I almost never think about Julie anymore, but she was once very important to me. She was the first woman I became involved with after I divorced years ago. She was just getting out of a very abusive marriage. In many ways, we were a good fit.
For about a year, she was my constant obsession. But she had too many issues in her life and we started drifting apart. The last time I saw her was when I’d traveled to see her and she dropped me off at the airport for my trip home. We weren’t mad at each other, but nothing was right.
We didn’t talk again for another month. I can’t remember exactly how things played out after that. The details are fuzzy — mostly because it hasn’t mattered to me in a long, long time.
When I was going through that year, I thought I was in love with Julie — not her real name — and I thought about her constantly. She was beautiful and brilliant. Funny and kind. She had many of the qualities I want — and we talked seriously about a future together.
I could see myself with Julie. With all my heart, it was what I wanted. And now — with the benefit of these years away from her — I’m thrilled that I didn’t get what I wanted.
I’m thinking about this today because I happened to see a picture of her last night. It was an odd coincidence that I came across the photo online, because she lives nowhere close to me and we share no friends. She’s married to a pastor now and I came across a photo of the two of them together.
“I’m so lucky that didn’t work out,” I found myself thinking.
When we think we love someone, we can be blind to this person’s faults. Even if we see the negatives, we can easily think we can overcome the problems. That’s what I thought with Julie.
A few years after she and I completely cut off communication, I got a letter from her out of the blue. It seemed like a pleasant feeler. She asked how I had been and those sorts of routine questions. I happened to be going through some counseling with a psychologist at the time — about childhood related issues. I had told the psychologist about this relationship before, so I mentioned getting the letter.
“Burn it!” the psychologist said emphatically. “She’s a very unhealthy woman and you don’t need her in your life.”
I knew she was right and I never wrote back. I don’t know why Julie had written, but I knew I had moved on. Nothing about her mattered to me anymore.
I believe there’s nothing more important in our lives than finding the love we need. That won’t come as a surprise to you. I don’t say it as a wide-eyed and innocent teen. I say it as someone who’s been hurt by loving the wrong people — or maybe by loving the right people at the wrong time. It’s hard to say.
But even knowing how painful love can be, I know it’s worth taking chances on, because there are few things we need as much as we need real love.
As much as I recommend taking risks to have the love we need, I know that love comes with powerful risks. And I’ve come to see that the biggest risk — at least some of the time — is the possibility of getting what we desperately want.
When I was involved with Julie, I fervently hoped we would end up together. Today, I know how terrible that would have been for me. I thank God — literally — for not giving me what I wanted.
And that leaves me with a question I’ve pondered many times. If I can look to my past and know there have been times when I wanted things — relationships or business situations, for instance — so much I became obsessed with them. But with many of them, I can look back and say I’m glad they didn’t happen.
And if that’s true, how can I know that I won’t feel the same way — one day down the road — about things which I desperately want today?
How can we ever be certain that what we want is the right thing? How can we ever know that we wouldn’t be disappointed if we got what we think we want?
I don’t have great answers to these questions. I can just tell you what my gut instinct says. And I’ll use a metaphor that just occurred to me because of something I just saw.
There’s a television on in the restaurant where I’ve come for dinner and it’s showing a women’s college basketball game between Notre Dame and North Carolina State. I haven’t been paying attention to the game, but I just looked up and saw something that felt like a metaphor.
One of the N.C. State players — a tall blonde whose name I missed — was all by herself with the ball. She was wide open and she started to go up for a shot, but she hesitated. In the moment of hesitation, a Notre Dame defender got back to her and the open look was gone. She was covered and had to pass the ball instead of score.
That’s the way love can be. There can be times when we’re wide open and we have a shot at getting what we need, but if we hesitate too long, the chance is gone. By not taking the shot, we can avoid some potential kind of loss, but we also can’t score. We can’t have any hope of finding what we need if we don’t take the shot.
Maybe there was a window during which Julie and I were on the right path together and if we had both decided to take a shot, we could have been good for each other. But once that moment was gone — when the “open shot” was gone — things never could have aligned for us after that.
I can’t take a metaphor too far, but in the brief moment when I just saw that play, it made all the sense in the world.
There is a window of time during which love can work for two people, but that window eventually closes and both move on like ships that will never encounter one another again. It’s hard to know how long the window of opportunity can stay open, but I’m certain of one thing.
Every time I have loved a woman, she was the only one I wanted. For me, the window of opportunity was open. But for every one of them — except one — that window eventually closed and I moved on to love someone else.
I still think I know what I want today. I haven’t been able to help myself. But I’ve felt this way before about others. The window of opportunity is still open today, but if nothing changes, it will one day close without warning. And then I’ll find myself looking back on one more woman with a realization that the opportunity for something I wanted had completely ended.
When we fall in love, we place our heart in a cage. When we’re in love, nobody else can touch our heart except that one person. We want nothing else. But when a heart is left alone — without love or attention — it eventually finds a way to open the door to the cage and it flies away in search of what it still needs.
And we keep repeating this awful pattern until we finally find the right connection with the right person at the right time — for once in our lives.