Years ago I sat on a dock and watched the sun set over Dark Head Creek, a small tributary of the Chesapeake Bay in Baltimore County. I remember thinking how nice it would be to share that sunset with someone else. I was in junior high school, I think. I didn’t realize it then, but that was probably the first time I ever longed to share a part of my life with another person.
As I got older my needs for companionship became slightly more sophisticated. I dreamed of a solid relationship with someone I loved, but I also wanted the space to grow and become who I needed to be. Those were my high school years. Some time during that period my parents divorced. Their marriage had been a troubled one from early on, fueled by my father’s drinking. Fearful for my brother’s and my safety, our mother moved us away from our dad, and we lived with other relatives for several years. We eventually moved back together as a family in a small apartment across the street from Dark Head Creek.
The problems in their relationship continued, but they were merely facades for the underlying dilemmas. My father needed to be in control at all times, and my mother needed to leave his forceful grip and become her own person. She needed to become whoever she was supposed to be. So after twenty-two years of marriage, and just before my senior year of high school, my father walked out on us. They divorced shortly thereafter.
Mom and Dad were apart for the next twelve years. During that time my father learned the humbling lessons of compromise and empathy, and my mother finally became independent. They both dated other people, some seriously. I was an adult then. When I came back from college or the Army to visit, I never quite knew which parent I should see first. I timed myself so I would spend an equal number of hours with each, so no feelings would be hurt. But, regardless of how hard I tried, I was unable to fill those spaces of time with anything that made any of us comfortable, and neither could they – at least not with me.
One year I came to visit and they were both over at my grandmother’s house. Together. It seems that the years spent apart and the lessons they learned in each other’s absence strengthened them and their newly-developed friendship. They remarried each other later that year.
Not everyone gets a second chance to find true love, to end that crazed longing for someone or something you can’t ever quite put into words. Many people don’t even get a first chance. Love eludes them like a moving shadow on the tall grass at the edge of a forest.
I have good friends who have divorced, some very recently. Some of them longed for the reconciliation that can sometimes occur with the right kind of counseling. Others wanted to grow at a faster rate than their partners, not being empathetic and patient enough to realize that, while some people strive to force change upon themselves, most of us simply evolve.
Most of my friends did not leave their marriages and fall comfortably into the arms of new love interests. Some stumbled unwillingly into love, and then cautiously allowed it to envelope them as each layer of fear, regret, and self-doubt peeled itself away and shriveled in the bright sunlight.
I believe we can have more than one true love in our lifetimes, but I also think that the only one that matters now is the one that occupies the present. Anything from the past is something else – a kind love that gave and gave and sent you on your way, wiser and genuinely more fulfilled; a bad relationship where love once existed, but whose absence made you more attuned to its nuances; a love that ended in death, and you have the burden of two hearts to carry along.
Love is a strange roommate – very demanding and very giving, incredibly quirky but usually down to earth. Love is a longing that exists so it can constantly be fulfilled, until it goes away, and then the longing stays behind.
Filling the spaces in between the loss and renewal of a relationship is the tricky part: How to pass through that terrible gauntlet of harmful feelings and come out the other side unscathed.
It’s less about looking up at the bright sun, and more about finding the right person to sit next to you as it sets down below the horizon.