For the longest time, I thought true love was a lot like Bigfoot. Both were legendary rumors that generated lots of public interest, but when you get right down to it, there was very little evidence that either existed. It’s not like I hadn’t been in love by the time I hit midlife. I was married for 13 years, after all. There was certainly love there, but clearly, it changed somewhere along the line. So the idea of everlasting love remained as legendary as a Sasquatch to me.
And then, She entered my life during those stressful early days of my separation and divorce. It was a time when I was working on this nifty magic trick where I could make a bottle of Bushmills disappear, and I’m not sure that I’d have gotten through those incredibly difficult times if it hadn’t been for Her willingness to take three-hour long phone calls at 11 p.m. And Her sense of humor. When you meet someone who knows you’re lonely so she sends you a package with a note offering to let you hang out with her “peeps,” and inside said package is a box of those disgusting Easter candies with the same name, you know you’ve found someone pretty amazing.
As my separation rolled along, She and I spent more and more time together. That left me feeling better and better until eventually, the most incredible thing happened. It was like spotting Bigfoot at a wine bar sipping Chardonnay with a couple space aliens, and Elvis is their waiter. As unbelievable as it seemed, there was love, right in front of me. And not simply love like “I love eating Cap’n Crunch while watching SportsCenter every night.” This was the sort of thing you hear about in every Sinatra song and see in Julia Roberts movies. It was that deep, soulful connection where you know you want this person in your life no matter what role he/she will play. Could be romantic. Could just be friends. Whatever it is, you just feel better when he or she is in the room.
And for a few weeks there, even in the midst of dealing with divorce and lawyers and kids and enough sadness and guilt to fill a month of Dr. Phil episodes, life couldn’t have been better. Despite all the warnings I’d heard about rebound relationships and getting romantically entangled with a woman who is your best friend, it happened anyway. I’ve never been much for illicit drug use – with my bad sinuses and weak stomach and fear of needles, there’s not a lot out there for me – but I imagine the way I felt with her was the equivalent of any joint, pill or injection.
But, as is also the case with drugs, love can lead to addiction. And when somebody cuts off the supply, as She eventually did by ending the romance, withdrawal can become a very ugly thing. As evidenced by my collection of empty Bushmills bottles and nightly viewings of When Harry Met Sally, to the point where I was doing scenes by heart. Still, she meant the world to me, and we eventually found our own comfortable little corner in The Friend Zone. Which was fine, but I confess I was still yearning for those old days when we had something more.
Which is why I made a decision that seemed like a good one at the time, but in hindsight was pretty much the New Coke of relationship ideas. I sent her an email that described my ongoing feelings and how they hadn’t changed in all this time. Her response was very short and to the point….get over it and move on. A totally understandable reaction, but one that I’m still trying to figure out because, well, I can’t seem to accomplish either of those things.
I blame a lot of that inability to move on to my age. When you hit your 50s, you’ve got more past behind you than future ahead of you. So why not dwell on where you used to be, since there’s plenty of it to wrap yourself in? Besides, thanks to whatever wisdom my advancing age has given me, I am able to look back and appreciate what was truly meaningful and what wasn’t. This particular relationship was supremely important – life changing, really – so accepting that it has changed is like admitting a significant portion of my life has died.
I like to think what I’m showing here is devotion and caring, not weakness and ignorance. I figure it’s a disservice to it to simply get over something so deep and move away from it as if it never happened. Just because you move on to "Die Hard 4" doesn’t mean you forget how much you enjoyed "Die Hard 2." There has to be some memorial to how important that love was, and continues to be, to me. People who die get tombstones. Shouldn’t relationships that die at least get some kind of mental memorial? Erasing the memory of a wonderful thing is to deny that it existed and if you do that, there’s very little point to ever getting involved with anyone.
I know how this is supposed to work. You’re supposed to enjoy your time with others until that time ends, then you mourn, drink a little, weep over a few romantic comedies and move on. I may be sentimental to a fault, but I’m not naïve. Relationships aren’t meant to last forever. You learn that lesson very quickly when you divorce in middle age. And as She has told me several times, the best way to move on is just to find somebody else. Which sounds fine in theory, but it’s usually spoken by the person who has already moved on and found somebody else.
If you think settling that whole chicken-and-egg thing is tough, just try figuring out which comes first: getting over somebody and starting a new relationship or starting a new relationship so you can get over somebody. I’m the wrong one to ask, since I’ve had trouble doing either. I suppose it makes the most sense to make sure you’ve totally moved on from being cut loose first. Otherwise, you’ll either a) be so obsessed with loss that you won’t even be looking to start again or b) be so obsessed by loss that you become one of those people who tells your new significant other all about your past significant other, thus ensuring another breakup very soon. And thus, the cycle continues.
Lord knows I’ve tried it both ways. I’ve patiently tried to sift through the wreckage of that last relationship, hoping I’d eventually see it as no big deal. And in that moment, the heavens would open up and dozens of single 40+ women would be at my doorstep. I’ve also tried jumping into something new with someone else, and that lasted all of about 6 weeks before I got her text (and why is it always texting news these days, instead of actually speaking?) saying that it wasn’t me, it was her, and this just wasn’t going to work out. So, it seems I traded getting over the rocky end of one relationship for having to now get over the rocky end of another.
In the midst of all this, I sat down at the computer yesterday and noticed that my son (who better not be reading this, or I’m in big trouble) forgot to log out of his Facebook page. I could see an exchange he had been having with a girl from school that he really liked. She sent a message to him saying he was a very nice guy, but he had to stop liking her because she would no longer be reciprocating. I felt bad for him, but oddly, his misfortune has sort of become my release.
He may never ask for my advice on how to deal with the end of his first big crush, but I’ve worked out the talk I’d have with him just in case. There would be the usual stuff that everyone has already told me – there are other fish in the sea, take the good parts of your time with that person and carry them forward, accept loss as a way of welcoming something new into your universe. Seeing as how I hate that my inability to get over my big crush has left me feeling I’ve lost control of my life, I need him to see this as an opportunity to take control of his at an early age.
Nobody wants to be like that old joke: “How do you keep a (fill in ethnic stereotype or blonde here) busy?” “Write ‘Please Turn Over’ on both sides of a piece of paper.” By playing a past relationship over and over in your head, you’re doing the same thing: standing still while life passes you by. It’s never too early to take control of that situation, and I’m hoping for my sake it’s never too late either. If I’m ever going to experience a big love again, I better come up with something that’ll help me get over the last one.
Craig Tomashoff is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He was most recently Executive Editor of TV Guide Magazine, and has also worked as Associate Bureau Chief for People Magazine. In addition, he has written for publications including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Emmy Magazine and Family Circle. He has also worked as a television writer/producer for such series as The Martin Short Show, The Late Show With Craig Kilborn and VH1’s Behind the Music.