“I’ve never lived alone,” he says one day. At first I’m not totally sure what he’s getting at. But eventually I realize this is more than just thinking out loud. This is more than quiet muttering and musing under his breath. This is a problem.
But I wasn’t going to fight him on it. I told him to start looking for apartments. And he did.Then I quit my job. Instead of him moving, I offer to move out so he can have this “on his own” experience without needing to find another place. And oh, by the way, maybe we should take a break, I suggest. Because I’m not interested in dating my former live-in boyfriend. I refuse to go backwards.
I cry every day before I leave. I’m wishing my tears would somehow move him to act. Instead, they fall silently while he stares off into the distance. We don’t talk for a week. Maybe two. He calls me. We say in sad tones how much we miss one another. Talk soon.
Three days later he calls again to say he can’t do this anymore. Can’t do the break. Can’t get back together with me. “Are you breaking up with me over the phone?” and he says he guesses he is. I wait for him to drive out to my parents’ house. To apologize. To say he’s made a mistake. To beg me to forgive him for his confusion.
But he never does.
I arrange a day to pick up my stuff. We’ll try several times over the next few years to be friends, but in the end, just like before, he won’t be able to “do this” anymore.
A month after he breaks up with me, I meet someone else.
He introduces himself to me at a barbecue, saying both his first and last name. He leaves the party abruptly. I watch him rush down the street, on his cellphone, and I wave goodbye. One day not too long after I’m leaving my friend’s apartment and there he is, standing on the lawn out front. He’s friends with the landlord who’s having a cookout in the backyard.
I find a link to his email through a piece he wrote for McSweeney’s and send him a message. Our first date is at Hopleaf. I drink too many Belgian ales, spill too many secrets. We kiss on a bench outside. And this guy? This guy is it. He is The One. Everything I was missing before is right here in front of me. The chemistry is off the charts.
I could marry this guy, I think to myself. And believe it.
I tell my mother this between mouthfuls of food when we meet for lunch barely a month later. She stares back, bewildered, skeptical.
He cooks me French food. He teaches me about craft beer. We read the New York Times Sunday edition while drinking coffee and eating bagels with lox.
I will start keeping things at his apartment. Full size toiletries. Work clothes. We’ll travel to his hometown for the holidays. I’ll hold his new niece. His brother will send me an email to say I make his only sibling glow with joy. We’ll take a twelve day trip to Japan.
He’ll break up with me a week after we get back, citing the cold hard fact that I Am Not His Soul Mate. I won’t fight him on it. Four years later he’ll marry someone else. Four and a half years later I’ll fall in love again.
I will sidle up to a bar by myself to watch a live lit show. I’ll sip gin and sodas and a stranger will ask if he can squeeze into the empty stool beside me. We’ll talk and exchange information and never do anything about it.
Until one day, months later, when I come across his card again, look him up and discover he is a very talented writer and in Chicago instead of just passing through as I thought from our first conversation.
I’ll leave a not too obscure comment on his most recent post. He’ll email me less than twenty-fours later and ask me out, funny and charming and direct.When we see one another again, he’ll hug me like he’s seeing a friend for the first time in a while. It will be familiar and strange, comforting and awkward.We’ll sit in a booth and say all of the things you’re never supposed to say on a first date. He’ll say he understands if I get up and leave when he reveals things about his past. But I won’t move a muscle, instead feeling closer to this near stranger than I have to anyone in months, years. And like before, it’ll be a whirlwind. But this time I’m trying so hard to not make those same mistakes, still afraid that no matter what I do, love is not mine to keep.
Finding someone has been ingrained in my DNA. We desire the sort of unconditional familial love most of us have come to know since birth.Never have I put so much time and energy into getting something only to realize that sometimes it’s like grasping at air for the invisible. Sometimes it’s seeing what isn’t there.Opening yourself up to love means you accept the terms and conditions. The fine print that states you may lose it along with a lot of other things and people.
But you can find it again.
And maybe then you’ll realize that love is not enough. It never is. Not only does love not pay the bills, it won’t be what makes or breaks your relationship. Love doesn’t end fights, resolve conflicts, and negate hurtful words or actions.Love will not help you read minds, hear the unspoken, understand the misunderstood. Love guarantees nothing. Promises nothing. Make sense of nothing.And yet you will want it all the same. You’ll want it more than anything else in the whole world.If only just to taste it, touch it, hold it for a little while.
What I know now is that despite knowing what I know, I am not afraid of wanting, having, and losing love.