Ready to Something

I met Marco* at a party in 1998, armed with hard-earned knowledge about what I wanted in a guy. It's a testament to his charm, wit, and intense magnetism that I ignored most of it and fell for him anyway.

Now a physician in St. Louis, Marco was brilliant, and his curiosity and passion about everything he devoted himself to—his dance classes, his study of maternal mortality rates in Africa, and his sexual experimentation—blew me away. Small of stature and completely bald, his enormous self-confidence made him seem larger than life. The fact that he aimed the force of his passion at me was overwhelming.

I so valued his opinion that I tried to be what I thought he wanted, losing what I liked best about myself and what I wanted in the process. I suppose his behavior fit into the broad definition of abuse. He craved closeness but flung me hard against a figurative wall when intimacy became threatening. Still, I didn't feel like a victim. I was as full a participant in that relationship as he was. And I learned from our clichéd little dance. After every makeup session, there would be a period of tranquillity in which we analyzed at length what went wrong, how it could be avoided in the future, and how it fit into the larger context of human nature. We intellectualized our feelings until they exploded again, in the exact same way, which set off the cycle on another round. After about a year, Marco moved to Boston for med school and wouldn't discuss our future, so I ended things, the official reason being that he couldn't promise me a future.

"I'm concerned you're going to paint me in that story as a commitment-phobe," Marco said when we met for drinks.

"Well, you are," I said, even though I'd realized since we'd broken up that I, too, had a terrible time committing, which is why I'd been picking such inappropriate men all those years. But I wasn't going to admit that to him right away. I found I still enjoyed getting a rise out of him.

"I've been thinking about this, and I don't know that I am," he said. "Maybe we just weren't right for each other." I felt the old pull to analyze things with him, which was a passable substitute for real closeness.

"We weren't. Because you're a commitment-phobe," I said with a smirk. Then I told him I was just teasing and admitted that had he invited me to move to Boston with him, I most likely would have been the one to freak out. I told him I'd had to face a lot of fears to commit to Paul—and the fears still come up. He appreciated that, and it got him thinking, which he's always up for. I commented on how we were very good at analyzing our relationship but not so good at having it.

At this point, you're probably thinking Paul deserves a medal for not minding that I had one last date with my exes. And truth be told, he doesn't exactly adore thinking about other men I've loved. After revisiting the past, though, I think we both realize that these guys and others were responsible for teaching me what I needed to learn in order to be the person I hope to be: a good partner for the long haul. My exes made perfect sense for their era, to me, if not to my mom. As Thomas once said, and I've often repeated, "There's only one road to now." And I'm happy where I am.

Next: How to know it's real love

*Indicates name has been changed.


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