Tuesday, February 14, 2012

An Object of Regret, An Object of Desire

     When my husband, Brad (aka Spartacus), and I first met, it wasn't as much love at first sight as it was "Wow, you actually look better in person than you do online!" We met on match.com, at a time when both of us were considering letting our subscriptions lapse. Dating after 40 is an exhausting process. You learn a lot about people, just from reading their profiles. While men my age, which back then was 44, were looking for women 25-35 (with a very strong emphasis on 25), women like me were looking for a guy much closer in age, e.g. 35-45. Most of us were divorced with kids, and yes, we want and need love just as much as anyone else, possibly even more. It was obvious that the most superficial of my male peers fancied themselves to be studly chick-magnets, when in reality they were engaging in the fine art of the comb-over, concealing their paunchy bellies and spindly man legs beneath sloppy oversized T- shirts and ill-fitting dad jeans. Honestly, 44 year old man-boy, what exactly is it you think you have in common with that buxom 25 year old? It's definitely not pop culture or accrued life experience. When I was 25, the thought of being with a guy 20 years older than me was inconceivable and kind of gross, sort of like sleeping with my father. Personally, I've always preferred men my own age.
     I met Brad a week before I was scheduled to fly out to San Francisco to moderate a discussion at the American Society of Anesthesiologists 2007 meeting. At the time, I was still involved with an old boyfriend of mine, who lives in Los Angeles. California Boy and I started hanging out about a year after my ex-husband and I separated. At first, it was strictly platonic. He had a live-in girlfriend, a very bright, sweet woman who was about our age, with whom he'd been involved for about four years. She was aware that he and I knew each other from way back, and didn't seem bothered by it. They were definitely having some problems in their relationship, though, and the second time I visited, he and I ended up having an affair. It just sort of happened one afternoon, out of the blue; I guess we couldn't help ourselves. I still feel terrible about this because I really liked his girlfriend. As far as I know, he never told her about us, but I think the guilt he experienced as a result of his infidelity drove them further apart until there was nothing left of their relationship to salvage. Perhaps she'd suspected something was going on between us.
     The aftermath of their breakup wasn't just painful for him; it was awkward and agonizing for me, too. Both of us were emotionally fragile for different reasons. Regardless of whether she actually suspected infidelity, his guilt was palpable. He'd irrevocably violated her trust, and there was nothing in the world he could do to make it up to her. Although I could be wrong, I'm making the assumption that they'd agreed to be monogamous once they started living together, at least, it seemed that way to me. I mentioned before that they were already having problems in several vital areas of their relationship, and I'm relatively certain that his straying outside their union was more symptomatic than causal in the break up. After she left him, I received many late night phone calls from him, severely depressed and pining for her. It was almost more than I could take. Being "the other woman" sucked in so many ways, not the least of which was the realization that for a brief moment, I'd been the object of desire, and now, I was an object of regret.
     Once the dust of their breakup had settled, the focus of our relationship shifted. We already had a history together, having first met each other when we were 18 or 19, and I quickly got caught up in the romance of rekindling our old flame. I was under the impression that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, albeit long distance, and I even obtained a California medical license. I viewed Nick and Rory's impending high school graduation as my ticket out of Georgia. In retrospect, I was living in a dream world, an illusion. In the winter of 2007, I flew out to LA for a week-long visit, during which we did nothing but argue. Over what, I can't recall. Whatever it was, it was so bad that he slept on the couch and I tried to get an earlier flight back home. We didn't talk much for a few weeks after that, and I spent much of that interim, analyzing the source of our discord. I couldn't come up with a plausible explanation, other than the fact that in many ways, he and I are like carbon copies of each other, both of us artistic, intelligent, introspective, imaginative, passionate, perfectionistic individuals with an innate drive for risk-taking and throwing caution to the wind. In essence, he was a male version of me.
     A couple of months had gone by when I received an unexpected call from him the Wednesday before Mother's Day. He excitedly told me about an afternoon sailing trip he'd planned that weekend with some of his buddies, who had all pitched in to rent a primo vessel. I was surprised when he invited me to come. The offer was tempting, not only because I didn't have any Mother's Day plans, but because I missed seeing him. I thought, "Why not? This will be fun!" As I mentally rearranged my work schedule to accommodate the travel time for this trip, searching online for a flight, he casually asked, "Do you mind if my friend, Annalisa, comes along?' Had I heard correctly? "Who is Annalisa?" I asked. "Is she someone you're involved with?" On his behalf, he answered honestly, that yes, he'd started seeing her sometime within the 8-10 weeks which had elapsed since my last visit. OK, I could handle the fact that he had a new fuckbuddy. I've never been a jealous person, and I totally get that sometimes, an itch needs to be scratched. It's not like he was in love with her or anything. What was so excruciatingly pitiful about this unsavory snippet of information was my naive shock in hearing that Annalisa was 26, nearly twenty years his junior. "Jesus!" I thought, "He's just like all the rest!" Long story short, I made the trip with the understanding that Annalisa would not be joining us on the boat or at any other point while I was there. The idea of sharing a guy was just too weird. We had a great time that weekend, followed by a disastrous, argument-filled return trip in August. We'd planned a trip to Napa for mid-October, which was when I was flying to San Francisco for my conference, and despite our communication problems, we ended up deciding to move forward with our plans.
     A week before my conference, I met Brad. I hadn't planned to be swept off my feet by his sweetness and generosity; it just happened. Even though we'd only just met, I missed him the entire time I was in California, and ended up cancelling my wine country trip, returning home several days early. He picked me up from the airport, and we've been together ever since. Brad is proof-positive that there still are men out there who love women their own age, inside and out. He's accepted and loved Nick and Rory as if they were his own children. I'm a little ashamed that I haven't been able to return the affection for his curmudgeonly cat, Boris, but that's another day, another story. I've become reacquainted with my old friend, monogamy, and am no longer an object of regret. I remain friendly with California Boy because we were life-long friends to begin with; it was the context of our relationship that changed, not the friendship itself. I get the sense that he respects my commitment. The last I heard, he and Annalisa were still together, so maybe the attraction wasn't just sexual after all. I still prefer men my own age. Lucky for me, my 50 year old husband keeps getting sexier with every year that passes, and I truly cherish him. He is, without a doubt, the exclusive object of my desire.

A related post, which you might also like:  Inconvenience and the Patiently Waiting Heart
Brad, aka Spartacus, and me, Manhattan, NY, Winter 2010

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