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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