I started reading your column only six months ago. A man that I met loves your words, and I was grateful to you to have helped him through the most difficult time of his life. He was married to the devil’s bride. She treated him with no respect or love for 12 years. One day, more than four years ago, he read your column and according to him, you changed his life. He found his manhood and became a better man for it.
After five months of living our dream, he hit a roadblock, so high and wide, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t help him get over the wall. It occurred to me that no matter how much we think that therapy will help us, you must trust someone enough to tell them you’re afraid to love again and you will stumble, be unsure and doubt what you feel. I told him that the only way to get over the past is to believe in yourself and the person you’re with and hold on and not run. Love is a gift, not an obligation. To need someone is a beautiful thing.
This morning, I read your column, like I know he will be doing, and I wanted to thank you. For writing things that inspire men to want to change their lives. I know that the last sentence in (that column) might be the rest of his life: “Look what you could have won ...” He could have been a millionaire. He could have loved, could have been grateful, could have been loved, unafraid, less anxious. Maybe these words will give him the strength to want those things again and be unafraid to climb over the mountain to find them. Every day you have the choice. Stay the same or reach for the sky and start flying.
—T.E., Las Vegas
So, if I’m reading properly between the lines, there’s this guy in a bad marriage. He finally has enough and ends it. Then he meets you. And you meet him. If I’m doing the implicit math correctly, he’s been divorced for a couple of years when you two become “an item.” The relationship soars at first, then hits, as you say, “a roadblock.” I suspect you are describing a man who more or less suddenly became inconstant, ambivalent. Standing in front of you yet not entirely present. Your intuition could sense he wasn’t altogether committed to “we.” He was emotionally honest enough to tell you what was on his heart: He was afraid and filled with doubts and insecurities.
How am I doing?
You tell him the exact truth: The only way to learn to trust again is to trust. To leap, in contradiction to every feeling instinct to protect yourself. To stay. That is, don’t leave. Indeed, T.E., all roads lead to Rome. And Rome is this: Only a commitment is a commitment. The only way to know if true love is true is to put your whole heart on the pass line, and roll those bones.
And now there’s nothing left for you to do except wait for him to decide. To choose. Or not choose. And should he say “no” to you and he as We, a voice inside of you will mutter to him, “Look at what you could have won! Me!”
T.E., sometimes my brain imagines a world of Virtual People or Android men and women we could date after a painful divorce. Why? Because it’s nearly cliché how often the first relationship after a divorce will and does eventually fade. Despite our most passionate felt values and ego-wishes, it seems that a “self” wounded by divorce reaches out for solace, comfort, and some kind of a relationship in which to get well. Or at least feel better. Yet, once we feel better, two things tend to happen. First, ironically, when we feel better, we find we have the strength to do a deeper and more authentic round of grief about the divorce. And second, when we feel better, we find the new relationship was more an oasis than a foundation. A way station. A rehab hospital.
Perhaps if there was an Android catalogue from which we could order an Android for our First-Relationship-After-a-Divorce, we could resolve a healing without interrupting other folks’ lives. Lives like yours.
I remember saying to my therapist in the first couple of years after my divorce, “There should be a cardboard sign stapled to my head that reads, ‘Newly divorced … Run away quick!’ ”
Divorce leaves a mark. And most people grossly underestimate the wound and its consequences.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.