I met the love of my life at the lowest point in my life. I was 45 and single, following a betrayal I couldn’t have imagined and from which I hadn’t begun to heal. Right up to the moment I first laid eyes on Katrine, I was certain that having survived not only one failed 12-year relationship with a woman but the previous one with the father of my sons—thereby accruing the kind of bitter wisdom that only several decades’ worth of disappointments can provide—had freeze-dried my heart.
Imagine my surprise when I learned, approximately five milliseconds after a local yenta friend introduced me to a gorgeous, brilliant Frenchwoman on a three-week California vacation, that my heart wasn’t broken shut. It was broken open.
I felt no need to present Katrine to my friends for appraisal, as I’ve always done with past lovers. Why call for a second opinion when age and experience guaranteed the validity of the first? And so, at 45, I was ready in ways I couldn’t have been when my skin was dewy and my hopes untried. Ready to slam the door on ambivalence with its endless, erosive weighing and measuring.
Ready—forgive me, but the soppy aphorism fits—to let love in. Because Katrine and I had both been hurt before, we quickly realized what only the combo platter of medium rare wisdom with a side of fried relationships could have taught us: how good we had it, how fortunate we were.
For once, the certainty was the easy part. The logistical part, not so much. With two teenagers at home, I was ensconced in Oakland. Katrine was going back to her big fat French life in fashion and politics, 6,000 miles away. Watching Katrine pack, I realized that the choice was mine. There I was, sitting on my bed in the dead center of my life, bruised and terrified, with a chance, maybe my last, to love and be loved by someone who actually could—New Age platitudes be damned—make me happy. And because 45 years of living had taught me what matters, I took a right turn where always before I’d turned the other way. Instead of retreating, I melted and wept.
“I’ll never leave you, Meredith,” Katrine said, holding me tightly. It made no sense to believe her, but I knew what she was telling me was true. As we looked into each other’s eyes I saw what I’d never seen before. That being brave and crazy and certain enough to commit to forever wasn’t just an end point we could hope to reach. It was a great beginning.
Five months later, Katrine moved in with my boys and me. And 12 years after that, the day before the 2008 election banned same-sex marriage again, we said, “I do.”
Good marriage notwithstanding, I’m still the garden-variety neurotic I’ve always been. Katrine is still the imperfect person she’ll always be. She’s opinionated. I’m self-centered. She leaves the light on in the closet. I leave drawers not quite closed. We fuss at each other, rarely. We fight—
about 10 times a year, by current calculations, and always with our hearts in the right place (open). But 12 years later the circle we drew around ourselves when we were too new to justify it still holds us, just tightly enough.
“I wish I’d found you 20 years sooner,” Katrine often says wistfully.
“No you don’t,” I always say.
She thinks I’m drawing a happy face on the one sad thing about us: that we had to live into middle age without each other. But I know better. I couldn’t have done it young.
Originally published in the November, 2009 issue of More as "The French Connection."