He even led me to believe that. I think he was drunk in a bar in Colorado, but I didn’t want to see any details other than what he said.
“I miss you. I want you. I love you.”
“Yes. Can I come to you?”
He was riding his bike across the country and would finish the nationwide ride in Washington. He’d stay with me. I’d drive him and his bike to the train to return to his parents’ home. He’d quit Wall Street. He wanted to teach, a career that “mattered.” Were we finally speaking the same language?
When I saw him on the night he arrived, it was as if no time had passed. John wasn’t tall, maybe five-foot-six, and skinny with thick brown hair. His voice was husky and deep, and tickled my ears when he spoke. His hands were thick-fingered and solid.
The night consumed us with the memory of passion, one field on which we were level. In the morning, I awoke feeling like finally, we have a chance at real love, finally we can be together, finally my life will look like those cliche 80s movies of burnt-out searchers looking for their purpose.
But no. It took only a shadow over breakfast on a brilliantly sunny day to see that nothing had changed. I was no closer than I ever had been.
I dropped John and his bike at the train station and felt that emptiness of being lonely somewhere behind my rib cage. He would always be further than I could reach. We would never inhabit each other’s hearts.
It was two years later when we met in West Michigan, still holding on to hope, neither of us getting any closer. We hadn’t spoken much, but he never left the corners of my mind.
But that desperate Midwest drive showed me that the door was shutting for a final time. I knew more of who I was, had laid out the groundwork for the life I wanted to build. John was still searching. He worked in a bike shop in Chicago, wondering where he was meant to be. I owned a home in a suburb of Detroit and was inching toward a more religious I life.
We said goodbye and meant it.
Loving someone you can never have is like poisoning yourself. It’s somewhat suicidal. The only reason I kept hoping for a different outcome was because I didn’t believe I deserved any better.
It took years of soul-searching, therapy and learning from mistakes before I realized who I am, and only then could I find the right person to share my life with.
Shortly after my last meeting with John, I met my first husband. We were better suited than John and I, but obviously not perfectly matched. I was getting closer. It was only when that marriage ended after eight years, and I finally dared to be alone and enjoy my own company, that I became the person who can love fully and completely.
A few weeks after my divorce was final, I spent a week alone in Oregon. It was one of the best weeks of my life.
As I hiked along the rows of a Willamette Valley vineyard, climbed the treacherous switchbacking trails of Dog Mountain, celebrated my 37th birthday over foie gras and red wine at a table for one, I finally realized what it takes to find true love: A love of self and no fear in being alone. A sense of completion before anyone else comes to the table.
And the belief that not just anyone is capable of loving well, fully and forever.