“You want a relationship, right?”
The words tumbled out of my Rabbi’s mouth. Innocuous. More a statement than a question. Nearly an afterthought as we wrapped up our monthly meeting.
“I…I think so,” I stammered.
We stared at one another. There it was. The truth. It fell flat on the floor, spreading out in the space between us. Consuming. Shocking.
We’d spent an awful lot of time talking about relationships over the years. Talking about my fathers – both of them, the biological one and the one who raised me, my Dad. My husband – now my ex. The smattering of men who had come in and out of my life since the dissolution of my marriage.
My Divorce Buddy. The one I talked to each night, into the wee hours of the morning. Half a country apart. Both of us alone, in the dark, navigating our way through the sometimes messy endings of marriage.
The Southern Svengali. Genius artist in a Johnny Cash t-shirt. He guided me through Charleston and my last visit with my biological mother before she died. Pressed his lips against mine and nothing more. Called me “Lil Pearl” and taught me how to be a better artist.
And most recently, the man I have affectionately come to call Mr. 700 Miles – referring to the physical distance between us. In our hearts…it is just inches. But in our lives… oceans and continents apart. He is clearly, plainly, 100 percent unavailable.
Separated, but not quite divorced. ”Kinda dating” someone in his own zip code. He is finding his own center – spiritually, emotionally, creatively – and his own truth. Work I have already done. Work I continue to do.
And yet, when we talk or Skype, there is a familiarity that speaks of karmic attachments and lives shared. Quite simply, I am in love with his heart.
He is, what my friend Rainey calls, a pretend boyfriend. They all are.
She uses the words in a matter-of-fact way that implies everyone has one. Has had one. Like a cell phone or email address.
Deep friendship. Emotional intimacy. Trust.
Companionship. Connectedness. A shared sense of not being alone even though you are – when you are one instead of two.
But without a physical dimension, or a commitment to anything more.
She assures me that she has had several over the years. And that sometimes, pretend boyfriends become real boyfriends. But mostly they are pretend.
This has been my experience too. Although I am usually too blinded by hope to see it at the time.
Good for practice. For reminding me of my loveliness. What it feels like to be close. And allowing me to believe in possibilities.
No good at all in moments when my bed feels cold and lonely. When I want nothing more than to feel arms wrapped around me.
Downright disastrous when I bring expectations of a real relationship to it.
My friend Kerry called me out on my penchant for pretend boyfriends this past weekend. He wanted to know what I was afraid of. Why I wouldn’t try online dating. Why I wouldn’t make myself available to someone who is available.
I felt sick inside.
“I don’t want to be left,” I said quietly in a voice that did not seem my own.
Was I referring to my partner of 15 years “leaving me?” My birth parents “leaving me?”
Or was it me leaving myself? Pushing aside my art, my values and my aspirations for someone else. Someone who never asked me to. And for something else – a relationship. Believing that alone I was somehow less valuable.
Earlier that day, I left a voicemail for one of my girlfriends. “I want a real boyfriend. Not a pretend one. I just had to say that out loud,” I announced into the digital abyss.
And I do. Someone who is here. Who I can physically feel. His lips over mine. His breath on my neck. His hands on my body.
Someone to hold on to me. And who I can hold on to.
Someone to eat with. Sleep with. Dance with.
A partner. An equal. Someone I can grow with. Grow old with.
But I want me more. The chance to be with myself. To not leave again.
Yes, I want a real boyfriend. I just don’t want one yet.