A friend whom I dearly love had her heart broken today. Shortly after her separation and divorce, she was contacted by a guy who had been one of her best friends in college. They’d lost touch over the years, but through the magic of Facebook, he was suddenly back in her life. In no time, despite being three states away from each other, they had rekindled their friendship and soon it grew into something more. He was doing all the right things — being attentive and communicative, flirting and desiring her, making her feel special and appreciated and understood. She’s not the most trusting woman, but this wasn’t just any guy. This was her good, good friend from half a lifetime ago, with whom she’d had a history and shared many memories. So, when he suggested that they meet up in a different city where he’d be on business, she agreed. Off she went and they had a romantic and amazing weekend. But when they got home to their respective cities….. He emotionally disappeared. Gone. Poof. The phone calls and the texts dwindled to nothing. When she finally asked him via text today if he thought their time together was a mistake, his curt reply was “Probably. Sorry.”
Big, big ouch.
On the phone with my friend tonight, we tried to focus on what she might learn from this situation, what positive goodness might rise from the ashes of her pain and humiliation. Some of those lessons were simple and clear, but others were deeper and more convoluted. Our conversation eventually veered off toward the question of the guy who comes on so strong at first, who sweeps you off your feet and takes your breath away vs. the guy who doesn’t. Now, I don’t care what kind of woman you are or how strong and independent and wise you are, I have never met a woman who, under the right circumstances, with the right guy, isn’t prone to diving in after the guy who jumps feet first into the love pool. There is something very fundamental in wanting to believe that a man is completely swept up in you, intoxicated by you, overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings for you. The only problem is, the fall back to Earth from Cloud Nine is fast and furious and painfully hard.
I sincerely believe that, for some men and in some circumstances, love at first sight or something similar does happen. But, sadly, most romantic knights prove to be fickle or immature or love junkies in search of their next high. As much as we may want to be swept off our feet, most good, healthy, stable relationships simply do not begin that way. Indeed, in my own dating history, I have only been involved with one man who maintained an initial crazy intensity all the way into a real and true love. All the rest have disappeared or retreated in ways very similar to my friend’s casanova.
This truth seems particularly unfair and cruel. Why is it that the very men who tell us what we want to hear and shower us with attention and affection and tenderness are the ones that we should avoid? Why is it that even smart, successful, dynamic women are not immune from being completely fooled by a man who seems amazed and impressed by her? What kind of sick sense of humor does the universe have, anyway?
I don’t have any answers, really. I know that as we become more secure and less fearful, we are less vulnerable to insincere or fickle men. I also know that a little bit of mistrust is a good thing. But nothing — nothing — can truly inoculate us from the hazards that are inherent in dating. I have very gradually and reluctantly accepted the fact that the only certainty in dating is that someone always gets hurt to some extent, in some way. Whether it’s a minor ego bruise or a severely shattered heart, few relationships end with lots of smiles and hugs. Let’s face it: dating is treacherous.
One of the most difficult truths for me to swallow in this realm has been the realization that people often act in the moment. What they express may be entirely sincere — in that moment and that moment alone. It feels really good to be close to someone, to feel that connection and sense of wonder between you. I think sometimes people say “I love you” when what they really mean is “I love this, this moment we are sharing.” I think that men get as caught up in the high of infatuation and lust as women do, and even those that stop short of using the loaded “L” word often heap on the “You’re so amazing”-s and “I can’t stop thinking about you”-s. They aren’t lying, but it’s nothing more than a snapshot of their feelings at that minute. Every dating woman I know has been floored by the apparent ease and speed with which a man she is dating has changed his mind or his feelings or his attitude toward her. It seems so unfair, so duplicitous, but in reality I think it’s usually just indicative that the initial infatuation period has passed and the guy has discovered that there isn’t much beyond that for him. So, he’s ready to move on and take his warm memories of the relationship with him, while she is left wondering what the hell happened.
Of course, I was using the pronouns in a particular way just then, but it’s just as likely to go the other way, depending on where the individuals are in their lives and emotional needs. I definitely went through a rather shameful period where I left a string of men wondering what had happened. A male friend of mine sarcastically referred to them as my “roadkill,” which was cruel but sadly true. I can honestly say that I never lied to any of them — when I said that I couldn’t wait to see them, I meant it, but that’s all I meant. I was simply emotionally unable to offer anything more than something fun and superficial, while they were willing and able to explore more deeply.
I have heard various “rules” for how to know that the person you’re dating is sincere and serious and on the road to real intimacy and commitment, but I am skeptical. It seems to me that basically we’re all just winging it and hoping for the best. I wish that I could erase some of the empty words I’ve heard, but those experiences have made the sincere and heartfelt ones all the more sweet and cherished.
As for my friend, her broken heart will eventually mend and with each experience of this nature she will be less and less likely to prematurely jump in after a potential romeo. And hopefully, some guy, some day will say those words and mean them from the deepest places in his heart.