The Joy of Playing It Un-Safe: Loving Again

One woman risked it all to find love after devastating loss

Liz Welch
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Photograph: Phil Toledano

WHEN I GOT MARRIED for the first time, in June 1999, I really believed in “till death do us part.” My “I do” was packed with eagerly anticipated expectations: a warm and loving home with a yard where our kids could run barefoot every summer; beach vacations, family suppers and bedtime stories. I wanted to re-create my own childhood, one that seemed perfect until it fell apart. My dad died first, in a car accident, when I was 13, followed by my mother three and a half years later, of cancer. Orphaned at 16, I found that the only way I could make sense of such loss was to believe that I got all the sadness out of the way early—and that the rest of my life would be easy.

My husband and I spent that first year trying to get pregnant. I was giddy in the beginning, then concerned and finally devastated when we learned it was impossible. He was infertile, and rather than address the emotions brewing deep inside me, I took a running leap over them. “It’s OK,” I assured him and myself. “We’ll adopt!” Simple.

Only it wasn’t. Our sparring started slowly and softly. He needed time to think, and I grew anxious waiting and watching my friends have second and third kids. During the next six years, I swatted at several stings of “This is not working” panic and stuck to my theory: Everything will work out.

I was 36 when he told me he didn’t want children. All those happily-ever-after dreams dissipated in an instant. I suggested a trial separation, and then one month later he said, “It’s over.”

I spent two months in free fall, flummoxed. I’d lost my parents, now my husband and, perhaps worse, the chance of a family. I cried myself tearless before I had an epiphany: I’d survived that first loss. I’d survive this, too.

And so I focused on my newfound freedom. I ate lamb chops at 4 PM, got emotional watching American Idol (season five) and developed a schoolgirl crush on Luke Wilson. I looked for old flames on Facebook and Googled “Luke Wilson” and “girlfriend” to see if he had one. (He didn’t!) I ran my first 10K, bought lacy lingerie, and after 11 years with one man, I signed up on to start dating again.

Perusing profiles was thrilling—there were men out there who, like me, were looking for love and companionship! Some were even cute! I sent off a half dozen e-mails and then checked my inbox periodically over the next few days. Then every hour. Then every 15 minutes. OK, every five. No one responded. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I widened my net to older, shorter and/or pudgier men. My first date was a shy playwright with a lisp, my second a preppy entrepreneur with a yacht—I split both bills. Then, a friend of a friend set me up with a real estate agent who told me, while arranging to meet, that he resembled Bruce Willis. I hung up thinking, He’s bald.

Telling myself he might be the one (if I didn’t, I would never have left the house), I decided to wear a sexy sundress and high-heeled sandals. But once I spotted him at the bar, I slipped on my cardigan and buttoned it all the way up. He did look like Bruce Willis—if Bruce wore a silver ring on each finger and took heroin. I was halfway through a glass of Chardonnay when he told me he ate only orange food. And suffered from manic depression. When he said, “I can’t wait to tell my mother about you,” I asked for the check.

My other setup was painful in a different way—he was a music lawyer, good looking and smart, too. When he said early on, “I can never tell how old a person is,” I fell for it. “Thirty-seven,” I said. He was 35 and a good actor, because we talked for hours. I was so surprised he never called, I rang him. And e-mailed, too. Nothing. That’s when I learned a vital middle-aged dating rule: Never admit on the first date that you’re nearing 40 and want children.

After a year of risking humiliation and rejection, I finally accepted the notion that I might not ever fall in love again or have the life and family I promised myself at 16. And that it was OK. I was tired of loss.

So when I was set up with a man named Gideon in September 2007, I was skeptical. But I said yes. I liked his name.

First Published October 17, 2011

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