Cabot O’Callaghan knows everything there is to know about love. Which means he knows he knows nothing.
I’m in love.
Love is weird. It’s amazing. It’s anything but convenient. It’s new territory for me and it’s un-mappable. I didn’t know my heart was stone until I met her. This is where I make some cliche analogy about keys and locks.
In the midst, I’ve given up trying to define love. Every time I try my calculations fail. It’s not a thing with measurable dimensions. It’s not figure-outable.
It flows, it transmutes. It just is.
Mom and I were close. For seven years neither of us had anyone competing for our affection. My memories from this time of my life are filled with the warmth of a blanket fresh out of the dryer on a winter’s day. I’m grateful.
She wanted me to be a good man. Her life had been filled with men who disappointed her and it was something she couldn’t escape. She could see their flaws, even her patterns, but a way to move beyond the cycle eluded her. So, I would be her champion. I wouldn’t be a man who disappointed women. I wouldn’t walk on them, abandon them, lie to them, use them, see them as an object, a possession. When men behaved in these ways, she’d make the point of telling me why it was wrong.
She molded me well. Mostly. Her good intentions were stained by her demons.
When she found someone to love, I didn’t take it well. It didn’t help that mom had picked another man incapable of meeting her needs. My heart broke, in a way. He wasn’t a bad guy. Dysfunction is a two-way road. Mom and I stayed close, but I’d begun to build a wall around my heart.
This is when a girl became my best friend. She was just tomboyish enough and I was just girly-sensitive enough. Of course those are silly emotional labels, men and women share the same emotional range. Sadly, we tell ourselves otherwise and limit the emotional range of men—a tragic detriment to both sexes. In hindsight, she was filling a void my mother once filled exclusively.
Mom had three more children after she married. All girls. As the much-older firstborn, I helped raise them. I played with them. I changed diapers. I watched them when mom ran errands or needed a break. We grew up together. It would reinforce my appreciation for women even more.
I’ve continued to have great relationships with women. They feel safe with me. They feel respected. I communicate well with them. I’m kind. Gentle. All the credit goes to my mother.
Unfortunately mom’s unwitting transgressions continued, some mild, some deeply wounding, and the wall around my heart grew thick. My relationship with women became push-pull. I loved them, but I feared them.
My heart went feral.
I didn’t date at all. Instead, I suffered through painful secret crushes.
I ignored girls’ obvious advances, unwilling to explore young love.
I got asked to proms, going just to fulfill tradition but never with a girl I felt attracted to.
I didn’t have sex until I was nineteen.
I married a good woman that I knew wouldn’t hurt me, would be a good mother, but unable to meet my guarded needs. It was comfortable. Safe. Devoid of intimacy.
The less-than handful of women I dated before I married, and including my then-wife, all had experienced emotional trauma within their families. Absent fathers, alcoholic fathers, abusive fathers. Co-dependent mothers. Rape. Sexual abuse. Drug abuse. Abandonment. Their lives were peppered with dysfunction from the scars left in the aftermath.
I wondered why this was, and accepted the pattern as my own fallibility. I had my own experiences with many of the same traumas and figured it was an inherited dysfunction. A cursed fate, if you will. I grappled with the idea that there was an elusive group of people that had led bucolic lives and magically gravitated to each other, extending the blessings to generations to come. Where were they? Could I find and fall in love with a woman of their pedigree or was it an impossibility?
The disturbing truth is that society is rife with these traumas and more. Much more. Our culture, by definition, is traumatic. To escape being wounded is a rarity, if not impossible. It’s how we incorporate our wounds into our relationships that defines the outcome.
It’s been six years since my divorce. I spent some of it searching for love and was met only with frustration and disappointment. So I let it go. Nothing happened. Love didn’t show up at my doorstep and it was terrifying.
But then it did.
I was kinda oblivious at first. Then a bit dubious. She was just an internet entity. She lived far away. I’m 16 years her senior, and I abhor stereotypical male roles: The older middle-aged man, the younger woman, is too conforming. Was I just desperate for attention? Was I interested because she was ultimately unavailable? My heart started looking for cover.
But there were inexplicable connections. An undeniable pull. An understanding that trumped doubt. A willingness. A shared acceptance. Naked authenticity.
So I dove.
I wish I could say that everything fell into place. I wish I could tell you we moved in together and fought over where the picture should go. I wish I could tell you that my heart was content, that it ached no longer. I can’t.
I wonder if the complications of our relationship are a test of love’s resilience. I wonder if it’s just torture. I wonder if my life is reigned by irony and bittersweet frustration—just a series of servings of cake made of concrete. I wonder if I’ve gone mad.
I have gone mad. It’s the sweetest feeling.
I know love offers no guarantee, no warranty. It can burn you. Sometimes it ends. But it also begins. And now, for the first time, I am willing to experience it.
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