After an indeterminate number of months, Anna begins coming to Moscow on a medical pretext to see Gurov. Her husband both does and doesn’t believe the false reason that she gives him but makes no attempt to stop her from going.
It seems shockingly easy to conduct an affair, even though Gurov and Anna are hyper-conscious of the consequences that will happen if they are discovered. Anna deceives her husband in such a way that he both does and doesn’t believe her—it’s more convenient for him, and his position in society generally, to believe her fiction.
Gurov develops a pattern of meeting Anna at her hotel after she sends a porter to notify him of her arrival. The two are able to continue their affair without anyone else in Moscow knowing about it.
Again, the shallow nature of Moscow society is such that it is actually easy for Gurov and Anna to do what seems to them to be the hardest and most significant thing in the world: be with each other.
On a winter morning, Gurov walks his daughter to school on his way to see Anna. He explains to his daughter that it’s snowing because, though it is above freezing near the surface of the earth, it is colder in the atmosphere where snow forms. He is inwardly amazed that he’s both able to answer his daughter’s questions while his inner, secret thoughts are consumed by Anna.
Gurov is amazed by the ease with which he’s able to have a double life and by the fact that his secret life is the one that’s actually meaningful to him. His explanation of snow reflects that his own feelings appear different depending on close to him one is; his false, cold surface belies fiery passion underneath.
Gurov reflects on the ways in which the affair has changed is outlook on life: he knows that everything in which he is truly honest and sincere about he hides from other people. He now believes that everyone’s most vital and interesting life is hidden from the world.
After dropping his daughter off, Gurov gets to Anna’s hotel room and is hardly in the door before the two embrace as though they have been apart for years. Anna almost immediately breaks down crying about having to keep their love hidden “like thieves,” and questions whether their life is “broken.” Gurov rings down for some tea.
Anna and Gurov are, even after falling so in love, in the same boat as when they began: Anna deeply upset, Gurov so perplexed by her emotion that he orders something to drink. Now, however, Gurov and Anna are acutely aware of how the time has passed since they last saw each other, and of how much that waste of time is wearing on them. Instead of not knowing what to do with all the idle time they have, they are now hungry for what little time they can get.
Gurov concludes that his attachment to Anna and her attachment to him are more serious, and more permanent, than is convenient for an affair. He goes to comfort her and catches a glimpse of himself in the hotel mirror. Noticing his gray hair, Gurov realizes just how much he’s aged in the time he’s known Anna.
It’s only in this moment—after having accepted the seriousness of their love—that Gurov grasps something that seems to have haunted Anna for much longer: the bad timing of their love. Seeing himself in the mirror prompts Gurov to reflect that they do not have endless time together and must more actively fight for their happiness.
Gurov reflects again on how his love for Anna is different from all the other relationships he’s experienced before in his life. He’s known many women and suspects that they did not love him but loved something they created in their imaginations. He realizes this is the first time he’s ever really been in love with someone, and he laments that love has come to him so late in life.
Gurov thinks further, to how he and Anna love each other and forgive each other unconditionally. He realizes he can no longer argue away or deny his connection to her or his desire to be “sincere and tender” in her company. He understands that their love has changed both of them so radically they aren’t going to be able to walk away from each other.
This is Chekhov’s articulation of true love: a desire to be the person that a loved one sees, and a willingness to be sincere and tender, to set aside the petty deceptions and justifications of outward society in exchange for real feeling and connection. Through an affair—something often dismissed as shallow, low, and immoral—Gurov and Anna have become better people. Though slightly too late, perhaps they wouldn’t have made the transformation if they weren’t running out of time.
Gurov finally makes the decision that he wants to embrace the way he is with Anna all the time, not just in stolen, secret moments. He comforts Anna and suggests that the two of them, now that they’ve had time to express their sadness about their situation, try to think of some way out of the problem of their respective marriages.
The final step for Gurov and Anna to take is to try to be as close outwardly as they are inwardly. They aren’t quite in a place of not caring what society thinks of them or completely casting off their obligations, but they’re ready to try and come up with a solution instead of passively accepting the limitations as fate or their desires as madness.
The two spend a long time thinking. While no solution comes to them, Gurov concludes that this hardship is only the beginning of the story of his and Anna’s relationship, and that they have long, complicated, and difficult road ahead of them.
Chekhov ends the story on an ambiguous note—Gurov and Anna don’t figure out a way to be happily ever after, but neither are they just giving up. Instead, the story leaves the reader with the sense that their love is going to be hard, tragic, over too soon, but worth the difficulty all the same.