Warning: This is not another drippy Valentine’s piece, nor is it a bitter, angry, scathing anti-Valentine’s Day contribution. It’s not about love or love unrequited. It’s about missed opportunity.
Reflecting on missed opportunities has nothing to do with the happiness in your current relationship. You can be extremely happy with your currently relationship (I’m extremely happy with mine, for example, so you can put down the knife, darling) and still wonder what might have been – or just wish that the process of getting where you are hadn’t been so laden with pain. Probably the most foolish sentiment ever to misrepresent itself as wisdom is the statement: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” This is pure, unprocessed horse manure. How many diseases leave you stronger for having ravaged your body?
Breakups are evil. I don’t mean the ordinary, went-to-college-in-different-states-and-drifted-apart or got-bored-and-separated-amicably type of breakup, but that simmering, seething, lots of yelling spiteful venomous things at each other, gut wrenching, stick-the-knife-in-and-twist kind of breakup that we’ve all suffered. Saying that you’re stronger for that kind of experience is like saying you’re stronger for having survived smallpox. You’re not stronger. You’re a shadow of your former self, withered, wrecked, and scarred.
Missed the better roads
I admit I bear my share of scars. I don’t wear them proudly, and I wish I didn’t have so many. It’s not that I’m not happy where I am (did I mention I love my soon-to-be-wife very, very much?), it’s that I have a pretty good memory for unpleasantness. I really wish I could have ended up exactly where I am, but by a much less tortuous road. More specifically, at each “disaster point” I had a choice to race ahead or put on the brakes. By not braking, not only did I eventually crash in spectacular fashion: I missed out on all the better roads along the way.
Using myself as an example of What Not to Do in Love, I will reach back in time and revisit some of my own lost moments. Some were relationships that ended for no apparent reason, some were relationships that never happened, and some were women I barely knew. But each of them left a deep impression of Missed Opportunity. In chronological order:
Nancy: My first love. It seems so retro now in our thoroughly pornified society, but in those days only the “bad” kids dated in junior high, while for the rest of us, dating began at the first dance in the fall of 9th grade. You were smart, pretty, and kind, and you were the one I was going to ask to that Freshman Fall Dance, but I moved three days before the start of high school. And if I’ve always crushed on green-eyed brunettes, you were the source of that crush. I hope you’re well.
High School: An awful time in every way, except for three little gems, one I worked with at the local bakery, and the two girls who sat in the back row with me in AP English class. I really should have asked one of you out, but I was overwhelmed with the awfulness of my life. I still tremble to think of all time I wasted crushing on stuck-up bubbleheads, when the three of you were right there in front of me. Even if all of you had said no, at least I would have been rejected by sweethearts, instead of the soulless airheads I chased after.
Rachel: College is a wonderful and precious time of life, and I squandered it on three women, as vapid as they were average. You, on the other hand, little brunette dazzler with violet eyes to die for, were sensational, gorgeous, funny, intelligent, every man’s dream. We worked together at a pizza place, even went out occasionally. But I was so sure you were way out of my league I never asked you out. You can’t imagine my pain when I ran into you years later and found out you had been waiting for me to ask you out! I still cringe at the thought that had I worked up the nerve to ask you out, I might look back on my college years with fondness instead of a string of unbroken miseries.
DC Bike Courier Girl: You’d be in your late 30s now, I’d guess. I was working a summer job as a temp, doing computer stuff, and had to dress in a shirt and tie every day. It was a warm day, and you wore spandex biking shorts and tight-fitting shirt, sitting on a park bench, your legs stretched out in front of you, your bike courier radio blaring out some other biker’s delivery. You were the best looking woman I have ever seen, way beyond model pretty, but it was your legs that had me ready to worship you: The best, shapeliest legs I have ever seen, and torn to shreds! Not like just one bad fall, but scabs and scars all up and down your legs in various stages of healing, like the most hardcore, balls-to-the-wall, slam-pedaling bike courier to ever strap on a radio. And no helmet of course. You were drop-dead gorgeous, you knew it, and you didn’t give a crap! That made you more beautiful than any woman who has ever lived. I was too ashamed to talk to you. Dressed in my yuppie scum outfit, I probably would have at least said hello if I’d been on my own bike, but what I should have done was gone to the nearest jewelry store, maxed out my Visa, and proposed marriage on the spot. Sigh. I hope you’re well, and if you’ve had children, I hope you make them wear helmets and pads.
Shelly: Among a long list of mistakes and missed opportunities, I’ll be kicking myself forever about letting you slip away. You were perfect in mind and body, and we clicked on a level that I had never clicked with anyone else, and it had the passion of total surprise. We met in an evening calculus class, I was preparing for medical school, and you were doing some kind of engineering thing for the Forestry Service. We were both seeing other people when we met, we just became friends, then we started hanging out a bunch, then it was clear we were really into each other, but then I suffered through a slow and disastrous breakup with my girlfriend and I was out of it for awhile. But I still had your phone number, and I got over my ex, and I heard you had broken it off with your guy, and I called you up. You said, “I’m really busy, but I can see you Friday night.” What an invitation! And I didn’t take you up on it! Stupid, stupid, stupid! I don’t even remember what it was that I had to do that Friday. To make matters worse, I said I’d call you the following week, and I never did! It took me several years and further disasters to realize what a mistake that was. I’m really sorry. I hope you’ve married, have a wonderful career and several beautiful children. I think of you often.
Michelle: I’ve come close to marriage several times, and when I look back, I realize that all of them would have been horrible relationships, doomed to end in messy divorce. Except for you. You were sweet, stable, intelligent, sexy beyond belief, and with true panache. You were ready to move in with me when I left for med school. So why didn’t we get married? I’ve never found an answer; at least we could have given it a try. I’m especially sorry about the last time I saw you, that morning after the night I spent in your apartment, and you made that fabulous breakfast, sausage, eggs, bacon and coffee. And I didn’t touch any of it. That was really rude. I’m a jerk. At least I could have drunk the coffee. Most of your life has been far harder than it should have been, and you deserved much better. I hope you’ve found true love.
Jennifer: The fact is, you broke up with me, but I had been hinting that way myself for weeks. We were both in residency, got along great, had similar interests, talked about everything, never fought, and ended it. Why? Considering the relationships that followed, I would have done much better to stay with you. At least during my five years of surgical residency I would have had something to look forward to, instead of the insanity that took place with the women I dated after you. I hear you’re starting your own practice. I wish you the best.
Anne Marie: My professional life stabilizing, I took a long hard look at my social life and realized what a shambles it was. But how to meet new people? With fear and trepidation, this child of the 70s turned to the Internet. The first thing I learned is that there are a lot of really weird people in the world. But then I learned that, if you’re willing to take the time to pan the river slowly and carefully, there are real golden nuggets in the stream of Internet Dating – and you were one. You had everything I’ve ever wanted in a woman, you were even of the same religion and political persuasion, and you were just a little shy and awkward like me. We went out a few times, had a great time each time, and then I let it drop. I’ll never know why. I hope you’re well.
To all of my Missed Opportunities from over 20 years of dating hell, I wish you the happiest Valentine’s Day. And now, at long last, having found true love, I would like her to know that she has all of my love and affection. And may I admonish all of the single, lonely or unhappy folks out there: Stop wasting time, and don’t let another opportunity disappear. Love is the riches of the soul. Don’t squander its wealth; one good relationship will make up for a lifetime of misery. Trust me. I speak from experience.