When I began Internet dating earlier this summer, it didn’t take long for me to realize, from among all the potential matches I’d connected with, my second date was the one I wanted to keep seeing.
I remember waking up with a smile the morning after meeting him as I replayed every detail from the night before. It wasn’t that the date itself was extraordinary. We got together for dinner at an Indian restaurant and then wandered to a nearby bar for a glass of wine. Four hours later, I thought he was the most intellectual man I’d ever met, a quality that was almost intimidating given the extensive knowledge he possessed on more subjects than it seemed possible for one human to know.
This wasn’t a complete surprise given the phone conversations we’d had prior to that night, but what did astonish me was how increasingly attractive he became with every encyclopedic detour his mind took us on. We laughed, too, with an ease I’d already come to appreciate and that he was ever the gentleman also impressed me. But when we hugged goodbye at the end of the night, I never imagined a week later I’d sit down to dinner across from someone else only to regret he wasn’t No. 2.
And so I decided to spend more time getting to know the cerebral and quirky man with a profound yet unconventional spiritual side who made me unabashedly giddy. He is different than any man I’ve dated. I tend to fall for the artistic, passionate, expressive type.
No. 2, despite an outwardly engaging personality, is emotionally reserved and admittedly private, though he exhibits a blunt candor when sharing details from his past. He is also a successful businessman who could have easily adopted a life of flashy excess — a mode not entirely foreign to him in his younger days — but instead chooses to live with humility and modesty. And though much in his profile, and in the way he initially courts me (not to mention his love for 1940s vocal harmony group The Ink Spots), points to an old-fashioned romantic, he wears an edge of cynicism from a failed marriage and his own admission to being hypersensitive when it comes to relationships.
I know that is probably my red flag but I like so much about him and especially enjoy the blend of playfulness and depth that fuels our interactions. And though he waits a maddening six dates to kiss me, I appreciate that slow, deliberate dance.
But even as I fall for him, the thought of committing to a relationship is as alarming as it is enticing. After all this time, despite how open and resilient I profess my heart to be, I wonder if I’m prepared to surrender my freedom. It doesn’t help that the weekend after No. 2 finally kisses me, I get a letter from my ex, the first I’ve received since we went our separate ways last year and the first lengthy communication he’s sent since we exchanged a few texts and emails shortly after my birthday in March.
His words completely undo me, though I do not wish to be with him and have long since realized we cannot be together. He suggests nothing of the kind. But the largeness of his love rolls over me, buffeting a layer so startlingly tender I am a weepy mess for days — though I still keep talking to No. 2, still make plans to see him, eager for the succor of moving forward.
Only now, there is the weight of what I thought had been diminished taking up sneaky, temporary residence. I have no place to put this love, have often pondered where it goes when a relationship ends without the armor of anger or accusation to tarnish all its gold. In the last several months, I have been so happy, felt so blessed by the fullness of my life, I have never for a moment regretted my choice to walk away. I do not doubt it now but I acknowledge the fragility of my heart, bearing the imprint of what we shared, the trail of three consecutive years of loss — and swollen still with the hope of new love.
In the weeks that follow, No. 2 repeatedly draws close and pulls away, as I strive to maintain a connection. Maybe he senses my disquiet; perhaps his own ghosts have come to taunt him. Sometimes I think we are each tangled in our individual fears and vulnerabilities, trying to find the language to steer us to something deeper but wary of risking too much. Yet as he engages and disengages, and despite a flare of promise, I realize this pattern is all too familiar. For in my ex’s struggles with depression, this kind of behavior was my biggest emotional trigger: The moments he disappeared into his darkness, cutting off all communication and ignoring any attempts to reach him, sent me into a tailspin where I felt alone and abandoned.
No. 2 is a good and kind man. His presence has buoyed my heart and steeped many moments in irrepressible joy. But I know this isn’t healthy for me. And despite my ambivalence about what I’m ready to commit to, I know when I do I want a man who is fully available to be in a relationship. I tell No. 2 goodbye.
It makes me sad but I realize everything has unfolded as it should. The letter from my ex was a reminder of all I deserve, for he loved me with a generosity and devotion that forever changed me. But in his words, juxtaposed with No. 2’s fluctuating attention, was also the echo of what he couldn’t give.
Sometimes when we’ve broken with the past, the Universe checks in to make sure we’ve truly let go. Whatever or whomever it is we’ve left behind or given up, whatever we think we’ve healed, it sometimes takes one more encounter to force us to boldly choose to move on. And I am moving on, to claim the space for the man who is ready to be with me, in joy, in worth, in greatness — in consistent, equal partnership.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times