So what do you do, when you become more and more convinced over time that the person you’ve been looking for since you were five is the person right in front of you — the married one?
That jolt when you first laid eyes on each other, that instantaneous feeling of recognition, that ease that flows between you as if you’ve known each other since you were five aside…he could easily have turned out to be critical, or unkind, or just boring. He could have had values and dreams utterly incompatible with yours. Or you could have discovered that you were infatuated with his haircut, or his waistline, or any number of other superficial and impermanent details. He could have disrespected you in some way, cut you down or invalidated your experience, the way so many men have. He could have been disappointing the way you’re so used to being disappointed.
There are a million ways to become disenchanted, especially when you’re looking for ways to become disenchanted. Especially when there’s a lot at stake, when the continuation of life in its current, sanctioned, socially respectable form depends upon your ability to be disenchanted. But the biggest thing you can find wrong with him is his sometimes lowbrow humor. That, and the fact that he has no ass. His jokes about the fact that he has no ass are hysterical.
You can hardly believe yourself, when you look at your situation in terms of the cold, hard facts. And almost no one else believes you, either. You have cried wolf so many times, with your foolish obsessions and your self-defeating behaviors, that everyone who knows you well, including you, is tired of seeing you be stupid and blind, of seeing you fail. Your oldest girl friend doesn’t even have to say anything; you can tell by the look on her face that she doesn’t want to talk about it. She knows what a blunderer you are. She’s watched you do this for thirty years. But this time you’ve really taken the cake. You’ve crossed a new line. You’ve hit a new low.
You can see it like a scientist. You can assess facts and probabilities. Nothing about this looks promising. All the data is on the side of the marriage, and you, you arrogant interloper, are barely a factor. Who the hell do you think you are? Your history seems to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you are a know-nothing and a fuckwit when it comes to relationships. In the solitary lab of your nocturnal afterthoughts, you posit theories that discourage action. You formulate rational escapes.
Of course, there’s another big thing you believe you know, but it’s not something you can prove…so why should you trust yourself this time? No one else does, not anymore, not after all your epic fucking up. Well, no one except maybe your best girl friend from college, to whom you’ve told everything. She’s one person who has never stopped trusting your competence to navigate your way through the world. She says, “This time feels different.” Shown his photo online, she exclaims, “Oh, I love him!” (About Sonny she said, “He is certainly a handsome man.”)
What you know is the two of you together. The entire world can scream wrong, wrong, wrong, and only you know that nothing has ever felt quite this right. He doesn’t frighten you. He doesn’t carelessly hurt you. He doesn’t minimize or compete with you. You feel safe with him. You feel seen. You can’t even find the lifelong, gargantuan self-consciousness that has made you bumble like Don Knotts in the presence of most of your acute infatuations. You don’t worry about how you look. You feel as if you could say something completely inane — even fart audibly — and it wouldn’t be the end of the world. You realize, while walking through downtown by his side, that you could walk anywhere in the world with him, through chaotic Moroccan markets or along the Baltic Sea, and it would be all right, because beside him feels like where you belong.
When you see one another, you both light up and smile; it’s spontaneous and irrepressible, and you wonder if your feelings are being broadcast to everyone. Surely your frequent outbursts of boisterous, shared laughter are a dead giveaway. You find yourself, like the woman in Song of Songs, almost wishing he wert as thy brother, so that you could embrace and kiss him and yea, thou shouldst not be despised. He wants what you want out of life, something you knew even before you asked him, but has had to back-burner his dreams — because he has a mortgage, and because he is a man, and men need to make a good living.
Elephant magazine posts a very timely article to Facebook that makes you break down in sobs of incredulous gratitude. It’s one yoga teacher’s autobiographical testimony about mustering the courage to say yes to love, even when your situation seems like a cruel cosmic joke, even when it seems more impossible than any of the other impossible things you’ve attempted.
Shasta Townsend was at a wedding when she met him.
Suddenly there he was. Looking up into the clear blue sky, the sun hit my eyes and then there he was. His face backlit so he actually appeared to be glowing. He was a jolt of electricity. He was a magnetic force. He was a stranger I felt I had known for a long time or in another life. He smiled and said his name.
I can’t remember what happened next. I don’t remember if I stood up from my seat or remained where I was. I don’t remember what I said. I must have introduced myself in return. I looked up and all stopped except for his face. There was a remembrance at the back of my mind of this man and yet we had never met before.
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it. Shasta immediately shut down, of course. She didn’t want this to be so. She wanted to stay in her comfort zone, and go on with life as she knew it. As she writes,
How many missed chances have we all experienced? How much has humanity suffered because of what appeared to be circumstances that we could not overcome or personal fears that kept us locked in our own prison? How much of our depression, addictions, sorrow and even warring has been created from denying our heart’s deepest longing – be it love, passion, grace, freedom, purpose? How many of us have turned away from the deep well of knowing to return to the surface of suffering because we thought that was expected of us or simply because we didn’t believe we deserved any better?
I felt it in that moment. I saw the possibility of love, truth and desire and then quickly pulled away. We could not be. We would not be. How could we possibly be together? It was a cosmic joke for we were both in other relationships for one thing and secondly, I was not ready to love like this.
I spent years denying my desire and deep connection to this man. We became friends, a sweet torture. He married someone else. I became engaged to another and addicted to sleeping pills, partying and self-loathing.
Her soul-connection man married someone else.
Maybe this man was contentedly committed to a woman he felt lucky to be with — the way your friend is. Maybe Shasta’s girlfriends scolded her, If you love this man, why would you want to destroy his happiness? the way Hugh Laurie memorably scolded Rachel in that episode of Friends. Maybe she realized the deck was stacked against her, which is why she didn’t act, why she instead tried to anesthetize herself, the way you did last fall with alcohol, food, and DVDs, until you got so sick you could barely eat, and certainly couldn’t drink or venture out to a Redbox.
But that isn’t the end of the story. After the point seemed moot, Shasta finally broke her silence.
In a tequila-induced haze I told him how I felt. Not the proudest moment of my life but probably one of the most important. Something within me was ready to be vulnerable even if it was a little too late.
It turns out I was not too late. That man is now my husband and is one of my greatest teachers. Love and marriage is not easy and continues to be a journey ever deeper into vulnerability, trust and transparency but I now know the power of an intimate and loving relationship as a way to experience my own beauty, truth and potential…
Love wants its way with you. Love is the most powerful energy the universe. It is far more powerful than fear, hate or shame. Love took over. It occupied, crucified and then rarefied me. After all the denial it persevered and I finally gave myself to it though it has been and continues to be a journey of allowing, surrendering and opening the flesh deeper.
You write an emotional, private appeal to Shasta via her public page, and hope to God she writes back, because apart from your best girl friend from college, she’s the only one you feel you can talk to completely openly about this. She understands firsthand what you’re going through. She understands the obstacles and taboos and mountains of reasons not to act. She understands the fears: that you will lose your beloved friend, that you will humiliate yourself, that you’re good enough for a fling, but nothing else; or, on the other hand, that your life will radically change forever, that you will be given more than your habitually solitary self can handle, more than even a sweet, lost, drug-addled kid could give you. She understands that unshakable sense of having met the love of your life, even if he didn’t come along neatly and cleanly, the way he was supposed to.
You wake up thinking about your grandmother Ella at the end of her life. In her nursing home, she spent most days drugged up and dreaming. Consciousness must have been as painful as the cancer when she did awaken, realizing that her opportunities for participating in life were over, that she could only look back from a gurney. Incoherently, she urged you over and over again to “close the gate.” She must have been talking about something that happened on the farm, some sin of omission from the distant past that still haunted her.
What will haunt you? you wonder. Life is lived forward, and few of us, if any, are psychic. You couldn’t have known ahead of time that in 2009 you’d be weeping over your childhood buddy, the one who loved you more than any other man ever did, because he was dead at 41 from lymphoma. It’s only 1986, after all, and you have your whole life and the wide world in front of you, and you’ve known Jonathan since the first grade. Why would you want him, when there’s a universe of possibilities out there, over six billion people? There are plenty of fish in the sea.
And you tell yourself this for the next twenty-five years.
You listen repeatedly, morning and night, to a song by Del Amitri* about a man and a woman on a long drive: she’s at the wheel, and not about to turn the car around, even though they’re heading into the middle of nowhere. Their conversation skirts around the elephant in the car, which may or may not be an abortion she’s just had. (A “kid” was involved in “the thing we’ve done.”) But it’s the chorus that provides the goosebumps, a lovely, melancholy arrangement of minor-chord, folk-rock-ballad sound, Springsteen by way of Scotland. The lyrics are simple but powerful, and pierce right through to the heart of your (voiceless) dilemma:
When you’re driving with the brakes on,
When you’re swimming with your boots on,
It’s hard to say you love someone,
And it’s hard to say you don’t.
* a terrific live version is on YouTube here.