I have several pieces started, any of which could and someday will be a good essay for this column. But none of those topics are grabbing me today. My thoughts are dominated by something going on that’s in a sense irrelevant and in a sense profound. On one hand, I don’t want to write about it for public consumption, but if I offered up something less than true and real, you would know it, and this column would suffer.
Before I was married, I was involved with a guy I worked with. The nature of the relationship was strange. Its basis was decidedly romantic—he had taken me on a date, and then wooed me until I was won—but he later revealed he had a girlfriend. Even after that revelation, though, after the “let’s be friends” talk, we continued to treat each other as objects of affection. While the friendship was largely chaste (I stress “largely”), it would be untrue to say we were not romantically involved. We were, and quite intensely, I’d say.
The friendship had a concrete ending—when he left the company—but it really was over before that, when he definitively chose his girlfriend over me. The one time we talked after he left the company confirmed that there was nothing left between us. The conversation was strained and lacked the warmth and candidness that had kept us so inappropriately attached before.
As imperfect and somewhat degrading as that relationship was (par for the course for me at the time), I always thought of him as the one who got away. That was the major romantic relationship of my 20s; he was the one person I thought I could have married until I met my husband. Though I was never so certain of our compatibility as to stay hung up on him (that’s not entirely true), I did regret that we never had the clear ice on which to give our relationship a whirl.
Eight years after we last saw each other, he was between girlfriends and looked me up. I would have been interested, if I hadn’t been married and seven months pregnant with my second child. That contact was both ironic and agonizing, especially when, eight years after that, I was free again.
I admit I’ve fantasized that we would someday meet up at the right time, but that fantasy has faded to almost nothing as I’ve matured and become slightly more rooted in reality. Anyhow, I found him online a while back and saw that he was married or at least in a committed relationship, and living far away.
I wanted to say hello at that time, but his site didn’t provide a way to contact him. But I found his e-mail address a few days ago while looking up a few folks who worked at our former company. Given the time that’s gone by, the distance, and the fact that I was pretty sure he was married, I was thinking only that it would be nice to say hi and catch up. As implausible as that may sound given the history, you’ll have to take my word for it.
He wrote back, and we’ve been having an exchange that has surprised me. I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten me, but I didn’t think he would remember our dynamic so well. I am blessed with (or haunted by) an excellent memory. I hadn’t thought about many of those experiences in a long time, but once we started revisiting certain events, it all became very fresh for me again.
He is married, I hope happily so, with an enviable life in an exotic locale. I don’t feel a reigniting of my old feelings—he is married after all—but I am feeling something. I didn’t want or expect anything when I made the contact, but I am getting something anyhow, something I didn’t know I needed.
He sent me a note last night that fearlessly addressed our former situation. It didn’t say what you might have wanted it to say—there was no use of the word “love,” no door opening—but his note did move me to tears. What he said told me that I had been an important and enduring figure in his life, just as he had been in mine.
It’s not a fairytale ending to our tortured story. But it’s a satisfying one for me, because it’s nice to know that the shadow the relationship cast was not imagined, but something we both could see.