Demand too much and you may end up empty-handed,
Demand too little and regret is your reward
— Pat Terry, “Truth is Like a Sword,” 1984
I regret that I’ve wasted the last seven years waiting for a phone call that was never going to come.
I told myself that I wasn’t waiting for her. I tried to make myself believe that. I dated a little, here and there, but my heart wasn’t in it. I thought I wanted her. I believed she would be back. She couldn’t have meant all that she said to me otherwise. She wouldn’t have urged, “Don’t give up on me,” if she wasn’t going to finally make things right. So I waited.
The weeks turned into months. The months turned into years. Somehow, I wasted seven years.
Everything changed about a month ago. The details don’t matter. She wrote one day to tell me what I had been waiting to hear. I was ecstatic. Three days later, she wrote back to say she had changed her mind. And, suddenly, everything was clear.
This woman was never going to be what I had needed her to be. Nothing about her could possibly be worth what I had lived with. A switch suddenly flipped inside my heart. Everything was over.
I was finally free. I could see her for what she really is.
I met a woman last week who shared her story with me. She’s a remarkable woman. Smart, beautiful, charming. She wanted to be married and have children, but she’s in her late 40s now and she’s never married. Why? Because she had been waiting for one man ever since she was in college.
She fell in love with him when she was in college and they planned to get married. But family complications drove them apart. I’m not going to be more specific or even talk about the things that happened in the years to come, simply because I wouldn’t want to accidentally identify her.
The woman dated other men, but she always believed that he was the right one for her. He eventually married. Even then, she believed that he was the right one for her — that they were meant to be together. I know from experience that it’s impossible to really give anyone else a chance when you still believe that.
Then the man finally decided to divorce the woman he had married. He was interested in renewing his old love — the one that this woman had really been waiting for, believing for, all those years.
And then the man died unexpectedly.
The woman still believes they were “meant to be together.” In her narrative, there are excuses for the things he did to hurt her over time. It was other’s people’s influence. It wasn’t who he really was. As she told me these things, I didn’t argue or object — because I had twisted myself for too long to excuse someone’s actions, too.
I understand how this woman must feel. I wasted only seven years. She wasted decades of her life. She has to believe that “it was meant to be, but other people ruined it,” because the only alternatives are either being angry with him or angry with herself.
As I said, the woman who told me this story is amazing. I’m sure there were many men along the way who would have loved to make a life and family with her. But she invested the bulk of her life into a man who’s now dead — and she can’t have those years back.
It’s never clear to me how I ought to decide when to hold onto someone I want and when to move on. It’s never clear to me whether I should expect all that I truly want — and hold out for everything — or if I should accept the best I can get and be satisfied with it.
Even after wasting seven years, I’m still not sure. Should I have given up seven years ago? Five years ago? What’s reasonable?
Should I have accepted one of the women who have wanted me in the last few years but who weren’t what I really wanted? I still don’t know. I’m not sure there’s an objectively correct answer. I know that what I did was painful and left me with nothing. But I wonder if I would have had a different kind of “nothing” today if I’d accepted a partner who wasn’t what I wanted.
I’m not angry with the woman on whom I waited for the last seven years. I’m not bitter toward her. I’m the one who made the decision to wait and to trust her. I’m responsible for my own decisions, not her. I’ve always made it a practice not to disparage the women I’ve loved in the past — and I’m not going to start now.
It’s a story that will never have closure. It simply ended. I didn’t have anything to say to her when it was over. And even if I did say anything, I would just wish her the best in the life she’s chosen for herself. I would tell her that I hope someone can help her cut through the psychological toxicity in which she’s chosen to live. And that I hope someone will finally make her happy.
But that “someone” won’t be me.
Note: After I posted this, I realized which song was the source for a line I borrowed at the end of this piece. Although it’s not a direct quote, I’m clearly using a line (and a sentiment) from John Paul White’s haunting song, “The Once and Future Queen.” The link is for a live version that White recorded for Canada’s CBC. I don’t mind when I unintentionally “channel” songs I’ve loved, but it’s unusual for me not to realize what I’m doing when I’m writing a piece.