I do what I can to stay present in the moments of my life. I meditate. I go to yoga. I use the tools I learned during the pseudo spiritual-bootcamp, The Hoffman Process, I attended in Napa, California.
To do this, however, I had to spend years working to understand the past, hoping that in doing so I might have some sort of future: a future in which I could claim my heart, love another deeply, and even have the guts to let him love me back.
My journey as a truth seeker first began 20 years ago. Frustrated, lonely and already broken just four weeks into my marriage, I sat slumped on the faded red and orange second-hand calico couch in Chicago, sucking down gulps of stale air as tears stained my 22 -year-old face. We had just returned from the decidedly NOT enchanting three-week honeymoon in France, and I had been watching episodes of General Hospital, One Life to Live, and All My Children while wearing just a flannel pajama top and sweat pants for what had seemed like days without end. A 30-second advertisement for Therapy Help Group kept blasting its emergency phone number during commercial breaks, the digits repeating incessantly and the numbers screaming at me like a rescue siren, shocking me out of the TV coma I had come to appreciate.
Recognizing that marriage may have been the biggest “oops” of my life to date and too ashamed to ask my parents for help, I desperately called the number, sniveling a pathetic request for a referral to the kind voice on the other end. Within minutes I had the phone number of a therapist on Clark Street. It was this therapist, Jan, who first set me on this path – this journey to excavate the murk that had settled in my heart, corroding my self-esteem and spirit.
Two months later Jan gently explained the 10 pounds I had gained since returning from Paris was atypical and that I had been hiding my hurt in boxes of Twinkies, endless bowls of sugared cereals, and bags of Chips Ahoy cookies. My new husband had left me alone consistently while he worked excessively to build his career. More desperate than ever, at Jan’s suggestion I went weeks later to my first Twelve Step meeting. Sitting in cold grey metal folding chairs, I spent 15 years in these meetings as I tried to understand why I wanted to fill the holes that tattered my frayed soul with food. And then, when the cravings and food obsession died, the hole was still there. It seemed that perhaps love might fill the void in my heart. Even though I had now been married for seven years, I still felt alone and terribly rejected.
Nevertheless, my search for hope continued as I reached out to therapists and fellow-12 steppers, rummaging around my past for the reasons why I continued to stay in the marriage even though my husband was an elusive rebel who fed me emotional crumbs. Yet I cherished these tiny morsels of affection and attention. Doled out sparingly, they were distributed haphazardly when it was convenient for him or would guarantee him something specific in return.
Despite my search, crumbs were comfort. They were all I knew. My husband and I had nearly split twice thus far, his lack of attention and workaholism twisting into failed deviant attempts to find fulfillment for both of us. Then–after 17 years, three children, and several near-misses that could have turned into disastrous affairs–it seemed that finally crumbs were not enough after all.
In 2004 I was divorced and had been unsuccessful at dating. I continued searching the images, events and memories of my childhood, looking for a reason behind my constant bad taste in men. My latest lover was skilled in the art of offering crumbs, doling out little pieces of attention or affection that always left me hungry for more. There was the romantic dinner, our tiny table for two nestled tightly near the cliffside in Malibu, wrapped in moonlight, waves crashing below, the twinkling lights make his blue eyes sparkle. Then, there was the trip up the California Coast, exploring side roads and small cafes on the way to celebrate my 40th birthday at a quaint spa in Morro Bay. Ultimately, though, all that was left were gestures: a well-timed hug, or offering to snuggle with me one Friday night instead of playing poker with his friends. These were the kinds of crumbs I took, pressing my finger to the plate, poking the plate earnestly, making sure I did not miss even one.
It remained difficult to exist in the present. I would wait, wondering what crumbs might come next. I began to believe that sex, good sex, would entice him to commit, to offer himself…to finally fill me. “Babe,” he would say, “I love you,” his face pressed into my neck as he rocked on top of me. I translated these words, selectively interpreting them, “One day, babe, I will bring you cake….” Despite my best efforts, the only consistency in this relationship was my loneliness and confusion, taking me further away from my heart’s true desire. One year later, this blue-eyed scamp cheated on me, having sex and a relationship with a blonde bimbo who was to Jeapordy what Vanna White was to Wheel of Fortune. I was “too old,” he said. “Too many children.” He left, taking the key he had given me to his house from its place on my keychain. The key to a house I had helped him furnish. Closets I had cleaned. Beds I had made. The home I had helped him make for his children. I sat crying as he turned to leave, the floral bedspread mussed beneath my bent, shaken sobs. Tissues littering the sheets, ripped pieces of shnarfeled toilet tissues hidden underneath the half-dozen decorative pillows that lined the king-sized bed. I was sickened, ashamed, shattered by my broken heart.
As I am a Gemini, an independent woman born in the Chinese year of the Horse, this traumatic event did one thing; it helped me become expert at putting feelings into compartments, In doing so I became stronger, fiercer in my convictions. I would build two boxes in my mind. The thick, brick walls would be painted either black or white, representing two kinds of men; each with one of two possibilities: “potential relationship” or “casual.” Each box was sound proof; I heard only words that helped me to decide in which box the newest man would stay. There would be no movement between the two. Using my boxes made me tough, a cavalier free-spirit. The cool girl. I knew what to expect. I could live with no strings attached.
I told a friend that living this way had become simple. I had now developed a quick intuitive sense regarding which him belonged where. I had fun, met interesting men and was able to exit relationships before they progressed too far. My life had become filled with friends, community and interesting dates. Occasionally, when I wanted to scratch the “itch” I would have amazing sex with quality, passionate able-bodied men with no expectations. Life was good. And as long as I stayed out of the bakery, I didn’t miss having cake. Didn’t miss love, being loved, or made to feel special by someone who cared. I didn’t miss intimacy, and the connection that lasted beyond the swell and fall of orgasm. After all, what man could compete with late night yoga, Tivo and Shredded Wheat for dinner. This made me happy. Cake was what lived beyond Saturday nights. And I didn’t miss it. Well, not too much.
That is, until I met The Brit. The Brit has that accent. His voice is low, textured. Raw, gravel. His wit makes me smile, sending butterflies darting backwards, forwards, moving arbitrarily from their place in the pit of my belly as he speaks my name. Or says, “come here.” His green-grey eyes reflect light like shards of glass, his bright spirit bouncing off them as he smiles. He lifts me up when he sees me, my toes weightless, his delight in seeing me making the nerve endings in my heart, my head, prickle.
Dating The Brit, I have ultimately landed smack dab, right in the middle of a damn good bakery. We have potential. We have magic, and we’ve had that conversation. The non-negotiables have been discussed, the important questions asked and answered: Does he want kids? Is he open to having a relationship? The Brit represents the potential for love and intimacy. And yet, while I know that I have wanted cake for as long as I can remember, the truth is I have been scared. I understand crumbs. I understand dieting. I understand starvation.
In my quest to date with dignity, however, I know I want more. I want cake. Frosting. Sprinkles. Pink rose petals. Candles. Celebration. Song.
And while I am not familiar with this part of the journey, pacing, and taking it slow, I have not succumbed to the ahhhh of instant gratification. Instead, I have enjoyed the fact that the Brit is giving me cake, one glorious piece at a time. I savored the sensation in my fingers when he first touched my hand, lying side by side at the beach, on what would be our first date. I cherished the amazement, the surprise I felt when he kissed me the first time by my car as we said goodbye. Not thinking about what would happen next, just celebrating in the bliss of a first sweet kiss. I began enjoying the process, sharing my heart, building trust, not rushing towards the destination.
There is a part of me that desperately wants to sleep with the Brit tonight, to wake up next to him without regret for having given too much, too soon. That said, I’ve learned that when it comes to dating with dignity, the most important piece is putting value on that what I truly want, and that this is possible if I stay in the now. Of waiting to have sex with The Brit. Of having faith in the possibility of what could be if we have that hot sex when the time is right; when we have established a connection filled with light, and perhaps even the possibility of love.
And so then, this becomes the ultimate ahhhhh. The understanding that in the power of saying “no” I can stay in the power of “now.”