A close friend of mine recently taught me something unexpected about love. We flew to Los Angeles for a sales trip and shared a hotel room. I haven’t shared a hotel room with anyone but my husband in years and it turns out that my friend Kelly, who is divorced and single, hasn’t either.
We were both a little apprehensive; worried that we would get on each others nerves and somehow taint the friendship we cherished. Growing up, I shared a room and lots of heart to hearts with my younger sister, but I’m a light sleeper and a poor space sharer. And by space, I mean mental space. My brain and its happenings are always buzzing about, and they don’t like to be interrupted until they’ve completed a thought (or spewed it into my journal or this blog). It’s why I don’t like when the phone rings unexpectedly, or courteous small talk about traffic and the weather. It’s probably why, in all the years that I was single after my divorce, I chose to travel alone rather than with girlfriends. And when I stay in a hotel, I’m messy (yes, Mom, still). My suitcase and its environs become a cabinet and the hotel’s cleaning service passive aggressively tells me so by hiding it in the closet. And Kelly, a single mom who is used to having her own bedroom and bathroom to ruminate and groominate in, not to mention workshop aloud the songs she’s written, was unsure whether she’d feel stifled – or stifle me.
We also shared a rental car, several Uber drivers, a toothbrush (once), and drinks each night with clients (which was quite fun as well as productive, like in this post,”Enough Fun!“). And then at the end of those long nights, we retired to our room for some laughs and pillow talk, which surrounded conversations about relationships (what else?). I spoke about my husband, his sense of humor, and little quirks that I love – some of which may have been construed as flaws or red flags when we first met, when our bond was still forming. She spoke about dating and the loneliness and frustrations that come with it; the magnification of flaws, the elaborate game of texting, the fear that it won’t amount to something real, and the fear that it might.
Then she pulled her phone out to show me a picture of a guy she met online and was considering meeting in person. “Ok, what’s he like?” she asked me, providing no details beyond the photograph. He had olive skin, a receding hairline, and hazel eyes with crow’s feet. “He seems…normal,” I said. “I don’t see anything wrong with him.”
I’ve recently discovered that I have this strange knack for intuiting a person’s essence from a photograph. When another friend of mine had first shown me a picture of a guy she met online (and is now engaged to), I took one look at him and immediately blurted: “He’s intense and reclusive…an artist who probably lives in the country, a smoker.” It turned out to be true.
And a few weeks before our trip to LA, Kelly had texted me a photo of a handsome guy with silver hair, wearing a scarf and leather jacket. “Mean streak,” I quickly wrote back. “No,” she replied. “We’ve had this beautiful back and forth and he’s coming to visit me this weekend.”
But that night, when I asked her what ever happened with silver hair guy she replied, “I didn’t like him. He kept putting me down in small, subtle ways. He was…he was…mean,” she said, looking up at me with the realization that I had been right about him from the get go.
None of this is about my being right, of course (or promoting a fortune telling business for singles). It’s about the realization that before I met my husband — before I had gotten out of the way of my own projections and badly wanting something to work — I never could have so clearly seen behind the scenes. Back when I was single and the memory of what true intimacy really felt like had faded, perhaps I would have been unequipped to recognize the qualities about him that were most important. Perhaps I would have discounted him from a photograph too.
When Kelly and I settled into our seats for the flight back to New York, the exhaustion from the week hit home and I pulled out my kindle to dive into the quietness of a book. But then, I had a question for Kelly – a detail about her divorce that I didn’t know. As she began telling me the long, captivating story, my kindle slid off to the side. “You’re a better storyteller and more interesting than my book,” I told her, and we laughed. After so many days together, I didn’t expect that, and neither did she. (I might have even added, “I can’t believe I’m not sick of you yet!”)
She also didn’t expect that a few days later, when she went out on a first date with hazel eyes guy, she found herself forgetting the checklist in his profile and completely letting go. He had indeed turned out to be “normal,” as I had sensed from his photo. And one of his quirks, which before would have been a knee-jerk cause to dismiss him, she now found endearing.
She said that before our trip, it would have never happened. Somehow, having spent that companionable stretch of time with a friend had helped her reconnect to herself and re-discover what intimacy feels and looks like – and what she was looking for. And today, she called me up to say that their third date was even better, and she’s not sure she could have experienced it authentically without the quick tour of terrain she had forgotten existed.
And it reminded me that love can beget love, in whatever form it comes in, and that back when I was divorced and single, I was fortunate to have a few women in my life who reminded me of that too. And who maybe even helped renew my prescription so that I could see my husband for who he is and recognize what intimacy really looked like – when it was time to.