Chad, John, Brian, Dave, Jeff, John (the same one as before), Jerry, Jeff (a different one), another John (a different one but also an attorney), Brett, another Jeff (this one was the hottest teacher I had in high school so I had no choice), Travis, and lastly, Chris.
Over four years, I let these men take me out, take me on vacation, and even take me to bed. What I did not do is allow them to take my heart. I liked these men and cared for them, maybe even fleetingly loved them, but I wasn’t all in. And it took me until now to realize why.
First and foremost, I sabotaged these relationships not because I was still grieving my marriage nor did I want my ex-husband back. In fact, I knew after about six months that getting divorced was the best decision I had made. I believed these relationships didn’t work out because marriage, children and divorce had changed me. Things didn’t work out with my list of men because I didn’t want it to—until now.
Over the last three years, I had a secret crush on my twin sons’ soccer coach. Of course, I never acted upon this crush. Another woman had slept with my husband; I wasn’t going to put his wife through that pain nor did I want something romantic. I simply was drawn to his personality.
So while watching my sons interact with the adorable, kind, funny, coach, I often allowed myself to daydream (while sitting next to my ex-husband). The courtship would begin with me handing out snacks after the game and the coach reaches for one, and instead, my hand is empty. He doesn’t remove his hand, but instead lifts mine to his lips and puts an ever so gentle kiss on the back of my hand, all the while holding my gaze. All too quickly, my reverie is interrupted with the blow of the ref’s whistle and the sneaking feeling that I have been caught fantasizing. And coincidence or no, I was often met by the gaze of his cranky, unpleasant wife sitting directly across the field.
Although I often wondered why such a nice, charismatic and handsome man would want this woman as his mate, I certainly never, ever wanted their marriage to fail. I have learned the hard way that there are two sides to every story and that very often we see what we want to see. However, this time, I may have been right on, but not for the reason I expected.
About nine months ago, my dreamy coach got divorced. Of course, I was so wrapped up in the yo-yo process of beginning to date a new man after breaking up with another, that I failed to take notice of my McDreamy.
I credit two of my friends (whose sons also played on Coach McDreamy’s team) for drawing my attention to the sideline. They had quietly noticed that our witty banter was much more dynamic than the typical energy of that between coach and parent. Hence, it was decided that all of our sons’ favorite coach was also their favorite man for me. And after a month of texting and sharing our stories by phone, we went on a date.
But he is afraid and rightfully so. His ex-wife (the one I naively deemed bitter and cold) told him after 10 years of marriage that she was a lesbian and was leaving him for her girlfriend. I knew the pain and trust issues I had to overcome in my own journey, but his story, well, damn, it paled in comparison to mine.
One of the most disillusioning moments in divorce is realizing you didn’t truly know the person you were married to. We think we know them, what they are capable of, their hopes and dreams…and then, not so much. Poof! They show a side you don’t recognize.
And, the fear is compounded when you have kids. There is the constant internal conversation.
“Am I doing what is best for the kids?” is followed by “Don’t I deserve a more fulfilling life?” “Will I find love again?”
And more specific to me and in regards to dating after divorce: “How many men until I get to the center of the Tootsie Pop?” (Translation: After four and a half years of dating, when will I meet a man whose inside is even better than his outside?)
My newly divorced coach wants to proceed with caution. And we certainly will. But what I so wish I could explain to him is that there is not really a right or wrong way to date, to let your heart open, to believe in the future. But what we can know is ourselves. And I know that when the dessert tray is brought out, I know which one I will desire, savor, and return to again and again. No rhyme or reason has ever made me fall; it’s magic for me.
Oh Lolli Lolli Lolli Lollipop!
I’ve created lists of questions to ask, behaviors to examine, and mind games to play just so I will feel like I can’t be fooled again. But this isn’t how it all works. Just like the Dum Dums suckers they give out at the bank, people may seem like the complete package, but once unwrapped, you find pineapple-butterscotch. And afterward you begin to wonder: Out of 37 flavors, the real mystery becomes where the hell is the blue raspberry?
The answer isn’t that you don’t deserve blue raspberry, cotton candy, or even pink lemonade—so don’t decide to stop going to the bank, or buy the whole damn bag of Dum Dums. The answer is we have to recognize that some things are out of our control, not just what suckers come through the bank window, but also when we fall.
Emily Dickinson reminds us, the heart and the mind are separate entities—and trying to control one with the other is as effective as dieting when hungry. None of us want to go without, and I don’t think we should.
This post originally appeared on Divorced Moms.