Ever since “The Talk” happened, things have been better with Spontaneous Guy than I could have imagined. We’ve been spending more time together, getting to know each other on a deeper level, and continuing to have fun.
“Everything is going great, but I’m still panicking,” I told Dr. Diana during our last meeting.
We spent most of the session trying to unravel what exactly I was panicking about when it came to my relationship with Spontaneous Guy. By the end of the hour we had excavated my biggest anxiety about what could go wrong in a relationship, the fear that has led me to the killer belief that love means someone has to get hurt.
“I am terrified that I will fall in love and he will jump ship suddenly without explanation,” I said, tears forming in my eyes.
“Tell me why,” Dr. Diana asked.
Well, that’s a really long story that’s humiliating to tell. It starts when I was 18 years old and fell for a guy who left me without explanation; it ends when I was 30 and he left me all over again in the exact same way. Like many of us, especially when we are young, I let an abominable human being into my life and allowed myself to fall in love with him.
This man, who I’ll call The Devil, left me the first time when I was 20. We had known each other (in the Biblical sense) for two years,, but we had only been officially boyfriend and girlfriend for a few months when he stood me up one night and never returned another one of my phone calls again. For 10 long years, I wondered what had happened. I imagined seeing The Devil in grocery stores and airports. I spun various theories about his sudden disappearance — he was hit by a bus (I confirmed that he was alive and well by calling his office and hanging up when he answered); he fell madly in love with someone else; his drug and alcohol use was secretly out of control and he was protecting me; he hated himself and didn’t think he deserved love in his life; there was something wrong with me.
Ten years later, I received a Facebook message from him. The Devil wanted to meet me for coffee. I obliged because I had been dreaming about his apology for so long, because I thought hearing his explanation would give me the closure I needed, and because I wanted him to see that I had become a successful, empowered woman despite his serious mistreatment of me.
Over coffee, The Devil told me that the way things ended between us had been gnawing at him for the last 10 years, that he did in fact have a drug problem, and that he was clean now. Against my better judgment, we started dating again, but very slowly and very cautiously this time. We emailed and talked on the phone every day. We did nothing but kiss for two full months and had no sleepovers in that time either. We focused on getting to know each other as friends, on “letting him earn my trust back,” as he liked to say. It took me by surprise, the strength of our feelings after so much time and so much wrongdoing.
The Devil and I dated for three blissful months. And then, one day, it all just stopped. We had plans to meet for dinner and he didn’t show. He wouldn’t return my calls or my emails. The Devil pulled his disappearing act once again. Because we live in the digital age, I know that he is alive thanks to Google, Facebook, and Twitter.
I saw him on the street about a year ago. He spotted me, turned around as if he hadn’t, and hightailed it in the other direction. I still have no idea what went wrong between us the second time. I know better than to theorize. It doesn’t matter why he’s gone. The Devil is an awful human being and I should feel blessed that he is out of my life.
This story is one of the most embarrassing for me to tell. How could an intelligent woman such as myself make the same mistake TWICE? I should have known better! Shame on me. But I know that, in the interest of trying to heal my heart and trust it with someone else, I’ve reached the moment where I must get over the humiliation of my mistake, where I must deal with it and forgive myself in order to move forward. I can no longer be haunted by my romantic past.
Later that week, I went to meet my best friend for dinner. I was waiting for her in the lobby of her building when I saw a familiar figure putting a key in a mail slot. I blinked. I blinked again. At first I thought I was imagining him as I had so many times before. All of the blood rushed out of my face. My mouth went dry. I became momentarily paralyzed. It was The Devil. Readers, I know you are probably as incredulous as I was about this sighting. It doesn’t seem like such coincidences should be possible without embellishment. But this one is. The Devil lives in my best friend’s apartment building. All this time he’s been so close to me and I had no idea. I don’t think he saw me. He got on the elevator, a stack of mail under his arm. He looked awful. Disheveled, bloated, slovenly. He was definitely using again. I guess I know what became of him; I don’t need to wonder anymore. I saw him for the first time as he really is, a pathetic, lonely, middle-aged man. When you shine a light on a ghost they don’t seem so scary anymore.