I see the email address and I pause. Take a deep breath. Blow it out slowly.
It’s from a path not taken. A path I left in an increasingly distant past. A path best left behind me.
Yet, there the email sits. To open it may be to open Pandora’s box. But to not open it brings its own challenges, namely my own curiosity. I don’t like unopened presents. And he knows that.
“He” is the sender of this email, one who knows me well enough but not as well as he thinks. He confused communing with me with owning me. A wise male friend said to me, “He wants the Harriet to his Ozzie. Do you want to live in the 1950s?” The words were true, but unnecessary. I knew what I had to do. It was just so hard at the time to do it. To give up the familiarity of a steady for the mosh pit of being middle-aged and single again.
He sends me two song titles and nothing else, knowing they were part of memories we shared. And then, two minutes later, thinks better of it and sends a nice message along the lines of “thinking of You.” He always capitalized “You” when writing to me, about me. Something I found charming at first and then disturbing over time when his controlling tendencies started to show themselves. When it started to feel like he wanted the perfect version of me—Me—versus the real-life woman.
I think back several years. He is introducing me to old friends, a couple he’s known for many years. And I say, “It’s casual, right? I’ll wear the jeans.” And he says, “No, no—the dress. Wear the dress.” “Aren’t we going to a pizza joint?” I ask. “Yes, but I’ll take you for cocktails before,” he answers. I demur but he insists. And so I sat at a pizza parlor dressed in clothing that didn’t fit the occasion or my mood, as his friend’s wife innocently asks if I’ve just come from work. “Yes,” I say, too tired to explain. And I realized in that moment that he had begun making me tired more and more often. From frequent texts that ranged from “Where are you right now?” to an undecipherable need for more reassuring emojis than I knew existed, I think I began to see our joint path ending that evening.
We all want to be loved, to be cherished. We want someone to feel the flutter of butterflies when we appear on the scene. And that should mellow into a solidity and solidarity, over time, that still gives us that warm feeling. It shouldn’t begin to feel like a lasso around our neck. I recall him saying something once when talking to his best friend about me. Their conclusion was that I was like a “headstrong filly.” I thought he was joking. He wasn’t. Was I to be tamed, then? A funny sort of thought, me with my love of books and quiet nights. Yes, I have my moments but if you know me—if you really love me and get me—you won’t break me. You won’t have to. I’ll just come to you because I sense you’re good, you’re true, you’re for me.
Maybe it was a Southern thing. I dated another man within the year who was a long, tall Texan. He too compared me to a skittish horse. When I finally agreed to date him and him alone, he cackled triumphantly. “Can you hear the clink? That’s the corral door closing, honey. I’ve got the wild mustang fenced in now.”
This is not the first time my emailer has tried to revisit our past. He kept his things in storage for far longer than most men would have, despite having moved 800 miles away. And when he returned for them, he tried to return for me also. It was a pleasant evening—we fell into an easy, familiar rhythm at dinner. And I’m ashamed to say that when he used that word—the “l” word—I said it too. It was a Pavlovian response, out of my mouth before I realized it. And I instantly regretted it. I owed us greater honesty than that. What I wanted was the comfort and security I missed—but it wasn’t true love.
Other than shaking your head at my choices, I hope you’re remembering your own paths not taken. Because we all should now and again, if only to remind ourselves that we are on a chosen path. If only to keep our living intentional.
It’s not fair, really. I’m the writer and so you only get my bits and pieces of these very whole human beings. One who could make me belly laugh so hard that I cried and the other who could make a gal feel oh so special on a typical Friday night. But there were less great parts also. As in any relationship. I wish both of these men well. Everyone deserves a love that lasts.
The long and short of it is—as you already know—I opened the email. I gave him a quick, polite response and he continued the convo with an invitation to reconnect. “I’m a great tour guide,” he said of his new locale. “You know it. I’d love to show you the town. And the changes in me.”
I’d by lying if I didn’t tell you that I was 10% tempted (at the time, which was a while ago). But the other 90% of me weighed in with a resounding “no.” Those changes will be something some other woman will have to enjoy, completely unaware things were ever otherwise with him.
This little filly is going to keep galloping in another direction. I have a feeling there’s a horse whisperer somewhere in my future. God, I hope so. I don’t want to have to jump any more fences.