Five years ago, after many months of dating, my partner Zane and I went our separate ways.
We were in love, but he was commitment-shy. As much as neither of us could imagine not being in each other’s lives, it was clear to me it would be too painful to remain friends when I wanted more. So we said goodbye.
Four months later, we reconnected, though our reunion was no slow and cautious waltz into the realm of new possibilities. In fact, I would often joke we re-entered each other’s lives with all the subtlety of a crashing meteor. After months of no contact, save a few brief — and, in my mind, futile — email exchanges, I found myself in a car with Zane, on a four-hour-long ride to his parents’ house in north central Pennsylvania to celebrate his dad’s 65th birthday.
We didn’t meet for coffee beforehand. There was no exploratory dinner or lunch to see what it was like to be in each other’s presence again. Instead, after a few phone conversations, Zane invited me to drive up to Mansfield with him for the weekend. I decided to go, though I had never met his parents before, let alone the other family and friends, save a younger sister in Philadelphia, who would be attending the party.
Still, I had a wonderful time. Despite my initial nervousness and the moments when our eyes would meet in sudden surprise, as if startled to find ourselves in the same room together, being with him that weekend, and with his family, felt completely natural. The instant I got out of the car to be greeted with a hug by his dad, I knew I had nothing to worry about.
That trip is what I consider our true beginning, a fresh slate to which Zane brought an open and willing heart. Within a few months, it was apparent he was ready to commit to a more-enduring partnership and we’ve been together ever since.
I thought back to that weekend recently after another catapult into a similarly intense yet beautiful space. Since he suffered a severe bout with depression in late-April, Zane and I have been taking some time apart. We haven’t broken up, but as I work to understand the emotional tailspin his depression sets off in me and he tries to find a healthier way to cope with the impact of such an illness on his life, we’ve been facing an unknown future. For all the depth and joy in our relationship, I know I cannot continue on being intermittently shut out by his silences, and after years of languishing in the shadows of his own hopes and dreams, he, too, is ready for a change.
So we’ve taken this timeout to focus on our individual healing and growth. We’ve talked and texted periodically though there have often been long stretches without communication, especially in the beginning when I felt too bruised and weary to engage with him at all. I saw him once, briefly, in mid-summer when I was still flailing in indecision and fear — and felt devastated anew at his departure, flooded by the sorrow of missing him and not wanting to, of staring into an emptiness where I’d once imagined an invincible connection.
More weeks of quiet passed before we agreed to talk more regularly, and openly, about where we each were in our journey and what we were learning along the way. And then a family wedding was upon me, and I knew I wanted Zane beside me. It wasn’t that I wouldn’t have fun without him or dreaded questions about his absence. In truth, I’d been excited about the wedding from the moment my cousin Jason announced it would take place in Philadelphia.
His bride was from the area, but he lived in Canada — they’d met at Howard University in Washington, D.C. — and so the occasion would bring aunts, uncles and cousins from Canada, New York, Maryland, St. Lucia and beyond. It was going to be the biggest family reunion I’d seen in years, not to mention the first family wedding I’d ever attended, and I couldn’t wait. But my joy and anticipation were diminished knowing Zane wouldn’t be there to share in such a celebration with relatives he’d already met and many I longed for him to know.
In our years together, he’s become my family, and, for me, there’s always been a void at any event or occasion where he’s not present.
So I invited him to the wedding, despite my apprehension about what such a step may or may not mean, despite the fact we hadn’t spent more than 30 minutes with each other in four months, despite all the voices in my head demanding an in-depth analysis of the situation, with all its pros and cons.
He wanted to attend, and we had a fun, enlightening time. Yes, there were awkward moments and flashes of sadness, where it was hard to fathom the path we’d been walking with all the love we felt for each other rushing to the surface. For all the times I’d convinced myself I was ready to leave our relationship, it felt just as easy to be with Zane as it always has. I also realized, as I watched him interact with my large, extended family with his usual good humor and attentiveness, how proud I’ve always been to have him at my side.
Still, no decisions have been made. He would like us to move forward together, but I know I need to see some significant changes before I can commit to that future, and I still have my own work to do. But all of that is in my head.
The heart has its own wisdom. And sometimes, surrendering to it brings us to another layer of awareness as vital to taking that next step — whatever it may be — as all of the mind’s wary wranglings in the diligent search for truth.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times