Something rather cool happened last week. Dare I say, even, that it was exciting and, in some ways, a dream come true? Yes, yes, I think I do dare. You see, last week, I went on a date. And, no, not with my husband- with a man I've been infatuated with for fifteen years. Yup, a date with a man who wasn't my husband. When I called my mother to tell her I was going on a date, she very quickly corrected me to say "Not a date, you are meeting a friend." To which I responded, Well, call it whatever you have to to keep my marriage intact, but, based on the the immense amount of time I spent standing in front of my closet trying to decide what to wear, the even greater time I put into my hair and makeup, the nervous giggles I got when I thought about seeing my friend-- and the fact that it was a boy (well, I guess a Man now), I'm going to call it a date.
Even my husband thought it was a date. As he sat on the couch watching me put on my make-up he was extremely helpful. Yes, you look as good as you did in college. (The fact that he didn't know me in college is beside the point.) No, you don't look like you've gotten old. Yes, ***sigh*** he'll think you're pretty.
At one point I realized how silly I was sounding and, in a somewhat inappropriate attempt at humor I asked JMahl if "this is what it would be like if we had an open marriage?" He responded by asking me if I was wearing my sexy underwear. I'll keep the answer to that one between us, but I did advise him that since I had not shaved my legs, it was obviously just a fashion choice, nothing more. I'm not sure that settled him, since I seldom wear sexy underwear (or shave my legs) for him, but he's a good man and he told me I was beautiful and to have a good time, before sending me out the door.
The impetus for all this nervousness and attempted sex appeal was a sudden, random aligning of schedules, times and countries which opened up the door for me to see an old college friend for the first time in almost fifteen years. To put my cards completely on the table (as my husband required me to do), yes, there *was* maybe some *mild* interest on my part of some non-friendship nature back then, but that was fifteen years ago and college was a different time and yada-yada. My husband then reminded me that his question hadn't been about interest, but had been about, well, something more. I was very honest with my husband, and I don't feel it's as necessary to be honest here, but suffice it to say "Maybe a little, but NO, not THAT... or THat... or That.. Ew. Gross! I haven't even done that with you!" Besides, it was fifteen years ago and college was a different time and yada-yada. Right?
I don't know how many of you have ever had an "unrequited love", to use a somewhat cheesy, but accurate phrase; but I'm willing to bet most of us have had at least one. And this guy was mine. And I have found, 15 years post fact, that it is this never-returned; no opening and (therefore) no closure; this "what might have been that never had the chance to utterly destroy itself" that sticks in a mind more than any other relationship. During the first months/ years of our relationship, when JMahl and I were still trying to get to know each other and find out things about each others past relationships, it was the ex's that we would ask about: Did you love him/her? Why did it end? Do you ever still think about _____? No one thinks to ask about the people that you were infatuated with from a bit of a distance; the people that you may have had a few encounters with, enough to feed your flame, but not enough to ever call a relationship. And it is those that stick in your head and make you wonder about "The Road Not Taken"-- not the roads you took that turned into a wildfire behind you destroying any chance or desire to ever go back down that path. I think one time I may have literally put a cigarette out on the end of that path, after dousing the entire path with gasoline. Or maybe my ex did that... well, either way, those aren't the people for whom you get dressed in your skinny-looking jeans, put on sexy underwear, and plan out an entire nights conversation in your head. But the thing about these "unrequited" emotions and fictional relationships (you know, the ones you've played out entirely in your head up to your death bed proclamations of love) is that you never have the opportunity to set fire to them. You've never fought horribly in a manner befitting Dateline. You never made the decision to end the relationship because, well, there never was a relationship... So having never had a chance to ruin those dreams with a strong dose of reality, those dreams remain... well... dreams.
But back to my date. It was horrid. He'd gotten old and unattractive. He was dull and boring, we had nothing to talk about after the required "do you remember so-and-so?", and I couldn't wait for the evening to end, wondering what it was about him that had snagged my romantic fantasy in the first place. After an hour and a half, having finished one drink, I thought it was acceptable to use the excuse "the children need me and my husband is waiting for me", and I left, grateful to be headed home to a husband who would be thrilled to see me and four sweet children sleeping soundly in their beds.
No, not really. He looked just the same as in college- or maybe better. He'd never married or had children, and he lived an extremely exotic life traveling the world for his job, taking trips that those who are married with children can only dream of post-retirement, and having amazing experiences that I had chosen to believe no one over the age of 29 could have. He'd swam across the English Channel, is preparing to swim across the Atlantic Ocean, and was just all around Awesome. Quite impressive, might I say? I could probably swim all the way across my neighbor's swimming pool if I tried really really really hard. He was just like I remembered him, and my heart flip-flopped like I was still a nineteen year old college girl on a date with her "dream guy".
And for a moment, I was. For a moment (and by moment, I mean four hours) I was young, unattached, childless, and beautiful. I forgot about my husband at home, my children who probably were not going to bed easily for him, my mortgage and my career. I forgot about the bills in the account, the fight my husband and I had got into the day earlier, the housecleaning I had to do in the morning. For a moment it was as though I'd taken a step back and could still pretend to go down any road I wanted. And it was a good feeling. Really good. I could have spent all night... and the next day... sitting in that bar, with that guy, that night.
But ten years ago, it wasn't that guy. Ten years ago, it was a different guy, a different bar, a different conversation-- but the same feeling. That feeling of all the world ahead of me, but the only important part of the world right there in front of me. Ten years ago, my heart flip-flopped at the sight, sound, thought, touch of a different man. A man who I was madly infatuated with but who had yet to tell me that he felt the same. Ten years ago I longed for that guy to look at me- only at me-- and I would drive home from the date wishing I'd said something different, worn something cuter, convinced him to keep me there with him, drink after drink, neither of us wanting the evening to end. And then, one night, the evening didn't end. And our life together began.
Having those feelings again last week didn't make me regret the road I'd taken. It reminded me of how beautiful my own road use to be. Any thrill of newness is exciting. Any one that hasn't seen you naked after four kids; heard you scream bloody murder because of dirty underwear on the floor; watched you make a fool out of yourself; taken your side in family arguments; believed you when you said one of the babies must have peed your bed last night... Anyone that you haven't screamed at for stealing the covers again; for making nasty bodily sounds; for leaving their dirty socks all over the house; for not calling to say they are going to be late for dinner... any one that you don't know and that doesn't know you is going to be exciting and thrilling and, well, enticing. But there's something to be said about letting the newness go. Something very valuable in knowing that I don't have to impress my husband in order to get his attention. I don't have to be witty, look young, censor my words- he's still going to be here. He has seen me through that thrill and excitement of new love into the sometimes boredom and habit of "old love". He has watched me get older (get fatter)- dear God, he's seen me give birth. Multiple times. That's not something I want anyone else to see... not even in my fantasies.
And sure, sometimes I wish we still had stimulating conversations about religious theory and that he would look at me as though it was the first time he'd seen me in fifteen years and I was every bit as beautiful as he remembered (literary freedom here, people, literary freedom). Sometimes I wish I could still wow him by walking into a room, and still have him see me as interesting when I expound on my beliefs on government restructuring and motivational theories. But would I trade that for raising kids together for the last ten years? He knows me, my theories, and my beliefs-- inside and out. And while, I admit, I miss having my stomach flip-flop at the thought of seeing him. I wouldn't trade it for the comfort of not being embarrassed when he sees my flip-floppy stomach fat. And while there's something thrilling about that nervousness when waiting- hoping for a phone call to make plans-- I wouldn't trade it for the knowledge that he'll be home with me every night. And while my husband may never swim across the Atlantic Ocean (or swim, period); may not have a sexy British accent (only sexy to Americans) and will most likely never write a book (unless it's a rebuttal to mine), that's okay. Because I can guarantee that the fantasies that result from a long ago unrequited love will never hold true in real life, but the reality of my life and marriage to THIS man is something that will.
So when my evening out with my friend ended, and we'd done the requisite hugs, good to see yous, good luck on your journey, don't let the sharks get you, I drove home to find my husband groggy from an inability to sleep, an "oh, your home? Your turn to deal with THAT", and a very excited, hopping up and down, "MOMMY's HOME!" coming from my two year old who, I am proud to say, not being used to her Mommy going out on dates, had not gone to bed at all. Greeted thus, I quickly stripped off my sexy clothes, climbed into a bed overcrowded with father and baby, and fell into pleasant dreams that couldn't beat my reality anyway.
And if, in another fifteen years, the opportunity arises for me to see this friend again, I'll still probably stress about my clothes choice, put on sexy underwear, remind my husband that "he was just a friend"... and hope, hope, hope, I still get that same thrill.