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Annelise Conway Headshot

Why I'm Thankful for the Man Who Broke My Heart

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My mornings are busy. The coffee needs to be made, the dishwasher needs to be emptied, children need to be dressed, lunches packed, cars warmed, and somewhere in all of it, I need to dry my hair -- never well enough to feel as though it was worth the time. We live two hours north of Boston, short enough to pop down for a day and just long enough that an early or late afternoon meeting there is nearly impossible to reach without the predawn wakeup or post bedtime return home. I try hard to not miss bedtime.

But the Massachusetts Conference for Women was one of those meetings that was worth the drive. The modified TED talks, the national thought leaders sharing their own bits of advice was appealing enough to pull me away from my quiet corner of Maine to join the 8,000 other participants.

I had my children's school Christmas party to get home for, so I was leaving after the 2 pm lecture to fight the traffic on the Zakim Bridge, and cross two state lines just in time to put together my secret meatball recipe (turkey meatballs in a jar of sauce -- secret revealed), and take pictures of their nursery school rendition of "Jingle Bells." Never enough time.

And it was Arianna Huffington. I wasn't going to miss her session, assuming it would be political, or reference her vignette on How I Met Your Mother. She was part of the reason the 8,000 women put down their iPhones and took a minute to listen. But I never expected to hear my own story in hers.

She shared a story of a young Arianna, in London, falling in love with a newspaper writer. She read his stories, she prepared for their first date, she fell madly in love with him -- she joked that it was even before she had met him. You can imagine how crushed she was when years later, he said had no interest in marrying her. She had to start over again. But she moved to New York and became the Arianna Huffington we know today.

I, too, fell madly in love with someone (probably before I even met him) and, after four years and countless disappointments, faced the reality that he didn't want to marry me. He was a PGA tour golfer (still is) and I had put aside my hopes and dreams to support his career.

At 28, I refused to let his decision derail my path. I moved away from Boston, for the first time in six years, and moved to Seattle. I sold all of my furniture, packed up my Vespa, my photos, my clothes (I had 38 skirts), and moved 3,000 miles away to a loft overlooking the Olympics and started all over again. While in college, I had planned to be a social worker for families going through cancer treatment. I took my experience in fundraising and began working for one of the country's leading cancer research centers.

My friends were registering for china and I was going on first dates. One of my first dates, a similarly transplanted east coaster, turned into a second, then a third, then a fourth. I was whisked away through fires and wines and French dinners and laughs. We got a dog, a beautiful golden retriever who has loved every minute of being with us, the ultimate dog. We bought a house. We got engaged, then married, then tore our kitchen back to the studs and built it all over again, with our own two hands. Literally, putting our own blood, sweat, and tears into the core of that home.

I returned to the accounting firm where I began my career, this time in a marketing role, still able to connect with the Cancer Research Institute and understand the intricacies of international accounting standards. We had a daughter, a precocious little girl who confuses the word attract with contract: "Alligators contract fairies." Life was peaceful and harmonious, but we missed home.

We moved back east -- my husband and father-in-law driving across the country in our Volvo station wagon in the middle of January, leaving me at SeaTac airport with a cat strapped on my back and an infant in a stroller, as they barely missed snow storm after snow storm. We moved into a beautiful John Calvin Stevens building in downtown Portland, Maine, with a two-story exposed brick kitchen, and four fireplaces.

I parlayed my fundraising experience into a new role, raising funds to restore the Winslow Homer Studio. I was literally on the inside of the most important building in the art world during its restoration. I was there when they found Homer's paintbrush while sorting through the mountains of clam shells. I had quiet moments in the home when I know the spirit of Winslow was there, half irritated that we were shining the spotlight on his little cottage by the sea. I fêted the kick off of the Campaign with multiple gubernatorial candidates and the celebrated it's successful close with the legendary retiring senator.

And then we had my son, a whopper of a kid who made us all fall in love with him from the minute we laid eyes on him. His joy is unstoppable. He leads with his head down. He just goes, thinks later.

Through it all, we were close enough to our families that they were with us on weekends, through birthdays, celebrations, boat rides to a Maine island to build a fort with buoy swings and flip-flops for flags. We shared the happy times. We were able to hold each other up during the hard times. We have a regular, beautiful life that is filled with countless lunches to be made, doctors' appointments to attend, and limitless laundry and love.

My heartbreak, which started me out on a personal rejuvenation, resulted in an inspiring career and discovery of forgotten and previously unknown talents. The icing is that wonderful husband and two beautiful children. All because one man didn't want to marry me. And I couldn't be more thankful.