I feel that I need to plug in some details here. How is it that I’m off on a bus with someone I had never met; yet longing for a deep romance even after I had decided (or some part of me had) that was impossible?
(I’m also going to have to give that “someone” a name, for the sake of clarity. I’ll call him S.)
I first met S on MySpace. I was dissatisfied with my life and saw MySpace as a way to open it up, to meet new people, to reignite my long dormant writing “career.” Also, though I wasn’t quite aware of it, I had a story to tell that was burning inside of me that was aching to blaze out in the open. Wow. I had no idea how transformative this little step would be. I felt lonely in my pastry career. I felt lonely in my life. I had a boyfriend, but I was feeling the limitations of that relationship. We were companionable, but I couldn’t talk to him about all that interested me. I needed friends, and there were friends a-plenty awaiting me in cyberspace.
S was one of the first people I met online. I was immediately fascinated. He liked my Sarah Vaughan on my page. I liked his Rachmaninoff. We were both pastry chefs, voracious in our taste for music and food. We loved the same movies. We were addicted to crossword puzzles. We both wrote poetry. I could hardly believe it.
Our first phone call was odd. I felt that there was something wrong with him, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. He wasn’t connecting with me in conversation. It was as though he was just talking into space and not to me. I was relieved, actually. He was just a guy, a quirky guy whom I could befriend. It would be all right. My relationship with my boyfriend wasn’t in danger. A week later, S told me he was an alcoholic. Huh. OK, I knew that there was something awry. I didn’t exactly know what an alcoholic was, besides someone with a drinking problem, but I accepted it. Then he got sober. What a change! He called me after an extended weekend rehab. We had a wonderful conversation; he opened up and started sharing with me. We talked about God, about Jazz, about the Twelve Steps, about being free and living life openly, without fear. I found myself being drawn closer to him. I realized that I was hungry for just this kind of connection. He seemed surprised that I didn’t have this with my boyfriend. “Is it just about sex, then?” S asked, and that notion hung in the air and troubled me. I was afraid of the answer.
Within a few weeks of meeting online, I asked him for an intimate friendship. As I typed the words, I felt both the danger of it and the improbability. Could I have what I wanted? My heart was longing for a confidant, someone to whom I could tell my story, to whom I could show my true self. I said that I wanted an intimate friendship, and I did, but I didn’t trust that it could be, or if it could be, I feared that it would inevitably be sexual, and I wasn’t looking for sex, I had that, I wanted something more. He said that he wanted the same.
For me, MySpace was an incredible workshop for poetry writing. I had felt the interest in writing re-blossoming in me just prior to signing up. S wanted to read my work. I began posting poems. It wasn’t long before I had several regular readers and I had, at one point, about 150 subscriptions. It was crazy. It was heady. It was great. For the first time I had an audience, for the first time I was in a writing community. I felt the opening up that I had wanted. I began to tell my story in poetry and I began to open myself to S in conversation. I had sincerely hoped that my opening up would open up something in my relationship with my boyfriend. He was constantly telling me not to cling to him, to find other interests. I think he thought I would take up knitting, or some other quiet hobby, instead I jumped on MySpace and begin to make friends all over the world. I couldn’t shut up about it, either. I told my boyfriend excitedly about all my friends. I was writing all the time, or reading others’ work. Boyfriend was not enthused about poetry which to him was just “words on a page” which would never make me any money. He also feared that I wasn’t writing about him. (And, I wasn’t.) He was jealous. He felt the split between us coming long before I could conceive of it, or accept it. I told boyfriend about S. I didn’t want to be dishonest. I didn’t want to cheat. I didn’t know what I was doing. Anyway, boyfriend said that S sounded perfect for me. Yup. That’s what I thought, too.
And even though I was trying not to, I began a courtship with S. I had never been in a situation like this before. I had never met someone so perfectly matched to me with whom I could talk and talk for hours. We had so much in common and so much to learn about each other. So, I strayed. It seemed inevitable. And after my boyfriend broke up with me (Surprise! I was shocked. I didn’t see it coming at all. ), S and I began to talk openly about love. It was bumpy, but the beauty of it all for me is that I was able to practice being in a relationship the way that I wanted to be. I found out that I was able to address issues as they came up. Each time something uncomfortable came between us, we were able to talk it out. I had so much fear of rejection, of doing, or saying the wrong thing. S let me say what I had to and then took time to process it and then talk it out with me. It blew my mind. I kept thinking that each revelation would be the deal-breaker—my attraction to women, my ill-tempered ways at work—that something ugly or incomprehensible in me would make him turn away, but what I found was myself growing stronger in each instance I had to speak my truth, even with my fear of rejection shaking strongly inside of me. I was coming into myself.
In the autumn of that year, S and I started to make plans to meet in the spring. I knew that I wanted to have sex with him and I had to tell him my big, bad secret: herpes. Even typing it now makes me anxious. OK, I spilled it out. I told him straight up and he handled it beautifully. He thanked me for my honesty. He told me that he loved me. He told me that he would have to get back to me, because he had never had to deal with something like this before. I let him go and process it. I was ecstatic. I had faced my big, bad secret and it was accepted. I was still loved! Or so I thought.
Was this the deal-breaker at last? S got back to me: How would herpes affect my ability to have children? Wow. Would this be the deal-breaker for me? Children? I was almost 46 at the time. I had never considered having children in my life. I didn’t think that was likely to change. I felt my beautiful dreams of my perfect romance crashing. I crashed. I couldn’t be his perfect woman. I couldn’t give him what he wanted—children—and I didn’t know why. It just wasn’t inside of me. I didn’t have the desire. My fledgling sense of self crashed into the rocks. I cried and cried and hated myself for not being “womanly.” What was wrong with me? Suddenly pregnant couples appeared everywhere I went—many of them Asian women with quiet careful white males shepherding them. They were so smug and so perfect in their little precious cocoons. And I was stung over and over by the sight of them: You’ll never have this. This will never be you.
A few weeks went by. I processed my stuff with the help of my therapist. She helped me see the situation more clearly with the drama toned down. I was who I was. There were things I could not change. So many times in relationships I had tried to remake myself to please the other. This time I just couldn’t. S was who he was. Alcoholism was a big deal. Like herpes, it wasn’t going to go away. It had to be faced, too. Even if I had wanted to have children, did I want to have children with an alcoholic? We didn’t match up. We had both met our deal-breakers. What did my truth tell me? I said it quietly in my session: I cannot have a romantic relationship with S.
S and I talked a few days later. He told me more about his alcoholism. I didn’t know how serious it was, how he was near to checking out of life a few times. He told me he couldn’t have a romantic relationship with anyone at this point in his life. I nodded. We were honest with each other and it felt good. We decided to be friends. I had a funny feeling inside of me that I would have trouble keeping that distance, but, at the moment, all was well. I had made it through. All was not lost. But I still hung on. I couldn’t let go of the connection.