I was smitten–at least as much as it was possible for a seven-year-old to have a crush on a boy. His name was Matthew and he had dark, brown puppy-dog eyes, straight brown hair and a beautiful, olive-colored complexion. It was no secret that I liked Matthew. We all did. Every day we, the second grade class, would line up to go to recess at the International School in Islamabad, Pakistan. Every day girls would practically cut in front of one another for the chance to stand in line next to the cutest boy we had ever come across. Although most of us came from various countries, my best friend, Kirsten, was also from the States. Unlike me, Kirsten was seemingly perfect. Despite being my age, she had the body of a tall dancer, beautiful and shining blue eyes and straight blond hair. Back in those days I was young enough that, if someone told me Kirsten was somehow related to Barbie, I probably would have believed her.
One day a few months after school had first begun, while we were on the playground, Matthew gathered us together and made an announcement. “Girls! Listen!” We gathered around as if he were the principal of the school and we had just been called for a fire-drill. “On the last day of school, I am going to announce who I LIKE!’” Matthew smiled, flashing his combination of baby, missing and adult teeth. We all looked at him, then at one another. Who would it be? Who would Matthew choose at the end of the year?
Throughout the year, the competition for Matthew’s affection grew fierce. Some of us would carry his bag to lunch, others would ask him if he wanted a drink. Some others laughed at anything he did, even if it wasn’t particularly funny. I was personally willing to do anything, but given Kirsten was my BFF, whenever we did anything for Matthew, we did it together. During this Matthew Quest, I was always aware of my physical imperfections. Often I would hide my hands in my pockets to ensure Matthew would focus on me, and not them. I also prayed he didn’t notice that, unlike my friends, my feet were so tiny I remained in baby shoes. Although I worried about my competition, one thing was certain; I was sure that I loved Matthew.
At the end of the May, Matthew lined all the girls in my class together. “My choice is……” we waited on baited breath. “Kirsten!” All of us turned to Kirsten, instantly envious of her accomplishment.
And that was that. Eight year old Kirsten didn’t know what to do with her victory except smile at him. Matthew flashed his new set of adult teeth back, and there was not much to do except board the bus and go home. Most of us, including Kirsten and my family, moved away from Islamabad that summer. That was my first experience loving someone that didn’t feel the same way. It wouldn’t be my last.
“Meg, I have made a huge mistake. Will you marry me?” I turned to my ex-boyfriend, tears welling up in my eyes. We had been together for almost six years before he had shattered my heart and abruptly ended things. “Michael! How could you ask me this now? I am engaged to John. You know we are getting married in less than three months!” I looked up at Michael and did not hesitate as I shook my head, no. Aside from my fiancé, who I adored, I already loved myself too much—there was no way I was going to turn back.
I know I have already revealed in other blog posts that I have a not-so-secret love for watching mindless television. Okay, not all the time. And most of them have to do with reality-cooking competitions. But I admit, I am a total sucker when it comes to watching reality shows that are based on finding love. With that in mind, and to my husband’s dismay, I was glued to my tube this past Monday to watch the finale of “The Bachelorette,” starring Desiree Hartsock, on ABC here in the States. For the majority of the season, Desiree had vocalized her love for one of the bachelors (Brooks), only to have her heart broken. On last week’s episode, Brooks left Des bawling on a dock in Antigua. In a remarkable turn that one only seems to find on reality TV, a few minutes passed (or so it seemed) and Des realized that she actually was in love with one of the other finalists, Chris. Her true love, Chris, had already confessed his love for her weeks ago. As I watched the conclusion, and after Des pinned the final rose on her new finance’s lapel, a few things crossed my mind:
(i) As great a husband as John is, he is a sucky ‘girlfriend.’ Rather than joining me to watch the romantic moment unfold, the dude couldn’t stop laughing at me as I was sitting on the couch crying at the dramatic finale;
(ii) Many people would invariably think Des choosing Chris is simply a rebound decision that has no chance for a future; and
(iii) I could personally relate.
Years ago, before I met John, I dated someone named Michael that I was absolutely convinced would become my husband. He was bright, charming and hilarious, and most importantly, I loved….no, not strong enough….. adored him. He was always quick to compliment me and was incredibly romantic, often buying me roses on dates. For a two-fingered, self-conscious young woman, this attention felt like heaven. In my mind, Michael could do no wrong. I believed that as long as he knew how much I felt for him, that our love for one another would eventually match. The only problem was, I refused to see the red flags. For example, he would check out of my life for days at a time, and when he wasn’t with me, it was like, “out of sight, out of mind.” That left me desperate to do anything to win his love.
I couldn’t but help thinking about Michael during a recent Bachelorette episode set in Portugal (Michael and I had been there together, too) when Des was with Brooks and they decided to use weird verbs to describe (analogize…?) how they felt about the relationship. As Des blurted out, “Running,” Brooks came up with “Jogging.” Clearly they were not on the same page (Danger, Will Robinson. Danger!). And then, when Brooks admitted to Des he didn’t really think of her when they were apart, I knew it was over.
With respect to Michael, I was without question racing and he was walking toward a future together. In truth, I realize that my situation was far more complicated than a romance on a reality TV show. Michael represented the one person that might be willing to love me unconditionally, despite my physical imperfections. I was sure he was worth the time and investment. Although there were those guys that had been extremely interested in me, despite my physical differences, I wasn’t ever interested in them. I went for the guys like Michael, even if my feelings weren’t fully reciprocated.
I finally understand why.
When I met Michael, I still hadn’t learned to love myself unconditionally, and so I was afraid of anyone who seemed like they would. The chase felt much more satisfying and familiar. Somehow, I believed it also gave me control.
Eventually, our relationship took a turn in the wrong direction. One summer evening, Michael broke up with me and refused to take my calls. I was completely devastated, and it felt like the worst day of my life—only it was the greatest. Although I was weakened and devastated, given the space, I began to heal slowly. And with Michael out of the picture, John quickly stepped through the door. I was so exhausted from the experience with Michael that I finally let go and allowed the love being offered unconditionally to enter —and this time I would be the one to react and reciprocate. I was worthy of it. This was no longer a one-sided chase. This love would last.
After the finale of the Bachelorette concluded, there were many critics, convinced that after loving Brooks so intensely, Desiree couldn’t conceivably turn to Chris and fall in love so quickly. Perhaps I am simply a hopeless romantic, but as John and I look forward to celebrating our fourteenth anniversary this coming Fall, I am hopeful that a future together for them is possible.
When John asked me to meet him in Central Park in the summer of 1998, (only ten months after we had met), I noted something sticking out of his briefcase but pretended not to see it. It was a single red rose. He then walked me to Strawberry Fields, presented to me the rose and a ring, and proposed. To me, this rose wasn’t final–it simply represented new beginnings, and I was ready.