I wrote this piece a couple of years ago while spending the 4th with friends on Fire Island, NY. While my doubts about ending this relationship have changed, my opinion on the subject remains the same. Good love is exceptionally hard to find, and definitely worth fighting for.
It's 7 p.m. on Fire Island, the eve of the 4th of July, and everyone on this tiny and gorgeous strip of land is getting ready for another night of rum-soaked Rocket Fuels, dinner with friends and dancing till dawn.
I am sitting alone on a bench in the middle of town, crying.
I honestly don't know exactly what brought it on. Worse than that, I don't know how to stop.
I discreetly move myself past the young families inside the hotel to the roof patio, in hopes of some privacy. No such luck. The tears turn to sobs that I try desperately to hide from the gaggle of girls streaming out to the patio for pre-dinner cocktails. Their excitement and anticipation only add to my despair.
I don't belong here.
By "here" I'm not talking about this beautiful beach town. I actually love it, it's so laid-back and friendly.
I mean "here," still single at my age. I honestly don't belong in this scene anymore. It's old and ugly, and it makes me feel old and ugly -- like I'm crashing someone else's party. Many of the guys I'm meeting have mothers only a few years older than I am. Even creepier are the men my own age drooling over my roommate, who's half their age.
I shouldn't still be out here -- I actually loathe it right now. And I can't help but fear that I made a huge mistake leaving my last imperfect relationship.
I swear I never thought I'd feel this way. Never. I've always been the strong, confident one beating the drum to "never settle" and "find your own bliss." I told my first New York roommate that she needed to learn to be happy on her own before finding the right guy (she nearly ripped my head off). I love my life, I'm just tired of living it alone. Quite frankly, for women over 35, being single sucks.
I don't mean single-with-kids-after-a-divorce single. I mean still single. Never married, dating since I was 12, how are you still single-single. And now, at 42, I feel terminally trapped between two worlds: One of younger women pursued by men of all ages, and another of my peers married with or without kids. I don't fit into either bucket. It's like I missed some train and the next one's nowhere in sight.
Besides, the men who actually appeal to me aren't the ones doing Jäger shots at the bar anyway. They're the ones outside the ice cream shop with the 3-year-olds on their shoulders, chatting about preschools with the other dads. But where are the bars with those guys?
After 35, it's just harder. The pool is smaller, and I have no interest in chasing after any man. I'm as "out there" as I can be but rarely meet anyone interesting. And my options at the office consist of college interns, perpetual frat boys or fabulous gay guys. Besides, I don't believe you can find love -- it finds you. So while I fully agree the real thing is worth waiting for, I'm exhausted. It's no wonder I find myself questioning my choices.
Two years ago, I left an imperfect relationship certain that one of two things would happen: Either we would find our way back to each other or a "better" someone would appear. Neither has happened. Instead, he's with someone else, and I'm alone. Life without him is calmer, minus one up side: We had amazing sex between our blowouts. Now I'm celibate and dating idiots.
It might seem crazy, but at this point I'd rather be fighting in a relationship with him than fighting to find one at all.
The man I left was strong, smart, and beautiful -- inside and out. I fell in love with his heart, and the way he made me feel: unconditionally loved and desired. But he was also the only child of an alcoholic father and a co-dependent mother. Honesty was a foreign language in their home. As much as he loved me, their world of hiding and lies began to seep into ours. Communication was a challenge. Date nights were often delayed for hours without explanation, followed by his angry outbursts, my confused tears and tires screeching down the street.
I considered leaving early on, but he always amazed me by taking huge steps to grow and face his demons. I loved him unconditionally and was always rooting for him. And for us.
But when the lies and temper tantrums took a turn for the worse, I felt I had to leave. I don't think a woman should tolerate abuse of any kind, from any man -- no matter how sucky the single scene is. I believe that it's the woman's job to manage the relationship. If the guy doesn't treat you well, you leave. For an hour, a day, or a year. Or forever, whatever it takes. If you stay, you are rewarding bad behavior.
And I was so sure of our love, I was confident he would fight for it. I felt the time apart would help him. I thought it was the right thing to do. I'm not so sure anymore.
Who knows what would have happened had I stayed longer and tried to work through it with him. If I had recognized MY part in our problems sooner? Considering my current options, I often wish I had. Perhaps we would have ended up apart anyway, or maybe my leaving did help him. I may never know.
As a result, I view relationships very differently now. Many of my male and female friends hit problems and immediately want to bolt or get their partner to change. It's understandable, but not where I'd start, given my hindsight. If there's one thing I've learned it's that relationships are usually 50-50. Each one is a dance, and so few of us realize our part in the dysfunction and often, only after it's over.
I'm not saying that any relationship is better than being alone. Not at all. You need real love, respect and a partner who is willing and able to do the hard work with you. And even then, only so much is workable.
But I do believe that amazing growth can be achieved within a relationship. It happens when you see your imperfect self, mirrored in someone imperfect that you love. It can inspire you both to become better versions of yourselves.
We all have well-meaning friends and families constantly telling us "you deserve better." Well, we do. But I no longer believe that "better" necessarily means leaving.
My parents were separated for a year while I was in college. Awful things were said and done. After much therapy and work, they are happier than ever -- imperfectly -- and celebrating their 47th anniversary this month.
All I'm saying is that maybe we need to stay and fight a little longer. At least until we're SURE there's not a chance in hell we want to spend another day with this person. If you have a partner you love, who is willing to work to make it better, you have a fighting chance.
Given my current prospects, I'd sell my soul to have that chance back again.
My Independence Day crying jag eventually stopped, thanks to a couple of very kind and patient friends. I even pulled myself together in time to go dancing later that night. And as luck or fate would have it, I met a really nice guy. He had missed his ferry back to the mainland and was killing time at the bar by himself. I'm not getting my hopes up, I know better. But hope (and optimism) springs eternal. I'm open to anything, always. You have to be -- at any age.