As anyone understands who has ever been involved in multiple relationships – whether it’s been 20 or 2 – the love you feel for one person is never the same as the love you feel for another. I learned this lesson after 2 failed relationships, one of which began as naive love, the kind you can only experience in youth, when everything is felt so much more keenly and we believe we know what love is and that it will last forever. Except it didn’t, because that brand of green, innocent love is rarely supposed to last. For most, that initial relationship is simply an orientation, where we are introduced to the processes of heartbreak and recovery, and from that, our experience informs our handling of the next relationship, and then that one informs the next, and so on and so forth. By the time I’d involved myself in my second relationship, I was hurting and looking for an escape, and so i allowed myself to get caught up in a love that was all kinds of wrong no matter how many excuses i made to justify it as right. It was emotionally exhausting in a way that i could never have imagined, and the grief of it nearly killed me.
After it ended, I gave myself some space for a while before once again putting myself out there, to disastrous results, both in-person and online: i.e. – groping hands during a get-to-know-you dinner is hardly appetizing, and having your ex picked as a possible match for you on a dating website is enough to dissuade you from traveling down that road. Oh, and guys – sending unsolicited dick pics after one online conversation is not the way to our hearts. After we gasp in horror, we dissolve into peals of laughter before showing our friends, almost always with the preface, “hey, look what this asshole just sent me…” and by the end of the day, half a dozen women have laughed at your dick, which I suspect is not the reaction you wanted.
At that point, I resolved that I was done with relationships. Giving up my heart into another person’s care was simply too great a risk, and because of my past, I was flat-out terrified of waiting in line to ride THAT emotional roller coaster again. I contented myself with any number of hobbies to pass the time, and whenever I went out with friends, i avoided the meat market of traditional bar scenes, opting instead for what i considered to be safe, family-oriented restaurants, where most folks actually ate meals instead of searching for off-menu delicacies. My friends and I had been frequenting one particular establishment for a couple of years, a sports-themed restaurant with roughly 30 televisions showing various games, walls adorned with sports memorabilia and a largely female serving staff required to wear sports-related jerseys as they deliver your burgers and beers with a smile. Innocuous enough. Non-threatening. No worries. Just food and a few drinks and a few laughs. But then one night, while I was there laughing and talking and generally minding my own business, I happened to glance up just in time to see HIM. With spiky blonde hair (think David Beckham – in fact, we’ll just call him Beckham, Jr.) and a closely cropped chin-beard, he was carrying a tray, causing his biceps to flex beneath the sleeves of his short-sleeved, AC Milan soccer jersey – an appropriate but not obscenely snug advertisement of a well-built, well-tended torso. And then he smiled at his table full of patrons, and that smile sent all reason fleeing from my brain.
My girlfriend was in the middle of conversation with someone else, and so I turned to her husband, who knew every server in the joint. Before I could stop myself, words and sound were tumbling out of my mouth in the form of a question as i nodded towards Beckham, Jr.: “Hey….who’s he?” After glancing over his shoulder and catching sight of Beckham, Jr. just as he disappeared through the door and back into the restaurant, my friend’s husband looked back at me, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “You like him?”
In my head, Meg Ryan was shouting my answer exactly as she did in that diner with Billy Crystal in “When Harry Met Sally”. Did I like Beckham, Jr? Was that a joke? I might have been slightly naive, but not blind. There was not a damn thing wrong with my eyesight. I was very interested. And so my answer was simple (albeit much quieter than Meg), yet it would change everything:
As it turned out, Beckham, Jr. had inquired about me on a prior occasion, and before i knew it, we were dating despite the challenges – a 13-year age difference (guess I’m officially a cougar, although I wasn’t exactly on the prowl) and his plans to further his education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree at an out-of-state college. Both of us had experienced our share of difficulties in life and love, and so neither of us was looking for anything at all, much less something serious. But as we both learned, love had other plans for two people who had almost given up on it.
It is a fickle thing – love. It moves in mysterious ways, almost always catching us off-guard. But when it is right, it is worth the risk, worth the fight, worth taking the bad with the good, worth waking up for, worth coming home to. And when you finally find that kind of love, even if it is not sensible in the framework of your own plans or the view of others, you know what a rare and wonderful thing it can be – as unique as a snowflake, not like the rest, but absolutely beautiful.
Mr. Fitzgerald knew what he was talking about.