So there we sat face to face.
“My parents died when I was in my 20s,” he told me. He looked into my eyes, waiting for and perhaps dreading my reaction. I stared. I blinked. He took a breath and then continued, “and so did my cousin…and a few other people in my life.” He looked again. Would I stare back wondering just how “damaged” he was?
Did I mention that this was a first date? Over eggs and orange juice. No wine to dull the moment. I took a short, involuntary breath in.
“You just told my story. I don’t know anyone else with the same one,” I said.
Now I was on the receiving end of the stare.
“It kinda sucks, right?”
“And makes dating a little bit weird…”
“Because the person in your life has to be able to step up and act like your family…”
“And, when it ends…”
“Exactly…the gut-wrenching feeling of another loss.”
“And I am going to guess that you stayed in your marriage long after it was actually over because you couldn’t face another—”
“That doesn’t make you weak, you know. It makes you human. I totally get it.”
“And, we’re not damaged, right?”
“Nope. Not damaged…just…uhhh…affected. A swift lesson in the school of life is short.”
Another long stare.
For the first time in my life, it felt like someone got me. That odd instant connection between near strangers that erases time and makes the duration of the acquaintance irrelevant.
As it turned out, we had more than just that in common. And so we spent time together—a lot of time together. Enough time that, while caught up in the whirlwind, we neglected work, personal passions, general responsibilities and friends. We found ourselves gasping for air and personal space.
Over the phone he said, “I need space.” To which my first thought was “Oh thank God.” It was a relief, at first, and then it wasn’t.
The panic moved in. In a world where “ghosting” has become a common phrase, a request for space felt like a euphemism for a quiet exit—a disappearance in the night that would erase all signs he had ever existed. Another loss. I felt sick to my stomach. I lost sleep. I stared at pictures of us waiting to see if they, too, would disappear like a photo from Snapchat.
I’m not damaged. I’m affected. I repeated these words to myself. I am strong, rational, emotionally stable. It would be more damaged to not be affected by my losses, I told myself. And I stand by those words. To not be affected would mean to not feel the weight of the experience. It would be a sign of living in denial, of subjugating the experience so deeply that it would be sure to come springing back with twice the force, twice the blow, like a ball that has been held under water. Its impact then would be far more likely to cause damage.
I, we, you are not damaged. We are affected. Because life is real. Experiences happen, and we are human. Loss is a part of life, and it’s nothing to fear.
The guy didn’t ghost—quite the opposite. We got together to talk a few days later and he said the most magical, comforting words: “I’m not going anywhere. We will talk. And see each other. I am here.”
The time spent getting to know him? Not a loss at all.
Author: Lisa Gindy
Editor: Caroline Beaton