I had a telephone conversation with an ex of an ex (no, not that one) yesterday that felt like one of those pivotal times where things get clearer in a deeper way than usual. I told her things I should have told her years ago, but didn’t feel appropriate to say at the time. How do you tell someone in love that their significant other is a bit of a douchebag? I knew she had heard stories of how horrible I was, and rather than refute them, when we would all hang out I just let her say things like, “Well, we all know you were no angel, either!” Which was absolutely true, and which I accepted. For once in my life I didn’t feel the need to justify myself. I was well out of being in love with him or even having strong emotions about the past anymore, except to care about him as a friend and genuinely want the two of them to be happy.
The ex and I compared notes over the phone and of course they turned out quite similar. And awful. And I gave her my support and friendship and it felt nice to know that the truth of who I was and what I dealt with with all those years ago was able to rise to the top finally, and that women can forge friendships regardless of how they are pitted against each other. I felt redeemed a bit, because even when I know things that are said about me aren’t completely true, I’m still insecure enough to believe that maybe deep down they are.
Then I had dinner with another friend and told her about the conversation and gave her the dirt and we marveled at how some men seem to teach the same lesson to various women over and over again, without ever changing tack or appearing to learn anything themselves. And she asked me if I had regrets and I said, yes. I am grateful for the lessons because without them I would not have made it to where I am now. But I regret very much spending so much time suffering over the bullshit when I should have just been enjoying my youth. And she said, “Eh. If it wasn’t him it would have been someone else. At least he looked really good.” Ha! She was right. The lessons are going to come from one source or another.
So years later and well into yet another dramatic and painful relationship, I made a list of qualities that I wanted in a person. Time went by and I forgot about the list and I made up my mind that it would be so much more respectable to just be alone, and embrace being single for real instead of treating it like time in a waiting room. There are some great things about being on your own and many of us, myself included, forget to enjoy them when we’re single because we’re so focused on feeling like something is missing. In the movie in my head I was alone with a mission, unattainable, content–Ava Gardner sitting at the bar looking beautiful and laughing quietly at the men who tried. But of course I have never been that dignified.
I had a dream shortly after writing that list and in the throes of suffering. In the dream I was in Amsterdam and a nameless, almost faceless person stood next to me. I knew the Universe was telling me that there was a person somewhere on the planet for me. I woke up the next day feeling comforted and my current boyfriend eyed me suspiciously as I hummed and ignored him happily while wondering if I should take a trip to Europe.
Last night Drew ran out of a bar to catch up with me to tell me one more time that he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me. He put me in a cab and as I rode home I remember walking on First Avenue in the cold of winter towards the first man I mentioned, all those years ago, and with great sadness. Because for all the Dr. Zhivago undertones of the moment, I knew it was doomed.
And here it was so many years later, on a warm night and with my love–the person who has every quality on that list, who has never let me down, and who even looks really good. Everything felt connected, the phone call, the dinner, the moment on the street. It makes all the shit I’ve been through seem like nothing.
I often think about that line in American Beauty when Lester Burnham says “Then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life…” I know exactly what he means. Sometimes life makes better plans for us than we can make ourselves. We just need to get out of our own way a little bit.