“I guess you wonder
where I’ve been?
I searched to find
a love within.
I came back to
let you know…
Got a thing for you,
and I can’t let go.”
— Bobby Caldwell
So, yeah…I’ve been holding out on you. Again. And again, I’m not proud.
But then, I guess I’ve been holding out on myself, too. I’ve been meaning to get back here for weeks now (after months of sporadic check-ins). Frankly, this blog has become a bit like that close friend whose call you keep meaning to return, but you keep getting distracted. (Shout-out to all my homies still waiting for me to get back to them). Which is to say, I love it—no, really, I do—but just haven’t been up to chatting.
A new friend recently told me that blogs are like relationships: not always meant to be forever, but sometimes for a season, or a reason. But rest assured, that’s not what I came here to say, at least not today. I don’t think we’re done here quite yet. I’ve simply felt that something’s been holding me back. And no, it wasn’t Prince’s death, or Beyoncé’s lemon drank, or even Mercury Retrograde.
(Okay, maybe it was a little bit Retrograde. This one was out of control.)
No, it was fear. Fear of what, was what I needed time to figure out. What was causing such performance anxiety, every time I approached my laptop? My perfectionist tendencies? Poor prioritizing? Writer’s block?
Perhaps some or all of these, but at the moment, I’m fairly convinced that it’s actually been a fear of moving forward, despite claiming that that’s what I’m here to do. (cue the Church Lady voice):
“Well isn’t that special?”
Because the thing is, I’ve still been dating. I haven’t had much to say about it, before now.
It all started about a month ago, when I accepted an impromptu after-work date with an affable, if angular-looking gent I’d matched up with on Happn. I’d even preemptively mentally nicknamed him “Lance Armstrong,” due to his penchant for competitive bike racing (and in spite of the more negative associations with the name).
As luck would have it, our meet-up was scheduled within blocks of a photo shoot I’d just wrapped, so I was both camera-ready and uncharacteristically early that evening. I was also unusually calm as I awaited his arrival at the charming little bistro he’d chosen. Or maybe it was the rosé I nursed while waiting…
But when he walked in, a literal chill went through me. (And not in that good way.)
Have you ever experienced déjà vu? Of course you have, otherwise it wouldn’t be an established cliché. Thinking back, I wonder if alarm actually registered on my face, because I was most definitely alarmed. In fact, I highly considered bolting for the door, were there not my half-finished rosé to consider…
You see, I don’t know if it was his walk, his features, or his sinewy, shorter-than-advertised frame (par for the course, online)…but almost everything about him immediately reminded me of a man I fell madly in love with fifteen years ago.
My Poetry Man.
Looking back, I’m not sure I ever had much choice in the matter of falling in love with him—after all, almost everyone who ever saw him on stage was utterly transfixed, at least for the night. But from the moment we locked eyes across a grimy and packed-to-the-gills nightclub (Fun fact: it’s a Starbucks now)—he, the frontman onstage and me, the 26-year-old chanteuse in the audience, just beginning to find her voice—we were inevitable.
And so was the pain, since Poetry Man was a man who—while separated, with an estranged wife and young child literally living on another continent—was never truly free to love me. In the two years we spent together, we witnessed 9/11, became both lovers and collaborators, and ultimately, caricatures of our former selves, as a love that had once seemed so clearly destined became increasingly hopeless, and steeped in desperation—mostly mine.
When he left me, overcome by the guilt of living between two worlds (since he turned out not to be as separated as he’d claimed to be), it took me over 18 months to even entertain the notion of trusting someone enough to touch me. It’s taken far longer to rebuild my trust in myself, let alone my choice of partners.
And for good reason: my relationships since have primarily been a succession of emotionally unavailable men—some of whom left me similarly devastated and disillusioned. And when I wasn’t attracting the usual suspects, my love life was punctuated with brief appearances by men so steeped in their own desperation that I couldn’t help but empathize with those who’d been privy to mine.
So, when I found myself at the bar next to Armstrong, struggling to remain open-minded, despite my visceral aversion to him (the man was like a walking trigger warning), I quickly realized that it might be an opportunity. It was an opportunity to revisit myself; to inquire, investigate, and untangle the mythology I’d built around one of my greatest loves, and the damage that loving him had done to me.
Funny thing happens when you sit back and listen (which I do far more now than at 26): You often learn everything you need to know, and then some.
For instance, I learned that Mr. Armstrong—like his namesake—was not all that he seemed to be. Just like Poetry Man, he was separated with a son (who by my calculations, would even be around the same age, by now) and had neither any intention of reconciling with his wife nor making the radical move to ever divorce her.
And yet, he clearly had no qualms about inviting a woman to dinner, or presumably, expecting her to accept whatever leftover love he had to offer, whilst still legally bound elsewhere.
In Armstrong, I saw my Poetry Man again, but this time, clearly and completely. He confirmed truths I’d long suspected. I was actually grateful that he’d shown up when he did. I also knew that I’d never see him again, not simply because of his non-negotiable marital status, but because his purpose for me had already been served.
See, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal history, especially the ways that history tends to repeat itself. I’ve been thinking about wounds we bear, and the stories we tell ourselves about them. I’ve found myself in conversations with others who are doing the same: examining our own narratives, as an attempt to stop rewriting—and reliving—the same chapters.
And yet again, I’ve been thinking about this grand experiment of mine—this attempt to get “back out there,” so to speak. Truth is, I’ve been dating at arm’s length these many months. Even those men I’ve entertained having relationships with have been men I’d known prior to my time online. No swiping or matching necessary, just a willingness to give it a go.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for (shout-out to Bono and them). Likely, because I haven’t been brave enough to really reach for what I want.
Maybe it’s because I’m lazy (usually not, at least when it comes to love), or maybe because my particular set of wounds have become a wall of emotional scar tissue. Or maybe it’s simply because I’m human, and afraid of rejection. But in spite of all my swiping, dating and reporting back, I’ve been definitively passive. I’ve waited to be reached for, rather than risk making the reach; to be asked, rather than do the asking. As one of my favorite poets, Nayyirah Waheed wrote:
Don’t we all? Always?
But wanting isn’t having, is it? And as another blog (Raptitude.com) reminded me yesterday:
“…We suffer whether we get the thing or not. If we don’t get it, we suffer the loss. If we do get it, we still suffer because we know we will lose it.”
I am a woman. Like many women, I crave the grand gesture. It is the signal of being wanted that has often inspired my own desire. But that is changing. Finally, I’m changing. Lately, I’ve begun to want something—someone—enough to dare ask for him, and he has responded with the grand gesture. And I am reaching back, in kind. Rejection be damned.
And now, it’s 11:30 a.m., and I’m exhausted but excited, because in mere minutes, I will be boarding a plane to Memphis, to meet Mr. Gray Area for a brief getaway—and for the first time in person since our first date, several months ago.
That’s right; I’m getting on a flight, taking a figurative leap out of my comfort zone, and reaching what I think I want.
And I have no idea what is going to happen. It could simply be, as a male friend oh-s0-tactfully suggested, a “long-distance booty call” (admittedly, that stung, though the thought had obviously crossed my mind). It could be an audition that we both fail. It could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
It could be the start of something really, really good.
But none of that really matters right now. I don’t need to know until I know. My only goal right now is to show up, stay present, and allow the truth of our connection to reveal itself. Because trying to forecast the future can be as disillusioning as clinging to the past.
And of all the memories I once clung to with Poetry Man, is this simple thing he once said that is ringing in my ears as I sit here at LaGuardia, waiting for my flight to board:
“Don’t write the ending before it even begins.”