“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
When I was a child, I bought into the fairy tale – magic wand, golden coach and all. It’s what sustained me through elementary school when more than two boys separately started calling me the wicked witch, convincing me I must indeed bear a slight resemblance. Through quiet Steve Murphy passing me an unexpected love note during social studies in seventh grade, asking me to be his girlfriend. Only to find out from his friends in the hallway that it was all a joke, a dare, and that Steve didn’t want me to be his girlfriend after all.
I convinced myself that when I got older, I would turn from ugly duckling to swan, and that a real life Prince Charming would swoop in, marry me, and that would solve EVERYTHING.
Even when my parents’ unhappy marriage finally fell apart after 33 years, my father moving in down the block with the B-movie actress/vitamin entrepreneur he met while walking the dog, I was sure that my life would be different, that my future marriage would be as beautiful, solid and right as theirs was messy, mean, and wrong.
I was 25 when my parents separated, and newly sober. My track record with men at that point should not have been cause for optimism. My longest relationship to date was with my high school crush, Dan, who I hooked up with after college. He warned me from the start he wouldn’t fall in love with me, but I was so thrilled that he wanted to be with me anyway that I secretly plotted. I would be so wonderful, he’d have to love me.
Miraculously, it seemed to work. After a few months of dating, we moved in together and spent the next year smoking a lot of pot, traveling together to our first tropical island, laughing, making love.
There were warning signs, though. Once while walking out of a Denny’s on a road trip, he said, “Will you marry me?” I turned around shocked and said, “What?!” “Kidding,” he said. “I just wanted to know what it felt like to ask that question.”
When I was with him, we did all the couple things that made me feel safe, that made me feel loved. We double dated with his brother, went out to dinner with his Mom. We sat in bed together and watched TV. He held my hand and laughed at my jokes. And I adored him.
But when a job opportunity and a new life 3,000 miles away popped up on his radar screen, he didn’t even hesitate before taking it, and leaving me behind.
I met Fred a few weeks before I met him. Let me explain. Every year since I was 25, I attended a spiritual retreat for recovering addicts up in Pawling, New York. I felt more relaxed, more myself at this annual weekend retreat than I felt anywhere in the world. On Saturday nights, there was always a dance. Dressed in a midriff top, shorts and cowboy boots, I sashayed into the room and began dancing with the abandon of someone who knows she’s not going to wake up from a blackout the next morning and regret what she did the night before. I spied a group of gay men dancing together on one end of the dance floor, so I danced right up to them and paired off with the most exuberant dancer in the group.
Weeks later, I heard a guy I’d never seen in a meeting before talking about his pending divorce. He was so honest and his pain so palpable. And he was cute. So I asked a friend to introduce us.
On our first date, Fred mentioned our first meeting. “What first meeting?” I said. “We just met last Saturday night.” “No,” he said, “We met on that dance floor at Pawling.”
And two years later, in front of Pawling’s beautiful lake, we married.
But it would be a lie to say that he was my Prince Charming, or that our marriage has gone as beautifully as I’d planned.
For starters, he was in the middle of that nasty divorce when I met him, and was not eager to marry again. Early in our relationship, he told me he was unsure whether we would work out. “It’s like a job search and you’re just the first applicant.” Which at the time I thought was funny and charming and sweet.
We had a lot in common – we loved to dance, to explore New York City, we laughed at the same jokes and held the same convictions about the world. But early on he showed flashes of rage that frightened and cowed me. After a hellish first trip together camping in the wilds of Maine, I retreated back to my apartment in Brooklyn and was sure it was over.
Through fits and starts, though, we instead grew closer. He took care of me when a Strawberry’s dressing room door crashed down on me, breaking three of my toes. He bought me 10 thoughtful, beautiful gifts our first Christmas together. He held me when I fell apart after a particularly awful encounter with my father and his girlfriend. Time after time, he proved solid and unwavering. Unlike all the other men in my life, he made it clear that he loved me, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
And one day I woke up and realized, “This is the man I should marry.”
We had our first fight right after the ceremony, when I lost my temper with my sister who was edging out the photographer to try to take photos of her own. “Calm down,” he told me. But I was not calming down, and then turned my anger on him.
I’m not proud of that moment. Pledging my life and heart to this man before God and my loved ones, and then tearing into him the minute things weren’t going my way.
We’ve fought a lot in the last 20 years. Over stupid things we just can’t let go of, over huge differences where we can’t find our way to a middle ground. I want to say that the good outweighs the bad. Because there is so much that is good. But there are long stretches when it’s too close to call. And some days that makes me unbearably sad. I want the fairy tale I promised myself. I want to gaze lovingly every day at the person I have chosen and continue to choose to spend my life with. On the days I can’t do it, I feel defeated.
And then there are days like yesterday. When I go to his gym and he trains me, gently rotating my hips so that they’re in alignment, easing me into a tricky position on the foam roller. And then we simultaneously burst into dance when Enrique Iglesias’ Bailando comes over the loudspeakers.
Our marriage has always been a delicate dance both towards and away from each other. That probably won’t change.
But on the good days I remember how he swept me onto the dance floor at our wedding to the strains of Frank Sinatra’s “Love is Here to Stay” and how it melted away all my anger, as I moved in step with the man who was, who is, my safe harbor, my home.