Soon after my high school boyfriend got home from his mission, we stood and held each other next to his car as we were saying our goodbyes, just like we had done a hundred times before. But this time it was different. It was so different, I wanted to jump out of my skin and leave my body standing there without my soul. As I looked into the sky, it seemed so fake - plastic, with a hole for the moon - a spotlight casting its dull glow on the alien world around me. I wrote a poem about it then... I'll never forget that empty feeling of holding a stranger in a loving embrace. We had grown so different over the two years he was gone that I felt like I didn't even know him anymore. Or maybe I just finally realized who he really was. Either way, I convinced myself that night that it would just take time and readjustment. We shopped for rings a few times, but we both kept putting off anything official. It sounds so trivial now, but I actually said once that I wanted one more summer to wear short shorts. Really? And now I see it as an immature manifestation of the more complex feeling I had deep down inside. I wanted to wear short shorts forever if it meant I wouldn't have to marry someone who just wasn't "the one."
I had met some guys online while he was gone, and when we went to California for my cousin's wedding, I met one of them in person. He was so into me. California looked good on me, too, so I came home from that trip and broke it off with my boyfriend. It didn't seem to matter that I didn't have any real feelings for this guy. Every time that plane dropped me off in California, it was like I was in a different life where I could just have fun pretending to be his girl while we had all sorts of fun adventures. And then he wanted to move to Arizona for the summer. Not good. I never tried very hard to find him a place to live, and that frustrated him to no end... he knew he wasn't "the one," and yet he kept holding on to basically nothing.
My next escape route came through my best friend. She invited two guys over... two (ahem) very good looking guys. As the flirting went on throughout the night, it hit me that I could NEVER find "the one" until I got rid of... not the one. So I broke another heart. I dated the new guy a couple of times, but it never went anywhere. That didn't matter, though. What mattered was that I was finally free... free to get to know the most important person of all... ME.
What happened in the next six months taught me everything about relationships and dating that I could never learn while I was attached to... not the one. My friends and I spent every Friday night at the dance, every Saturday night on a date or out having fun, and every Sunday night delivering goodies (or what we called "Gospel Cheer") to the houses of the guys we liked. Most importantly, I spent Valentine's Day single and alone for the first time in years, and it was LIBERATING! If only I had mustered the courage to let go earlier, I could've found myself sooner.
So many guys in six months, but never "the one." I'm not gonna lie, it got me down sometimes, but the way it ended with each one just taught me something important about what I wanted in "the one," for better or for worse.
I don't feel comfortable using names, so let's just start with Kachina Man. One day he told me he needed to pawn his kachina doll to make his rent. He was cute, so what did it matter that he was no good with money? Yeah. I actually went out and spent about $150 on clothes after I met him just so I could dress to impress. I must've known somewhere in my subconscious that he was shallow... everything ended after the day I told him I used to be twenty pounds heavier. His reaction made me feel awkward because I genuinely thought he'd be impressed. Can you believe I actually tried to call him after a few days to set up another date?
Then there was Milton Man, as in John Milton, the English poet. I was an English major, so what better place to find a soul mate than the halls of the liberal arts building at ASU? He promised me lunch between classes, and when he went to use the restroom while I waited, I switched to the other side of the booth so he'd have to pay attention to me instead of the basketball game. That was the end. Seriously. I didn't want it to be the end, and I let the confidence I felt when I made the move erode into the weak position that I should've just let him continue to half listen to me while he watched the game. Since I couldn't just let go, I would drive down to ASU on Saturdays and pretend I needed to go to the library to study just so I could see him while he was working. One day the vending machine on the first floor of the liberal arts building didn't have pretzels in it, so I went to the second floor and realized he was waiting there for his John Milton class to start. Next thing you know, the vending machine on the first floor never seemed to have what I wanted, and I went to the second floor all the time. It was my little pathetic version of paradise lost every day. I'd feel myself getting nervous as I walked by and fumbled for something to say. Why? Because the only person I could honestly be was me, and it was hard to admit that he didn't want whatever that was... and even harder to admit that I really didn't want to have to convince someone that I was worth loving.
And then there was Banker Man. In some ways, Banker Man was worst of all. We got along fine, but there was no fire in my heart for him. When I turned 24, I started to let a little doubt creep in about whether I would ever find a soul mate... I really didn't know how young I was, and I felt time was running out for my happily ever after. I let my fears convince me that we could make a marriage work because he already had a good job and he was a good person. Oh how my thirty-eight-year-old heart aches for my twenty-four-year-old heart... girl, you have forever to be married and just one chance to find out who you really are as an individual. You are too DANG special to spend your life with someone who doesn't light your fire. Fortunately for me, Banker Man sensed the problem, too, and ever so gently put me down and let me float away.
The list could go on, but it doesn't need to. By February, my heart was sufficiently pruned, and the stars aligned to make it possible for me to meet "the one." I never knew how I'd know until it happened. No analysis needed, really... I just knew. And I knew that I knew. There was nothing fake or strained about it. I told him about the $150 in clothes just the other day, and he said, "Did you buy any clothes when you met me?" I said no... and then the explanation that I had never contemplated before followed so easily, "I knew I didn't need to." He said, "Good." And that's really the essence of it. I didn't have to look any certain way to get his attention, didn't have to pretend to be anything I was not, didn't have to settle for "pretty good." Our souls fell in love beginning on the night we met, and all that was on the surface never really mattered at all. That man loves who I am deep down, and that is a gift that can only be given by "the one."
Yeah, I was worth the wait.