by Kelly Russell
Moving on is hard.
I married my first boyfriend. A year into our marriage, he left our small basement apartment to pick up Chinese food.
It was snowing outside and the roads were icy. I pondered the possibility of twisted metal, a life-changing wreck. The thought of the universe taking away the decision was thrilling. No one could fault me for being a widow, but what would everyone say if I left my seemingly perfect marriage, and admitted that I wasn’t in love? But there was no car wreck. My husband brought back dinner still warm. I faked a smile like I was happy to see him. I stayed in my marriage for another 12 years.
After my divorce, I met Dane two days after joining one of those online dating sites. On our first date, I was so nervous. I couldn’t sit still or make eye contact. I hadn’t dated anyone in over a decade. Hadn’t been physical with a man in over two years. I was a single mother of two small children, struggling to remember to take out the trash and manage all the mundane things like signing the school permission slips on time, packing lunches, doing laundry, and mowing my own lawn.
I had no idea how I was going to handle throwing dating into the mix.
Had the rules changed? Were there rules? I didn’t know. All I knew was that watching my daughter play in the playroom that very morning of my first date made me tender. I watched the rise and fall of her thin shoulder blades, delicate as the wings of a bird. I was envious of all the firsts that awaited her; first kiss, first love, first heartbreak. I was ready for some passion of my own.
Dane and I met at a Starbucks. I was early. He was adorable. We sat at a table, but I couldn’t sit still and barely looked him in the eyes. I must have looked like a crazy person, fidgeting and stammering. He was kind. Sensing my fears, he suggested we go for a walk. On a blustery day in March, we walked around the small town I once lived in with my ex-husband. I was awkward, hiking up my skinny jeans and stumbling on my words. He was charming and made me laugh. There were sparks. I drove home high on possibility, repeating a mantra to the universe. ‘Please let him call. Please let him call.’ Looking back, it was probably a warning sign. I wanted it too much.
He did call, after I broke that dating rule about how women should let men chase us, and emailed him a few hours after the date to ask him if he had a good time.
We dated on and off for over a year. It was like a boxing match, raw and bloody.
We’d fuck and fight, part for two weeks or two months, then stumble back like drunks to a fresh bottle of alcohol. He was my best friend, talking for hours at night, traveling together, hiking, diving, texting me sweet and funny things just because. But, there was always a distance, an inability or a refusal to allow me fully into his life.
I did foolish things, trying to manipulate and scare him into giving more. He couldn’t, and I’d freak out and leave only to take him back the next time. It was the most passionate and painful experience I’ve ever been through. Dane is the only person I’ve ever allowed myself to be completely honest and vulnerable with.
He has seen me at my best and my most ugly.
I’ve showed up at his house to beg, texting and calling a million times in an hour. Yeah, I’ve been that girl.
The last thing I texted him was this, “I forgive you. I worry about you. I think you’re a better person than even you know.”
He didn’t respond. Letting go is hard.
I’m a year older now. There is a hole. I’m not quite sure if I believe in the idea of two people together. Can it work? Love has always been this unbalance for me; one person loving too much, not enough, or not at all. Then I see my parents, married almost 40 years. My dad still has my mother pressed up in the kitchen against the refrigerator when I stop by their house to say hello.
It’s perfectly disgusting. I’m envious.
So, I throw my profile back up on that dating site. I make a few dates.
In the meantime, I mother my children. I stay busy. I sign up to run the New York City Marathon and a Montauk Triathlon. I try not to gag at all my friend’s well-intentioned advice about finding someone when you aren’t searching, and how I should claim my power, and focus on loving myself.
I’m not sure I’m capable of love. I desperately miss sex. I worry that my daughter will end up just like me–adrift.
Mostly, though, and this is the worst truth of all, I miss Dane.
I wonder if we are really done tearing each other apart.
Kelly Russell is the mother of two magical children. She loves them more passionately then a Neruda poem and hopes her dating dysfunction does not make them grow up to be heroine shooting, bank robbers or commitment-phobes who die alone surrounded by 52 cats.