We "met cute," or at least what passes for cute with me. It was a Friday in mid-April and I was in a room waiting for a meeting to begin when she walked in. She was the last person I expected to meet - not because of the fact that a nanosecond after extending my hand in greeting I was instantly smitten - no, because I had "stopped looking." It had been months since I had been out on a date, the last one not so much a spectacular crash and burn as an evening devoid of any chemistry or electricity led me to a long winter's hibernation and a blizzard of work to distract me from the idea that nearly three years after my ex-wife had moved out, that I would ever find love.
As she closed her hand in mine, I introduced myself, but instead of returning the courtesy, she said, "you know, someone from your office could have told me what this fucking meeting was about." I was hooked. I laughed, told her to give me her card and I would personally call her prior to any future engagements. We settled in with the larger group and I'm not going to lie, I placed myself in a spot where I could take a good look at her. She was opinionated, passionate and believed very much in her cause; I spoke once or twice, but was completely taken with her. A few hours later, in the spirit of dishing a little bit back to her, I called her at her office … something something about being a man of my word and making sure she had my contact information. We fell into a casual conversation that crept past 10 minutes, then 15, 20, and well past half an hour she was as smart as she was foul mouthed, sharp as she was sexy.
She told me she was meeting a friend for a drink and I should join them. She asked me to go outside my comfort zone (I'm introverted by nature and can be reluctant to just up and meet strangers). I was nervous, didn't know if she was dating someone, engaged, yell, maybe even married (though she wore no ring), but I took a chance, and said yes. Her friend peeled off after about an hour, the sparks between us were unmistakeable. We sat and talked for another four hours, the time just flew by. I felt as comfortable in her presence as if I had known her for years. I had woken up that morning not knowing she was a person that existed in the world and went to bed that night not believing the world could exist without her.
We were on the phone the next morning, that afternoon and had a dinner date the following night. Hours bled away as the details of our lives unfolded organically, naturally, like two people who just knew each other. That we ran in similar professional circles helped, we could relate to each other's work and laugh at the absurdities we saw every day, but also that we were independent types who did not suffer fools gladly and liked being the smartest people in the room. The attraction was intense and unthinking, something I had not experienced in a very very long time. Friends and family told us how happy we looked and sounded and were shocked that we had literally just met.
It was a magical time. The following weeks were a blur of hours-long phone calls, new experiences (Brooklyn bar on a Wednesday night? WHY NOT! Shad Fest in New Hope? I'M THERE!), nary an hour during the work day passed without a quick call, text message or meeting for lunch. It was like floating on air where your every thought is just consumed with happiness and good feeling. Hell, even the first time we had sex was jaw dropping - none of the awkwardness that all too often happens when two people first become intimate. The details started to get filled in too, as we learned each other's interests, I'd see something on the Internet I knew she would like, she told me she wanted me to give her a Twitter tutorial. We were boyfriend and girlfriend without having to "define the relationship" but it actually felt like the best of both worlds - a new romance that was passionate and intense but also had a level of familiarity and comfort that you would ordinarily associate with a long-term relationship. It just felt right.
Two weeks in, we went to New York to spend Mother's Day with her family (not a typo), a not insignificant step for me, but also for her, as she underscored that not only does she not just randomly bring guys she's dating around to meet her family, but that in doing so with me, she was saying something deeper about where she thought things were going. Wow. The day was great, her family noisy and loving, but not dysfunctional or spiteful (see, MY family). Things were moving fast and I won't say I didn't get scared a little bit along the way - after all, for almost 3 years I had been (largely) on my own, deeply wounded from the failure of my marriage and all the emotional carnage that went on inside it, the post-divorce spottiness of failed first and second dates and my own feeling of insecurity about a range of things from whether I was still a decent lay (answer: yes) to whether I was worthy of love (a deeper question not so easily answered).
And while I was nervous to expose these raw nerves, she never judged them. In fact, she was relentlessly positive and encouraged me to look at myself in a more healthy (and balanced) way. It bothered her that my default was to self-deprecate, to diss myself and devalue (fill in the blank) my professional achievements, sociability or my "goodness" as a person. Admittedly, much of that was internalized from years of being married to someone who told me I had little value and when I tried to explain this, I know it sounded defensive and raw. Maybe that scared her a little bit - in fact, I know it did. She worried that although far along from the smoldering ashes of my divorce, that I was not ready for a long-term relationship. I tried to assure her, through word and deed that not only had I learned important lessons, but pointed her to a line in a blogpost I wrote at the one-year anniversary of my ex's departure - that I promised to be a better person to the next person in my life. Indeed, it was through her support and encouragement that I did start to speak up for myself, particularly at work, where I had felt stagnant for a while but was able to jump start things by seeking out new assignments from supervisors. I wanted to show her that I was capable of working on "issues" in my life and I also burst with pride when I succeeded because of her help.
Memorial Day weekend we went "down the shore" and spent the day with her family and a larger group of her family's friends who get together every year at that time for a day long party. Another affirmative statement of the seriousness with which she viewed our relationship. I could not know it would be the last time we would see each other (at least on good speaking terms). The following day, she got called out of state on business for a week - I was totally supportive, offered to do what I could in her absence (check her mail, stop by her house, etc.) and we kept up our nightly calls while she was away.
When she came back … I don't know, she was different. She called me the afternoon she returned (a Saturday) and I offered to make her dinner. She had to take another call and then … around midnight she got around to sending a text message saying she had been pulled into work. We spoke the following day with another offer for dinner and she again demurred. We made plans for lunch on Wednesday. When Wednesday rolled around, she did not return a message I left until 12:30 claiming she lost track of time (we both had meetings at 2 so by 12:30 it would have been impossible to meet). I asked her what was going on. She was cagey, she sounded stressed and distant. The thing is, she had not been like this AT ALL until then. In fact, knowing she had been out of the office for a week, I kept trying to give her outs to NOT make plans, but she would make them and then totally ignore them. It was so out of character for her and it made me confused, not mad. She was always good about keeping in touch, in fact had told me early on that touching base for no other reason than making sure the other one wasn't lying in a heap at the bottom of the stairs was important to her ("help, I've fallen and I can't get up.") but now, almost out of nowhere, all that went out the window.
We talked briefly on Thursday, and then again on Friday from work. She had to go but told me, "I'll call you tonight." And that was it. She was a ghost. Never called, never returned a call, voice mail or the (humiliating) "so I guess we broke up" email I sent 10 days later after she went totally radio silent.
The sick feeling I have has lingered now for weeks - the endless rewinding of trying to understand where things went wrong, how I could have completely misread her, feeling deep shame because years of being married to an emotionally manipulative person made me default to the assumption that whatever bad thing happened had to be my fault because damaged people convinced me for a long time that was always the answer, not wanting to feel anger at having my emotions treated so callously, wondering how someone could be so .. soulless (?) as to lay bare their own feelings in such an honest and deep way and then pull them back entirely.
None of it made sense. How do you go from wanting to know someone else is not in a pile at the bottom of a flight of stairs to shutting them out completely? Not even saying goodbye? People date, things don't work out, you move on, but this was not a went-out-once-there-was-no-chemistry-so-you-just-dont-return-a-phone-call-or-text-message situation. I was left to wonder what was really going on and why this woman, whose FIRST WORDS TO ME were rather blunt, suddenly couldn't scare up the courage to just explain what happened, even if it was to pick up the phone for 2 minutes to say, whatever, "it's not you, it's me" "thanks for the memories" "good luck, asshole." My relationship history may be a bit spotty, but even *I* know enough to know that pulling this kind of disappearing act is wrong.
As I have unwound this experience, shared it with family and friends, they have been supportive - that I needed to understand that even if it was "me," a person does not treat another person so shabbily on the way out the door but more so, that it likely was not "me," but her. That the irony may be that it was her, and not me, who was unprepared for a serious relationship and that she simply got scared at how fast things were developing.
It has not lessened the heartbreak. I do not sleep well, or for long periods of time, my appetite disappears for days at a time, the last thought I have before I go to bed is about her and the first one I have the following morning is too. I think about how someone can go from intimate partner to total fucking stranger in the blink of an eye, can just walk away without an explanation and be okay with doing that to someone who they valued and cared for. I want to talk to her, not to confront her, but to understand her, because my better angel wants to give her the benefit of the doubt - that there is some GOOD reason for her disappearing act, and perhaps that is part of my failure of personal growth, because even if she did have a good reason, she still could have been a decent enough person to say goodbye (and I am told by mutual acquaintances there hasn't been a serious illness, death in the family or other reason for her to just drop off the face of the earth).
I'm also trying to look at the bright side (not an easy thing for me). I was a better person to the next person in my life even if she didn't end up being the same to me. It reminded me that I am not broken, I'm mending and I know this because were I truly broken, I would not have been so open to the possibility of being in a committed relationship, shared so much of my past that caused me to feel shame and embarrassment (and trusted her enough to know she wouldn't judge me for it), and been emotionally vulnerable in a way that I knew might end up hurting me in the end (but did because I wanted to be with her, even at the risk of having my heart broken.)
Ironically, we saw each other a few days ago - same meeting, same office, and she would not even make eye contact with me. I wanted to believe it was because she feels ashamed at how she has acted, but in moments of weakness, I took her behavior as a rejection of me, some failing I have that made me unworthy of her. And in her inscrutability I was left to wonder and ask "why?"