When I got married at 24, I assumed it would be my only marriage. Don’t most people believe that about themselves?
I came across this photo in an old album tonight and it felt as though it was from another lifetime. But that’s me up there next to the lovely woman in the white dress. That’s my best man, Larry, to my right. That’s her best friend, Monique, on her left. That’s Rev. Leroy Anthony officiating. That’s his wife, Martha, at the organ on the right. That’s my father and his second wife on the right side of the second pew.
And that’s the woman who I married back then. In the interest of her privacy, I’m not going to be much more specific or show her face. There’s nothing to hide, but I just see no reason to drag her face into my musings tonight.
I still think very highly of Melissa. As far as I know, she still thinks highly of me. (She once told me that she would be happy to be a character witness for me with a future romantic partner if I needed one.) But she is a stranger to me now. She remarried quickly after we divorced and she has a wonderful husband and a beautiful little boy. I’m happy for her.
But when I look back on her — and on all the women I’ve dated or fallen in love with along the way — it occurs to me tonight that they tell a story about where I’ve been and what I’m becoming.
The first time I fell in love, I was a freshman in college. She was someone I had had a crush on back in junior high school. I had gotten over her eventually, of course, but then we were thrown together as college freshmen. We fell in love, dated three years and almost got married.
I haven’t talked to Gail in many, many years, but nothing ever changed my opinion of her character or worth. I still think very highly of her, just as I do Melissa.
But as I sit here tonight and think about them — and other women along the way — I see a pattern. I realize that the person I am today never would have been attracted to them. And I don’t think they would have been attracted to the person I am today.
I can’t quite explain that, but I wish I could. It’s not a slight to them. Not in the least. I’ve just changed in radical ways. The person I was at the time thought they were perfect candidates for me. The person I am today is attracted to someone far, far different.
If I made a list of the women who have really mattered to me — who I’ve fallen in love with — there wouldn’t be that many of them. But if I arranged them in order and you knew everything about them, you would see some patterns.
The women I was attracted to back then were more conservative. Not politically, but maybe socially. Or maybe more “traditional” is a better choice of words. They were more the sort of woman who might be cast to play the role of an old-fashioned wife of the stereotypical sort from my childhood years. This is not a bad thing, but I find that the women I’ve been attracted to more recently are much, much stronger women, at least in outward ways.
This is tough to explain, because it might come across as though I’m saying Melissa was someone who was passive or unambitious, but that would be mistaken. She has a Ph.D. and is a researcher and professor at a university. She’s fantastic at what she does. But there’s some essential difference in stance and presentation between her and the woman I would want today.
I’ve always wanted a partner in marriage, but I think I saw that role in a more traditional way at one time. I don’t mean as someone to keep “barefoot and pregnant,” of course, but something essential has changed in how I see my wife’s role.
I suppose I’m trying to say that I once saw my wife’s role as secondary to my own, whereas I now see someone who is an equal partner in the eyes of the world.
I think I once wanted a wife whose intelligence and beauty and charm would reflect well on me. The difference now is that I want a woman whose intelligence and beauty and charm reflect perfectly on her. I don’t want someone who can be an adoring woman in the shadows. Yes, I want her adoration. (I need that.) But whereas I might have once seen me as the one getting the glory — as a wife watched and supported me from the shadows — I now want a wife who stands in the spotlight for the glory with me.
Here’s something I don’t like admitting. I think I would have been put off — all those years ago — by the kind of woman who seems like my kind of woman today. Maybe I’m wrong, but when I look at the most recent woman I fell in love with, it was someone whose accomplishments made me burst with pride for her. I wanted her to be a star in her own right — and I wanted her just as much for her star power and ability to achieve as I wanted her for her beauty and charm and personality.
If I met someone today who was just like the women who I fell in love with when I was young, I think I would like them, but I can’t see me falling in love with them.
If I met someone back then just like the sort of woman I fall for today, I don’t see me falling in love with her. I suspect I would find her fascinating and even somewhat dangerous, but I would have seen her as too different from me.
I have changed radically over the years — and I’m seeing tonight just how much what I want has changed.
When we get married, we promise to love someone forever. That’s the romantic goal. It’s been the standard that society has pushed us toward through both culture and religion. For some people, that works and I wouldn’t suggest they should change it. I’m just certain that many of us change rapidly — and we soon discover that we’re no longer anything like the person we married.
I’m not going to get sidetracked on whether this is a bad thing or not. At one point, I thought divorce was terrible, but my views are far more complicated and nuanced today. I’ll leave it at that.
I just know I’ve changed. When I see who I was at 24 and I married Melissa, I simply don’t know that man anymore. I don’t know her anymore. For her sake, I’m glad she isn’t married to me anymore. I’m simply not the man she thought I was — and I like the person I am today far better.
I still think very highly of Gail and Melissa. I still think highly of the other women I’ve dated and had serious relationships with. But it’s noteworthy that the only one I would choose to marry today is the most recent one — not any from the past.
Something about me changed in radical ways. I like those changes. And those changes in me changed who I wanted.
If you could see and meet the woman I want — this star prototype, so to speak — I assure you that you would fall in love with her. I can’t take my eyes off her face in my mind. I wish I could tell her that.