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This is the fourth in a series of posts (parts one, two, & three here) recounting the men that I’ve romantically loved in my life, the differences between them, and what lessons each experience has left with me. In every relationship there are two experiences and each of these posts only intends to capture my personal experience both in and out of each relationship. Please read knowing that each of these men likely also has a story that could very well differ from my own, either in whole or in part, and that their stories are either not known or not expressed on this personal blog.

I wasn’t looking for a relationship. I was honestly looking for a distraction. My divorce was progressing but not yet final. I desperately wanted to laugh again. It felt like it had been such a long time since I really laughed or been happy. Such a long time since I had truly enjoyed myself at all. I carried so much weight from the daily burdens of solo parenting and getting my home with Three ready to sell, that I longed to cast all of it aside for a brief moment occasionally and remind myself that I was more than just a thirty-something single mom with a failed marriage to my name.

But I met Four and everything changed. I’ll be the first to admit that my time with Four was a bit of a whirlwind. He took me by complete surprise. I honestly wasn’t expecting much of anything from him or any other. And after what I’d been through — after the heartbreak I somehow managed to survived — I wasn’t sure I even wanted anything more than for someone to open the door for me and occasionally tell me that I was pretty.

My first real date with Four didn’t go as planned and instead of sipping cocktails at a fancy bar, we drank cheap wine in my living room and talked for hours. And I mean… hours. I think he left around hour six but not before an awkward first kiss that made me laugh when the door shut. Our second date followed soon thereafter and then a third.

It wasn’t long before Four asked if we could be exclusive. I was hesitant. Not because I wanted to see anyone else (What single mom has time to date multiple men?) but because my divorce wasn’t final and I had zero intention of well, truly being with anyone until it was. Fidelity is among the highest of my virtues and being with anyone while still officially married to Three (the father of my child) felt wrong in all sorts of ways. I knew that if my daughter asked one day if I was faithful to the bitter end, I wanted to unequivocally answer in the affirmative. Four and I discussed my hesitations and my limits in detail, but he continued to insist that he wanted what he wanted and that he felt the way he felt. So we both essentially signed up for an exclusive wait list – when the marriage was officially over, we could officially begin.

And begin we did. Even now, I stand in awe of just how quickly Four and I connected and progressed. A skeptic might say it was because we were both recently divorced, but I know it was more. We were particularly well suited to each other. We used to joke that it was chemical or something; our pheromones matched.

Still, I had learned lessons with Three that I did not want to carry into a new relationship with Four. I was left wondering how differently it would have gone with Three if he had never felt any pressure from me to get married or to have kids. So with Four, I took a different approach altogether. I told him that I didn’t need or expect any promises from him. None. But he willingly made promises all the same.

Promises about marriage, kids, family. Promises about vacations we would take and adventures we would go on. Promises about where we would live and when we would retire. Each was essentially a promise for a future… together. When the promises began, I pleaded with him to not make any that he couldn’t keep. I’d done that. I’d been there. I knew from experience that it was devastating to pick up the pieces broken those promises left behind. I told Four in detail the type of wreck I had been when Three had done that to me. I told him about the sobbing in bed for hours. The lack of sleep. The depression. I insisted that I could not survive that kind of heartbreak again.

Four would listen to my pleas, then he would pull me in close to him and whisper in my ear: “I’m good for it.” And I really thought he was.

When Four told me that he was ready to meet Three and my daughter, I cautioned him. I told him that I had zero intention of introducing my daughter to someone unless it was a sure thing. The last thing I wanted for her was to get in the habit of seeing men walk out the door. Four assured me that we were a sure thing and that he was ready to take that step so I arranged a dinner with Three so that he and Four could meet on neutral ground before I introduced Four to our daughter.

The night he met Three, Four looked at him directly and told him that he wanted to build a life with me. In that moment, my heart swelled and even though I knew I already loved Four, I allowed myself to truly fall for him. I didn’t even realize I had been holding a part of myself back but when the dam broke, I felt this rush of relief that I could indeed, truly fall in love with a man again and it still takes me breath away to think about how just how right it felt to fall for Four. On a cellular level, I felt more certain about Four than I had felt about anyone else in my life. That fact both scared me and excited me. Things about Four that I normally would have picked apart in other men — things that I would have considered deal breakers — became not just acceptable to me but almost endearing. And despite the voice in the back of my head telling me that it was too good to be true, I found myself diving deeper still into plans for a new life with Four.

We looked at houses together. We talked about the kind of wedding we wanted. We booked vacations. We talked about our future kid together. We met each other’s families and friends. There was general approval from everyone all around. We shared favorite things, inside jokes and special phrases. We did family things together with my daughter and the three of us fell easily into a comfortable routine — one that seemed perfect.

And maybe it was, until it wasn’t. After all the promises to the contrary, I found him sitting across from me in early April, anxiously avoiding eye contact with me and without much explanation, telling me that he was ending things between us. There was no satisfactory answer as to why. Really there wasn’t even a single answer as to to why — nothing for me to grasp onto and even attempt to understand why the man I held dear was once again choosing to leave me. He said that he cared for me but that he couldn’t be in a relationship at this point in his life. And after a few moments of silence in which I felt each of his promises shatter and dig deep into my flesh, he left. And he never even looked back. Not once.

Friends and family have implored me to ease my pain by seeing him as a bad guy. As a villain. As someone who exploited a woman in a vulnerable position and intentionally mislead her. And while I will concede that is a possibly, it honestly is not one that I can bring myself to believe. I’ve gone over it and over in the last month or so and no matter which way I spin it, I cannot believe that none of it — the feelings, the love, the plans — was real or that Four set out to intentionally break my heart yet again. Though I still can’t fathom why Four did what he did, I also cannot believe that he set out to cause me or my daughter to hurt so deeply. To conclude any of that would mean that the man I knew — the man I loved and wanted to spend my life with — was a deception from the start. That is something I absolutely cannot accept. I am still struggling with a reality in which I never get the answers I seek; one is which it never makes sense and it always remains a mystery why Four departed my life so abruptly. But I don’t see myself ever deciding that Four was a bad man altogether.

That said, after having so much time in isolation to think it over, I no longer believe that Four ever loved me at all. It stings to say that and I’ve shed many a tear over it , but it is the conclusion I have reached. I’ve come to believe that he loved the idea of me or what a relationship with me represented perhaps, but no — he never loved me personally. And therefore I also think it is impossible to conclude that he was ever in love with me at all despite how impossibly fast and deep I fell in love with him. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t think it is possible walk out on someone you are actively in love with and Four’s exit from my life (and that of my daughter’s) took place with a stunning ease and conviction. No; he was not in love with me.

And while I’ve spent some time cursing Four and his (unintended) deceit, I do think that my short affair with him taught me very important things about love. First, I learned that broken hearts can indeed beat again and that’s a lesson I do not wish to undersell for in ways, it brought me back to life. Four taught me that somethings (and people) are not meant to be understood at all; sometimes there is no real explanation for how any of it unfolds and answers sometimes do not come despite how badly we need them. Four also taught me that I will never beg to be loved. No matter how much I might want to be loved in return after giving myself and my love deeply and freely to my partner – I will not beg anyone to stay with me. And perhaps, most importantly of all, Four taught me that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I am definitely not happy that Four and I live separate lives now. In fact there are even still days I wake up and half expect to find him snoozing beside me, but the truth of his sudden departure cuts and burns like a knife along my skin and the scars of what could have been ache when I least expect it. I do find myself wondering occasionally if all of it was in my head; but I know deep down that I did not imagine it. It was real but it is also really over. Each day is a new day for me to make peace with that reality and so each day, I try. For now, I do still love Four despite my best efforts to the contrary. And though I’m not feeling particularly grateful to Four for much these days, I know that if nothing else, Four made certain I know that life and love after divorce is possible albeit not guaranteed.

“Just remember that sometimes, the way you think about a person isn’t the way they actually are.”

– John Green

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