This essay is a follow-on to Once Bitten and Live and Learn. Or Not. I wrote these essays while in the throes of misery after Mike broke up with me, which was in mid-March. It’s all be resolved (one way or another), and you’ll read about that in the future. There is an essay that should go before this one, but it was kind of a downer and I was tired of hearing myself whine. So I thought I’d stick this one in instead. As with the others, this essay stands alone.
I wrote a piece for the Boston Globe’s Coupling column last year about the benefits of dating men who weren’t a perfect match or long-term relationship material. My conclusion was that it’s okay to just have fun when marriage and procreation aren’t goals.
But there’s another reason to date men who don’t quite fit, one that I did not admit to in that piece: it’s a lot easier on the soul to part with someone you’re not in love with.
Let’s look at what happened when I was in love. My first boyfriend after my divorce was my dream man. He appealed to me on every level—there was both an uncommon physical attraction and a strong emotional connection. He was crazy-intense, passionate, caring, generous, and a whole bunch of other things I like.
I fell deeply in love with him. For six months, that feeling was reciprocated. But then it all fell apart. Only recently out of his marriage, he wanted freedom, not love and a stable relationship. As soon as that concept crystallized for him, he dropped me like a watermelon off David Letterman’s roof.
Thus I experienced my first breakup with someone I was in love with. The only things I can think of that were more painful were watching my grandmother’s slow death and the two times I was told my son was going to die. But as awful as those times were, they were self-contained. The pain had an end—when my grandmother was finally released, and when it became clear that my son would survive. But surviving the withdrawal of love had no endpoint, and it took me years to get over it.
The experience sure scared me off of love. Indeed, the next two relationships did not feature that level of emotion and attachment. I certainly cared a great deal for my next boyfriend, who I’m still close with. While I do love him, it was never quite that kind of love. Breaking up with him wasn’t exactly easy, but it didn’t carry the misery that came when love was at stake.
My next relationship was in some ways perfect for me. In retrospect, I think I liked the guy just enough to keep dating him. Lacking any deep feeling for him, I didn’t care if he called, didn’t get tied up in worrying if he was thinking about me. What a relief! And when we broke up, no feelings lingered. Much better than being in love.
After a long period of reflection (single men aren’t exactly leaping out of the sea into my net here in the suburbs), I realized that that kind of relationship wasn’t really good enough, even if both parties understood the parameters. There was something essential lacking that I truly want; a common outlook and interests are at the core, I think. I eventually came to the conclusion that I could accept nothing less than a real connection.
A few months ago—seven years after my breakup with Mr. Perfect—I finally met someone in this category. In some ways, he made me happier than Mr. P, because it was so easy to be with him. Burned so severely before, I approached the relationship very carefully. Still, I fell for him…hard.
Unfortunately, just as our star was rising, we broke up. He had never really had proper closure on his marriage, and there were issues he needed to work out.
This breakup brought back some of my favorite memories of the earlier one: the uncontrollable weeping, the frantic and obsessive search for a way to undo it, the head-shaking, shoulder-shrugging, and constant question: “How the fuck did this happen?”
Let me tell you in case you’re not already aware: this is not pleasant. For me, prescriptions medications were involved so I could keep functioning as a mother, when staring at the ceiling, moaning “Why, why, why?” was my natural inclination.
Painful as it was, I’ll recover, and it won’t take years this time. The relationship was too short to have that kind of impact. Once I do recover, I’ll be faced with the question: Should I attempt to find love again?
After my first heartache, I would have said, no; it was just too excruciating to have loved and lost. But this new relationship made me more aware of the happiness a good match can bring. Now I know how much I want that again. I’m not a gambler, but I can understand the appeal: you take a big risk, usually end up a loser, but what a payout if you win.
What do you think? Better to have loved and lost, or never to have loved at all? Send a comment, or tell me your story. Comments are copyedited (i.e., typos and punctuation fixed) and then published; stories are edited and published on Fridays. Not sure where to send it? Just put it in a comment, and I’ll figure it out.