How To Tell If He’s (Not) The One
(Revised and updated from a much earlier blog post, with a new ending)
Without going too deeply into it, I used to date a man I called George Meredith (Meredith, of course, wasn’t his real last name, but his name was so close to “Meredith” that it is an appropriate substitute). At the time, I was much younger than I am now, and I liked love songs and sweet nothings (which I never would have admitted back then) and I earnestly, honestly wanted to succeed at my pantomime of wifely-ness. But we were Republicans, so there was none of that fluff, and romance for us. We were cut of respectable cloth, and didn’t do things like show much affection.
By Labor Day of that last year of our relationship — the year in which we’d moved to a beautiful townhouse in the suburbs of Northern Virginia — the newness and charm and the thrill of stage fright had worn off, and my wife-acting had gotten tiresome. My parents had started hinting at a fall wedding, and wanting to please, I had started hinting at a fall wedding, and the next thing I knew, I’d play-acted myself right into Jared, The Galleria of Jewerly with George — “just to look.”
The day we went jewelry-shopping, I was wearing my trusty “suburban wife” baseball cap, and a Polo shirt, and those ubiquitous yuppie hiking shorts that everyone has in several colors. My shorts, that day, were khaki, and suitably broken-in, with some fray on the front where my keys had worked their way through.
We waited our turn, and then were seated at the display case, where the rings were splayed before us like pastries under baker’s glass. The matronly saleswoman pulled out a tray of rings and set it in front of us. Yellow gold; white gold; big diamonds; small trillions; round cut; oval diamonds; heart-shaped. All of them, ugly. But I bravely stuck out my knobby hands, each finger cuticles gnawed to pulp, and she stuck a hideous bauble on the finger that mattered. “Now, sweetie, you look at yourself!” she instructed me, and I looked with vacant grey eyes in the jeweler’s mirror.
I realized, instantly, that the picture was all wrong. The whole thing was an act, a farce, a show. I admitted to myself in that second that I didn’t even like George Meredith, let alone love him. He was balding, and he was mean, and he drank too much, and for heaven’s sake, how on earth could I ever become Mrs. Meredith Meredith?
So I sat on the hideous satin brocade setee in the middle of Jared the Galleria of Jewelry in Tyson’s Corner and started crying, realizing that of all the things in my life that were carefully crafted deceptions, I didn’t want my marriage to be.
“Look,” exclaimed the jeweler, “Look how happy she is!” George just smiled and nodded. At that point, I was barely aware of the fact that he was still there. He had no intention of spending that much money on me, and I knew it, but in that moment that was the least of my worries. I had just discovered, for the first time in my life, that my parents and everyone else who had been giving me advice and counsel along the way were wrong about what was best for me and probably had been for a very long time.
When we got home, I started drinking, hard, and didn’t stop until it all came back up again hours later. My mother called, the day after, and told me that she had gone to look at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena, what did I think, for a wedding reception. I didn’t know how to tell her that there would be no Mrs. Meredith Meredith; that the whole spectacular sham had eroded one afternoon in Jared the Galleria of Jewelry and in a bottle of vanilla vodka.
George, for his part, drank that hard all the time — he’d drink till he was sick then start again. He’d terrify me with who he became when he was drinking; when he was bingeing; when he was vomiting extravagantly all over the bedroom or the bathroom or wherever he happened to make it to to get sick. When the going got tough — he drank. When things were good — he drank. His excessess and his defensiveness about them were frightening. He would say over and over “I’m not an alcoholic,” because the sickness ran in his family. But he only said that when he’d been drinking.
Even after George and I split up, my mother would call and tell me that I didn’t know, George and I might get back together in six months.
But seven months later, I was engaged to be married to the man who became my husband.
I didn’t know how to express then how afraid I was of addiction; how strange it felt to be loved less than the bottle; what it felt like to be powerless against the draw of drink. And it seems that there may be some part of me that goes back to that space all the time, that tries to find and cure these men, or tries to take on the bottle and see if I can find a man who will love me more than he loves his liquor.
I’ll always lose; I know it.
Years after George and I broke up, I found myself in San Francisco for a week for a conference, and I reached out to him. By that point, it had been the better part of a decade since we’d spoken, let alone, seen each other. We met for dinner near the baseball stadium, near his office. He looked mostly the same, and I looked much thinner (which I knew, and which I had prepared him for). At that point, my marriage was crumbling; my life was changing. His life was mostly still the same as it had been since he moved back to San Francisco.
We had a four hour dinner and caught up on the years that had intervened since I moved out of our townhouse. He had an old fashioned. And then another. And then another. And then we had a bottle of wine. And then I lost count of the old fashioneds.
Over dinner, as we talked, I remembered the good things about him. I remembered why we had loved each other: that he was smart as a whip, that he was funny, that he couldn’t be pushed around. I remembered the ways in which we had connected and why they had been electric.
The next day, as I was moving into the final day of my conference, I got an email from George (which I will paraphrase, since I would do both him and me a disservice by reprinting it in full): “Thanks for last night. Seeing you again reminded me why we spent so many years together and how important they were.”
Those days in San Francisco that year were significant — an end and a beginning — and I left for New York the day after that more confused than I was when I had arrived.
But George wasn’t The One. He had never been The One, no matter what my parents had insisted. I had loved and not loved that man; our values had matched and didn’t match. Like any love affair, our stories after the fact are wildly different, even now. He remembers loving me madly, and I remember nothing but ice.
The moral of this story is: you can be cut of respectable Republican cloth — there’s no shame in that at all. The simpleness of the affair; the humbleness of the circumstances don’t matter one bit. I realize now, cloth notwithstanding, that your love should make you feel like you are wearing a mink coat.