I can’t possibly tell you why I fell in love with Gail when we were freshmen in college.
That’s not a negative reflection on her. To the contrary, I have only good things to say about her. But I’ve changed so much since I fell in love with her that I can’t put myself into that emotional place. I’m still the same person I was then, but I barely understood myself, much less how two adults should love each other.
I was emotionally and psychologically immature.
Gail was my reflection of the ideal woman at the time. We had gone to high school together. We had spent time in church together after her widowed mother married someone in my church. She was bright, well-spoken, confident, creative, ambitious and attractive. I considered myself very fortunate.
I’ve been thinking lately about what our choice of romantic partners says about us — and I can’t help but think that our partner choices change over the years in ways that reflect who we are becoming and the ways that we allow those people to influence us.
When we move on to other partners, it’s often simply because we are no longer the same people we were when we chose that person — for good or for bad.
Gail and I dated for three years. In the last year of the relationship, I knew something wasn’t right. I knew I was ready to move on. I knew that I was becoming someone who no longer matched her. But I was terrified to give up what I had. What if it was the wrong choice to move on?
Looking back on that, breaking up was the obvious right choice. She was the ideal woman for the man I thought I was at the time, but I was rapidly growing and becoming someone with much different understandings of the world. Maybe the same was true of her. I have a strong feeling that marrying her would have been a serious mistake.
I suspect most people choose a marriage partner far before they’re really ready. How many of us are still the same people — with the same understandings of life, ourselves and the world — that we had in our 20s? Or even early 30s?
If I had married Gail when we were in our early 20s — as we planned at one time — we both would have been stuck with somebody who reflected what we had been at the time. And even though I have nothing but good things to say about her, I know that we were already moving in radically different directions. We would have been terrible choices for one another — even though we were a great match at 19 or 20.
If I look at the women I’ve fallen in love with over the years, they’re all very different people. Each one reflects the growth I had experienced up until that point and each one changed me with one influence or another. One of the biggest surprises of my life is that my life choices are always shaped — sometimes in subtle ways — by the expectations that women have of me, because I want to make each one happy.
We sometimes choose partners and then find — just a few years later — that we don’t match who those people are. We often wonder how we got stuck with such a person. I suspect that for many of us, the answer is simple. We were less-mature people in the past. Our expectations were different. We weren’t as aware of what we were committing ourselves to. Our values might have been different.
Then as we change — and the other person doesn’t change in the same ways — we end up miserable. That person is slowing us down, possibly dragging us down from becoming what we see as the best person we know we could be.
I realize that I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the sort of woman I love today when I was in my 20s or 30s. That doesn’t mean that I was “the wrong person” back then. It doesn’t mean that such a person was defective at the time. It just means we wouldn’t have matched in our expectations, maturity, values and desires.
I’ve realized recently that I define periods of my life by who I loved during a certain period. Some people divide their lives by careers or where they lived or something similar. For me, it’s all about who I love or loved. Everything else is secondary, because my desires and expectations revolve around my love for a particular person.
For those who would like to have one partner for life, this isn’t good news, because it goes against everything our system — including our culture, religion, expectations — has set up for us. I’m sure there are a few people who match well at an early point in life and remain well-matched for the rest of life. For most of us, it simply doesn’t work this way.
I would be horribly unhappy today with the sort of woman I would have chosen when I was 30. And that sort of woman would be horribly unhappy with what I am today, too.
I haven’t spoken to Gail in a very long time, but my understanding is that she has had a very happy life with a husband and children who were perfect for her. In retrospect, I’m so happy that I didn’t hold her back from becoming who she needed to be — and I’m thankful that I wasn’t deterred from the huge changes I’ve needed to go through to become what I am today.
As I enter the period that I believe will be the most productive and creative of my life, I know the sort of woman I need. I only hope that whoever I need will have done the growing and changing that she needs — enough for her to need what I offer — by the time we’re finally ready for each other.
Love is horribly difficult — and it’s far more complicated by the fact that some of us change in ways that would have once seemed unrecognizable to us.