Not gonna lie. I’ve thought about him many times. Often, even. It’s been more than a year since our brief affair but it was intense. That physical, chemical thing that imprints itself on a cellular level and does not leave. And his intellect. Memories of our conversations recall when Helena, now 6, walks down the street and around the house with her nose in her first chapter books, her little mind so craving more and more of something it did not even know was missing.
I met him when he was barely separated, deep in the throes of the shitstorm that is always divorce: anxiety-producing negotiations, the awkwardness of visitation schedules, pent-up loneliness of a bad marriage that unleashes in a vomit of confession and grief in the presence of a sympathetic and smitten ear. It was too much. The worst of him was all hanging out — just as we were getting acquainted.
We remained social media friends and I’d get a flirty Facebook message every now and again. I knew he found a girlfriend shortly after we split, but I was not entirely surprised when he pinged me on OKCupid the other day.
“Aside from the obvious, how are you?” I IM’d him on the site.
“LOL, yeah,” he replied. “I got dumped.”
“I’m catching you on the rebound again. Déjà vu!”
“That’s about right. I would be more aggressive about asking you out, but I don’t want to be that guy.”
“You’re that guy. But I think most guys are, no? Can’t be alone?”
“I was alone once. 15 years ago.”
It’s a cliche. One of those things bitter, single women gripe about: Men can’t be alone. After divorce he’s moved on with her, while she struggles to find a respectable date in her demographic. It’s certainly not universal or gender-specific. But there seem to be lots of men who are terrified of being without a mate.
It plays out in unexpected ways. For example, over the past several years I’ve heard at least six variations on the following story:
“Were you faithful to your ex-wife?”
“I wasn’t. But let me explain! I thought we were through. Done! I was sleeping on the couch. That was it as far as I was concerned. But when she found out I was involved with my colleague/on Match.com/out with you she went ballistic. She tells everyone I cheated on her.”
At the very first suggestion he may find himself alone he jumped at a chance not to be.
I’ve been partial to the advice that after a breakup you should lick your wounds and rest up a bit before jumping into a new serious relationship. But if a really wonderful person crosses your path and happens to be a steaming, hot, temporary mess at that moment, maybe the sensible move is to stick around? Bide your time and wait it out? Especially if that person’s inclination is to attach to the next semi-suitable body that crosses his path? I think to my kids’ picture book reporting the unlikely friendships growing out of two species who happen into the same home: the ancient giant tortoise and the baby hippo, both rescued from a tsunami, or the sheep who took up with the orphaned elephant. No one faults the animals for convenient love.
So I’m ambivalent about agreeing to a date with my former lover, despite the many times I hoped I would hear from him, exactly as I have. Part of me wants to tell him to fuck off — I need to be wanted for me, for being special and desired — not just because I happen to be available and equipped with a pulse and vagina. But is that being too idealistic? Too romantic? Am I buying into the fairytale soulmate fantasy — that the only reason to date is if you are with someone with whom you are destined to eternal bliss? Hanging around for the perfect relationship is a risk that might price a girl out of the market. As a friend advised : “You need to grab a man right after his divorce when he’s 20% discounted. If you wait until they’re healed from their split all that’s left is the 75%-off dregs.”And then there is the reality factor. Are any of us really, truly over our exes? Do those divorce wounds ever completely heal? Just last week, late after the kids were asleep, I found myself for the first time writing about my ex’s brain injury — heaving bottomless sobs of unpacked grief. When it comes to matters of the heart nothing is definitive, and maybe healing never really ends. And if that is true, how silly is the woman who turns away a man on the fanciful promises of time?