A few days after our one-year anniversary, it finally happened: David and I had our first real fight. It happened because we were moving to another place and we didn’t have everything done in time and I was hurrying and I was packing things wrong and he got mad.
He said, “You’re doing it wrong, Mollie. You’re not being careful enough.”
I said, “I told you to pack your things last week but you didn’t, so now I’m doing it my way.”
I didn’t say it nicely, either; I yelled. Then I left the apartment, slamming the door. I walked down the pathway across the street from our house and thought about how angry I was and how unfairly he had treated me. I fumed and walked really fast and cried. Then, about half a mile down the road, I saw David’s car stop in front of me and as soon as I saw it I knew he was sorry and, suddenly, one second later, all of my anger was gone. David got out of the car and hugged me for a long time on the pathway and apologized over and over and I didn’t say anything.
I just cried.
And that was the next very important thing I learned about relationships: I learned what an apology can do.
On our first Valentine’s Day together, David bought me two bouquets and surprised me with them at work. One was roses and the other one was daisies. It was more than I expected him to do.
It was sweet.
After my shift was over, we had a picnic on the beach where we went on our first date. Then we went home and talked very late into the night. I told him that when we got engaged, I didn’t want a diamond ring; I wanted a plain gold band instead.
I think this was a good decision.
“I don’t want to be like other people,” I said to him as I wrapped my legs around his, my head resting on his chest. “And not just in the wedding rings, or in the wedding, or in other things like that. But in just the way we are.”
“What do you mean?” David asked.
“I mean, we can’t ever start fighting in a way we can’t stop, like other couples do. We can’t stop treating each other well, not just well but supremely well—just as well as we do right now. We can’t start being like the couples we know, after they’ve gotten used to all the good things, and now it’s only the bad things they see.”
“Whatever happens, we cannot turn into them.”
“I promise,” David said.
I said it, too.
Of course, I know that every couple says this, or something like it. But at the time of that conversation, David and I had been together for almost a year, and we hadn’t had a real fight yet.
Shortly after David and I moved in together, we visited my parents in my hometown. It went better than I thought it would. We went to see my mom first. The first thing she said was, “You even look alike!” This was a nice compliment. She made us dinner, then let us sleep in the same room even though she had made a separate bed for David somewhere else.
The next day, we visited my dad. We took him to a barbeque restaurant. On the way there, he asked David a lot of questions about completely irrelevant things, and David knew the answers.
He passed the test.
It was a nice conversation, and a nice meal—one of the best I’ve ever had. David and I were affectionate and supportive like we usually are, but to my dad, it was a surprise.
It was the first time he’d ever seen me in love.
A few days later when we were back in Seattle I called him and asked what he thought of David. He said that before he met David, when I just described him on the phone, he didn’t know why I’d want to date him, but when he saw us together, he understood. He could tell that we were good friends, he said.
And he was right: we are good friends. We are best friends. And there is nothing in a relationship that can substitute for that—nothing.
And please, esteemed reader, please, if you are reading this now and you aren’t absolutely sure that the person you are in love with is truly your best friend, someone you can tell almost anything to without getting teased and with knowing they will still love you as much as ever after you tell them, please:
Do not get married.
If you do, of course, I don’t blame you. We all want our happy ending to happen soon. I did, too. But as soon as you can, as soon as you have the strength to be without it again, do what I did: Say goodbye.
And so, ever since I have known David, I have loved him, and adored him, and thought about him as much as I could. I’d even say: I worshipped him. On purpose.
One day, while we were on a trip to South America, he and I had a fight. We were riding a crowded bus into Bogota looking for our hostel after a long night traveling from Peru, and David asked me to try to communicate with someone in my tenuous Spanish, asking them where we were.
“I’m too tired,” I said. “I can’t do it.”
I was sick of everything. I was sick of traveling.
I was mad.
Fortunately, a boy sitting near us on the bus spoke English. He overheard us talking and offered to help.
I looked at his kind face and started to cry.
David explained to him that I was really tired and the boy just smiled and said that he understood.
When we got off the bus, David and I didn’t look for our hostel right away. Instead, we sat in a park for a while and took a break. David held me and said that he knows that he pushed me too hard and that he would take care of everything else we needed for the rest of the day.
That was exactly what I needed to hear.
I have cried in his arms before and he said the right thing that time, too.
This is an important quality in a boyfriend.
After this experience, I trusted David more than ever. I realized that he was more mature than anyone else I knew. I wanted to give him everything of me.
It’s like how, when I was a Christian, I used to feel about Jesus. He became everything to me.
He became my religion. Not literally, of course. But I lived for him then, and I still do.
He was at least part of my religion.
One time, during the first year of my relationship with David, we went to a movie. The movie was only okay, but we enjoyed being there together.
Romance is really not that hard.
At one point, when we were at the theater, I watched David from across the room. There were a lot of other people standing around and he was trying to get back to his seat.
He looked perfect.
Somehow, for some reason, seeing him from far away like that made me remember how much I love him. Somehow, it made him more precious.
I was proud of him.
I decided to try to remember to make him happy every day—not to think only about myself, but to do something to make him happy every day. And, I think, I have.
The very next thing I learned about happiness in relationships is almost the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone who is already with their life partner, and that is this: Try, try, try, try try. Try to never start taking each other for granted.
Because once you start, it is very difficult to stop.
When I first moved in with David, we were both afraid of taking each other for granted. Actually, I was afraid of being taken for granted—like I had been with my ex-husband—and he was afraid of taking me for granted.
We are still afraid of this sometimes.
One night during the second year of our relationship, I dreamt that I was still married to my ex-husband. I was unhappy, but he wanted to stay together even though he had been gone for the entire summer and I had started seeing David while he was gone. He knew there was someone else, but he never asked me about it. I didn’t know whether I should leave him because he was not mean to me and I figured that if I stayed with David, things would become just the same with him after a few years or so and I wouldn’t be happy then, anyway.
When I woke up, I realized that part of me was surprised that after nearly two years with David, we were still so happy and content.
Why am I so surprised? I thought. Other people wouldn’t feel so surprised.
Then I realized: It’s my way of making sure I remember how fortunate I am. It’s my way of remembering not to take him for granted.
Several days after I met my husband David, when we were on our cruise in Alaska, I told him that I needed him to be the leader in our relationship.
“That is what I want, too,” he told me, and I was so happy to hear it.
It was the second to last day of our cruise, a Wednesday. It was late at night and we were sitting by the buffet. I started crying.
The day before, he had told me that he loved me and I told him I did, too.
That night, we had a romantic dinner like I told you before and all the waiters smiled at us knowingly and we ignored them even when they came to our table and we just stared and stared at each other and talked about our feelings.
Then, the next day, he didn’t tell me he loved me again, even after I did, and that scared me.
It scared me so much.
I thought that we had moved too fast. I thought that he was going to change his mind aout me, and that maybe I should’ve pretended not to care so much.
So, late that night, in the dining room, I told him this, and started crying. Then I said,
“David, I want to ask you something.” He said that I could.
I said, “I want to ask you if it’s okay that I don’t hide my feelings from you and play games like people do. Because I can’t do it. I can’t pretend you are just another person I’m dating, because that’s not the way I feel.
“But I won’t say that I love you again until you say it again. I don’t want to be the leader in our relationship. I want you to be the leader, always. I want you to decide on the timing of whatever happens between us. Is that okay?”
I said this between deep breaths, very slowly. It was something of a scene, I’m sure, but I didn’t really care.
It was the last thing I was worried about.
David felt badly that I was crying. He held me while I talked. Then he said, “You don’t have to play games. I didn’t tell you I loved you today because it is all just so fast for me and so unexpected. I need some time alone to think about everything. But I don’t want you to play games with me. And I want to be the leader in our relationship, too, and I will be.
I was glad to hear him say this, but I wasn’t entirely convinced.
The next morning, I went to the library and did a crossword puzzle by myself while he was at the pool. The rest of the day, things were a little strained between us.
Then, before we left the ship, we had one more serious conversation. I said, “Are you feeling afraid of this relationship because it happened so fast or because you’re not sure you know me well enough yet?” I already knew what the right answer was.
He said, “It’s just so fast. I just need to take a few days to think about things.”
That was the right answer.
I knew right after he said that that everything would be okay.
And it was. And it was better than that because David actually did what he promised and he has been the leader in our relationship ever since.
David is an agnostic who is practically an atheist. Before I met him, I didn’t know atheists could be so kind.
I didn’t think he was at first, actually. I thought he was shallow. But that was just the first date, because he talked about clothes and seemed a little too happy. Too optimistic.
To me, that seemed pretty suspicious.
Also, when we were talking on the phone before we met in person, he said, “I think friendships are the most important thing in life. Don’t you?”
I said I didn’t know.
On our second date, though, we went sailing and to a seafood restaurant and we talked a lot more. I could see that he was intelligent and we always had more things to say and it was never boring. He wore sailing clothes and he didn’t look as stylish as before and I could see that he was a little shyer than I realized and I liked that a lot.
After we were done eating, we got onto the subject of the differences between men and women.
It was an eye-opening conversation.
“I don’t think gender roles are a bad thing,” he said, and, looking back, I think that is really the moment I fell in love.
Of course, I didn’t say that. I said, “I agree.” And then we talked some more about that and later I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met a man who was as traditional as you are that is not religious.”
And, I thought, as honest.
After that, we talked about all of the places we’d traveled to and all of the other places we wanted to travel and later, when we were driving in his car together, he drove very fast but I didn’t care and I thought, “He can drive any way he wants because I trust him completely and he is perfect.”
By the time that date was over, I think we were both in love.
El Paso is a plain city. It is very dry, and the Rio Grande, which separates it from Juarez in Mexico, is small. The city is divided straight down the middle by a low mountain range called the Juarez Mountains.
Those mountains made me love that city forever.
When I first moved there, I was married to Jake and we lived on the west side of the mountains. This was the white side of town. It was ugly. It was the suburbs.
After nine months of living with Jake, I moved out. I went to live on the east side of the mountains. This was the Mexican side.
It was an improvement.
There, I rented a room from a hippie lady with a lot of cats and a very dirty house. The rent was low and I knew I’d need to save as much as I could for whatever was next and now I’m so glad I did.
Soon after leaving my husband, I made a very important decision: I decided that for the first time in my life, I would look for a boyfriend.
I am not going to do what I did last time, I decided. I’m not going to wait around to be happy. I’m going to make myself that way.
I can be good to myself, I thought, and, more than that: I should be.
It’s a principle I’ve lived by ever since.
You see, before I got married, I was always just waiting for something to happen. I didn’t look for what I wanted in life; instead, I waited for something to intervene: For fate. Or for God. Or, always, for a sign. After I got married, though, I realized something very important: I could make mistakes.
Mistakes, as it turned out, can actually be good for you.
And so, my new life began. I signed up on a dating website and soon, I met Josh.
Josh was a normal guy and a nice guy. He was intelligent and we had the same taste in movies and books. He liked to have long conversations. He had a cat and he had his own apartment.
He was good enough for me.
We dated for six months. After that, I decided to leave El Paso. Josh and I broke up, and I looked on the internet for a new boyfriend, also someone nice, and even before I left El Paso I met David. Then, I moved to Seattle, and because of that, now more than ever before, I am happy.
The first night I spent in Seattle we went on our first date and from then until now I have never been alone—not once. And because of that, I have learned a lot.
The first thing I learned about being in a relationship after I was finally lucky enough to have a good one was this: Ask for what you want. Which is another way of saying what is so often said, which is, Don’t play games. And, that oft-said corollary, which is: Be yourself.
David and I were both thirty-one when we met so somehow we had already learned how to do that and it was a good thing because knowing who we really were and what we really wanted was one of the things that made us fall in love in the first place.
The proposal was unexpected. Jake, an army officer, had just learned of his coming year-long deployment to Iraq. He was lonely, he said. He missed me. He visited me one weekend about a year after we broke up. Several weeks later, I got some time off work and visited him in El Paso, where he was working.
He had bought the ring even before I arrived. He said we could get married when he came back.
And that’s what we did.
He came back, and I married him, just like I said I said I would. I moved out of my house and I went to El Paso and I learned what it was like to be married and it was wonderful. I learned that I liked coming home to someone.
I learned that I liked not being alone.
Jake, I soon found out, didn’t feel the same way. A few months into our marriage, he started acting differently towards me. He was colder, more angry.
He was mean.
One time, I remember, we decided to go to the opera together. I had wanted to go, and he had not.
He complained the whole time. He embarrassed me.
I never forgot that night.
Soon after that, I wrote him a letter and put it next to the bathroom sink where he would be sure to see it. I wrote a lot of things about what I thought I needed from him and what he was doing that hurt me.
It was a nice letter.
That night, when I got home from work, it was still right where I had put it by the sink.
“Did you read my letter?” I asked him as he sat at his computer.
“Yes,” he said.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“No,” he said.
I paused. Then I said, “I think I’m going to move out.”
I went into the kitchen and cried.
For a while after that, I was pretty mad at Jake—even, for a little while, bitter. I didn’t purposely try to stop myself from feeling that way, though.
Sometimes, it’s right to feel wronged.
Anyway, the bitterness didn’t last long. Soon after we broke up, I was glad that it all had happened. I was glad that I had met him and married him and then gotten a divorce.
I still am. In fact, I recommend it. If you can’t break up with someone, I say: marry them.
The first house I bought was built in the 1950’s. It was very old-fashioned, with ugly bright green trim, polished brass hardware and a rounded kitchen nook. I loved everything about that house. It was the symbol of my independence, and it still is.
When I bought the house, I didn’t want to change anything about it, even the things that needed to be changed. The only thing I did was replace the doorbell, which didn’t work anymore.
I still have that old doorbell somewhere.
One time shortly after I moved in, someone from work gave me a ride home. When she saw the house she said, “So this is it.”
“This is it,” I said. “It needs some work, of course. I’ll have to paint over that trim.”
I didn’t tell her that I secretly liked it just the way it was.
As it turned out, though, I regretted not telling her that, because she beat me to it.
“I like it how it is,” she said. “It’s cute. It’s old-fashioned. It’s perfect.”
A few years later, when I finally did repaint the trim, I used the original shade of green. It is still an ugly color. And it is still perfect.
It takes a long time to learn not be embarrassed about being weird, and it is much harder than anyone makes it out to be.
I learned something from that girl’s little comment, and for the next year, I worked on being whoever I wanted to be.
I would never become materialistic, I decided. I would live as an artist for the rest of my life, probably unmarried (at least until the age of forty). I would decorate my house in bright orange and other bright colors. I would take lots of walks and eventually be successful but never famous, and even if I was famous, I’d never wear expensive clothes—I would wear crazy things from thrift stores instead. Or I’d dress very plainly, to show that I wasn’t trying to be different.
If I did decide to marry, I would only marry someone who was very deep, someone, I told myself, who would understand why even though he was a man, I called him beautiful.
I discovered things about myself, too. I discovered that I was strong—stronger than I ever realized before. I discovered that a little loneliness was actually necessary for me to be really happy, and that in some ways, being alone was better than being in a relationship—more romantic.
The day before I graduated from college, I turned in my history thesis. Before handing it in, I kept thinking that something dramatic was going to happen to mark the occasion, namely, the end of my seven-and-a-half-year stretch of college.
As it turned out, it did.
The next day, my very last day of college, I found out that the thesis had been voted “best paper” by my classmates. That night, the professor took all of the students out for pizza and beer. Though I wasn’t friends with anyone in that class, I went to the party and then to the bar afterwards, too. They had voted for my paper, after all.
And that was the night I met Jake.
We sat next to each other at the table and flirted. When the bar finally closed he walked me home and took my phone number, then called the next day. After that, we dated for a while.
It was hard.
For a long time, I had successfully avoided relationships with men, and I was happy. Now that I was dating someone again, I had all the guilt that I used to have and some additional confusion as well.
I didn’t know if I loved him. I didn’t know if I would ever love him. I wasn’t sure if he was right for me, but I didn’t want to let him go.
I went back and forth in my head, trying to figure out what to do.
After about three months, I left town and went traveling, partly because I’d already planned to and partly to get away from him. We decided to keep dating but when I came back, we decided not to anymore. After that, I bought a house in my hometown and lived alone once more. And, once more, I decided not to date anymore. The desire had left me again, and, again, I was free.
It was a very good time in my life, a time I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. It was a time to learn about myself, and be responsible for no one but me.
For several years in my twenties, I worked as a waitress. Every night after work I walked to the bus station downtown, then rode the rest of the way home. It was usually late at night and I loved it. At night, the city was my friend. It kept me company. It listened to my thoughts as I walked.
It still does.
Often on those walks I would smile without realizing it. It was the only time during the day I would do that.
Most of those nights, I followed the main street all the way downtown, but one day, wanting to take my time, I decided to go a different route. So, I went through the park instead. There, I stopped on a footbridge and looked at the water for a while. I thought about the man I saw at the park several years before and how jealous I was that he was alone and how much I wanted to be like him.
Maybe, I thought, I finally am.
When I got to the bus station, a thin man wearing old work clothes opened the door for me.
As he did so, he gave me a very big, very genuine smile. I smiled back. He said “Hello,” and I said “Hello, how are you doing?”
“Fine,” he said. He kept smiling and looking at me. Then he went through the door and left.
I didn’t know the man and I never saw him again, but somehow, I knew what he was thinking anyway. He was thinking, Isn’t life good and aren’t you glad?
When he stopped to say hello to me, I had been thinking the same thing. Maybe he could tell.
As I waited for the bus that night, I lay on a bench alongside the bus shelter outside. Exhausted from work, I stared at the side of the building.
That wall is beautiful, I thought.
And that was the way I was all that time I was alone: thoughtful, and a little strange, and everything was meaningful to me. And that is the person I want to know forever and never let go.
Toward the end of my college career, I got rid of my car. It had been giving me all kinds of trouble, and so had the one before that, so one day, I left it at my dad’s house, telling him I’d come back for it when I was ready.
I never did go back.
Getting rid of my car was one of the best decisions I ever made, because after that, I started taking more walks.
At first, I just walked to the bus and back to get to the restaurant where I worked. Over time, though, I realized that even though technically walking was exercise, I actually liked it.
I decided to do it more.
After that, I started taking long walks down a trail near my house almost every morning.
My perspective changed. I saw the city differently. I began to love alleys and bridges, and understand them. I felt independent.
I had more time than ever before for uninterrupted thought.
Several years went by. Then, during my second to last year of college, I dated my good friend’s ex-boyfriend. His name was Chris, and she didn’t like him anymore.
The three of us hung out together a few times, going dancing and to bars. Then one night shortly after they broke up, I hung out with him and his other friends without her. We went to a bar and I don’t remember how it happened or why but suddenly, we were kissing.
It was the first really spontaneous kiss I’ve ever experienced.
After that, we went on a few more dates. I stayed at his house, which was nice. It was the first time I’d ever dated someone with his own house.
It made me feel very mature.
He had parties and even though I didn’t really fit in with his friends, I liked trying. We went to Las Vegas and he gave me mono. Then, after a month or so, I got bored.
One time, we went to a club with his best friend from childhood named Claire. I flirted with Chris in front of her and told her that I thought he was a really great guy on the off chance she’d want to steal him from me.
Six months later they were married.
And then, it happened. Somehow, not long after breaking up with Chris, there was a change—an important change, more important than any change in my life so far and that I had been waiting for for a very long time:
I learned to like being alone.
The way that it happened was strange. One day, I was visiting some friends—a married couple from my church—a couple that I thought was very cute and very happy together, always—but instead of being cute and happy when they were at home, they bickered the whole time and nagged.
It was horrible. It was, truly, a horror show, and worse than that, an embarrassment to everyone there.
I thought to myself, This must be the way relationships really are, when no one is looking—and even, sometimes, when they are.
For the first time, I realized that what was making me miserable to want might also make me miserable to have.
And, for the first time, too, I decided I was ready to be cured.
And, for a long time after that, I was alone.
When I think about it now, it probably wasn’t as long as it felt. It was probably only three years altogether—-one before I met my first husband and two after I met him. But a great deal happened during that time.
I was lonely, but I didn’t mind. Because of the shyness I’d fought since high school, I had few close friends, and those that I did have, I didn’t really like. So I decided that as long as I was getting rid of boyfriends, I might as well get rid of other kinds of friends, too.
And so, that is what I did.
I am going to be better than everyone, I thought. I am going to be really alone.
I took up jogging, and I walked more, too. I watched television. I read a lot. I caught up on all the schooling I’d ignored for the past five years.
I learned a lot, and I enjoyed it. I was always selfish—even before then I was selfish—but I became even more selfish than before.
I didn’t even have a pet.
I realized that it is a lot better feeling like no one listens to you when you don’t have to listen to them, either. I realized I could be happy, even when I was lonely. I realized that depression and loneliness are very, very different things.
These were my revelations.
And so, I enjoyed my independence. Of course, I always had enjoyed it. I just hadn’t realized it until then.
For several years before that time and for about one year after, I lived in apartment with a roommate who was also my sister, and I loved it. Not because my roommate was my sister—because of the apartment.
It was right near my school. It was small and cheap. And it was the first apartment I ever lived in. Being there made me feel like a grown-up.
One night soon after I moved there, while I was getting ready to go to bed, I turned off the kitchen light. The moonlight from the little window above the sink came through, streaming across the linoleum and the counters. I stopped for a minute, staring. It was dark. It was beautiful.
And only I ever get to see it that way, I thought to myself that night, because only I get to turn off that light.
It made me feel so independent.
It felt the same way it did right after I graduated from high school and moved away from home and I went to the supermarket and shopped for my own food for the first time in my life. I loved doing that.
Halfway or so through college, I met Sam. Sam was a nice person, and he could have been a good friend. I met him at a college event and we went out for coffee afterwards and on a couple of unofficial dates after that. One night we stayed up until about three a.m. talking about philosophy and literature.
He was a nerd, and I liked him a lot.
On our last date, I told him I was taking birth control. He was a rigid Catholic and he reacted more strongly than I expected.
He never called me again.
About two months later, I passed him in a hallway at school. I just glanced at him for a few seconds, but the feeling I had after seeing his face was so strong that I realized I’d been in love with him all the time I’d known him, and all the time since as well.
And so, that was the day I learned how easy it is to fall in love. It just took a couple of conversations, really, and it happened without my even realizing it.
Maybe it’s better not to realize it sometimes.
But I learned something else, too. I learned that love is just a feeling, after all.
During my spring break that school year, I decided to take a trip. I took a week off work and drove to the Oregon Coast.
I went alone.
During the days, I lay on the beaches and during the evenings I went to the bars. I met people. I met a woman that liked to fight and I accidentally insulted her. I met an awkward boy that bought me a lot of drinks. I sang karaoke. I danced, and not badly. I looked good. I practiced not being shy.
I enjoyed my independence. I did what I wanted to do. I learned a little more about who I was, and who I wanted to be.
I had fun.
Sometimes, I realized, it’s okay to just have fun.
After Mike, I didn’t have a real boyfriend for a long time. At the time, I was a good Christian girl and I didn’t want to do anything that was against the bible. But I was lonely.
Very, very lonely.
I did date a few people, though, here and there. I remember one date I went on that was especially nice.
His name was Jason, and we met at work. Jason was one of those people sometimes described as “effortlessly charming.” He smiled a lot. (I should try that sometime.)
He was happy, but he was also deep and intense. What could be better than that?
On our date, we went hiking. After we were done, we sat on a little cliff that overlooked the river and talked, and not just a little.
We talked about how much we hated phony people and how college changes your beliefs and your perspective of the world and how we both wanted to resist some of those changes. We talked about how we hated hippies and vegetarians and how we refused to ever wear visible name brands on our clothes.
It was a nice conversation.
After that, neither of us wanted the night to be over, so he drove us to another trail and we took another walk. At a spot under a bridge, he kissed me.
It felt like I was kissing my brother.
We didn’t go out again. Several years later, he married a vegetarian.
After a few years of dating very little, I met Mike. I don’t know why, but after five months dating, we got engaged.
I was twenty-one.
One day, we were taking a walk through a park, and as we did so, I saw a man sitting on a large rock near the beach. He wasn’t doing anything important—maybe just eating a sandwich or something. But he was looking at the water, and it seemed to me that he wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, with anyone else—that he just wanted to be alone.
I used to do that, I thought as Mike and I walked by. Back when I didn’t have a boyfriend.
Back when I was strong.
I was jealous.
I never forgot that feeling. I wished so much that I was him, but I couldn’t be—not yet.
I still didn’t know how to be alone.
I didn’t get married that year. I broke up with Mike, and that was difficult. But I remembered something my dad once told me about the woman he fell in love with that eventually became his first wife. He said that he tried to leave her once and drive away, but after a little while, he realized that he just couldn’t go any further. So he pulled the car over to the side of the road, got out and took a walk. When he got back in after an hour or so and started driving again, the car was pointing back the way he came.
“That’s when I knew I was in love,” he said. “I couldn’t leave, even when I tried.”
That was good advice.
After I left Mike, I didn’t want to turn the car around. Not very badly, anyway. I knew that leaving him was the right thing to do. And after I got over the hard part of remembering what it was like to be alone, I didn’t miss him too much anymore.
Leaving has always been pretty easy for me, actually. Not just romantic partners, but friends, too, and family. I never felt like I couldn’t leave someone anytime I wanted to and be fine with it.
During much of high school, I was miserable. I had depression, and to make matters worse: I really, really wanted a boyfriend. I told myself to stop wanting to be with someone, but I could never do it. I spent all of my high school years and most of my college ones, too, craving something I knew I couldn’t have and wasn’t ready for.
Still, I needed it. I wanted it so much. I wanted affection, but even more than that: I wanted a friend.
My sophomore year in high school I went on a date with an intelligent boy named Cory.
It wasn’t an official date. We just went to the library after school in his car and didn’t study at all. We talked about a lot of things that sounded smart like history and politics. He said that he was reading a book about Abraham Lincoln, and I told him that he was overrated. (I think I got that one from my dad.)
It was a great, real conversation. And for me, at that time and maybe still, great real conversations were the best thing in the world, and the most rare, too.
I don’t know how rare it was for Cory, though; he never called me again after that night. Of course, I should be glad he didn’t—eventually I would have made a fool of myself and it probably wouldn’t have lasted anyway.
Still, I am jealous of anyone who can walk away from the chance to have more of what we had that day.
During my freshman year of high school I went to a dance with my huge crush, Arnold, but our relationship never really got off the ground. It ended with the dances.
At the first of those, we had a great time. We danced with our group of friends and acted silly and, altogether, it was the best night of my life thus far. Then, he got mad at someone and he asked me if I wanted to go outside for a while and take a walk, but the chaperone told us we couldn’t. So we stood in the corridor near the front door of the building for a while until a song that he really liked started playing. “This is my favorite song,” he said. Then he asked me to dance with him right there in the corridor, and we did.
It was so romantic.
A little while into the song as we were dancing he almost kissed me. He pulled his head back a little to look me in the eyes but I was too shy to do the same. If life were a Judy Blum novel, I would have turned my head and had my first kiss right then.
I have regretted that ever since.
Life is not art, I learned that day.
And romance definitely is not.
At the time, my relationship with Arnold was one of the most meaningful things in my life. Looking back, though, I don’t even care that it happened except for one thing: For the rest of my life, I will always remember what it was like to believe that I’d found my soul mate, to believe that there was someone out there who understood and loved everything about me, and was or wanted to be just like me, not just my other half but part of me, and that if I had him I would never need anyone else at all.
And sometimes, even now, usually at night in my dreams, I can even pretend that he really was, and that for a while it was perfect and complete.