I was talking with a friend a couple months back about breakups. She told me her last boyfriend cheated on her, and even though she was pissed and over it, she never would love anyone as much as she loved him. I found the sentiment strange and said as much. “No,” she said, “You don’t understand, I loved him.”
I’ve never been much of a romantic. My mother says I was born old and I think that applies here: I know that gushy romance wears poorly over time and eventually you have to learn to settle down into deeper love of older age. Still, I wonder how much that sentiment has to do with the fact that the early stage of my marriage didn’t have many butterflies and rainbows. Either way, I think that explains in part why I couldn’t get my head around my friend’s sentiment.
Since the divorce, people have asked me if I miss her or still love her or something like that. Simply put, I don’t, and I got over it rather quickly.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t find the whole thing heartbreaking or that I wasn’t in anguish for the entirety of that miserable summer as I wandered between the gym and a bottle of gin. It was eros and thanatos throbbing all at once: get in shape for the next girl; ugh, life is the worst; best drown it out.
I’d seen friends go through breakups before (not broken marriages, but still) and I knew at least in theory how bad it could be. You have a wonderful woman that you can’t live without, things start going sideways, you scramble, and then poof she’s gone. But she’s not really gone because she’s over there on the other side of the quad. Or she’s across town enjoying an evening with friends. Maybe, just maybe, she will come back to you; it could still work out in the future. But you can’t help yourself and to fill the gap you start dating here and there, but rather half-heartedly. That other girl is still in the back of your mind.
Here’s the thing, though: that good, kind, honest, caring woman you love still exists. It just didn’t work out for religious reasons, or whatever. She’s still a good, no, great woman. If she came to you today and wanted to get back together, you’d probably propose on the spot.
In my case the woman I married had all but disappeared. “Who is this person?” I wondered to myself many a time. She wondered the same thing out loud to me once, so it was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one mystified. And frankly, if I met her today for the first time, I’d find her interesting, but would never even consider getting involved, especially in light of her rationale for ending the marriage: “Well, I just wasn’t in love anymore.” In this way it’s more like a death in the family than a breakup. Is it sad? Absolutely. But there’s no sense pining after a person that no longer exists.
Plus there is the loyalty business. That sort of betrayal will never sit well with me.
That said, she’s not a monster. She has some great qualities and amusing personality traits. And I do have some fond memories of doing things with and for her: that year in Korea, that vacation to Italy, hauling an oversized headboard across NYC and the smile and thanks she gave. But she no longer exists in that state or is there to share the memories (do you remember when we…?). So the memories lose significance and fade but the lessons are not forgotten as I move on warily: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice….
My friend. She’s not stupid for being in love with that one guy. Maybe unrealistic since there is an almost religious faith to her feeling that transcends his douchery. But we all want that so badly—a way out of betrayal.
But that’s life. Betrayal. Does it have to be that way? A toss of the dice?