Shortly after my divorce, I met a man whose marriage had also ended recently. We felt an immediate connection and began dating. Very soon after, the relationship became serious and, before I knew it, I was in love.
Everyone who knew me could see that I was the happiest I’d ever been. But a persistent problem lingering in the background tempered my happiness. From the start, Gary made it clear it was never his intention to “go from one thing to another,” that is, from his marriage right into a relationship. It was hard to believe him, though, when everything felt so right between us, especially after he told me he loved me.
But the drumbeat kept growing louder. He loved me, but he needed to be on his own. Eventually, it became clear that that need was stronger than his feelings for me. He broke up with me, shattering my heart in the process.
After an 11-year marriage in which I felt put in a box, I’d met someone who made me feel good in every way that was the antithesis to how I’d felt in my marriage. After a decade of feeling lost, with Gary I was finally home. To lose him was so devastating that I went into a serious depression.
After years of therapy and a protracted grieving process, I think I was still in love with him. But the pain was mostly behind me, and I felt I could date again. I dated a few men over the years, but never did my feelings approach those I had for Gary. I didn’t really expect to find someone else like him anyhow. That was fine by me; I couldn’t put my heart in jeopardy again.
But now it’s almost seven years after that breakup, and I’m well over Gary. A couple of months ago, I finally met someone special. Everything about him and the time we are spending together is wonderful. He’s smart, interesting, funny, and fun to be with. I’m finding myself falling again.
Naturally, I’m terrified.
Two problems are equal ingredients in the fear casserole in front of me. The first is that the sensations I’m feeling are too familiar. While this man is very different from Gary, the feelings I’m developing are very Gary-like. And it’s making me feel what I can only call post-traumatic-stress syndrome. Healed wounds seem to quiver behind the scars, ready to erupt again.
The other problem is the frightening parallel to the other situation: Mike is just months out of his long-term marriage. I now know a lot about being the first woman in a man’s life after a marriage ends. In the post-mortem that followed our breakup, Gary claimed that he was never in love with me, but that I was actually a rebound, that—despite our compatibilities—I had really just served as a lifesaver in the frightening sea in which he’d be set adrift.
But Mike is not Gary, and he’s not showing the reticence that Gary showed about being in a relationship. But he also recognizes that any feelings so soon after a breakup are suspect. He could be confusing need with love. Or desire. I’m hardly on solid ground.
Having found a rare pearl at such a risky time, what do I do? Do I run, screaming, as far from this dangerously familiar situation as my little legs will carry me? There’s a part of me that’s already lacing up the sneakers, ready to flee. I don’t think anyone who observed what I went through with Gary would blame me for doing so.
But, despite that crippling blow, I can’t bring myself to do it, to run from the thing with as much potential for pleasure as for pain. I’m like the punching clown who bounces back up just to be knocked down again. I guess I have too much optimism, or maybe I’m just too stupid, to stay down for the count.
So I hold onto myself to stop from shaking and start to wade so very carefully into this new relationship. Using the lessons from the past, I plan to go much more slowly and listen to all the words he is saying, not just the ones I want to hear. And I’ll try to defy gravity, to keep from falling for as long as I can.
Have you been afraid to step into a new relationship? Why? What happened? Tell me your story; I’ll edit and publish my favorites on Friday.