend’s ex-husband. This is a guy who, two years ago, left your best friend for another woman, right?
Yes, and not only was he there, but he showed up with his new girlfriend.
Oh, my God. He showed up with the woman he’d left your best friend for.
I was not at all prepared to encounter them. I couldn’t imagine why on Earth of all the classes they could go to, of every exercise they could do, why were they in my spin class?
Had you seen him prior to him walking into your spin class, or was this the first time you’d seen him since the divorce?
This was the first time I’d seen him up close since the divorce.
And I didn’t see him. I didn’t talk to him. I had no idea where he came down on everything that had happened.
Mm-hmm, and he had initiated the split, right?
Yeah, he did. She had told me that they were drinking coffee on their porch, and it was a day just like any other day. And he looked at her, and he said, I’m leaving you. And she didn’t know that that was coming, and she was totally shocked and surprised. And I don’t know how you absorb that kind of body blow.
And on top of everything, as she was processing the pain of dealing with the separation, she shortly thereafter received a bad diagnosis. She had cancer.
Oh, my God.
So I would go with her to her chemo infusions, which is not fun at all. It’s just really hard to watch your friend sit there with a needle in their arm and a sack of chemicals being absorbed into her body. And at night, when she didn’t feel good, she would want someone to stay at her house because she didn’t have her own spouse to help look after her. So I would stay in the guest room, and then if she felt sick in the middle of the night, I could help her out or just like rub her back or be a good friend for her. So I think that experience made the absence of her husband seem even more giant.
Hmm. What were you thinking as you helped her through this incredibly difficult time? Were you thinking of the guy who’d left?
I guess I did. Yeah, and I also knew that he felt terrible. I don’t know. When you leave someone, you don’t think — you know you’re going to hurt their feelings, but you don’t think that they’re also going to face one of the challenges of their life. And I think he probably felt like he should have been there. I think he knew that, too. So when he walked into my spin room with his girlfriend, they just seemed so happy and carefree, like it was just another spin class. But in that moment, all I could think was, wow. I can’t believe you’re so happy, and my friend is struggling.
Mm-hmm. But what happened next? They walk in, and then what?
So they got on their bikes, and I started teaching. And I think I was probably a little off. I don’t know that I really had my rhythm with the class going because I was so preoccupied. Like, oh, my gosh. These guys are there. And then as if it couldn’t get any worse, they leaned into each other and kissed.
And I wished that I had a friend there that I could look at them and say, oh, my God, did you see that?
Yeah, wait, let me just pause, because I have never seen anyone kiss in a class. Did that kiss escalate things for you?
I think it did. I think it made me wonder what on Earth could be going through their minds to kiss in front of me? I felt like it was trying to make a point. Like, we’re here. We’re a couple. Get used to it. Get over it. This is what the reality is now. I took it personally. I thought this must be a message that they want me to hear. It made me just want to let them have it.
But then, Christi, the next weekend, you’re teaching spin again, and in walks your best friend’s ex-husband and his new girlfriend. They came again to your class, right?
Yes, and I couldn’t believe it. I kind of wanted them to come back again because I thought this time, I’m going to be ready. So I made a playlist, and the theme was cheaters and cheating.
Yeah, I think the warm-up song was “Tempted” by The Squeeze —
Oh, my God.
— and Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine.”
And when people take spin classes, they pay a lot of attention to the music.
So I was hoping that that was, on some level, getting absorbed into his system and his brain, and he would notice and feel bad because he would think about cheating and cheaters.
That’s so funny.
So they walked into my spin class the second time, and I was kind of smiling to myself because I thought, I’ve got a playlist for you guys, and we’re going to have a little challenge ahead of us. And I thought, you know what? I’m going to put him on a bike that’s really challenging. They’re called the Pros. And these bikes have really hard saddles. And usually on a spin bike, if you stop spinning, if you take a break, the pedals will just keep going. On these bikes, the pedals only move if you force the movement. So they are really hard, and I thought, you know what? I think I’m just going to torture you a little bit.
I really understand what you’re doing in this moment. You are coming from this place of, my friend is hurt. I have this opportunity to make the guy who hurt her suffer a little bit, so I’m going to do that.
Well, it’s kind of like a marriage has a wishbone. And when you break up, like you pull the wishbone, and I felt like he got the long part of the wishbone, and she got the shorter part. Everything seemed to be working out for him. He just seemed so happy, and I just felt like, I have a very strong sense of what’s just and what’s right. And I guess I felt like it should be harder for him.
When we come back, Christi serves up some spin class justice and has second thoughts about what she was trying to do in the first place.
So, Christi, tell me about what happens once the class starts. What do you observe from your instructor perch?
I was watching very carefully. They were actually sitting kind of right in front of my line of sight, so I could see what was happening. So I was weaving my way through the class, and I just stopped behind them so they could feel me there, and I could see the sweat just pouring off of him.
There was a puddle —
Oh, my gosh.
— that I was very proud of.
What happens once the class is done? How are you feeling?
Well, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. I thought, wow, I’ve never done anything like that. And I thought it went really well.
Wait, let me break that down. Well as in like, it was really hard for him?
It was really hard for him. And I knew that he had worked really hard, and that I could see it in this pile of sweat underneath him and his outfit and his hair damp on his head. And I thought, oh, this is great. I finally got this guy. I got him. But then as they were leaving, they were like, thank you. That was an awesome workout. And I was like, oh.
Oh, my God.
It was more than a workout. I kind of wanted this to be torture. And I wanted you to be on the floor at the end of this, begging for an ambulance.
But wait, you put him on the difficult bike. That’s the opposite of what you wanted him to feel, right?
And I think in that moment, it hit me that I was being such a petty jerk. It’s not my relationship. It’s not my deal. I should just have let it be.
Oh, Christi, I mean, listen, I hear you. Should you have been slightly sadistic on the bike? Probably not. It’s a violation of some unspoken spin instructor code, perhaps, but I don’t know. When you call yourself like a petty jerk, I don’t know if I buy that. I feel like you were doing something ultimately from a very loving, and dare I say, kind of pure place of protection for your friend? You know, like I understand there is a pettiness here, but I feel like there is something deeper that you were trying to do in that room.
Well, I think there are two things happening. There is the idea of him that I had been stewing over for over a year. And then there was the reality of him, the physical embodiment of this person in my class with all the complexities that he represented.
And I think when I actually was faced with him as a person, that’s when I think I felt bad suddenly because I thought, we’re all complex. We all do things. We all have needs. We don’t really know what goes on in other people’s relationships. So I guess I took some satisfaction knowing that I, at least, brought it to that point where he could feel my wrath.
Hearing “feel my wrath” in a very friendly Midwestern accent is very funny to me. [LAUGHS]
Oh, no, that’s the thing. I project a certain, very wholesome Midwestern nice. That’s my public persona. And I think in general, I really truly am a nice person. So doing something like this, it was so cathartic because the thoughts that I’d had that I couldn’t project to anyone that I couldn’t say out loud, I could finally act on.
Why do you think you felt like it was your responsibility to teach this guy a lesson? What duty did you feel like you had to your friend?
I think it was more of a personal thing. When you’re married, you often have other couples that you become really close with, and you develop nuclear friendships.
Ooh, I like that.
And I think that’s what we had. It’s like we were all together in it. And I think at that particular moment in our lives, when our kids were young, we were all struggling. We were all trying to figure out the right way to do everything, the right way to raise children, the right way to get through a night where you’re woken up 100 times, the right way to deal with a tantrum that your kid is throwing.
And we went on vacation together. We had parties together. We ran errands together. And I felt like we were all a unit. And so part of, I think, what I was upset about was, obviously, that he had hurt my friend, but then also I felt like he had disrupted the stasis that had existed with all of us as friends.
Have you forgiven your friend’s ex-husband?
Wow, OK, great.
I harbor zero ill will. Yeah, no, none at all. What it all comes down to, even when I was behaving so badly, like, really, when you have friends, you just want them to be happy.
And I think that experience made me realize I want her to be happy with or without him. I want him to be happy with or without her. He’s a really good guy. I hope he’s found all the happiness that he deserves, too. We all have weak moments. And who knows? I mean, I’m just in absolutely no position to judge somebody else’s relationship.
Did you ever reach out to him after the essay was published?
Not really. He reached out to me and said, we are not coming back to your spin class next Saturday.
Oh, no. OK, yeah. It’d be tough to return.
Christi, I just have to know, did you ever tell your friend about your spin class and about what you’d done?
Well, I did tell her after a little bit of thought. I thought, oh, boy, I should just let her know what I’d done. So I recounted everything. I told her about the playlist. I told her about the bikes. And I remember feeling just kind of foolish. I think when I actually relayed the story to her, it made me see myself and hear myself the way she must have heard me.
And I think the reason why it felt weird is because she didn’t need revenge. She didn’t need me to do anything that I was doing. And it made me think, oh, how myopic could I be. I think I’m doing this more for myself than for her. And she kind of looked at me like, oh, my God, I can’t believe you did this.
But then she brought it home. She was like, you’re a good friend.
I think you were a good friend, too.
Oh, thank you.
Christi, thank you so much for this conversation. It was so much fun.
Absolutely. [MUSIC PLAYING]
We love that you listen to the show, and we want to hear from you. Email us with your observations, your questions, your comments. We read every single email and listen to every single voice memo you send us. You can reach us at [email protected].
If you have a story that you want to share with us, we’d love to hear it. We’re always looking for good stories and new perspectives for the “Modern Love” column, no matter where you come from or who you are. To find out how to submit your own story, go to nytimes.com/modernlovesubmission.
“Modern Love” is produced by Julia Botero and Christina Djossa. It’s edited by our executive producer, Jen Poyant, with help from Anabel Bacon, Reva Goldberg, and Emily Lang. This episode was mixed by Daniel Ramirez. Our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello. The “Modern Love” theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music by Dan Powell, Pat McCusker and Rowan Niemisto. Digital production by Nell Gallogly. Special thanks to Paula Szuchman. The “Modern Love” column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of “Modern Love” projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.