the pinnacle of happiness

In the past few years, there have been books, articles and studies appearing nearly everywhere you look about happiness. There’s even an app for that — more likely several. The elusive state of happiness has become an industry unto itself. And even more recently, the enlightened self-help literature appears to be pointing toward finding meaning as a greater predictor of life satisfaction than chasing happiness.

What does this tell us? People are so disconnected from meaning, contentment, fulfillment that it’s become an industry to study and try to find it.

However you define that feeling of fulfillment or synchronicity, those transcendent moments when you feel complete, whole, your cup overflowing, I feel blessed to say I’ve experienced many such moments in my four and a half decades alive. Several have been in nature, such as that sensation at the top of a ski slope in the mountains on a clear day when it feels as though I’m more taking off in flight than skiing — or that first time I caught a wave, or reached a summit. Sometimes it’s the endorphins of exercise that do it. Meditation. Orgasm. And certainly select moments of parenting / relating to my children. Sometimes, being in love.

I think that feeling may have been what caused Lee to blurt out a grossly pre-mature “I love you” on our last night together in paradise.

And I certainly felt that way one Sunday when I promised to take my youngest child sledding. Lee and I had brunch plans with friends, but I promised we’d go sledding after. Mind you, I’d let Lee know he was welcome, but I didn’t exactly expect he’d want to join us. Unbeknownst to me, he’d packed snow pants and boots for that very reason.

It was sunny and warm for a winter day, and even my eldest wanted to join us. The four of us loaded Lee’s car with sleds and drove to the hill. We hiked up, jockeyed momentarily to claim a favorite sled and rode down, shrieking and laughing…then again and again.

There was a moment at the top of the hill after a few runs when Lee and I looked at one another and smiled — and I felt that whole, connected, fulfilled sensation, happiness radiating in every direction — I felt both grounded and soaring, expansive, my heart overflowing with gratitude. The sun was shining, my lungs were full of fresh air, my pulse was strong and — for maybe the first time ever — I felt a strong sense that my dream of finding a genuine partner who was not only a match for me, but also fit into my family seamlessly, was a real possibility… that maybe I would be able to provide for my children the healthy, loving example of partnership I wanted for more than just myself. It was, for me, the pinnacle of happiness and contentment.

After another run, Lee and I walked arm in arm up the hill. “You’re my kind of guy,” I told him. I could see he was as happy as I was. I thought perhaps I’d truly met a kindred soul.

We ended our outing with hot chocolates from the coffee shop, and I later teased Lee about bribing my children. “Shhh,” he said conspiratorially, “It appears to be working.”

And that’s how we were together — fun-loving, playful — and, somehow it seemed, better together than apart. With Lee, I felt like a priority:  secure, at ease and natural. Even in the dark depths of winter, it seemed as though the sun was nearly always shining.

It was still too early in our relationship to know whether we might have a future, but I was happier than I could remember  being in a long time… maybe happier than I’d ever been in a relationship.

a few weeks of winter

I wondered what would happen to us, now that we were back home and back to real life. We arranged a date that first weekend after we were back.

Meanwhile, my girlfriends reached out, demanding details. Three of us decided to meet for a cocktail to celebrate the New Year and one of the girls’ birthdays at a local bar. Lee agreed to meet us at the bar and submit himself to their interrogation before we ventured out on our date. And my girlfriends were ecstatic to observe someone who was clearly into me and was willing to play along with ever-evolving plans.

Lee and I saw each other a couple of times a week under “normal” circumstances. We continued to grow closer and enjoy each other’s company. Sooner than later, we had talked about exclusivity.

I was so taken with the ease and naturalness of our time together. Lee was expressive in word and deed — and touch. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever), I didn’t have to think about (analyze, perhaps?) anything… By that, I mean, I would easily invite Lee with me anywhere or to meet anyone without a second thought. [A few months ago, I had more casually been dating a blue collar guy (Brad) who, I recall thinking, I would have difficulty explaining to some girlfriends…they would have wondered what I saw in him.]

It goes without saying that he understood my full-time, single-parent status. Out of necessity, we were soon talking about his meeting the children. Not in any formal sort of way, of course, but just coming over to hang out on the sofa after a dinner out, for example…Netflix and chill without the expectation of a happy ending.

And, considering the treatment my two had given the only other boyfriend they’ve met in six years, they seemed amenable to Lee. Perhaps this connection had some potential…

back to reality

Lee and I woke up early on our final morning and went out for a brisk walk / run while it was still dark.

Okay, actually, it happened more like this:  I woke up around 5 a.m. not touching him and missing our “sporking.” So I rolled over, slapped his ass and ground my rear into his groin, assuming the small spoon position. It took him only moments to respond and roll on top of me. I had him put a pillow under my hips for a more advantageous angle and, my oh my!, what an effect it had! I’m sure we woke the guests in the neighboring room.

And then we got up and went out while it will still dark… We had breakfast, packed, checked out and shopped for a bit in the downtown area. While walking by one of those paradise real estate storefronts, we gazed at the range of properties for sale. That’s when Lee brought it up:

“One inadvertent ‘I love you,’ and you’re eyeing $8 million properties!”

We laughed together as I told him the $8 million one was a bit gauche and, pointing, that this $5.7 million one was more my style.

Driving to the airport was bittersweet. I missed my children and longed to see them, but I didn’t want our time together to end. I felt a bit like I was on a reality show — of course we were bound to fall in love — it’s paradise!

We snuggled and dozed on our flights, nuzzling and kissing one another, holding hands, aware in every moment that our time together in this feeling was waning and we would go back to our separate realities:  It was New Year’s Eve — he had plans to meet friends out while I was going to a family-friendly house party.

Each time I recalled Lee’s premature “I love you,” I burst into uncontrollable fits of laughter. I still chuckle when I think about it.

We shared a cab back to my place and, as he carried my bag up the stairs to my front porch,  my realities came rushing back — overflowing boxes from my ex’s place littered the porch and inside my modest little house. Lee, in contrast, would go back to his sparsely-furnished and tidy executive apartment.

What was to come of this?

an inadvertent “I love you”

So, here we were, finding greater comfort and ease with each other in paradise than either of us had bargained for…

The afternoon of our third day, we ventured out for massages in a nearby village. I was delighted to learn that Lee had arranged for 90 minutes for each of us (an hour is just such a tease when it comes to relaxation!). It was just another of the many ways in which we’d shared such a perspective on life.

After the intensely relaxing treatment, we ambled down the street to an oyster bar. I took a call from home to learn that one of my children was seeing a doctor and needed to be treated. I think Lee found the protective “Mama Bear” in me appealing. He had even told me how much he enjoyed hearing me talk about my children — I had described them so vividly, he explained, that he felt he already knew them.

We made our way back to the resort, walked over to the bar for a drink and decided to walk down the beach to dinner. After scaling a fence or two, we found a spot, ordered a bottle of champagne and marveled at how lucky we’d been to find ourselves there, together, enjoying each other’s company so thoroughly.

The champagne had a little-blue-pill-like effect on Lee. We’d walked barefoot back along the beach, our arms around each other, potentially stumbling just a little, and then enjoyed an extended and athletic session before finally collapsing into slumber in each others’ arms.

We were scheduled to fly out in the morning, so we ran, as usual, grabbed breakfast and went back to our room to pack. We’d allotted 30 minutes for the beach before showering, checking out and heading to the airport. It was comical how, as we sat in our beach chairs, we both raised our watches into view at the haptic notification. Our flight was delayed. Shortly after, another tap on the wrist alerted us that our flight had been delayed again. We would now miss our connection and likely not make it home that night. Within five minutes, Lee had booked us on flights back the following day, extended our stay by a night and I’d arranged for another night of care for my children.

That day, I barely moved from my beach chair. I went to the restroom, cooled myself in the ocean, sunned myself and read. The well-tipped staff were so thrilled their best tippers were staying, they brought a bucket full of iced water. Lee fetched everything else, from sunscreen to lunch and margaritas. I reveled in feeling so pampered! We stayed in those beach chairs until the sun had set completely, then found a modern diner in the center of town for dinner.

Later that night, I curled into Lee’s arms and, just as we were dozing off, he uttered “I love you.”

I’m sure I jolted awake at the shock, but tried to suppress any physical or other response. I understood it instantly for what it was:  We had enjoyed four perfect days together, not only enjoying each others’ company and conversation, but also feeling increasingly connected to one another — and, while waaaay too soon, it was the most perfectly natural thing to say in the moment.

I pretended to sleep; I didn’t want to ruin the feeling with a response…even if it was misplaced.

Another moment passed… Lee said, “I didn’t mean that.”

I continued to pretend to be asleep.

“Say something!” he said, desperation in his voice.

“Mmm sleeping,” I mumbled and relaxed into his arms even more deeply, sighing and, eventually, falling to sleep for real.

It was, however premature, the perfect end to our perfect days together in paradise. And I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive about what our return to reality might bring…



paradise, part deux

In our early hours together on this adventure, we both brought up names of all the folks we knew near our destination, presumably to have the “out” of other companions or folks we might need to see (in case things didn’t go well). And, truth be told, it seemed like it would be entirely unnecessary for us to spend time with anyone else…at first.

But given the shit storm that had just enveloped my entire life, Lee was kind, attentive, generous and — it must be said — far too “nice” in a far too boring sort of way. I was certain I’d recalled a bit of snark in his personality, yet it was somehow absent in his all-too-accommodating demeanor. So I began pressing for him to arrange a dinner with one of these many people whose names he’d dropped in our first hours together…

And I’m so glad I did. On our second day together, we arranged dinner with one of Lee’s business associates and his family. From the second the two were together, zingers flew back and forth, and I was immediately relieved and delighted to learn the snarky, smart-alecky guy I thought I’d met was, in fact, fully present still. That dinner “broke the ice” for us in ways we might not have been able to do alone together — and, I might add, seemed to enhance our physical connection.

By our third day together, it was clear we’d settled into a routine:  get up early and run the 2.5 miles of beach in front of the resort, sit down for coffee and breakfast, then go lounge by the beach. Lee made a habit of tipping well, so staff at the small resort were happy to accommodate any of our modest requests.

We sat at the bar at the end of one of these first days, drinking beer-garitas and watching the sunset, and I remember saying to him:  “I have no idea what might happen after this… but, in this moment, I am incredibly grateful.”

Every day was sunny and warm — we had paddle boarded, run, explored, sunbathed, swum in the ocean… Our days were long and lazy, and our evenings were filled with dinner conversation that was intellectually and emotionally stimulating. I felt weirdly as though I was in one of those reality television shows set in paradise, an experience tailored to induce couples like us to fall in love…

(To be continued.)

our first day in paradise

Lee met me at the gate about 15 minutes before our flight from the cold midwest to a warm, beach location. We both seemed rather nonchalant about the crap shoot we were taking, jetting off to spend four nights, five days together with someone we had only just met. After no more than a few innocent kisses and hugs, we would be sharing a room and, undoubtedly, a bed. I assure you I’m no prude, yet I’m rather old fashioned as relationships are concerned, so I wasn’t entirely without trepidation.

We read and dozed on the flight, and I found myself pressing my arm and leg against him for the warmth he radiated. He reached down and took my hand, holding it and caressing my fingers. And I began to see another, more physically affectionate, dimension of this man I barely knew.

I won’t pretend I didn’t feel awkward at times as we arrived, made our way to the resort and situated ourselves in a joint room for the first time. But Lee went out of his way to be a gentleman, offering me the time and space to make myself comfortable.

I insisted on buying dinner that first night, a meal of fish tacos and margaritas. Lee assured me I needn’t and I disagreed, telling him he’d been incredibly generous already, that I was so very appreciative, and that I would contribute, as well.

Later, we made our way back to our cozy room on the beach and readied ourselves for bed. Lee held out his arms. I snuggled into his warm, strong embrace. That’s what struck me most about that first night together, I think; the way he held me so closely and tightly for what seemed like a long, long time…and it felt quite wonderful.

feeling acquiescent

…and then, on a Sunday evening, I learned that my ex had passed away.

Suddenly it seemed like a very poor time to be starting a relationship. Both of these fellows conveyed their condolences, I asked for space and I deleted my online profile.

I had already agreed to go to an ugly holiday sweater party at the end of the week with the second, the more interesting of these guys. We had met just three times; once the evening before the devastating news. Now, by the end of the week, I was ready to get out of the house and put on a brave face…with…let’s call him Lee.

Again Lee fetched me via Uber, and we arrived at his friends’ dinner party at the same moment. I had insisted he call me ahead of time to fill me in on the details. Some of these folks had been from his old neighborhood, so I needed to know if I was walking into an annual party at which he had last been seen with his soon-to-be-ex-wife. He had, but it was a mixed crowd and everyone was lovely to me.

Having met in another city, it seemed only natural that we’d already been talking about jetting off for a long weekend away later in the winter. After the party, however, Lee began suggesting we make it the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I wasn’t certain I was ready for that — we’d only met four times, after all — and I wasn’t certain I could get away.

“I need a break; I know you need a break. Let me do this,” he said, explaining that he had airline credits and hotel points and that we could make it work for very little invested. My resistance had been worn down by the emotional turmoil of the past week. “Okay,” I said.

It wasn’t easy to arrange the kidgistics, but the promise of sunshine, warmth and leisure was enough for me to make it work. Further, some of the children’s relatives were coming to town, so they would have extra emotional support — and it might not hurt, I reasoned, for me to not be around then.

Before I knew it, our flight itinerary was in my email…

So here I was, preparing to spend four nights in paradise with a man I barely knew. We enjoyed conversation with each other, surely we would have fun, and we’d relax in the warmth and sun. How bad (or good, I suppose) could it possibly be?