“Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.” – Joseph Addison
Love. I need to talk about love, an integral element in Joseph Addison’s triumvirate. But I need to talk about a particular, certain kind of love.
I’ve never been politically correct, so I’ll just say it. Romantic love. I mean, who doesn’t want it?
And with that, I will now put my neck out on the chopping block right under the swing of the axe… Can we not all confess romantic love is something we all yearn for, minus the accompanying diatribes and buts we single people feel compelled to proclaim whilst beating our chests, right before we sit down to dinner for… one?
Here are some… Sure, love is grand but I don’t need it to be happy. Yah, yah, love is great, but life is full without it. Okay, so love is fun, but where is the romance on the grit-your-teeth and bite-your-tongue if you have to hear that story one more time days. Yes being in love is fabulous, but it’s SO much work.
Sure, the buts and clichés can all be true, but hopefully in an on and off kind of way. And if or when love doesn’t work anymore and after the pain and hurt fade, who wouldn’t take a chance at another go at it?
We’re hard-wired for love, whether we think we want it, need it or are up for all the work to come post the lovely butterflies.
Life is absolutely a fabulous phenomenon. What could be better than going through it with a buddy alongside for the long haul, that you happen to be in love with?
I am in my University of Waterloo office, and my friend Lucy is sitting across the desk from me. She’s relaxed, practically one with the chair, while I am antsy, flicking my gaze from her face to the window to my computer screen and back to her face again.
Why? Well, I am 44, while Lucy is 50, and she is freshly in love. What I’m talking is seriously in love—the “about to sail off into the wild blue yonder with her white knight” kind of in love.
Lucy, single far fewer years than me, has the whole love thing worked out, lock, stock, with a lazy smokin’ barrel or two afterwards.
And I’m stupefied. Sure, she doesn’t have kids of her own, making romance slightly easier. Plus she did have a mostly, happy twenty-year marriage already, proof that although that marriage hadn’t worked out, she had what it took to do marriage.
Me? Sheesh. My husband and I split up when I was 34, after I’d had three sons and barely eight years in.
This rapidly developing love chapter of Lucy’s vaulted her from run-of-the-mill divorced girlfriend into supreme-being of iconic status. And what I want to know is how she’s achieved love so effortlessly, post divorce and in her 50s, for Goddess sake.
“Love is always complicated and…” she begins to explain in her soft, gentle, in-love voice.
Argh! Heard that a million times before. Hell, I’m pretty sure I’ve said it a million times before. So I cut her off, practically baring my teeth.
“Yah, Lucy, like I don’t know that already,” I growl, wanting more than the classic go-to story, particularly with this new partner of her’s mind.
You see, he’d arrived complicated. Thrice divorced with three adult-children, contemplating a mid-life revolution that included sailing across the Atlantic to Europe, with thoughts that if he survived he might go back to school and start over, and all while in his 50s no less!
“Run! Run away! Run far and run fast Lucy!” my inside voice had screamed when she first told me about him. And when I realized she was still intending to go for love, the quintessential and cynical inside snort followed… “As if this’ll last.”
So much for instinct.
Here she was telling me they were due to set upon a year-long adventure to sail across the ocean. And get this, the mathematical odds were heavily in favour that she would DIE on the voyage, yet she was STILL going. Marauding pirates, inclement weather, or merely the logistics of being in the middle of the sea if or when disaster struck, any number of factors might reasonably do them in.
I really didn’t get it.
“I’ve thought a lot about my life. And though I don’t want to die, I had to make my peace, with my death. And I know that, if or when it happens, we’re together,” she explains.
And there it is. Queue the shining armour and brilliant rainbow sunset. Lucy has the got your back, risk your life for each other, together forever sort of love. Hell, I was falling half in love with her myself as she told me about their commitment.
“At this age, Karalee, when you fall in love you it’s like you each bring an entire continent. Fitting together takes a different kind of adjustment. Yah, it can stir up a tsunami, but it doesn’t have to.”
After Lucy left my office, my own 2-year relationship drifts into my mind. And then I turn to my computer to distract myself with something far more important.
Five years later, I marry a tsunami.
The year before I left Waterloo for Halifax, I ran into Lucy at a writer’s conference. Ten years post our conversation, and yup, she’d survived the sailing trip, and yup, she was still in love.
“What about you?” she asked. She’d heard things, which I confirmed, and she commented that my eyes looked very sad.
Course. I was very sad, in recovery from marital break up, albeit from marriage number two, and still in the same confused state I was in a decade ago.
Talk about Groundhog Day.
How could it be that I had I not learned a thing from my first divorce or the one that followed?
Groundhog day. Geez, that movie has been a favourite since the first time I saw it. Can’t remember how many redos Bill Murray had before he recognized the behavioural patterns that kept resetting his day to try-it-again.
Resetting mine took two divorces.
In spite of this, I’ve always believed in love. Jaded and cynical never did suit me, and neither did archetypal broad-brush strokes that the male gender is fatally flawed or that lifetime unity in love is impossible simply because, thus far, it had been impossible for me.
Faith and hope. I’ve always had those, plus, I got me Groundhog Bill.
So, three years ago, I vowed no to romantic love, until I recognized and dismantled my own Groundhog Day patterns.
Year one. Blame the ex. Year two. Blame me.
Easy, familiar tropes and handy-dandy diversions from the real task. Sheesh! That job required digging through fifty years of living. And duh! of course I wanted to delay that as long as possible.
Two years of blame-game behind me, I moved on to binge-watching (6 seasons of ‘Sex in the City’) re-reading (scores of of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ type books) and innumerable ‘how do you do love’ inquisitions (a la Lucy).
In other words, I focused on anything but what I needed to do.
I visited Alcatraz about twenty years ago when I was on a business trip. During my tour of the prison, I learned of the infamous inmates who’d painstakingly chiseled out an escape route, using spoons and forks. Two of them got away.
To escape my own prison, what I really was waiting for was a Monopoly get out of jail FREE card. Didn’t seem to be coming in the mail anytime soon. And in lieu of it, I knew if I could pick between escaping Alcatraz like those two inmates or the slog ahead to change my patterns, I’d take the spoon and fork.
The move to Halifax was the game-changer.
Without a job or friends, I had nothing but time and no excuses. A 500 square foot cave required little maintenance, and after binging on Netflix through one too many seasons of Friends, I admitted I was solving nothing. So down the rabbit hole I dove.
Instead of Netflix, I wrote. And instead of quizzing others, I got down and dirty in my own junk, putting all the love I’d ever and never experienced under the microscope, particularly the problematic root stuff of the familial sort… mommy, daddy, siblings.
I’ll cut to the chase. I’d had just enough to get by though not enough to soar, and I’d definitely not been witness to enough healthy examples of romantic love to equip me particularly well for the long haul.
Romantically, I’d had two husband, the first probably recoverable had we both the necessary emotional tools, but we didn’t, which lead to my tsunami husband. But I had a but that gave me hope. I’d managed to experience two great loves in my life, each movie and book worthy, though I didn’t marry either.
The pattern simplified was that I had a propensity to choose the wrong man at the right time, and the right man at the wrong time. In each scenario, the rights and wrongs cancelled each other out, and the outcome at the age of 55 had equated to double divorce recovery and double right guy love pining.
In this I found my Eureka(!). The answer was my favourite kind, mathematical. If I were to venture into romance, I must go at it differently, lining up two rights, something I’d yet to accomplish. Right man + Right time.
And maybe it was just plain greedy to expect another great love some day, but just in case, I planned to be ready. So I channeled Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. What I needed to do now to do was wake up in the morning with this new equation in mind and see what might happen.
Naturally, while I was busy figuring this out, didn’t a candidate for my new equation walk into my life.
I’d made no secret to him that my year in Halifax did not include romance. So, we began as and remained friends throughout fall and into the winter. And then, that darn first kiss happened, followed by a second kiss. That changed everything.
And then what?
Well, this man was kind and good, smart and interesting, solid and stable, plus fun. I gave it a good think. Yes, romance was not something I had planned nor been looking for, but maybe, I might be ready.
Before moving forward, however, I decided to run the numbers. Pulling out my hand-written ‘right man’ checklist, I made mental ticks—yup, yup, yup. The yups added up quickly, and in no time, there were enough to discount a teeny, tiny little concern regarding the ‘right time’ tick. I penciled it in for the time being.
And off I went into romance, until my concern became niggle which then became too obvious to ignore. The math didn’t add up. Right guy + Wrong time = Zero sum game.
Look, Bill didn’t get it right that first morning, or the second, or the third. But eventually, he got it right. And I would too.
So I called the romance.
A few weeks ago, I had a date. It began with an email from my friend Donna.
Donna: question… do you have a boyfriend?”
Me: answer… no, I don’t a boyfriend?”
From this exchange arrived my first, totally official man-asking-me-out and me-willing-to -give-it-a-try bona fide date.
We met for dinner down at The Gahan House, a restaurant down at the waterfront. I walked down to meet him. I was hungry, so I ate a lot… two desserts, but they were small, and he found my appetite amusing.
As we chatted, I learned he was nice and seemed a good human being. Plus, he was financially responsible, attractive, physically active, had a loving family and lots hobbies. He was also quite candid that he was interested and ready for a committed, loving relationship, with the right woman. He liked my red cowboy boots too.
Easily, I could check off tons of ‘right man’ boxes, including right time this time, for him anyway. On my end, though, it wasn’t long into our evening before I realized I probably had some finishing off to do in my head on the last failed equation, before I could embark upon a new one.
As the lady once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” (Thank you Maya Angelou.)
So I explained to my date I was happy to be friends, and though he offered, I declined a lift home. I wanted to walk. It was a gorgeous night to enjoy in my own company.
The next week, I set that date up with a friend, employing a ‘what goes around comes around’ spirit. Maybe he wasn’t for me, but maybe meeting him was not about me at all and everything to do with connecting him to someone else.
Bill Murray? You need to know I get it. I’ve successfully completed my Groundhog Day training.
Lucy? Yes, love doesn’t have to be a tsunami, and I know how to avoid them in the future.
Joseph Addison and your triumvirate? I agree. What’s not to say love of life, and sons and family and friends and writing can’t keep it all going on for me for the long haul?
And romantic love? Right man + Right time. I’m not waiting for it, but if the math works, I’ll be ready.