When I was 21-years-old, I thought I’d been in love a couple of times.
Then I met Parker, and everything I thought I knew about love and intimacy and my own heart was re-written. Ours was a sweet and tender love story, deserving of a post all its own. We fell in love — at first sight — and fell fast and hard and deep. Our relationship had elements of a little girl’s fairytale and a Shakespearean tragedy. But what I remember most — what I cherish most — was how that relationship fundamentally changed me forever.
Parker showed me what love can be and how it can change your life. How it can inspire us to be the best version of ourselves, whether in the same room or separated by oceans. How it can give us the strength and support to dare to do and be things we’d never imagined before. How it can open our whole world and allow us to connect with everyone around us on a different level. All because, in our heart, there is a security and serenity and tenderness with one person’s name on it. He taught me what it’s like to feel fully and completely known and accepted and valued. He showed me how to give that to someone else. We explored every kind of intimacy with each other with complete honesty and vulnerability. Looking back, I have no idea how we, so young and so different from each other, managed it. But somehow, we did. We really did.
It took me four years to get over Parker. During those four years, I dated quite a bit and enjoyed myself, but it was only him in my dreams at night. He was far from perfect, but he was the ideal yardstick by which other men were measured. I fantasized that someday, somehow, we would find our way back to each other. That was not meant to be (at least not in this lifetime), but the impressions we made on each other forever raised the bar for those coming after.
Our concepts of love are necessarily based on what we have known. It is impossible to know someone else’s heart, so when we look at people who are blissfully in love, and imagine what they are feeling, we reference our own, best love. But I have come to realize that our experiences are so varied that our definitions of and experiences of “true love” are often not similar. For example, when I speak of a deep and abiding intimacy, you may have no true idea of what I mean, if you haven’t ever had that in your life before. And what I have shared with men may pale in comparison to the depths of intimacy you’ve plumbed with your partners.
My friend Seamus and I had a conversation not too long ago about how some people come into your life and alter it irrevocably and there is no going back. They change us. They change our expectations and our desires. They set a new benchmark for us of what love or intimacy or connectedness feels like. Seamus likened this experience to “getting a peek behind the curtain”…
Unless you grew up in a cult or a third world country, you’re surely familiar with the scene in the classic film “The Wizard of Oz,” in which Dorothy discovers that The Great and Powerful Oz is simply a bumbling wizard operating an elaborate illusion from behind a curtain. Once Dorothy sees this, her entire perception of Oz, and of her experience there, shifts permanently. She could never, ever go back to believing in the illusion, because she has witnessed the real thing.
I think that when you experience a deeply intimate, life-changing love, it is like you have glimpsed the truth behind the curtain, only instead of it being disappointing, it is like witnessing a miracle firsthand. You are forever altered. What was once enough is not any longer. You suddenly realize what the poets have been celebrating for eons. You have stumbled upon the kind of love that inspires sonnets and plays and love songs. And everything else pales in comparison.
When I met Parker, I was so young. We had an inkling that what we were sharing was special, but we didn’t have the life experience to appreciate how rare it was. In fact, it would be another 20 years before I felt that way again with someone.
In between, there were loves of one variety or another, some deeper than others. As the years passed, the realization dawned that I’d been incredibly fortunate to ever have experienced a love of that kind. I looked around me and understood — finally — that some people go their entire lifetime without ever finding it. And I had. On a dark, cold, rainy night in England, I had.
But alongside that appreciation for the experience was a lingering sadness… Having once had that, how could I be happy with less? I tried to convince myself that what was good enough for others was enough for me, too. But it didn’t work. No, it definitely didn’t work.
Because once you’ve seen the real thing behind the curtain, the illusion doesn’t work anymore.
There have been dark days of tears and loneliness when I have, momentarily, wished I had never known Parker… when I have wished that something that simply felt good would be enough… that I didn’t need that deep connection in my heart to the man who shares my bed. But I cannot pretend, and I cannot go back.
And so instead I move forward. I know what is behind the curtain and I hope, someday, to glimpse it again. Perhaps I will not be so lucky. Perhaps, as I age, I will learn to be satisfied with the illusion again. Or perhaps, one day, I will again find myself sinking into the divine experience of real and true love, behind the curtain.