We were at the kitchen table. If our relationship ends, I don’t think I’ll believe in love anymore, I remember saying to Adam. I’m going to be cold-hearted. He tried to convince me otherwise. “No, that’s not you. You’ll always be a romantic.” But it was too late. I was already humming Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” in my head while envisioning a meaningless stream of washboard ab dates.
With nearly 7 years of hindsight under my belt, I always wonder how Adam kept a straight face during that conversation. Not one laugh escaped his mouth. Apparently separating sucked us both of our sense of humor back then. Why? Because I’m that girl.
When I was little, my Jem and Rio dolls lived in their weird 80s rock star clothes, touring “cities” (my closet and the space behind my bed), eating every dinner together and falling in love while their stuffed animal fans cooed at their incredible partnership. Jem and Rio, man those two really knew how to truly support each other’s passion for music.
In middle school I had a massive crush on this boy a year older. When he went off to high school, I counted down the days until I’d see him again. There were hearts with arrows through them in my journal with his name all over it and dreams of kissing him in the middle school lobby atop the speckled linoleum floors, amongst a sea of construction paper art. He had no idea who I was, but when I finally got to high school and saw him walking the halls, it was like little bursting hearts exploded in the air. Imagine the Twitter hearts now, but even cheesier.
Flowers. Cards. Candles. Long strolls in the city, hand in hand. I ate it up. But divorce changes you. I wasn’t completely wrong to say that the romantic side of me would die. It did, but it was replaced with a different one, one with more clarity about what I want in a partner. Loyalty. Strength. Wit. Conversation. Banter. Adventure. This is not to say I didn’t get some of these things in my marriage. I did. We loved and we loved hard, but the kind of love we wanted from each other wasn’t the same. I believe we have both found it now. I see Adam with his wife and feel their connection. I sit with Mark and know this is where I belong.
And Adam wasn’t completely wrong to say that romance was at my core and that would never change. One of my first chances out of the nonromantic dating gate and I failed. Miserably. I was planning a date with Mark. I knew he was trying to get back into his photography, so I picked out three of the “most photographable spots” in D.C. We’d go from the Old Post Office downtown to the Franciscan Monastery in Northeast. From there, we’d stop at Montrose Park and have a picnic of fancy homemade sandwiches with his favorite foods before wandering to Dumbarton Oaks to stroll through the gardens. I believe the word you’re looking for comes from the teen slang Danskter Dictionary: “try-hard.” We still laugh about how overly elaborate that date was.
So it’s true, I still eat up the flowers, the cards and the candles, but my visions of real romance are drastically different. When Ethan was 3 years old, he accidentally locked himself in his room. At one or two in the morning, I heard banging and pleas from his room. “Mommy! Come get me. I want out!” Tears streaming for both of us as I fumbled through YouTube videos trying to unlock the door. I finally caved and called Adam who was within walking distance and he swooped in to get the door open.
A couple hours later, I was telling Mark on the phone what had happened when Ethan did it again. There was another brief panic, but by some miracle Ethan managed to unlock himself while frantically tugging on the door.
That evening Mark showed up at my door. In his hands was the most romantic thing I had ever seen. It wasn’t a big bouquet of flowers. No candy or tickets to some great show. It was much better: tools and a new doorknob, one that couldn’t lock. Swoon.