A friend of mine recently asked me “So, just how many women have you loved?” It’s a simple enough question, but time, maturity, and wisdom have led me to realize that the answer is not so simple.
The question arose because I was relating that I have asked a total four women to marry me over the years, even though I’ve only been married once. The first woman I asked said “yes,” and then cheated on me. The second woman and I broke up the night I asked. The third woman said “yes,” and then cheated on me. The fourth woman said “yes,” and we’ve been happily married for nearly 19 years. My friend assumed that the answer would be at least “four women.” But in hindsight, that’s not the number at all. While it’s true that I have known many women, the real number of women that I’ve loved is less than you’d think.
Oh, there have been many women over the years who have turned my head and that I wanted to be with. I even thought that I was in love with several of them, including the first three women that I asked to marry me. But now I realize that, in most cases, it wasn’t love at all; it was a combination of lust, infatuation, intrigue, and desperation. In spite of the number of women who have come and gone from my life, I’ve only been truly in love with two, and both of them have had a profound effect on the direction of my life.
The second one is my wife, and she is the love of my life. She is my best friend, my confident, my rock, my partner in all things, and the most patient and understanding woman I’ve ever met. Without her, I would never have survived the trials and tribulations that I’ve had to face, and my love for her is without measure. We support each other, we take care of each other, and we face the challenges of life hand-in-hand. Every day convinces me more that this is the woman the universe wanted me to be with all along, and whatever I had to go through to reach her was a journey well worth taking (although not without its share of scars).
The first one, though, is not among the women that I’d asked to marry me. She’s the one that I affectionately refer to as “the one that got away,” and it’s time to acknowledge what she did for me… by saying “good bye.”
I met her my sophomore year in college. My roommate met her first and was immediately smitten. She was a freshman, petite with short dark hair, and she had a smile that could melt your heart. My roommate was athletic and was a player on an intramural basketball team. He had to get to each of his games early to warm up, and he had to stay behind after the games to clean up. He didn’t want her to walk across campus alone to watch him play, so he asked me to escort her from her dorm to the games and back again. Being his best friend, I was happy to do so.
I got to know her while walking with her and sitting next to her during the games. It didn’t take long for us to discover that we liked each other. It also didn’t take me long to realize that I was falling for her. That’s when I did the unforgivable, according to the “bro code.” I asked her out, even though my best friend thought that he had the superior claim to her.
We kept it quiet that we were spending time together. Neither of us wanted to hurt my roommate, but we couldn’t find a way to tell him what was going on. As it turned out, he found out anyway, and I’ve never seen anyone so angry in my life.
I don’t think that his anger came from the betrayal of my dating her as much as it came from the fact that she preferred me to him. After all, he was the all-American, handsome, smart, jock-engineer, and I was the pudgy computer nerd. I don’t think that his ego could handle losing a girl to someone like me, and the situation ended our friendship and put considerably strain on our living arrangements. But I was now able to see her openly, and that was more important to me that what the situation had caused with my roommate.
During this time, I was involved in state and national politics. I didn’t realize that the people I associated with, through the various campus political groups that I was a member of, were subtly changing me – turning me into someone that I was never meant to be. She tried to tell me that I was becoming someone different – that I was traveling down the wrong path – but I didn’t listen. I thought that I was doing great work; I didn’t realize that I was pushing her away. And then, just before the end of the spring semester, she was gone. For her own peace of mind, she turned her back on me. I hadn’t left her any choice.
I was devastated. By this time, I knew that I was in love with her. We had never slept together, and we had only kissed twice, but I was head-over-heels for her. I spent the entire summer trying to figure out why she had left me. And then, in August, I finally realized what I had become that pushed her away. In that instant, I went through one of the most profound transformations of my life. All of the things that I thought were so terribly important just faded away. I found my way back to the right path. The people around me immediately noticed the change, and I felt like a completely new person.
I should have just been grateful for the lesson and moved on. I had already started attending another college over the summer (I had to retake a class that I had bombed in the spring so I could take the next class in the fall), and I should have transferred to the new college permanently. But I wanted her to see that I had changed; I wanted to win her back. I should never have done that.
We were eventually able to rekindle a friendship of sorts half-way through the fall semester, but it was clear that her purpose in my life had already run its course. She was a catalyst for a needed change that I had to go through, but the universe never intended for us to end up together. I transferred permanently to the other college at the end of the semester, and she transferred to a college closer to her home town at the same time. I never saw her again.
Even though she was no longer in my life, the effect of what she did for me is evident even now. Had she not given me the reason to discover that I was on the wrong path, and take the steps to put myself back on the right path, I would not be the person that I am today, and I would not be the person that I had to become in order to be the husband that my wife needed me to be. For that, I am truly grateful.
Two women: one who pointed me toward the right path, and the other who was the destination at the end of that path, which then led to a completely new path as a husband, provider, protector, father, and now grandfather. I owe both of them a debt of gratitude for all that they’ve done for me. My wife gets to see my gratitude daily, and I try not to miss any opportunities to show it to her. As for the first women, the one who started me on the right path thirty-five years ago, there’s no way I can adequately thank her for her brief-yet-profound role in my life. Perhaps it’s enough that the universe knows how grateful I am and that I acknowledge who I became because of her. I hope so.
But just in case, thank you.