If this man were available and wanted you, just you, would you find him so stimulating?
It was when he wrote, "Please don't question how singular you are for me." Not to me — for me.
For all he doesn't know about you, never asked, never cared to, he knows you love words. He knows you'll parse this. For me. Like the feelings he has aren't just about you but are feelings that, for him, have never been experienced. That you, singular you, evoke them.
But it's a lie. And there's probably a synonymous set of five ways to say this same thing that he said to you to other women. Maybe they were once-in-a-lifetime for him, without parallel for him, matchless for him, unequaled for him. Eh, he probably used singular again. It's so lovely and uncommon, like you. (And her, and her...)
Maybe they didn't examine the words like you did. Do. But the words, they get you every time.
And then, they change. You don't hear from him for a while but you check for his words always. Then words arrive, a gentle hello, are we still friends. It moves to flirtation and banter and the imagining that the things he tells you — though they could only amount to snippets of his life since the time you last saw him — are special glances into his life and heart, that damaged heart he often seals off. But you're singular and here he is, sharing what must be singular musings with you.
You always wondered if you were just star-crossed. That, if not for your marriage and children, if not for circumstances, things would be different. If you'd only met earlier, you'd be together now, both of you happier than you come across at times to one another, when you're writing back and forth, revealing yourselves (or maybe just yourself), the fears and hopes you never talk about.
You know there are other women, plenty of them, sometimes even ones he calls girlfriends. Who knows what he calls the rest, how they're categorized... how you're categorized. But he has ways of telling you that you win the woman competition, hands-down. Once, those were his exact words.
At the very least, you should know better than to think true love comes at the end of a competition. Still, you remind yourself, it's not like he's hidden the fact that he's a player, or left unacknowledged his gallivanting lifestyle as part of who he is. Here and there, he's let you know it's something he hopes you can accept because, one day, maybe...
So you maintain the connection, even when it drains you. Even when you find yourself thinking about him first thing in the morning and you know he's not thinking of you. You spend time writing to him, believing if he could just see you he'd get it — get that you get him — and, what? Suddenly, he, the rolling stone, will be your rock?
You do love your husband, your life, but you imagine there's something special between you and him. Just let him sow his wild oats (that have to be getting mealy by now, at his age) and you'll raise your kids and then, you'll see.
You'll see, together. He often says that: "We'll see." About a lot of things: plans, schemes, travels, people, you. It's his mantra, his calling card.
And when he fades out of your life — the words changing again, coming less frequently, with excuses that he hates writing, that words never get "it" right anyway — you wonder if it was your fault. Did you ask for too much and push him away? Or maybe you were too boringly reasonable, by not getting angry when he lapsed into lazy communication, or none at all? (What right do you have to get angry, really, given your situation? You can't ask for much.)
It leaves you feeling like a dud among the other women, who must all be firecrackers. Sometimes you ask for reassurance, and he gives it, in different ways. You might be the best-suited woman he's ever met, by far, but his life is one of travel and impermanence and we'll see.
You try to stay impervious. Maybe then you could have him, just bits of him, and not let the situation gnaw on you. You wonder why he never asks how this carrying-on really affects you. Even when you hint at it, that it hurts, or leaves you anxious, he doesn't ask. He doesn't want to. He doesn't care.
You know, deep down, he enjoys your attention, enjoys that you work so hard to delight him with your words, the occasional photo, your eager replies and affection.
You remind yourself that it's not like he tricked you. Not exactly. And those things he said, well... he's a broken person like you and can't you just love him unconditionally? And then, you know, we'll see? (But could you really be the only woman believing herself to have some primacy in his heart? With all the time that passes with him out there and you right here, could you really be the only "we'll see"?)
What would he say if he were being entirely honest with you? Can he be? Maybe the honesty's not for him. But maybe be honest with yourself, sweet girl.
If this man were available and wanted you, just you, would you find his thoughts on foreign lands and the ways of people and his appetite for interesting foods so stimulating? Would you still crave his missives the way you do if they came much more frequently?
Would his compliments set you aflutter so easily if he were there to give them every day? Would you find his knowledge and understanding of literature and life so scintillating if it came from the mouth of someone average-looking? Someone whose body you didn't undress mentally whenever you thought of it?
And you'll say, no, it's more noble than that; he's not even as good-looking at he once was. He's aging, he's scarred and wrinkled and I still care. And care and care and care.
But, dear girl, he's found the secret to staying eternally beautiful and that is never being all-in. His attractions are in his absences, the desire he stirs resides in his being wantable, not haveable (or just haveable enough). He keeps in touch, just enough, makes you feel special, just enough, makes you think you understand him, just enough. Just enough to create hope. Hope can be a tyrant, sweetheart.
He rolls through town, and of course the sex is touring rock band one-night-engagement-only concert sex, pyrotechnic-laden and loud and vibrating your bones because it doesn't happen every day — except for him, maybe. And he's played the same set lists before, for other audiences.
“I love you, Ohio!” he practically says. And sure, he does at the moment, because you're all but cheering. Sometimes you wonder, is it even all that good, or is it just that he knows his crowd-pleasers?
And then you say, it's not just sex. It's a connection. But connections are easy when you only have a few pieces to put together. He shows you only so much, and you take those little trinkets and loop them around your neck.
You've got enough to fill a locket, but you think of it as a whole treasure chest. Because romance is in the lack, and the suffering, and the does-he-or-doesn't-he? And he stirs your love of it, and your belief in him, by presenting you with inklings and possibilities just long enough before he pulls away.
He stokes your suffering and creates drama by disappearing, then gets to be the hero of his own movie, just by stepping into the frame again. In that way, he'll stay screen-idol beautiful to you — and her, and her, and her — forever.
Once again, if he were a different kind of man, a kind man, saying the same things, and more, sharing the same ideas, and more, showing the same brokenness, but more, and also being fully available, and he offered himself to you, just you, do you think you'd be all in?
Would you want to be singular for that man, the one who wanted to be singular for you?
You shake your head and point to those times when he seemed to get you, and to want you to get him, and it was real, you think, and he meant everything, you think. Fine.
It's clear you can't be all the way honest about him, that you want to believe the best of him amid your obsessing and suffering.
But your truth is this, and please accept it: If he were all yours, you wouldn't feel this same way. Because infatuation has a time limit. You'd see that, if it weren't for all the "we'll see."
I won't tell you to love yourself first. I know you do, in ways. I know you don't just look to him because of your self-doubt or self-loathing, so don't let some therapized pop-psych advice tell you that you need to work on yourself first. I roll my eyes at the "love yourself first" thing. We all do. We all don't. Like real love, it fluctuates.
I'll tell you that the problem isn't you, or you loving you. The problem is where you're directing your energy and your thoughts. You're sure you feel these things in your heart, but you really have a thinking problem. You think the "we'll see" is better than what it would be.
Scoff, go ahead. Even as you write this, you're not convinced. So my last bid to you, you good-hearted, wishful woman: Maybe you do truly love — even without the face and the charm and the conversation and the heat — his worldliness, his compassion, or the hurt you see in him, the broken places you want to fill.
Maybe you admire his ideas and his thoughts and his intelligence and spirit and energy. But even if you do, you can find those things in other people, perhaps people already in front of you.
So don't look inward, don't try to love yourself. Look out of yourself, to others. To the husbands or lovers, the children, the parents, the friends, the new faces, all of whom contain plenty to love. Find his loveable qualities in others. Find them and love them in those who are more willing and able to receive the you that you are and the love that you give.
Love for real this time, not seeking the soaring highs and bottomless lows, and it will get better. You'll see.