what would you do if…

Many of my friends have asked what I would do if Lee wanted to come back into my life, something he’s alluded to.

To be honest, I don’t know. I don’t know how I might respond if he called me tomorrow, or in three months or in a year. You’d think it would be easy to say:

Buzz off, douchebag!

But rarely is life so black and white. As my girlfriend and I surmised, you can’t go back and you can’t not go back.

You can’t go back because he bid adieu to a fantastic relationship via text, with nothing nearing a sufficient explanation. And then, when communication was — by reasonable person standards — called for, he ignored and delayed. And that, too, was hurtful.

And yet, when there is such a rare and unique connection which seems not to have run its course, it’s unimaginable to not try again. Certainly trust would need to be rebuilt, the pace would need to be slowed, serious consideration given up front to long-term wants and desires. I’m not certain Lee had ever even thought about what he might want post divorce.

Here’s what scared me most when Lee left:  Smart people are uniquely capable of being incredibly screwed up. If he decided that something about us was wrong; he would be able to create whatever reasoning or justification he needed as evidence to back it up. Who knows? Maybe that’s exactly what he needed to do to be able to walk away.

Another thing that I’ve frequently witnessed among men is that, after going through the harrowing, emotionally-intense process of divorce, they decide they never want to marry again. Many eventually do marry again; but I won’t be the woman compromising my own desires to be in a relationship with someone who says in the beginning that commitment is off the table.

Finally, the man who wants to be with me also must want to be a full-time parent to my children. For someone whose children are grown or who has a 50-50 custody arrangement, stepping into such a role may not appeal. 

As I shared all this with my therapist a few weeks back, she stated what should have been obvious:

You can never go back. You can only go forward. So if Lee comes back into your life someday, it won’t be ‘going back;’ it will be a new beginning.

So it’s a crapshoot. If Lee ever decides he wants to be back in my life, I know him well enough to know that he’ll work for it aggressively; he’ll have back-up plans and back-ups to his back-up plan to ensure our paths cross. And I’ll respond based on how I feel at the time.

Right now, I still think about him every day. Guess I’m not over it yet.

I have my theories…

I mentioned earlier that men and women reacted very differently to the story of Lee suddenly taking leave of our very happy relationship. It was mostly my male friends, who so adamantly wanted an explanation for me, who wanted to speculate…

Did he go to the doctor and get some sort of terminal diagnosis?

It seems people like to come up with outlandish reasons to explain why others do things that don’t make sense to them. It’s as though they need to match a dramatic act with something equally or more dramatic.

In talking with a close girlfriend, who was once a therapist, plus my actual therapist, we pieced together some clues that might just make some sense of what happened:

Lee spoke to his adult daughter two days before he sent me that awful, heart-wrenching text. He was going to ask her to join us on our California trip…

I was once a young woman with a divorced father. He would regale me with tales of women he flirted with, especially if they were younger. And I didn’t hesitate to let him know that I had zero interest in a step mother, especially if she came with even more dreaded younger step siblings.

Why would Lee’s daughter respond any differently? Perhaps she’s a bigger person than I was at her age. Perhaps she’s not.

So here’s her father, not yet divorced from her mother, asking her to come to California for a vacation where she’ll get to spend time with him…and his new girlfriend…and her two children. It doesn’t sound good, does it? It may have even been upsetting. Then imagine she talks to her mother…

The next day, Lee sent that weird text about his personal business, at the end of which he asked, “is that ok babe?” …which not only gave me a super-weird vibe, but also made it seem like this was unplanned. (Not that it would have mattered to me either way, because I didn’t expect to spend every evening with him, nor did I concern myself with his whereabouts.)

So perhaps it was a meeting with the lawyers during which his soon-to-be-ex unleashed her displeasure at how he was behaving, particularly in relation to their children (very upsetting!), then vowing to use her twenty-plus years of subject matter expertise on him to inflict as much pain and make the proceedings as drawn out as possible…

What is a man to do? Especially when he realizes that his ex is at least partially right as it relates to their children, grown or not. And that, while all along he’s been trying to play nice, he’s unintentionally sabotaged himself by being too free with his current happiness.

The next morning, he sent the text that left me shocked and bewildered.

Perhaps his ex is an emotionally unstable, vindictive bitch. Perhaps she has every reason to be angry. Perhaps she is a kind and decent human who is only looking out for the children. Perhaps she had her heart broken. Perhaps Lee is the villain of this story.

I’m only speculating here, and certainly not offering excuses for Lee’s or anyone else’s bad behavior. It just seemed fitting to close out this chapter by acknowledging that there may be a plausible explanation for what seemed so incredibly crazy from my perspective and those of my friends…

Still. It doesn’t change the fact that my heart is broken.

feelings not mutual

A bit ago I told you about a someone who’d befriended me using Tinder. I got to know his family, and they were generous and kind and supportive, especially as I was going through the loss of my children’s father / my ex.

In addition to those positive qualities, he was also insistent, pushy, interruptive — I mean he texted me waaaay too often during the workday. Sometimes I was put off by the way he behaved toward his wife, who I genuinely liked. And I was very direct with him about his being too needy, wanting to take up my time, insisting he become my best friend, etc. All of which is a bit weird, right? But I chalked it up to cultural differences and maintained my own boundaries.

Sometimes he was too suggestive, and I would immediately put him in his place. There is no way someone who is not available (single) is going to get away with disrespecting his wife / marriage — or me, for that matter — with that sort of crap. He passed this behavior off as his desire for a “Frazier – Roz” type relationship. I told him Frazier was single, so that wasn’t happening.

I had coffee with his wife once. She told me she appreciated how I put him in his place and said that our friendship had actually strengthened their marriage. I told her, truthfully, that I thought of him as a running buddy.

And then, while on a family vacation, this friend sent me an email expressing his feelings. He suggested that I was in his thoughts far too often, expressed his jealousy of Lee, wrote that he would commit to me in a heartbeat if things were different… Ultimately, it sounded almost like an offer. And, candidly, I was extremely put off. His missive was verging on an Anna Karenina type tragedy — lovers who pine for each other but cannot be together.

Except that I had no such feelings for him. Never have. Not even a little bit.

I was repulsed, and I found it repugnant that he would say such things — especially since he was supposed to be spending quality time with his family.

So I ended our friendship. I couldn’t possibly continue in a relationship of any kind with someone who thought that way about me, but was married.

Then I got an email from his wife, who thanked me for no longer being friends with her husband but asked if she could continue to be friends with me.

All of which left me shaking my damn head.

I made an effort to become friends with people very unlike me in ways — with cultural and religious differences. I thought this relationship might enrich both of our families. And for awhile, it appeared that might be the case. But I’m not willing to risk putting myself or others in a situation that’s not healthy for all involved.

Seems all kinds of relationships are coming to a conclusion in my life…but I’m not able to feel equally at peace about them all.

where we left off

A few weeks had gone by since Lee had texted me. I spent the time getting plenty of rest, meditating, exercising, taking care of minor household projects that had been put off because I’d spent so much time with him, I hadn’t found the time to take care of them. It felt good to hang a few pictures and such.

I respected his need for space…for the most part. Yeah, I slipped once and sent him a link to a tragic song that I was listening to on replay. He didn’t reply.

As I mentioned, I got a lot of advice after telling friends that we were no longer an item. But here’s something you can use:

Don’t take relationship advice from someone who’s single.

Remember, as far as I knew, Lee still had a plane ticket for our California trip, and there was no way I wanted him tagging along on a family vacation given where things stood. I was sure he wouldn’t think of it, but we had made the plans together, which legitimately required some discussion. So, with the sensible guidance of a long-married girlfriend (not to mention numerous reassurances that several long-time couples had “taken a break”), I sent a neutral-sounding text:

Hey, it’s been a few weeks. Hope you’re well. We should probably discuss California.

No response.

If you’ve imagined that, by now, steam is coming out of my ears, you’d be right! I was pi-issed! (Yeah; two syllables.)

So after a few days, I sent an email laying out my assumptions…also restraining myself as much as possible to sound at least somewhat neutral, as if his response didn’t matter in the least to me. He replied, apologizing, confirming he wasn’t going to be on the flight (thank heavens!) and answering my logistical question. And then he tripped up:

“I will cherish much of the time we spent together.”

…which, at this point, was just unnecessarily rubbing salt into the open wound that was my heart. You guessed it — more steam coming out of my ears!

I replied:

“…much of the time…” Classy.

Two days later, he emailed back to — again — apologize, tell me he enjoyed every moment of our time together, acknowledge he’d behaved badly, say he hoped I could forgive him and that he’d like to connect after his divorce was final, and to wish me a fabulous vacation. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, he highlighted our trip to paradise and sledding among the best of our times together.

Now I wasn’t just angry; I was conflicted. I waited until vacation to respond, then affirming that he had behaved deplorably (because badly didn’t convey the egregiousness of his offense), that I was processing through a number of mixed feelings, and that I couldn’t have imagined that anyone could have walked away from what we had.

No response.

I want to wrap this up quickly because, as I’ve been writing about it, I’ve been processing through it all again, spending a few days in a very dark, very angry mood. I spoke with my daughter about it, apologizing for my crabbiness over a couple of days, and she said:

“Couple of days? Try the last six weeks!”

So I acknowledged that I’d been incredibly happy when Lee and I were together, and that I hadn’t dealt very well with this break, whatever it was… Part of the issue was ambiguity:  I’d had the rug pulled out from under me, and I didn’t have a voice in any of it. In writing the posts leading up to this one, I referred back to our text history — which further confirmed the wonderful exchanges of plans and feelings we’d shared — and brought a lot of feelings back to the surface. I didn’t know whether Lee would try to come back into my life or when, and I didn’t know how I’d respond if he did.

I’m generally pretty good at screwing my head back on straight, but this time I finally decided to set up time with my therapist. And then I emailed Lee again, asking him to be a dear and please put a few of the belongings I’d left at his place into the mail for me. I ended the message with “Goodbye.”

It was a small act, but it made me feel as though I’d had some say — that I could bookend our relationship, which I needed to do in order to move on.

how men and women reacted differently to this news

As I mentioned, I was confused, hurt, angry and more about Lee’s text telling me he needed some time. For a while I was convinced that he’d chucked me, then I was hopeful I’d hear from him after a few weeks. I also thought ahead to what might happen if he did want to come back into my life:  it would be difficult to regain the trust I’d had for him after a move like that…if it was possible at all.

Colleagues and friends asked me how things were going and, after catching them up on recent happenings, I noticed a trend in the way men and women responded to the news:

My girlfriends:

It’s not you; this is all about him.

When God closes a door, he opens a window.

This one’s not meant to be. Something better is just around the corner.

Move on. Get back on the horse.

He wasn’t the one for you. The one for you is looking for you now.

In other words, the women’s advice was largely something like, “let it go; move on.”

My male friends and colleagues had a very different response to my story:

You deserve an explanation.

You need to call him and demand answers!

Something had to have happened, and you deserve to know what it was.


You need / deserve closure.

My response to these well-intended gentlemen was this:  What reason could possibly be good enough? Particularly given the way he left things. Had he met me somewhere and sat down and actually talked about his feelings and asked me for understanding, this situation would look much different than it does. As it stands, there is no possible explanation that could suffice for what he did and the way he did it.

One male friend actually said:

This is a good thing. You need him to finalize his divorce, so that he can be available to you. And don’t worry:  there are not trainloads of women looking for a man like Lee.

Perhaps the most hilarious response came from a girlfriend with a penchant for calling while consuming wine. She is often slurring by the end of our conversations. She told me how nice it had been to meet my boyfriend and went on to say how comfortable he seemed amidst the chaos (of the fish fry, at which all of our children were present)…

She went on until I cut her off with:

We’re through. He needed some time.

She said:

You should keep that door open. He seemed stable, kind and well-adjusted.

I said:

He ended it via text.

She said:

I hope you never speak to him again! The man’s an idiot. He has no idea how dumb a move he just made! You were totally out of his league. You look a good 15 years younger than he does. Not smart enough to know how good he had it!

But wait! There’s more to this story…I’ll fill you in soon.


stunned silence

Let’s take a moment to summarize what I’ve just experienced:  I was dating a man with whom I seemed so well matched that I thought the heavens had opened up, the angels had sung “alleluia” and my dreams were finally about to be realized. The people who knew me best loved him as a match for me. He had asked me to be in a relationship with him. Nine days later, he made a unilateral decision to exit. No fights. No problems. No warning.

Things weren’t perfect; no relationship can be that. But they’d been really, really good. Better than I’d ever imagined possible. We seemed aligned socially, politically, in terms of interests, values and perspectives on money, parenting and more… I thought I’d met a kindred spirit.

In my relationships since the divorce, I’ve always felt as though I was looking over my current date or boyfriend’s shoulder, seeking out the guy who was a better match, the one who was truly meant for me. (As you know if you’ve read here, I don’t really believe in the “one.”) I also know this says more about me than any of the men I’ve dated. But I never looked over Lee’s shoulder. I looked at him and accepted completely everything I saw.

Anything I would have wanted to be different was minor or superficial… like that he had a Thomas Kinkade painting and liked Coldplay, his wardrobe needed some urbanification, he brought me Modelo Especial when I’d asked for Negra Modelo, I wouldn’t have picked him out as my physical type, and his lovemaking skills were exactly as you’d expect for someone who’d been in a lukewarm marriage for more than two decades. (Don’t get me wrong — the sex was satisfying, just not mind-blowing…well, there was that one time!)

I am, if anything, too understanding in my relationships. I have lived divorce from every angle — from being the kid caught in the middle, to the selfish 20-something telling my father not to date anyone with younger children because I didn’t want step-siblings, to a woman who had to make the very difficult decision to leave my own marriage. So I would have understood if Lee had come to me and had a conversation about however he was feeling and whatever forces were in play that caused him to feel he needed to dial things back, take some time, renegotiate our relationship, whatever… But he didn’t. And, while I wanted to believe he’d come back after a few weeks, that he simply texted me with virtually no explanation left me feeling gutted… and fairly certain I’d just been dumped.

Imagine, if you will, that you’re lying in the sun. It’s actually coolish out, but the sun’s heat is so powerful that you feel an intense warmth. And then a giant cloud obscures it and suddenly you’re freezing! That was my life — I had felt as though the sun was always shining for the time Lee and I had been together; suddenly, the stark reality of midwestern winter hit me and life was cold and bleak. Don’t get me wrong — I am strong, empowered and smart enough to know that I am solely responsible for my happiness. I was neither needy nor desperate; not before, during or after our relationship. Still. I soon found myself tripling the dosage of my dopamine enhancer and contemplating therapy to cope with this abrupt, dizzying change in status.

Somehow I suspect he thought he was doing me a favor by ripping the band-aid off, but the cowardly approach is never one I appreciate.

Here is what I hoped would happen:  I hoped he’d finalize his divorce, visit his children (who live out of state), then call me one night from the airport telling me everything was complete and that, more than anything else in the world, he wanted to come home to me. (I know; I am remarkably good at this romantic fantasy bullshit.) But weeks later, he hadn’t reached out so much as once to tell me he’d missed me…or anything. I was so confused, hurt, angry, grateful, resigned, and so much more…all at once.

Grateful because I’d experienced something magical, wonderful, practically otherworldly… this was entirely next-level relationship material. I’d been given at least a taste. I know some people never get that.

Angry for the way he’d behaved — for pulling the proverbial rug out from under me; for saying all the wonderful things he’d said and doing all the wonderful things he did and then abruptly leaving; for asking me to be in a relationship and then turning away from, rather than toward, me when he got overwhelmed.

And angry for what seemed like a cruel cosmic joke:  I’d spent five years searching for love and had finally found something that seemed real and true and like it might have staying power; he’d spent three months, found someone awesome and, not realizing how rare and special it was, let it go. Just like that.

Don’t get me wrong:  we’d known each other less than three months. By no means was I ready to leap to some conclusion that Lee would be in my life ’til death do us part. (And I sure as hell wasn’t going to commit to someone who hadn’t even managed to go down on me in our nearly two months of sleeping together!) But we were in a really amazing relationship that I believed had more potential than any other I’d been in before — and I thought we’d be in it until we discovered that we weren’t right for one another.

Who knows? Maybe he did…

driving at unsafe speeds

My relationship with Lee was blossoming rapidly. And I might have been concerned about it if I’d had a moment to think about it… or if Lee had been anything but fully loving, constantly reassuring and absolutely wonderful in countless ways.

I had mentioned the spring trip I had planned for myself and the children:  we were going to California for a week to spend time with family. I suggested that he might fly out for a few days midweek and I could leave the children in the care of relatives while he and I got away.

So, on Valentine’s Day, after a couples’ massage, we sat down and — instead of planning to fly out and join us for a few days — Lee booked flights exactly matching our eight-day itinerary. I gulped back any reservations about how my children might feel about this… And then we reserved a rental car, figured out hotels for the first, second and third legs of the trip, and talked about what we might do while there. Lee was excited about the possibilities of inviting his own children to join us at a beach resort or some friends to join us for a winery tour. I was excited that this man was so serious about us that he was planning a week-long family vacation.

In fact, he asked me officially to be his girlfriend that day — “not that you weren’t already.” I happily consented.

I left his place to spend the afternoon with my children and, by dinnertime, he was texting me:

I miss you. In fact, I missed you 5 minutes after you left.

And then he brought his dinner over, watched Downton Abbey with me and spent the night. We were glorious!

The following weekend we went to a fish fry in the basement of a Catholic church in my neighborhood, then ended up taking the children out for dinner the next night. We talked out how much money to give as a wedding gift to my girlfriend and her husband-to-be. He asked me to look at the MLB schedule and pick out some games, even suggested we get six tickets so that each of my children could bring a friend. And he joined me and my sister’s family in taking my father out for a brunch to celebrate his birthday.

I’m telling you all this so you’ll understand the crazy in what happens next…

On a Monday (now eight days after Valentine’s Day), something turned weird. He texted me this:

I’ve got some personal business to take care of tonight. Is that ok babe?

We were both strong and independent personalities, so it struck me as weird for him to suddenly ask my permission — at least weird enough for me to note it. But I replied by suggesting we have dinner the next night. After all, we’d been spending a lot of time with my children, friends and family, and I sensed we could use some time alone together at his place. He replied:

Yes, please.

Tuesday morning, just nine days after he’d officially asked me to be in a relationship, I got this:

Hey babe. This might be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done but I need a few weeks to sort some stuff out and focus on me for a bit…bad boyfriend.

Aaaaannnnd crash.

the wedding invitation

Among the girlfriends who met Lee early on, right after we’d returned from paradise, was a woman planning a wedding. So it was no surprise to get her invitation in the mail a few weeks later. What was surprising was how it was addressed — to me and Lee. The obvious (wedding budget-friendly) message in this approach is this:

“If you’re still seeing this guy a few months from now, then you’re legitimately in a relationship and can bring him as a date to our wedding. If not, you’re going to be seated among the singles.”

I had to admit to myself that, despite Lee’s regular assertions that he planned to be in my life, I felt a momentary pang of anxiety about sending in a response card for us to attend a wedding nearly three months in the future. Yet I knew I could always inform the bride-to-be if things changed; there was simply no way to know what might happen in the next three months. And perhaps for the first time in my life, I was in a relationship in which I was not afraid to confess this anxiety to my mate, even via text. He responded with a reassuringly heart-filled and syrupy string of emoji.

The next afternoon, he asked me to meet him for a kiss on the way home from work. We grabbed a cup of tea at a coffee shop convenient to both of our commutes home. Barely into our conversation, Lee reached for my hand across the table and told me that I hadn’t needed to feel anxious about sending in the wedding invitation. He told me he planned to be in my life.

I wondered aloud:

“I know it’s not that big of a deal, but it got me to thinking:  My heart palpitated just a little, just for a moment, thinking about planning three months from now. How far ahead are you willing to look before you start to get anxious or aren’t willing to make plans? Please don’t answer that right now…I mean it hypothetically. I was just musing about it.”

And that’s when he dropped this bomb:

“I love you.”

I was stunned — and ecstatic! I thought this may be coming, and that perhaps he’d whip it out on Valentine’s, well over a week away. So I stammered and finally told him that I could feel it, and that I thought he could tell I felt the same way too. He said he wanted to say it when we weren’t drinking (or in bed, I thought). Mostly I just smiled and took it all in. What a wonderful feeling!

Later, after I’d arrived home, I texted:

My gas tank is empty, my phone battery is nearly dead, but my heart is so full it feels about to burst!

And this, from him:

You’re just so right in so many ways…it felt right to say it

Ahh, what a high! What happiness!