He made everything easier, just for a moment. When Laura asks me what I miss, this is what I tell her. And she answers--kindly, gently--a day away and an ocean between us: And hope too, I think.
The presence of another person, the continued conversation, the hope that it might be something more. He made New York nearly tolerable. But maybe New York isn't meant to be nearly tolerable. Maybe there is someplace better, with someone who, if not better, is at least more right.
But for a moment there, the conversation with him was comfortable and good. I won't say I miss him (even though I do) because it feels like there is a limit to the time we afford grief when the thing was barely a thing. And it's not so much grief as an occasional dull ache, and I don't know how much of it is him, and how much is just life. But I am quite sure I have passed the imaginary threshold of the time allowed and so I won't say that I miss him (but I do). In part because I don't want him to know, but then again, it's not for him that I say it, but for me.
We were fine and then we were busy and then we were not fine. A story in three parts.
But I am okay. And he made New York manageable, and I cannot have a man doing that when it is so clearly time to go. I've never known a day of my adult life in a city outside of this one. And I think, maybe, it's time to figure out who I am somewhere else. Not today, but tomorrow maybe, or next week, or well...sometime soon.
image source unknown.
People often ask what I'm looking for in a man. For a very long time I listed the following: kind, funny, intelligent. And if I I could be really picky: tall, with a nice head of hair.
But the older I get, the wiser I am (sort of). And so this is what I say now:
1. Is he good? Is he a good man? Is the core of him--the mettle of him--good? Which is different than mere kindness, it's rounder, sturdier. For me now, all affection begins and ends with the other person's goodness. Charm and personality and charisma, intelligence and drive and humor are all lovely, lovely things. But they don't mean much unless they're built on a solid foundation.
2. Can he admit fault? Admit he was wrong?
and 3. Can he apologize?
Just because a man is good doesn't mean 2. and 3. come easily to him. And I gotta tell you, 2. and 3. didn't come easily to me. But I watched enough people struggle with those two things to realize that to not be able to do them is 1. ugly 2. prohibitive and 3. reveals insecurities faster than anything else. And that the more you do them, the easier they become. I'm not talking about a pushover, I'm talking about a person who can argue and actually listen to the other points being made. A person who can offer kindness and empathy because he's not so mired in his own shit. Someone who can ride the wave instead of being dragged under by it. Those two things are actually about the ability to adapt. And the older (and wiser) I get, the more I understand Darwin was on to something with adaptation. It's a valuable, valuable thing.
It was a day or two after our second date that I rode the subway home in a panic.
And it was a really good second date.
He had a walked into the bar--all 6 feet, three inches of him, wearing a smart navy sweater--and I thought, Yeah, okay, this guy.
But two days later, riding the subway home, I was in a panic. Maybe he’s not the guy. Maybe...yeah, no, I don’t know. What if I don’t fall in love with him--what if I’m not able to fall in love with him? What does it say about me if I’m unable to fall in love with a person who is so clearly good and kind?
I was unsure from the start. Totally perplexed as to what I was feeling and what I might feel and what I would eventually feel and all the unanswered questions were crushing.
And yes, spoiler alert, that early in, there should be that many unanswered questions.
But I had never known a slow-growing affection.
So two days after our second date, I was in a panic of unease at the discomfort of not-knowing.
The muddled middle. The gray. The great, gaping unknown.
With anyone else, at any previous point in my life, I would have jumped ship immediately. The in-between being so uncomfortable as to be avoided altogether.
But for that small voice this go-round that said, keep going.
You see, of all the men I have felt tremendous affection for (a whopping two of them) there was a sense, when looking at them, that I had known them before. They were, somehow, from the very start, not strangers--they never felt like strangers.
But he was. I didn’t recognize his face. There wasn’t some cosmic awareness of a history. He was totally new new to me.
I wrote that the point of our small mess was his goodness. Which is true. But his goodness was only part of the point. And frankly, the guy before him was good, too, so I’m getting closer.
I sat in that unknown until it passed. Or rather, until my discomfort in relation to it, passed. I grew comfortable with the not-knowing. I made space for affection to grow. And it did. Slowly, it did. And I came to regard his deep brown eyes as very lovely things to be beheld by. He’d take off his glasses, take a deep breath, and smile as if he was just catching up to himself, and I’d think him so handsome.
Not-knowing doesn’t mean no, it just means not-knowing. Which is an important distinction.
The ability to grow comfortable with discomfort. That was the point. And a very good point, at that.
You are a good person. And I am in awe of this immediately. It makes me nervous. How kind you are, and how honest. How pure-of-heart, as they say.
There was no white horse, no dazzling suit of armor, just your soft voice and quiet footsteps. Your kind eyes and slow, deliberate smile. I spent those first few months just watching you, wondering what to make of you. Suspended in a thick, buoyant tangle of my own bewilderment.