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Pat (the woman I married four years ago) and I met at a time when we both felt our lives were at a dead end, believing in the impossibility of improving our relationships with anyone of the opposite sex, yet wanting to do so. It was at a trim-the-tree Christmas party we each almost didn't go to. I had been separated from my first wife for over seven months; after a period of six months or so of frantic, expensive, and ultimately exhausting dating activity, I had begun to look for something more satisfying. I wanted to get close to a woman. Laura, let's call her, I thought was the answer to my dreams.
She was roughly my age, divorced like me, a lawyer, and with an interest in literature, music, art, and drama that I had always looked for in a woman. She loved to discuss ideas, a quality I had always liked in women since (as I later learned) it meant we didn't have to deal with the less tidy, more frightening world of feelings. After going out with her for almost a month, I convinced myself that she was the woman for me. Fantasies of having found the right mate, of a future free from loneliness danced in my head — and when she gave me the boot (nicely enough) less than two weeks before Christmas, I was desolated.
Feeling terribly sorry for myself, I spent the next five days holed up at home in the evenings, watching too much television, but also meditating on my patterns of behavior with Laura and with all the other women I had been seeing. Meditating along these lines was something I had never done before. It wasn't something I wanted to do; rather it seemed thrust on me because I was hurtingand didn't know how to get rid of my pain. My previous approach to pain was to try to run away from it — get out of the apartment, see a movie, go to the neighborhood bar, meet another woman. But this time I knew from too much past experience that that method was terribly unsatisfying. So how could that method help me now? Listening to myself in the stillness I began to see that if I were ever going to achieve the kind of close relationship with a woman I wanted, I was going to have to do some changing. Not just my approach, but my whole attitude toward other people. I came on too strong, I didn't give Laura space to be herself. In fact, to me she wasn't a separate person at all, only an extension of my need to be taken care of. These weren't pleasant truths, because I was beginning to realize that they were true for my relationships with every woman who was or had been important in my life. They were in one sense reluctant truths: A part of me recognized them as valid, but most of me sought to deny them. I wasn't ready to live out the full meaning of what I had discovered about myself then. All I knew was that I was bored and disgruntled. I was no longer in the divorce crisis; that had passed. All I wanted was to wallow in self-pity. Nobody loved me, and I would be alone during the holidays and probably forever.
Under these circumstances, the invitation from an old friend to come to her trim-the-tree party was an unwelcome intrusion. I wanted her to sympathize with my pain and agree that I had a right to suffer. Instead, she told me there would be a number of interesting single women there, including a nurse she "knew" was just right for me. Here was an opportunity to try something new, to put my self-awareness to some use, and I resented it. My God, I thought, it's just not worth the effort; they will all be boring, unattractive, or attached to someone else. Who needs the agony of being turned down again? I was predicting the future as if it could only be a repetition of my past experience.
Nevertheless, by the afternoon of the party I had worked myself into such a state of exasperated self-disgust that taking the risk of going to the party and being disappointed seemed less unpleasant than continuing to sit at home and stew in my own juice. Not much, but a little. So, believing I knew full well what I would find, I got dressed and went — more out of being bored with boredom than anything else. Once there, I greeted my hostess, took a quick look around the room, and had my fears confirmed: The same bunch of boring people trying to make sophisticated small talk. Not for me, thank you, so I made a beeline for the kitchen, fortified myself with a strong drink, and took a seat away from everybody in the corner of the room next to the Christmas tree, where I could survey the crowd and keep my distance.
My eyes landed on an attractive woman sitting on the couch across the room, and I roused myself from my sour reverie long, enough to consider talking to her, but then I saw the telltale flash of gold on her left hand, and immediately thought, "Wouldn't you know it, already married. Another one of those boring suburban housewives. Her husband must be in the other room. " If she hadn't picked that moment to come over to the tree and ask me to help her hang some ornaments, I probably never would have made any attempt to talk to the woman who was eventually to become my wife.