Is it possible, in a relationship, to back up? If you’ve made some missteps, can you retrace those steps, and try again?
Mack and I met six months ago on a website. No, not a dating website; a website on a topic in which we had a mutual interest. We hit it off. Big time. He pursued me on the site, and shortly thereafter we began communicating outside the site. We wrote to each other for two months, and the sparks were flying on paper. I was smitten before I ever felt him in the flesh. And then we met. If there ever was a thing as love at first sight, this was it. (Being the skeptic I am, I remain somewhat unconvinced of the phenomenon. In any event, this was as close to love at first sight as I’ve ever been.)
We met on a Thursday. The next day, we met again and slept together for the first time. I was enthralled. Mack is ten years older than me. A talented musician and writer. And he called me a lawyer who’s really a writer. Telling me things like that, coupled with the best sex I’ve ever had, and I was gone. It didn’t hurt that he was nicer to me than any man I’ve ever been with in my forty-seven years here on earth. Yes, I fell for Mack. Quickly. And hard.
Within six weeks he asked me to marry him with a stand-in ring. Several weeks later, we went to the jeweler, picked out the official ring, and he proposed again. By the light of our first Christmas tree. The first tree I’ve had in nearly a decade. We both cried that night. Mack and I cried a lot those first few months. Tears of joy. And of pain when we were apart.
At forty-seven, I’ve never been married. Mack was married once, for six years or so, about twenty-five years ago. Since that time he’s been in a few serious relationships, and one woman he lived with for fifteen years. But he never married again. I’ve never lived with anyone. Unless you count the guy I lived with in my twenties for three months, which was agreed to be temporary from the start.
But now Mack wanted to get married. And so did I. For the first time in my life, I met a man who made me feel loved enough that I felt it was safe to marry him. And so we were engaged.
Mack moved in with me exactly two months after we met in the flesh. He moved in on his birthday. It felt like a gift for us both. We grilled steaks. I gave him some clothes. Instead of wrapping them, I hung them in the closet. And I hung his key from a candle on the cake.
We kept the engagement secret for nearly a month. But as Christmas approached, I asked him to go to my hometown with me to meet my family, and break the happy news. And so on Christmas Eve, we drove through a terrible rainstorm, arriving just before dinner. My aging parents were there, my brothers, all three of my nieces, the husbands of my two married nieces, and my nephew. I poured champagne for us all and raised my glass to toast the fact that, “Hell hath indeed frozen over. Mack and I are engaged.” Later that night, Mack and I made love in my high school bedroom.
Living with Mack made me happy. Sleeping with him was my new favorite thing. I don’t mean just the lovemaking, which was phenomenal. But the actual sleeping. Our bodies just fit. We cooked together. We read out loud in bed: his writing, some short stories, and The Color Purple. We went hiking. And to the art museum. We had coffee in the morning, and drinks at night. We made love. Twice a day most days. I was happy. A little overwhelmed with the changes, but okay.
And then January 3 came, and it was time to go back to work. My company had undergone a merger into a much bigger company, which was effective January 1. So I was to embark on my second merger one month after the first. My current company was small. Less than thirty employees. The company that bought us is multinational, with offices all over the country, and several overseas.
I was overwhelmed with the changes. And suddenly, Mack was getting on my nerves. He was always there. He slept too late when I had to get up and go to work. He slurped coffee. He typed too loudly when he sat at the laptop writing his novel. He didn’t play his guitar any more. Come to think of it, he hadn’t been playing any gigs since he moved in. He made funny noises with his mouth in his sleep. He tapped the coffee cup with the spoon, exactly twice, every time he fixed a fresh cup. He left water puddles on the kitchen counter. He didn’t put toilet paper on the roll when it was empty. All the things that I had found endearing just weeks ago, I found reprehensible. And I made sure to tell him about every single transgression.
Things became tense. He walked on eggshells, doing everything in his power to not upset me. To make me happy. To make things work. But I was relentless. I decided our earnings gap was a problem. I decided something had to be done. And it had to be done immediately. And so I stormed in from the grocery store six weeks after he moved in and said: “This is not working.” My intent was to have a conversation. Release some of the overwhelming pressure I was feeling. I don’t know how to live with a man. I’ve never done it. And here I was, merging in my personal life, merging in my professional life, and I was losing it. I had transformed into a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth two-headed monster.
Mack had had enough. He wasn’t interested in talking with me to release the pressure. All he saw was a woman who found him unbearable to live with. And so he packed his things, and he left.
Over the course of six weeks, Mack learned that I can be difficult to live with, prone to moody silences, and hypercritical (his word: ridiculing). I learned that Mack leaves when things become difficult.
That was ten days ago. And every day since, I have missed him. I miss him in bed. I miss him sitting at the table, writing and typing loudly and slurping coffee. I miss seeing his truck when I get home at night. I miss sitting at the table with him having dinner, one cat on the table, lying there, watching us eat; the other pacing the floor, meowing for scraps like a dog. (Mack always gave in and fed her scraps.) I miss him getting up with me in the morning and having coffee. I miss getting ready for work, hearing him type, and talking to the kitties. I miss him kissing me goodbye on my way out, and standing in the doorway, waving goodbye as I drive away. I miss him making sure I brought something to work for lunch. I miss him cooking dinner instead of eating the same leftovers every day all week long. (Lunch today was an apple and some almond butter straight from the jar. Dinner: cheese, stale crackers, and wine.) I miss being with him every day. I miss hearing his voice every day. I miss feeling his arms around me every day. Even when I was feeling surly and hating all the stupid little things, I always wanted to feel his arms around me and I always wanted to feel him lying next to me in bed. Every damn day.
I think Mack must miss me too, because last night he agreed to try again. He agreed to see if we might be good for each other, after all. I asked him if I should wear the ring on my right hand, and he said, no. But he won’t move back in with me. We’re going to date. And assess our compatibility. Assess whether I admire him, despite the differences in our income and lifestyles. Assess whether we truly love each other, or whether it’s just about the best sex either of us has ever had in our lives. (I don’t think you can have sex like that without love.) Assess whether this love, a love which we thought was a once-in-a-lifetime love, our last chance for love, is salvageable.
So the question is, can Mack and I go backward? Can we date after living together for six weeks? Is there such a thing as a second chance? I do know this: We both care enough to try. Even though I’m still learning, I’m pretty sure that’s what commitment is all about.