When I met the woman who was to become the great love of my life, she was lonelier than I had ever been, even in my worst days.
Even with three daughters she adored.
She is (and was) an exceptionally beautiful woman by any objective standard. But beauty is no guarantee of happiness. In can, rather, be a guarantee of unwanted attention.
When I first saw her, my honest thoughts were, “Wow. She’s beautiful. Way out of my league.” And that would have been that, except…
… She was attracted to me.
Even now, I have to pause to let that sink in. She was attracted to me.
I was a single father raising a son (and, during the summers, my stepson). I had dated two women since my divorce; a woman who was way too young and a woman from work who just couldn’t relate to someone who had a child. Dating her (my future wife) seemed an extreme improbability.
What did I have going for me? I’m not exactly handsome; I certainly wasn’t her male equivalent in looks. She had frequently dated, and had even been married once, to that type of person.
I had a job, so check there… I was raising a child, so, whatever type of check that merits, I guess I had that…
I had emerged from my first marriage and my dating years with a series of weird ideas about women, one of which was: women are every bit (if not more) appearance-conscious than men are reputed to be. They act like men are these shallow, appearance-driven creatures, and they’re half right.
We are shallow.
There was a post earlier this month among my fellow peppers where a woman was recommending a single guy she knew to any girls out there who were single.
Let’s just say I don’t (and never did) look anything like this guy. I know (or thought I knew) that this is what women want.
Some of this attitude goes back to my early teens, and my observation of what might be called mass, groupie-like behavior on the part of my female classmates.
They all wanted the same guys: the hot guys, the cool guys (which oddly enough, in English, are not opposites).
In other words, the not-me guys.
At one point in my life, I reasoned that humans had evolved in such a way that men were supposed to die off in war and the few survivors have multiple wives; this explained things like the fact that a higher percent of women have ever been married than men, meaning, all the women marry the same few guys.
Who, once again, were not me.
So I found this beautiful woman, who I was attracted to, attracted to me.
What’s more, it wasn’t the way she looked that got me. I actually fell in love with her when we started talking on the phone every night.
Remember: we each had kids to get to bed. My son was only four years old at the time; his half-brother was thirteen. Her girls were nine, twelve, and fifteen. We worked our jobs, got our kids to bed, then we would talk on the phone.
She was smart. She was creative. She was strong. She had lived a fascinating life.
She had actually been a professional model in her younger days, but she had a degree in sociology, and had worked at least fifty different jobs, by my count, including having taught a variety of subjects at college.
She had dark things in her past, though.
An alcoholic father.
An alcoholic husband.
She was lonelier, I came to realize, than I had ever been; mostly because, to the world, she was a beautiful person, and beautiful people (as we all know) don’t have problems.
The high school pageant winner doesn’t have father who steals money to buy alcohol. If she doesn’t socialize, it’s because she’s stuck-up, not because she’s virtually a prisoner in her own home.
The professional model has her pick of all the best guys. If she got raped, it’s probably her fault. Besides, I doubt she can keep track of how many guys she’s been with.
Look at her, with her good looks and her handsome husband, and now, three beautiful daughters. Certainly, neither she nor her girls could be afraid at night when he comes home drunk.
I came to see something I’ve seen repeatedly since: when you think someone else’s life is easy, it’s because you don’t know that person well enough.
Still, she had overcome these things, and I had fallen in love like I’d never thought possible. She encouraged me. She looked out for me.
She loved me.
She didn’t just say it, she actually did it.
When we decided to get married, our kids seemed excited about the idea. Mixed step-families do have problems they don’t tell you about in books, though, like her twelve year old daughter having a crush on my thirteen year old stepson.
And him breaking her heart.
Our first year of marriage was tough, as we struggled to integrate ourselves into each other’s lives. She had learned to be conflict-avoidant. I had learned the opposite.
But we worked through it.
To me, in a relationship, respect is more fundamental than attraction, or even affection. I was attracted to her, and I loved her, but I respected her, and that meant more when times got tough than anything else, largely because respect prevents you from, ultimately, indulging in the type of corrosive criticism that destroys relationships from within.
When you are attracted to her, you want to sleep with her;
When you love her, you want her to be happy;
But when you respect her, you want to listen to and learn from her.
When you have nothing left to learn from the person you love, your relationship is probably in trouble.
So here we are.
We’ve been married now quite a while; we’ve seen all three of our daughters get married, and one of those get divorced.
I’m upwards of fifty years old; she’s a few months older than I am. We have grandchildren.
She’s still the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known. “Beautiful” and “young” are different words for a reason.
We have challenges ahead, I’m sure. I’m also sure I have no idea what they will be. But we’ve both been through the valley.
We also know what is to lie out on the grass, and bathe in the sunlight, and know we are loved.
For love is not just the best thing, it’s the only thing.
For Nano Poblano this year, I’m trying a prose post a day instead of my usual work in poetry. Thanks for reading. – S.B.