Allow me to confess that I was not in any state to complete any of the four pieces I started when I ran up against the deadline for this column. This was the best of the fragments I had to work with—it may be imperfect, but you should see the others. I blame whoever kept pouring the wine on Saturday night…
When I met Mike earlier this year, I told my insightful friend Eddie about the new relationship. I was falling for Mike, but I was concerned about how recently his marriage had ended. Eddie knows my history—how I’d been in a similar situation, how he’d cautioned me that time to be careful, and how I’d been badly burned when I wasn’t (scorched was more like it). So when I told him about this guy and my concerns about the newness of his divorce, Eddie wrote:
All the more reason to not be too involved, not have expectations. You of all people should know this, as you’ve seen what happens when people get out of one and start another without dealing with their issues.
Logically, I knew he was right, and the exotic yet somewhat predictable ending of that relationship bore him out. (Mike went back to his ex-wife.) But I had one problem with Eddie’s excellent advice: I had no idea how to do what he was recommending: stop myself from falling in love.
I don’t fall in love often. I think I only experienced true love (whatever that is) after my marriage ended. Because with age, maturity, and experience have come a better understanding of myself and what makes me happy. But both times I found what I was looking for after my divorce, the warning bells weren’t just ringing, they were rendering me deaf. Think Quasimodo next to that seven-ton bell at Notre Dame.
Despite the alarms and my otherwise sensible nature, I fell. And it’s not as if I was alone in this stupidity; the men fell for me as well, even when they could state explicitly that they didn’t want to. The first one—Gary—even came up with a strange phrase for what he was actually looking for when he instead met me: light dating, which he couldn’t quite define but I am pretty sure involved sex and no commitment. But he fell in love with me, for a while at least. (That’s another unfathomable: how do you fall in and out of love with someone over seven months when the conditions haven’t changed? I nearly made myself crazy trying to figure that one out.)
I didn’t use any restraint with Gary, but I made a conscious effort to hold back with Mike. That effort was mutual; Mike was even more cautious than I was. For example, when he was away on business, I told him I missed him. He very reluctantly confessed that he missed me too. But he really didn’t want to acknowledge his feelings for me. “I’m falling for you,” he eventually admitted, with the tragic tone of someone confiding he had been diagnosed with an incurable disease.
The resistance on both of our parts was almost measurable, like something you could plug into a formula to explain the effect of wind resistance on a falling object. But the force of emotion, like gravity, was something neither of us could fight. The feather and the bowling ball in the vacuum will always hit the ground at the same time. For me, the loss of this battle with my emotions manifested itself in tortured sentences I didn’t mean to say: “Don’t freak out,” I told him, “but I think I’m in love with you.” (I tried to convince myself I had couched this sufficiently when I was ready to shoot myself the next day.)
The relationship ended badly, as any gambler would have wagered. But I still don’t know what I could have done to prevent that. Perhaps I could have pulled out when it was clear I was seeing someone who wasn’t really ready for a relationship (though that wasn’t as clear with Mike as it was with Gary). That might have prevented the severity of my wounds, but it wouldn’t have addressed the fundamental issue: that I don’t know even know where the brakes are when it comes to emotion, much less how to apply them.
Despite everything I know, I feel fairly certain that I would fail if given the same exam a third time.
I took an interpersonal communications course in college in which we learned about the wrongness of the expression, “Don’t feel that way.” Because stopping a feeling is nearly impossible, for me at least. So I guess the best advice I can hope to adhere to is, “Don’t act that way.” Easier said than done, to be sure, but at least that’s in the realm of possibility.