Today marks my wedding anniversary to husband #2. Please don’t get me anything, as we’re divorced. While I don’t feel sad about the divorce that I initiated 7 years ago, this day does make me pause and reflect.
I’m a recovering serial monogamist. Beginning at age 15 and lasting to age 40, I always had a guy by my side. A tomboy child, I’d always been more at home around men. Men were more humorous and patient with me than women. More fun. Men didn’t harangue me or scold me. They didn’t order me to brush my teeth. They wanted to laugh and throw a ball around. I liked that.
British philosopher Alain de Botton says that when it comes to romantic relationships, we seek to recreate the suffering we incurred by our parents in early childhood. So…
Right after I was born, Mom returned to her job at Capitol Records and left me in the care of my brooding, New York-Italian musician father. While Mom toiled away in that great cylinder at the corner of Hollywood and Vine, Dad kept one eye on me and the other on the football game on TV, while sucking down cigarettes and bottles of beer. If I shrieked loud enough he’d even feed me or change my diaper. My mother’s tea-totalling, middle-class parents would drop by now and again and be appalled at the scene. Grandfather would get so mad at Dad, visits sometimes ended in angry words and blows.
By my freshman year in high school, my parents had sobered up and were working in real estate. We lived in a 4-bedroom house a mile from the beach in Orange County, California. At school one day, I spied a cute boy. He was dark and brooding. A friend of mine was friends with his sister and they colluded to set us up. Soon enough, I had my 1st boyfriend, a New York-born Jew who was several years older than me. I’d just turned 15.
Everything was going along sweetly. He bought me records by the Beatles and U2. We would eat lunch together at school. But one afternoon, he tried to push me too far, too fast. He jammed his tongue in my mouth, ran his hands over my chest. This made me nervous. I wriggled away from him and his house and made my way home. I didn’t want to be around him anymore. I bravely ducked and dodged him at school. We were through, after only a 3-month courtship. I’d broken my 1st heart.
But the romantic fuse had been lit. I wanted to try again.
And try again, I would. Never dating, per se. Rarely “hooking up.” Strangely, I mostly only had actual relationships. One boyfriend after another, each relationship lasting on average from 6 months to 2 years, with the exception of 2 marriages, each of those lasting about 5 years apiece. 96% of the time, in all my romantic relationships, I’ve been the breaker-upper.
After divorce #2 ended, I decided to take a break from romance, to take stock and try to figure out where I was going wrong. It was clear there was a pattern. A cycle. What lay at the root of it?
I looked back and was appalled at what I saw. A trail of broken hearts. Perfectly great men, tossed aside like yesterday’s moldering take-out. Kind, thoughtful, funny, accomplished men – professors and poets; lawyers, musicians, businessmen and journalists, etc. Why had I discarded them?
For the 1st 2 years after my 2nd divorce, I didn’t date at all. I traveled, made mosaics, took pictures and drank too much cheap wine.
It took a dinner offer from a best-selling author to drive me out of hiding. We went on 2 dates. If I’d tried harder, I probably could have parlayed it into more but it didn’t take a British philosopher to see that he and I were both in rather messed-up headspaces at the time and really had no business being in the dating scene. But humans get lonely…
I’ve half-heartedly dated a handful of men since. But I’ve been plagued with the worry that if I got into a relationship, I’d simply flee when the going got rough, as I’ve always done. I never want to break another heart again if I can help it. I’m much more interested in healing them these days.
It’s been a revelation, though, to realize that I can exist without a man by my side. That I can have joyful moments. That I can travel and enjoy a sunset or a movie without a partner by my side and not feel lonely. I hadn’t realized.
I grew up longing for a soulmate. Somewhere, out there, he must exist, I told myself. Someone whose values and tastes aligned perfectly with mine. Someone familiar yet exotic enough to keep me intrigued. It took decades to realize that this is only a lovely fantasy, that humans are unpredictable; fickle, changeable and, let’s face it, more than a little insane. Seems to me it’s best to appreciate them in the moment, take them as they come, day-by-day and realize that if you want them in your life, there will be storms to weather. I’d always thought of the storms as being bad, a sign the end was near, that we weren’t really suited for each other. But just as a forest needs an occasional fire to weed out the dead brush and help release tree’s seeds, storms can strengthen, rather than simply destroy. But what do I know.