(Note: this is part 2 of a 2-part series. To read part 1, click here)
I found myself not-so-suddenly single – technically, “without a partner” is more accurate – in the summer of 2014. Those who have gone through something similar know about all of the stress that goes along with a rather ugly end to a marriage that lasted more than a decade. It was a deep shock to my system, without question the worst thing I had ever had to deal with in my life, though I would soon come to see that it was better than continuing to struggle in a relationship that had become severely toxic.
I was filled with doubt. Most urgently, I feared for my role as a father to my two sons, who were ten and seven at the time. As an only child, I had been accustomed to being alone years before, but I had grown to love being in a home filled with the chaos of children. Those first few weeks in a silent house were beyond difficult.
As the weeks and months passed, I also worried about the future. I’m a very social guy, but the daily structure of my life was not exactly set up for meeting someone (I’d worked from home for years,) and I had always appreciated the intimacy of having a partner. I was 48 years old, and my fears were perhaps symbolically embodied in the idea that I’d be alone when I turned 50 in the spring of 2016.
Like many in my situation, I suppose, I tried out Match.com, something that didn’t exist when I was last in the dating fray. I put a lot of thought into doing an honest assessment of who I was and who I was hoping to connect with. It wasn’t even that much about finding true love or anything like that. I needed hope, first and foremost. I wanted someone to go to movies with, to have lunch with, to talk to about life, even if it was just a friend. I wanted to have an avenue to forge new relationships.
Digging a bit deeper, I realized that a big part of my concern was that I wouldn’t be able to feel that “spark” anymore, that maybe I had become so jaded by my experiences that I had lost the wild exuberance for life that had been so central to the core of who I was. Had all of that simply died? Was this how it was to be a grown-up?
Over about six months on Match, I saw profile after profile that followed the same template. I never knew so many women, who, with their professional headshots, had the “good fortune” to have a job that allowed them to travel to such interesting places around the globe. Wow, did my life seem unglamorous!
Everything changed one evening when I was dutifully going through Match’s suggestions. For whatever reason, I didn’t just dismiss them all and move on to whatever else I was doing. As so often happens in life, a simple little thing would have a monumental impact! The “butterfly effect” on full display!
I saw one profile that was fundamentally different than any other. It was one that I could almost have written myself, and the connection I felt was instantaneous, even before I got to the very last line: “A dry wit is just about the sexiest thing ever.”
It was a Tuesday, and I wrote a note to her. She responded right away, and over the next couple of days, we corresponded through Match, and hit it off right away. “You had me at ‘hello,’” indeed. We made plans to meet that Friday for lunch. I had a work call that would limit our time to about two-and-a-half hours, and I prophetically predicted that we’d run out of time.
When we met in person, it was not exactly love at first sight. Lisa was undoubtedly a very attractive woman, but her style was completely unlike mine (or what I thought was mine,) and I would learn later that she felt the same way.
I dressed preppy, and wore khakis and my go-to oxford… sure to knock her socks off, right? She wore a sweater with a skull on it, and her wild, long, dark brown hair flew freely in what seemed like every direction. Closer to the ground, she wore knee-high suede lace-up boots. This was not someone who fit my mold, or so I thought! As it turned out, she didn’t fit any mold and would teach me the fine art of forging one’s own later on.
But everything changed when we started talking. Our lunch flew by in a blur of laughter and silliness woven together with a connection on a more serious level. We were both exuberant, but had both suffered.
Details aside, our stories were the same. I had maybe lost my center more than she had and had more work to do to reclaim my “true self,” but we both had so much joy and enthusiasm to share, and were both ready to recover.
I don’t know why I didn’t even try to kiss her goodbye after our lunch. Not even a peck on the cheek that might have set the stage for a romantic relationship. Perhaps I picked up on the signals she was sending that she wasn’t ready for that. Perhaps it was that part of me that always valued depth over superfluous relationships, which had cost me more than one one-night stand opportunity in my wilder days.
Still, my head was reeling. I couldn’t wait to see her again.
I had plans to take my boys to a spring football game at Penn State the next day, but they were busy with their mother on Sunday evening, and that’s when Lisa and I would next get together. We texted off and on all day Saturday as if we had been dating for months. It was that comfortable, that quickly, and there was the first glimmer of hope that maybe I could feel that spark again.
I woke up Sunday morning with a crazy, but crystal clear thought in my mind; practically a premonition: Lisa and I are going to kiss today. Contemplating this, I realized that in my entire life, I had never gone so long between first kisses, even in the fourteen or so years before my first “first kiss.” I was struck by this as something that was truly momentous, and the thought remained with me throughout the day.
Fate is a trickster, though, and the plans my sons had were cancelled, meaning they were with me all day. Lisa and I decided to instead meet for a couple of hours at a local pub after a Little League game, while they had an impromptu playdate with a neighbor.
Except for the fact that I was now casually dressed in shorts and a sweatshirt, our time together was just like it had been on Friday: non-stop talk, lots of laughter, and an instant, obvious fondness for each other. I was falling quickly, and was utterly helpless to do anything about it.
At some point, I told her of my premonition about our kissing that day. To me, it was a simple fact, something unavoidable, even if we wanted to avoid it… which I didn’t, but she clearly did.
It awkwardly hung in the air as our time together inevitably drew to a close. I made a joke about how, if we didn’t kiss today, it was just going to add to the pressure we were both feeling, and I’d have to hire a mariachi band and arrange a professional fireworks display if we didn’t just get this out of the way. The tension didn’t dissipate entirely, but it was just disarming enough. I rested my hand on her knee for a time, while she squirmed. But she didn’t run away.
Afterward, I walked her back to her minivan, holding her unfamiliar hand in mine. Here I was at 48 years old, feeling as awkward as I had as a teenager at a carnival with a girl I liked. Every square inch of my skin tingled with fear and anticipation, mixed in a way that made them impossible to separate. If the walk on that chilly spring day was forty yards, it may as well have been forty miles.
I felt like a clumsy idiot as we reached her car, but continued to hold her hand as I turned her to face me and pulled her into a gentle embrace. She was nervous; I could feel it. So was I, and I hoped she couldn’t tell. She clutched her keys in her hand, ready to take flight.
She was looking away, but as I began to stroke her cheek, I took her in completely, smelling her hair, feeling her body pressed softly against mine, and she looked up slowly. The sun caught the gold flecks in her eyes.
And we kissed.
It was so completely unfamiliar that it was as if kissing itself was utterly new to me, not just the act of kissing this girl. Yet it was completely comfortable and, above all, exhilarating.
I tingled from head to toe, and felt as if I were going to fall over, wondering whether my feet were in the right position to support me, something they do all day, every day, without the slightest concern.
As I staggered back to my own car, I tried to display manly self-assurance while waving goodbye. Inside, I was a trembling mess, in the most delightful way imaginable.
All doubt had been erased. I could feel like a teenager again. I could still see those fireworks.
All those stupid love songs could once again seem as if they were written with me in mind. I had had the first kiss to end all first kisses, and my soul had been restored.
Wow. Big, fat, amazing, stunning, astonishing, unbelievable, unexpected, wow!
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Editor’s note: If you’re trying to move on from a toxic relationship and beginning to imagine your own magical “first kiss,” consider viewing our workshop, “Rising From the Ashes: Nikky’s Story & How to Heal,” which is available in BTGO’s Sanity School now.