The Same, but Different

Two friends have now commented that John is nothing like Tom. I suppose that’s true, but it strikes me as such a funny thing to say. What were they expecting? Did they think there was a clone out there someplace? That there is a store where you pop in to pick up an exact replica when your beloved husband dies? An acquaintance I see rarely asked a few months ago if she could give my number to her contractor because he reminded her so much of Tom.

At one level I get it. One of the first men I went out with during my brief on-line dating frenzy was appealing to me because he was a flannel shirt and jeans kind of guy who had a beard and worked with his hands. And I spent a day or two ogling the guy working on the house across the street mostly because Tom also worked construction. But Tom was very different from most tradesmen and even had an occasional issue on job sites over differences in musical tastes. He always preferred something more mellow than the Heavy Metal favored by the mostly younger crews. And he shunned the fast food they wanted to grab for lunch and tried to avoid discussions of their often conservative politics. I still remember the enormous relief that surged through me when we were dating and starting to really like each other but were still in the discovery stage and he mentioned not having visited a McDonalds since Joan Kroc started funding Republicans. I think I might have actually laughed out loud and said “Thank you, Jesus!” that this lovely man was also a liberal.

Before I met John I had three dates with a very nice man who was kind and funny and seemed to like me a lot. He was also a Republican and a gun owner. I remember telling my best friend about him and she said, “He sounds great. I think it’s perfect that he’s nothing like Tom. Exactly what you need.” This man still sends me the occasional email to let me know he has lost weight, gotten a job, still thinks about me, etc. I have told him about John and encouraged him to move on. But I would likely see him again despite his politics if for some reason John and I don’t make it because he has the quality that I now understand is the only one that counts—a good heart.

John and Tom have almost nothing in common besides that, but it may be the thing that makes him seem familiar. He was billed as “a good person” by both of the friends who fixed us up and I have seen that goodness in his dealings with the very many friends in his life. Both he and Tom maintained loyal friendships with disparate types of people for 30 plus years. Both seem revered by those in their inner circles. I like people who are loyal and kind to their friends and who stand by them even in their darkest hours. My dad was like that. We vacationed every year with his college buddies and at his funeral people stood in line to tell us the ways in which he had helped and supported them in their hours of need. Tom’s funeral was a similar love fest.

If we accept that life is really only about love, then finding a loving mate is the single most important item on the dating checklist. I am unfortunately not that highly evolved and still find mutual attraction also essential. And acceptance. I understand now that if there is anything you really don’t like about someone, you better come to terms with it because the chances of them changing significantly—especially at my age, but really EVER—is pretty darn small. You either embrace them as is or learn to (silently) tolerate whatever niggling behaviors, habits or opinions you find annoying. John told me the other day that he didn’t care for my blue nail polish. I almost laughed. I do not give a flying f%^* if he likes my nail polish. I LOVE my nail polish and have gotten compliments all week. I find it odd that he would feel the need to comment, but in the big scheme of things it just doesn’t matter.

What matters are other things. We both do work that makes peoples’ lives better. We both admire what the other does and how they do it. We both love young people and working with them. We both have long-term friendships that we treasure. We both have family ties that mean the world to us. We both love nature and being outdoors. I love food more than he does and am less discriminating in my tastes. He is so much neater than I am it isn’t even funny, but unlike Tom he is not willing to run around picking up after me and I am now having to make the first real effort of my life to keep my chronic messiness in check. He is a recovering Catholic (basically tossed out of the church he was devoted to during his childhood and youth when he divorced his unfaithful wife) and I am a practicing Presbyterian, but he will go with me whenever he’s not worshipping the God of Golf. We both have deep and abiding ties to our Great Lakes properties (which are 7 hours apart!) and understand that although it is crazy, we will need to keep them both. We are both inveterate savers, although he more impressively than I as he never had children. We both love music and have bonded over our similar tastes from the very first date. I nearly did a jig finding The Fantasticks on his CD shelf and seeing photos of him in a skull cap playing the lead in his high school’s production of The King and I. He will even parrot back the strange accents that I do with my sister and Alyssa—French, Mexican, Russian—while we laugh and joke. And he plays a mean game of Euchre and might be willing to learn Mahjong, a game that my sweet husband was perpetually confounded by.

Maybe I just suffer from an overactive imagination. From the very beginning with Tom I had this movie running non-stop in my head of what our life together would look like. It was a happy movie and for the brief time we were actually married and under the same roof it was a wonderful life.  It is a little harder to bring a future life with John into focus. He is a more complicated person than Tom was. More like me in many ways. Tom had no job, no money and nowhere to live when I met him. He was more than willing to step right into my existing life and try to “make it better”. John, too, has expressed a desire to improve my life by making it easier and more fun. So far, so good. He likes to shop and has bought me both useful and fun things. He is taking me on a get-away to South Carolina next month for my birthday and I can’t wait. He heard me lament the overgrown state of my woefully neglected garden and has hired a nice man to come clean it up. He has made me wonderful meals and has twice bought my friends dinner. He is, in short, a kind and generous man. I could get used to this.

We still don’t know what our futures will bring. We would like them to somehow merge, but this relationship is only a few months old. We are old. We are cautious. But we make each other happy, we have fun together, we take each other’s breath away and we both seem to have achieved passing grades when first meeting family members and friends. He is, in my sister’s words, “a keeper” and the fact that he is nothing like Tom does not really enter into the equation. Because he IS like Tom where it counts—in his heart which seems to be full of love for me.

I started seeing white butterflies all the time right after Tom died. They seemed to show up at crucial moments and flutter around me. They have been here a lot lately. I’ve decided Tommy is telling me he’s still with me and that I’m doing ok. I think he would like John. I think somewhere he is so very happy that I am not alone, that I have found a good man to be by my side. I thought it would be Tom. Tom thought it would be Tom. But life does not, as we all know so well by now, turn out the way we plan. I am going with the alternate ending. It feels right. The same, but different.

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Letting Go

My oldest and dearest friend, my first sister-in-law who chose me over her wandering-eyed brother, just staged an intervention—about my CLOTHES. She ambushed me as we were peacefully sitting around a campfire at the cottage with our daughters. I think I even teed it up for her by recounting a confession I made the week before that the dress I was wearing had also been worn at the after party for my first wedding—in 1977. The dress is still in perfect shape. Even the elastic top has not worn out after all these years, despite the fact that it now must support a bit more weight than back in the day. But she is not a fan of my bra-less summer style and told my daughter on the sly that it was unflattering. She may be right, but comfort trumps style every time in my book and especially in the summer at my own house. Still, I did admit that my dapper new boyfriend (yes, I am fully aware of how ridiculous that word is when used by a 61-year-old woman, but my daughter says my joking substitution of Boy Toy is even more offensive) wanted to take me to Nordstrom and “dress” me. My friend said, “ME TOO!!”

There was a time when I cared about clothes. I was making good money, was married to someone making good money and had a job heading a loan division that existed solely to make loans to people so rich they had absolutely no need to borrow money. I needed to look like I belonged in the same room with them, so I shopped at Nordstrom and Saks and sometimes the old Hudson’s and chose a few high quality pieces that I mixed into my low quality wardrobe and it all worked. It was fun. I hadn’t had babies yet and was a perfect size 6, sometimes even a 4. But I still never got rid of anything that fit and hadn’t worn out. All the lovely suits with football player shoulder pads have long gone to Goodwill, but all the comfy casual stuff is still in the closet. I did have a bit of a fright when I took an ancient sundress to France once and saw myself in lots of pictures looking faded and droopy-boobed. I will concede that a few items should no longer go out in public, but I still love wearing them at home with my nearest and dearest. But now even they are turning on me.

This raises the deeper issue of letting go in general.  When I picked up the same friend at the airport I wanted to carry her daughter’s suitcase. It seemed the polite hostess thing to do and I was raised to be polite at all costs. But this 14-year-old must’ve been raised to think old people were feeble and can’t carry suitcases. Or she is just as stubborn as I am because she would not let go. I said, “I’ve got this, honey.” I said, “Really, I want to carry this.” I said, “Let go.” To which she replied, “YOU let go.” At this point my friendly tone changed and I said, “Seriously, LET GO” and she finally did. But the realization that winning the point, having my will prevail was so important that I would have a wrestling match with a houseguest over a SUITCASE was an AHA moment. Jesus. Is it THAT important for me to win in every single encounter? Apparently, appallingly, so.

Maybe it stems from feeling so many things are not in my control. I could not save Tom’s life, could not even extend it, despite trying to find him the best medical care. I could not ultimately give my kids an in-tact family, despite trying for 16 years to make it work. I cannot keep summer from ending and my child’s joy-filled, carefree days with it. With so many big things out of my control it makes me want to be in charge of all the minutiae that will bend to my will. But that is stupid and stressful and often flat out harmful to other people and my relationships with them.

John and I were at a wedding and I lost my tiny purse. He said he would go check at the front desk to see if anyone had found it. I said I would go and check myself. He said he would go. I said it was my purse and I was perfectly capable of checking on it myself. He said he realized that was true but that I could let him do this one small thing for me. I said I was used to taking care of myself. He, in full therapist mode by now, said, “Yes, but do you want to continue to be what you have always been.” I then repeated this at full volume for the entire table in an outraged voice—joking, but not, and then went to check on the purse. I have no idea what this was really about except my ridiculous need to be in charge of absolutely everything and my fear of ever letting go in even the tiniest thing.

Alyssa told me tearfully that it would mean so much to her if I expressed belief in her, if I really thought she was going to be successful in school and in life despite being completely different from me. She did a little mocking imitation of me crossing things off my To-Do list with manic glee and rushing off to the next task. She asked me to remember that she had a good year last year and almost always gets things done although not in the manner and time frame I would wish. She basically said, “Please let go of my school life and leave it to me.” She is 16. It is a reasonable, probably long overdue, request. She needs to know she is a capable, self-contained unit before leaving for college in two short years. I need to know that too and express that knowing to her.

I do not, in fact, want to be what I have always been. It is time to change. It will not be easy. There may be blood. And possibly tears. No matter. I believe I finally left my horrible marriage because I realized my life expectancy could be as high as 97 (since that’s when my mom died) and I could not fathom staying that unhappy for another 40 years. I now think being this controlling for another 35 years will either kill me or leave me all by myself with me being the only person who can stand me and that might even be a stretch.

I hate change. I especially hate making changes. Painful. Tiring. NECESSARY. I’ll try. But the tube tops are staying at least until next summer. That’s the best I can do.