I don’t want to leave the impression that my ex fell in love with a narcissistic sociopath sporting slick lines and an irresistible smile or that I fell in love with a simple, codependent sap who couldn’t function without me by her side. Nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn’t until several years after we fell in love as equals, bought a house we couldn’t afford and then dashed heartlong into marriage that things slowly collapsed under the weight of too much responsibility and uncertainty. Too much financial instability and lack of direction. Too many hidden secrets, both from ourselves and from each other.
Most love stories start out with the brightest of hopes and the best of intentions. Ours was no different. We fell madly and passionately in love from word one. When I finally found her, I was 35-years-old and roommates with my little brother in Alexandria, Virginia, a close-in suburb of Washington DC. I worked for my best friend’s company managing web projects on 16th Street NW, not far from the White House. She had a cute, little apartment in a vintage building right in the heart of Adams Morgan and worked as paralegal for the FBI. I’d never had a serious relationship. H’s romantic experience was also limited.
We discovered each other on Match.com one miraculous moment in June of 2005, exchanging long emails and longer phone calls. We first met in person on a sunny Sunday near the fountain in Dupont Circle followed by an easy afternoon and evening of wide-ranging conversations, bottomless mojitos and puppy-dog eyes at Gazuza Lounge. A long walk up a steep hill. A shared latte and pastry at Tryst. Our first kiss. It was July 10. Three months later I was living with her in DC. By Christmas, I proposed. In April, we bought a 100-year-old rowhome in need of everything and adopted a dog. The following September, we got married in the remnants of Hurricane Ernesto on a wind-swept beach in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. We grabbed hold of this unique gift before it vanished into the void and vowed to never let go. We talked about everything and nothing. Totally sympatico in ways that are difficult to explain but burn bright in my memory.
This was several years before social media and texting went viral, so we fell in love the old fashioned way despite initially meeting online. The second date. Butterflies. Self-doubt. Taking risks. Rolling the dice. Both of us went all in on the mere hint that a “We” might emerge from our unlikely courtship. I’d make the same choice today, even knowing what I know now. I certainly would have been much more considerate and careful with the beautiful and amazing woman who showed up one glorious and unexpected day to make my life complete. I definitely wouldn’t have ignored the numerous chances she gave me throughout our marriage and well into our divorce. Mindful of my many blessings rather than a mind full of dangerous distractions from an out-of-control ego fueled by undiagnosed PTSD.
Even with the invisible fault lines running through our individual stories, the love we found together was every bit as magical and serendipitous as in the movies. Seemingly rock-solid right up the moment that it wasn’t. I could fill page after page of narrative from our life and smile most of the time, my heart near bursting with nostalgia. Exploring every corner of Washington DC. Turning a crumbling house into a cozy home. Road trips to New York City and Philly. Stolen kisses, long walks and holding hands. Our puppies on staycations in the Virginia countryside. A postponed “honeymoon” to Mexico. Looking at the pictures now of our time together then is almost too much to take. You really don’t know what you have until it goes. Until it’s gone. The good old days indeed. It can’t be too late for a new beginning. Not yet.
I may describe the details of our demise in later installments, but I think not. Enough has been said. More than enough alluded to. Apologies made for the worst of my behavior. Forgiveness generously granted and gratefully accepted. I am almost ready to pivot this effort toward stories beyond my own. As far as I can tell, our relationship ended via equal parts hubris and naivete. We didn’t know what we didn’t know until it was too late. We brought deep-rooted trauma to the marriage that started in childhood and even today remains mostly unresolved. I’m diligently working on my issues though. I assume she is as well.
Like most PTSD survivors, it wasn’t until the stress started to pile up that our mental health was put to the test. I’m sad to report we failed miserably, each for different reasons and definitely not in equal proportion. This website is partly an effort to understand and explain the unraveling of our love story. I’m not sure I ever will. I’m not sure I ever can. We fell into patterns of behavior burned into our synapses as children. Those “genetic” predispositions led us deep into an emotional deja vu state that escalated or deescalated depending on external stressors present at any given time. If I was employed and money wasn’t too tight, we tended to recover quickly. If not, then not so much.
With an abundance of faith and love, though, we piled stress on top of stress on top of stress until it broke us in two. I pray the damage isn’t beyond repair, but that is out of my hands. What I can control is finding sanity in the aftermath of my madness and hope beyond despair that an honest conversation can still lead us to one more second chance. I’ve never felt better prepared to assume the awesome responsibility of providing for the happiness and safety of the woman I love. A woman I never stopped loving. Never stopped caring about. Never stopped missing.
So here we are in the third and final act of our love story. Does the boy win back the girl of his dreams? Does the girl get a boy worthy of her undying devotion? Does their son get the reunited family he “casually” mentions in a series of hilarious non sequiturs? Only the shadow knows.