I’m in love. I’ve known it for some time and it has taken some getting used to. I don’t do the dance of intimacy easily. The steps are not familiar to me. At 48, I have never been married and I carefully navigate friends, acquaintances and lovers with artful dexterity, never getting too close so as to manage the dialogue of actual relationships.
Past experiences have taught me to protect myself, to hold people at arms’ length. I recognize that it is a control mechanism. I do have some insight; I realize that the bullying I experienced in my adolescence has a lot to do with this.
For years, I was unaware that I distanced myself from people. I had been told that I was standoffish in college, that boys were intimidated by me. But I had a lot of “friends”, had been very popular. So I blew off the comments. But this behavior really manifested itself during my illness when I almost completely withdrew from all but a few close family and friends.
In the past few years, I’ve consciously worked on breaking down my barriers, letting people in. It’s been met with mixed success. I can count on one hand the genuinely intimate relationships I have—the people that know me inside and out, my sister, Kathy; girlfriends, Libby, Linda, and Coletta; Alexanndra, my intrepid counselor; and finally, P., the love of my life. It is my relationship with P. that in turn astonishes, terrifies, excites, stimulates, and soothes me.
Ours is an unconventional relationship. We have known each other for over 25 years; we were lovers in our twenties, parted ways only to reconnect via social media years later. We have yet to meet again; instead we have been communicating via phone, email and text, reconnecting and rekindling our relationship through cyberspace and the sound of our voices over the past almost three years.
The question begs to be asked, why haven’t we met in person in these past three years? P’s life is…complicated, complicated in a way that I don’t need or want. He has some decisions to make and I don’t think he is remotely ready to make those decisions. That alone scares and cautions me. It gives me pause.
But I don’t think I ever fell out of love with P., all those years ago. He was my soul mate then; now he has evolved into something much deeper. I can tell him anything and everything. I can imagine what it was like to make love to him as if it was yesterday. The touch of him, the smell of him, his taste. I simply cannot imagine him not being in my life.
And yet I stumble. What would it be like to really be with someone? To share your heart and soul, willingly, with that other person? I know P. would give me my space, would respect my spirit and individuality, my independence. It’s the intimacy that is scary and lovely, all at the same time.
He’s such a strong, charismatic, yet patient man. I said his life is complicated right now, even as I wrestle with moving forward. He is wrestling with his own thoughts: is what we have real? Or is it rooted in some long ago passion? I wonder if those are the real objections and if it is more a fear of breaking away from what is known and familiar. Like me, he is not a risk-taker when it comes to his emotions and I think the virtual relationship we have is safe and comfortable for him. It doesn’t rock the boat or change the status quo.
But at some point too much time passes and you’ve lost your opportunity. I’m so very conscious of passing time, time I want to spend with P.
Even as I write this, I can mentally see me dancing from one foot to the other, indecisive. Am I ready?
I think we both need a bit more time.
P. is one of the most driven people I know and he excels at his career, athletics, and academics. You’d think that would make him insufferable. Instead, he is one of the most down-to-earth, modest, astute, and kind people I’ve ever met. And he makes me laugh, completely disarms me. I am myself with him, no barriers, no guard. I forget myself with him and am totally at ease.
And that is foreign to me. I’m used to being completely in charge, alert, in control. I know I should think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread but, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is he for real?
What am I so afraid of? To fall in love? To take a chance on maybe getting hurt? Perhaps it’s time to parlay my ability to take risks in other parts of my life to love and intimacy.
P. always teases me about over-analyzing things. I can’t approach a situation without sizing it up from every direction. Sometimes I need to mentally shake myself.
And perhaps I need to stop trying to choreograph every step of my future. Just let it happen. Loosening the reins of control, ah, that is indeed scary. But a little improvisation, a few daring high-kicks, could push me out of this solitary rut.
What possibilities could the future hold? A committed relationship? Marriage? Friendship? They all have their precious and priceless benefits. I realize that with P., we already have a deep and abiding friendship.
So maybe the steps toward intimacy aren’t so hard to learn. I’ve always shortened the learning curve with every new skill set.
I’m not naïve, I know there is give and take with every relationship. I know that you have to want to make it a priority, make what you have together important over your careers and other life distractions. I get that. But when I imagine what my life with P. could be like, it feels like it would be…effortless. I have to trust that and take my first step.
Late at night, as my body relaxes and I begin to ease into sleep, the image of P’s face drifts into my mind. And I imagine falling into his arms and murmuring softly, “Come dance with me…”
I’m 47 and I have never been married. It’s not that I’ve never dated or been in serious relationships, I have. But not a lot of serious relationships, at least not for someone who has been single her whole life. In fact, I have been in love a total of two times. I’m discounting of course, all of my teenage infatuations and the preteen crush on David Cassidy. I’m also discounting the boy I dated for over a year in college because it was a Big Woman on Campus dates Big Man on Campus situation. I was infatuated with our popularity, his sunny smile and blond hair. Coming off the heels of my wretched grade school and high school experiences, my new found popularity at university and active participation in school activities was quite literally a palpable high for me and I basked in the glow for all four years. Tim was just a part of that. So, no, he doesn’t count either.
So I look at the two men I have really loved and who’ve said that they had loved me and try to figure out why I’m still single. I spent a lot of time on this over the past few days, it has been a time of reckoning, of realization.
My impression of marriage came from the first couple I encountered in my life, my parents. I was the oldest child, so I remember the early days when my parents were so happy together. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, and I clearly remember her powdering her nose, applying lipstick and fixing her hair in anticipation of my father coming home from work. She was so excited to see him. My bright eyes took this in and this is what I thought of as “marriage”.
The later years have been filled with bitterness, constant bickering and stony silences. My mother confided her unhappiness to me and I felt uncomfortable and stifled listening to her complaints. They are married to this day and still don’t know how to communicate like adults to each other. It breaks my heart and they have become a cautionary tale of what not to do.
As my friends began to get married in their twenties, I would attend their ceremonies and watch them walk down the aisle. Unbidden to my mind would come the thought, “this is where I’d run for the hills!” As much as I romanticized about that perfect wedding, that perfect man, I would feel a chill go up my spine watching the bride go down the aisle. I had started to think of all marriages as turning out like my parent’s.
Interestingly enough, my parents are an anomaly. I am surrounded by a surprising number of happy couples. My sister and brother are both in well-grounded, very happy marriages. Off the top of my head, I can only think of a few of my friends who have gotten divorced; most are still happily married.
My sister points out that I am nothing like my parents; I have learned well to reasonably speak my mind, handle issues with sensitivity and maturity, to listen with empathy and respect. So why does the uncertainty linger? Why do I feel that faint lick of panic when I seriously consider linking my life permanently with that of another?
It’s funny, with the man I thought was my true love, I had it all planned out. I knew what my ring would look like, I knew which song would play as I walked down the aisle, I knew we wouldn’t get married in a church, I knew it would be simple, unassuming, tasteful. I knew I would love him forever.
I also knew that I felt enormous relief when we both agreed that we were rushing into things and needed to take a break. Not at first. Initially, I was hurt that we weren’t on the same page. But I felt the presence of another emotion that I didn’t quite recognize at first–until I found myself bouncing around the house, answering the phone cheerily. Feeling almost…free. Like a big weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Free from the wondering if he was going to uncomplicate his life. Free from the wondering if we were going to really get married (could I truly walk down that aisle??). Free from wondering if I could really be the priority to him as I had made him in my life.
And suddenly, I. Just. Let. It. All. Go. Just like that.
It was a revelation. Partly, because, I realized, I wasn’t ready to get married yet, if ever. If I did contemplate marriage with someone, he would have to be patient, there would be no rushing the altar for this girl. I’d need to settle in with the idea, get comfortable. I wondered if what I really wanted wasn’t so much marriage but companionship, someone to love, trust, travel with, share my life with. Have the kind of emotional and physical chemistry that makes your toes curl and the hair stand up on the back of your neck. So when he walks into the room or you find him standing at your door, your breath catches in your throat, still, even 25 years later.
Someone who is going to be there for me, good times and bad, whether it is convenient or not. If I need him, just to hear his voice, he’s there, on the phone, or in person, no questions asked. Because he knows that for me to ask, it’s important, that usually, I’m resourceful, and deal with my issues on my own, I don’t ask for help, or support. But sometimes, it’s nice not to knock it out alone. Up to last week, I thought I had that. I was wrong.
I don’t need someone around just to make pithy conversation. I’m in Sales, I have pithy conversations with professional acquaintances all day. I don’t need another LinkedIn connection or the equivalent of a Pet Rock—no expectations, no real interaction, everything occurring at arm’s length. Even my friends offer me more than that. I want something, someone, more substantial.
It’s with new perspective that I survey my life and my future. No more orchestration, no more parameters. I have an open heart and a clear and ready mind. I know what I want, what I expect. I won’t settle for less, I deserve the best. And if the best is me, that suits me just fine. I intend to just settle back and enjoy the ride.