Winning at Love

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By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, September 30, 2007

In a few days, I'll celebrate my 10th wedding anniversary. That is ridiculous. None of my present-day situation was foreshadowed in my earliest efforts at the love game.

Notice I'm not saying: In a few days, my husband and I will celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. That is a very different statement, and there is nothing ridiculous about it, nothing noteworthy. We're best friends, partners for life, utterly boring in our steadfast devotion to each other. Blech. Who cares?

But the individual part has me looking in the mirror going, "Hey, you have been happily married for 10 years." That is ridiculous. Things were looking so bad for so long.

I guess I'm speaking to kindred souls: to anyone who is still looking for love, who is still wondering what "is wrong," who thinks the gig is hopeless. I have been there, honey. I have been there, and I should have never stayed overnight.

Lately, I have been looking back and wondering what all the fuss was about. Mostly, I remember the ones who got away, the ones I spent so many nights crying over. The guy with the fuzzy blond hair. Okay. What was I thinking? A nice person. Nothing at all wrong with him. But talk about a mismatch. There I was, jump-starting my career, utterly obsessed with stories and words on the page, and proudly showing him my creations. "Actually, I'm more of a picture person," he would say, refusing to bother to read. He shared no passion for what I was passionate about, and as for what he chose to do with his life, well, apparently I shared none back, because I can't even remember what the heck he did. So why did I cry so hard? What was the matter with me? He did us both a favor by calling it quits.

Here's a question: How does anyone who cares deeply about her work have time to shop for love? Those are two competing full-time jobs. I kept looking for someone to simply hop aboard my train, I guess for efficiency's sake. I dated across the spectrum. I dated a plumber. He was dreamy. But he had two ex-wives who kept seriously getting in the way. I dated a billionaire. He was dreamy. I could have hopped aboard his train and saved myself an awful lot of trouble. I remember I was working on a story about a cult. I had stumbled into an investigation and discovered that the leaders had duped their followers out of $1.4 million in donations. I was so worked up. I was so upset for these people. I was telling him about it over paella and sangria. "But it's only $1.4 million," he said. "Relax."

I could never get past that remark. Was I too picky?

The ones who liked me, really seemed to like me -- oh, I sent them packing. They obviously had something wrong with them if they liked me. People who recognize that pattern know you never sit down and actually think that through, but that is the gist: You aren't loving yourself quite enough yet to be loved. It started in seventh grade. Peter Loomis. Peter was the funniest kid in school. And he liked me. He picked me! And he was so cute. And he was hilarious! And he was kind. I probably punched him in the face -- at least metaphorically. I probably was very cruel. Same with that cute Chris kid with all the freckles. Hey, if I was truly lovable then, why didn't Tom Piacentine, the heartthrob of the seventh grade, love me? That was the test. You spend years of your life flunking the same test, over and over again, Tom Piacentine after Tom Piacentine until maybe, if you are very lucky, you wake up one day and say: I am worth more.

A door opens. A little crack of light. I have no idea how it happens or how you earn the chance to see yourself anew. But I think love happens only when you're ready for it, and I don't think you have a lot of say in your own readiness. I know of couples who met in high school and are still going strong in their 40s and 50s. How come they were ready? How come they could see what it took me so long to see? How come one of them didn't punch the other in the face?

I know of plenty of people who "won," who got the mate of their desire, the one they believed they needed in order to feel loved. And yet, the winning didn't change anything. They still don't feel loved.

People say, "Oh, it doesn't matter." They say, "You shouldn't need a man in your life to complete you." I believed that for a while, then beat myself up for wanting -- really wanting -- love. That was a big waste of time. If you need love, you need love. I don't think it's anything to be ashamed of.

In my case, he was in the picture all along. He was in the background all along. Him? Him? He was 15 years older. He was nothing even close to Tom Piacentine. Him? It's a good thing he didn't tell me he liked me until I was ready to hear it.

My life is better with him, that's all. I am a better person with him. I don't think a sense of self-worth comes from being happily married for 10 years. I think it works the other way around.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.


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