Not long after I decided to leave my husband I met someone new. I was working part-time at a book store and he was a publisher’s rep. We would go for coffee or walks in the park and have long, stimulating conversations. We spent hours on the phone talking about literature, philosophy, the arts, religion—things I loved but my husband had no interest in. I could feel myself falling in love with him, thinking perhaps he was the “soul mate” I’d always longed for. He seemed to feel the same way about me.
I had already asked my husband for a separation, suggesting he move out. He only laughed and said he wasn’t going anywhere. I knew I would have to be the one to go and began planning my escape. Soon, I thought, terrified by what he might do if he knew I was already seeing someone.
Then he found out. When he confronted me, I told him the truth, that I had fallen in love with someone else. I was astounded by his response. It was so unlike anything I had imagined. He said he did not blame me. He had always known that I was “too good” for him, and if this man was better, he’d step out of the way.
But after confronting the man too, after meeting and talking with him, he said the man wasn’t good enough. He was the better man, and he wanted me to give him another chance. He was sure he could make me fall in love with him again. And while I knew that was impossible, I felt I had no other choice but to let him try. We had been married ten years by then, and I felt I owed him, and our marriage, at least that much. I figured eventually he’d realize it was futile, and then he’d have to let me go.
It was hard at first, to stop seeing the man I felt I had fallen in love with. I felt I had put my real life in limbo, and was living a lie. I mourned my lost love. The life I imagined spending with him was like a shadow that followed me everywhere. I feared it was a life we might never realize together—at least in this life time. That’s when I wrote the following poem.
It’s amazing how you multiply as time moves
Everywhere I see your face appear
It grows more clear the longer we are parted
Like time itself conspires to bring you near.
Sometimes I feel your presence close behind me
Where I could turn to find you standing there
Turn toward arms pressed close about me
As if mere motion was the answer to my prayers.
Sometimes your presence seems to float before me
Upon a sea of bright tranquility
I watch my soul swept out to meet you
And marvel at mind’s sweet complicity.
Sometimes I feel as if I were a twosome
And one of me moves never far from you,
The other is mere exercise in motion
Eclipsing everything in me that’s true.
Someday I pray that we shall sit together
Before a sea resplendent in the sun
We’ll eat a little morning meal together
Before we rise into new life as one.
Eventually this sense of sadness faded. My husband and I began “dating” again. We spent long leisurely weekends together going to concerts and museums and strolls along the beach. We began cultivating a taste for California wines and listening to jazz music together. We chartered sailboats in the Caribbean and renewed our dream to sail around the world together.
Little by little I began falling back in love with him. It began with a deep respect for how he had reacted when I told him I’d fallen for someone else. There was no anger, no accusations, no recriminations. No jealousy or hurt feelings that I could tell. Never did he hold it against me, or try to make me feel I had wronged him. He absolved me of all blame. All he wanted was the opportunity to prove he was the better man, prove he could love me enough to make me want to stay with him. How could I not love that?
I realized I had deeply underestimated him. He revealed a strength of character and depth of love that I hadn’t realized he possessed. A dignity and humility and gentleness I hadn’t seen before. This was the foundation upon which the renewed love I felt for him grew. And it was the stronger and richer for it.
Now looking back, that period in our marriage seems like an aberration, a mirage almost. I barely remember the name of the man I thought I’d loved, and his bitter assessment of the whole affair—that I willed myself to love him to have the courage to leave my husband—may have the ring of truth.
Despite this happy ending to that episode in our marriage, it wasn’t the last time our love was tested and bent near breaking. But never again without the hope that this too would mend in time and make us stronger. And it did.
Love is the hardest thing we can ever do—love for our spouses, our children, our parents, ourselves, each other. Love for the world we live in. Love for that which created all of this. If we think love’s easy or should be easy, that it won’t have radical mood swings, won’t lift us up and throw us down, won’t drift away when we’re not attentive, won’t wither if we’re not feeding it, or spring back, full and fresh, when we water it with patience and kindness, then we don’t know love at all. And maybe we can’t know it, until we live it, and let it live in us.
(To be continued) In celebration of April as National Poetry Month and our 50th wedding anniversary (yes, I was a child bride), I’ll be reposting a series I published here years ago, an anatomy of love as it evolves over time, exploring married love in all of its manifestations: Innocent love, erotic love, disappointed love, love lost, love renewed, and love that lasts.