This beginning is a sweet, synchronistic surprise

On Wednesday, Zane and I will celebrate our three-year “text-iversary.”

And, no, this has nothing to do with either of us being technology-obsessed. We celebrate a text-iversary in the absence of a true anniversary that definitively delineates when we began. For we are a pairing forged from an early bruised and tender fumbling. When we found our way back to each other three years ago, after what I thought was our swan song, it was a text that opened the door to our future.

Zane and I dated for about seven months when we met in 2007, eventually falling in love. But while Zane was the first to express that love, he wasn’t ready for an exclusive commitment, and since I couldn’t fathom being in love with anyone who reciprocated that feeling yet continued to date others, the slow, agonizing dance of extrication began, me still clinging to a futile hope of togetherness, while he wrestled with his own desire for freedom and a reluctance to lose the connection we had. Ultimately, he decided he wanted to be friends. When I insisted I could not be friends with someone I had such strong feelings for, we were done.

Our goodbye, however, wasn’t filled with acrimony and accusation. While I was angry and hurt, and he fearful and sorrowful — and there were the inevitable tears and fits of rage in our last conversation — we were also both aware that we were giving up something that had, in its brief span, enlarged both of our lives, leaving as many joyful impressions on our hearts as there would surely be the stain of injury. So we spoke, too, of our gratitude, for what we’d been to each other, and he even held me while I cried. When I drove away that night, it was with a final “I love you” on my lips and his promise to send me a poem inspired by our last moments shrouded in a light, winter rain.

Though he wanted to be able to call to stay in touch, I acceded only to the occasional email, knowing more would be too painful. I harbored no hopes for reconciliation. His inability or unwillingness to commit had finally sunk in, and having perceived a pattern of giving myself to such men, and then trying to prove why they needed me in their lives after they’d already abandoned any semblance of “us” that existed, I was ready to choose differently for myself.

Determined and at times even optimistic about what awaited on the other side of letting go, I pressed on through those initial pangs of missing him and wondering how he was doing to focus on my own life. We did exchange a few emails, one in which he asked if we could talk, but I was intent on preserving the equilibrium I’d been carefully restoring, and my refusal only cast us farther down our divergent paths — or so I thought.

Then, in April 2008, about four months after we’d parted ways, I went to see poet David Whyte speak at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C. I did think of Zane then because we’d shared a love of poetry. But when Whyte, midway through his reading, decided to share Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Postscript,” I wasn’t prepared for my reaction. It was Zane who had first read to me that poem about moments of unexpected beauty and wonder opening the heart. He would often recite the final lines from memory, and I came to regard it as “our” poem after we once both referred to it when describing separate experiences that had simultaneously affected us. As Whyte read the words, I couldn’t stop the tears that fell. It seemed he could have chosen any other poem by countless other poets and yet here was one that touched me in a deeply personal way.

Driving home that night, I felt a yearning to talk to Zane. Having no idea what I would say and not really sure I was ready for a conversation, I brushed it off as fleeting nostalgia. The next day, however, when plotting the route my mom and I would take to look at a few houses as part of a search I’d recently begun, my eyes fell upon Zane Avenue on the map, a street I never knew existed. It shouldn’t have surprised me then, that later on, while exploring Mt. Airy with my mom, I received a text from Zane with the following words: “I miss you. I love you always. Can we talk?”

But despite the signs that had pointed to this collision of worlds, I was floored — and terrified. What did his message mean? And if I chose to talk to him, what would I be inviting into my life? I didn’t write back, instead moving from house to house with a flutter of nerves and apprehension. When I got home that afternoon, I sent him a text indicating we could maybe talk later that night, hoping by then I would find some clarity and calm from the tangle of my thoughts. But when he responded, he said he wouldn’t be free then because he would be heading back to Philadelphia from D.C. in a car filled with other people.

Suddenly, I knew we had to talk. I had no idea what the outcome would be, but the fact that he was in D.C. the same weekend I’d been there — for an unrelated event — appeared to be one more synchronicity shepherding us toward a necessary connection. So we arranged to talk the following night, and despite our initial awkwardness, slipped into conversation with such natural ease, it felt like no time had passed between us at all. Neither one of us could believe it when we finally, reluctantly hung up the phone more than four hours later. There was no talk of us or his intentions in sending that text. But he called every day after that and did not hesitate to tell me how much he’d missed me and that he’d thought about me daily.

While I’d been busy cutting the final threads of a familiar pattern and nurturing myself, he’d been diligently exploring, among other things, why it was he couldn’t commit, looking at the fears that kept him settling for less than the security and fullness of a vibrant, loving relationship. In texting me, he was taking a risk to dive into that possibility. And the vulnerability, joy and ease in our conversations that week convinced me to keep my heart open, too. We did not get back together immediately but we did begin feeling our way into that space, both grateful to simply spend time unraveling to each other the things we’d learned and the ways we’d grown in our time apart. By the time he referred to me as his girlfriend a few months later, it were as if he were voicing what had already been established. But that wasn’t a date we marked on the calendar, and so the anniversary of the text that changed everything — a date I remembered because I’d written down the trip to see David Whyte the day before that — became what we celebrated.

For me, our text-iversary is not just about honoring the length or depth of our commitment. It also is a reminder about the importance of self-love and learning to cultivate joys that aren’t dependent on another before we can find fulfillment with someone else. The way Zane and I came back together showed me, too, that our endings, and the way we navigate them, are as important as our beginnings. In letting go of each other with love, we not only softened the sting of separation, we opened ourselves to the surprise of a new and sweeter start, shaped unintentionally by a choice to part with appreciation, compassion and forgiveness, for both of our failings and flaws.

– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times