Anatomy of a Breakup

Players only love you when they’re playin’.
~ Stevie Nicks

I met Jack* Mother’s Day weekend. He had discovered my profile on Plenty of Fish; we exchanged emails and talked on the phone a few times before he asked to meet me. We enjoyed a three-hour lunch on Saturday, spent four hours together on Sunday, and he called me every day the following week. He cooked dinner for me the very next weekend: appetizers and a beautiful salad and spicy Moroccan chicken and rice and tiramisu. The wine flowed freely, the conversation was animated; I felt beautiful, sexy, wanted. There was glitter in the air.

Indeed, it was a magical time. Raised in South Africa, Jack has a swoon-worthy accent; he is handsome and fit, has traveled the world, is kind, worldly, well-traveled and sophisticated. He has a successful career and an exquisitely decorated home, gets along well with his ex-wife and adores his two grown daughters and three young grandsons, loves books and music, even dabbles with fiction writing. In short, he is everything I have ever dreamed of in a romantic partner.

He was so perfect, in fact, that I was afraid to share him with others; there seemed to be such chemistry between us that I didn’t want to “jinx” anything. I began to relax, though, when he said he wanted to get to know my friends and suggested that we meet for drinks or dinner. It was the night a couple of them came to his place for burgers on the grill that the trouble began.

Waiting for Diana and Jamie to arrive, as we sat on the deck overlooking his cheerful garden sipping red wine, he shared some of the details his California business trip that week. He mentioned having a conversation with friend of his there, in which he said, “I met a little piano teacher. Things are going well but I sure hope she doesn’t fall in love with me.”

Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of my friends. It was an otherwise perfect evening, filled with delicious food and stimulating conversation. I met his next-door neighbor and her adorable children; Jack got along well with my friends, and they found him as charming as I did. But I was troubled, wondering what he meant by his comment to his comrade in California. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get an answer for a week and a half as he was traveling over the next several days. Finally, over lunch the day before I left for French Polynesia, he said that he simply wasn’t in a position to make any kind of emotional commitment to anyone. He described himself as an introvert, an observer, generally preferring his own company to the company of others, often finding intimate conversation exhausting. He explained that he had recently ended a long-term relationship with a woman his oldest daughter introduced him to. They had actually lived together for three years and parted ways because she wanted to get married and he adamantly refused; after thirty years of marriage, he is over it. Still, his take on the situation was that this woman had “broken his heart “and, although he was certain he was no longer in love with her, he wasn’t about to put himself in a situation like that again. I wasn’t ready to let go; I suggested that we didn’t have to make any decisions about the outcome of our relationship at that point in time, that we just take it day by day, moment by moment, and he cheerfully agreed. Back at his house, we said sweet goodbyes.

The next morning, I boarded a plane and was gone for nearly two weeks.

By that time, though, the daily phone calls had stopped, and he didn’t so much as send me an email while I was out of the country. Still, he seemed happy to see me when I returned. I went to his house again; we shared cold chicken and cheese and crackers and dark chocolate with chili and red wine. I gave him a bottle of vanilla I bought in Taha’a; he wanted to know all the details of my trip. That night, he said he wanted to hear me play the piano sometime, although he expressed no interest in coming to my piano recital where he knew I would be playing that very Saturday. And when I mentioned some special order jewelry I was creating for Jamie, he said he would like to have a link to my online store, but he never followed up on that. As far as I know, he never looked at my blog.

I saw him just one more time. He called me two weeks ago Friday; I was on my way for a pedicure and he asked if I would like to join him for drinks later that evening. Of course I said yes. We had another magical, intimate night and talked about things we might do and places we might go in the future. And he wanted to see Diana and Jamie again; he asked me to invite them to come for dinner again the following Thursday.

Unfortunately, they were not available that night and when I told him so on the phone the next morning he did not ask if I would come alone. As a matter of fact, he told me that he was going to “disappear” for a while. He said there was a lot going on in his life and he felt “a little lost and not sure about many things.” I begged him to talk to me about those things but he refused, saying that it was all much too complicated, that it would be exhausting to discuss it, especially with someone he hardly knows. I argued with him; I had opened myself up to him like a book, sharing little-known stories of past heartbreaks and my innermost thoughts, hopes and fears. Still, he insisted that we were little more than strangers to each other. He called again the following Friday but he had plans all that weekend and did not have time to see me and explained he would be traveling to South Carolina to sort out some issues with his daughter and his ex-girlfriend the weekend after that.

You can probably guess the rest of the story. I spoke to him yesterday; he asked polite questions, then pulled the rug out from under me. He had spoken with his ex-girlfriend, Giselle, a beautiful yoga instructor from Vienna; he doesn’t know whether or not he is still in love with her, but they have known each other a long time, have many things in common, and are looking forward to spending next weekend together. It was all I could do to hold it together long enough to wish him well. I choked on the word “goodbye” as I hung up the phone. 

During our conversation, he expressed genuine surprise that I could have such deep feelings for him after such a short while. “After all, we saw each other only three times,” he pointed out. That was the real stab in the heart. “We were together more than three times,” I hoarsely contradicted him. I remember every detail of every encounter we shared. They are like favorite movies I have played over and over in my head. I even mentioned that to him once. But obviously he meant much more to me than I did to him.

* * *

I am left feeling confused. When we were together, he was animated and present; when we were not, he was unavailable, physically and otherwise. I did my best to respect his need for time and space; honestly, I thought I could be satisfied with the level of intimacy we shared, at least for now. But the heart wants what the heart wants. He was a breath of fresh air in my world; the first time I met him, I told him I was looking for magic and when we were together it certainly felt that way to me. How can he fault me for falling for him the way I did? The cynical part of me believes that, for him, the relationship was about conquest; the reasonable part of me thinks he has intimacy issues and was afraid of getting too close to me. Or maybe he simply never got over Giselle. Regardless, I am grateful that he warned me when he did, the night Diana and Jamie came over. Otherwise, yesterday would have been even harder to bear than it was.

He promised me early on that, no matter what happened, we would be friends forever. I reminded him of that and he said he hoped I would keep in touch. I told him I wouldn’t – I simply cannot – but instead will wait to hear from him. But I doubt he will give me another thought.

Once again, my heart has been shattered into a thousand pieces, and while I know it will heal, I don’t know how much more scarring it can suffer. How many more times can I put myself out there, invest energy and effort into getting to know someone, make myself vulnerable, and deal with the rejection that ultimately follows?

“As many times as it takes,” my friends answer. Perhaps. And if I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. But like Laura Linney, I now understand that “charisma is not character.” And like Jane Fonda, I don’t believe that I need to be with a man to feel whole; being in a relationship is a preference, but not a necessity. So for the time being, I have deleted my profiles on the dating sites. I am going to enjoy spending time with my family and my girlfriends and really focus on my fiction writing. And I’m not going to tell myself stories about how I’m not good enough. Because this wasn’t a competition between me and a younger, tall, ostensibly more flexible European woman. As my friends say, “Right guy, body won’t matter. Right guy, house won’t matter. Right guy, money won’t matter. Right guy, you can wear your heart on your sleeve and he will respond in kind.”

So, Mr. Right, I’ve officially stopped looking for you. Universe, it’s up to you to figure out how he and I are going to meet.

*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.