Periodic Life Partners

We sat opposite each other at my favorite seafood eatery in LaJolla. My lunch companion and live in lover of six years sat hunkered over his grilled tilapia, fending off the begging seagulls. The scents of the marina and the quality of LaJolla in spring is the embodiment of my youth. I looked around at the other patrons and remembered from days long past how hungry I had been for the ease of their casual wealth. After awhile I could pull it off well, or at least long enough to get the contract, the man, or whatever luxury I was after at the time. It was a half lived life of pleasure; abandoned for no other reason than I refused myself happiness.

“You aren’t supposed to feed them, you know." Always easily irritated; ever compelled to correct my behavior.

His condescending expression gave his words fangs and it occurred to me why I had drifted off, reminiscing about another man. Someone I had lunched with decades earlier, and at the very table where we sat. Without responding, I gathered up the hard crusts I had torn from my grilled tuna sandwich and tossed both handfuls over the balcony into the bay. The gulls lifted from the dock in one massive sail and descended upon the bread, and the blanket of silence returned to rest over us.

The seaside haunt had been my suggestion. In fact, the entire trip to the Pacific Coast had been my last ditch effort at salvaging the relationship even though it was over two years ago, and we both knew it. Fear had held me safely captive in complacency. I told myself that he hadn’t allowed me to grow. A story that made it easier to blame him. I don’t know what story he told himself. Perhaps that he felt responsible for me. Guilt was always a strong motivator for him. It wasn’t that I had stopped loving him, or even that the relationship had grown stale for me. The psychology ran far deeper than that. He hadn’t been able to save me. I hadn’t wanted to be saved and he resented us both for his inability to shape our union into something he could feel accomplished at. He is strong, dutiful, handsome; a good catch. There was no fault in his desire to cage me. It is what we’re trained to do afterall, in a culture where we are expected to claim love and cage it.

Truthfully, I fall in love often even though I am a spectacular failure at relationships. But they aren’t the same things. I’ve mostly chosen strong willed, affectionate and emotionally stable, yet unavailable men, who mostly feel jilted by my independence and autonomy. When I do allow them to care for me, my need for them either falls short of their expectations or is untimely for them. In other words, the times in which I actually need care are incompatible with their personal interests, and they simply cannot meet me there. He and I had nearly convinced me that I had somehow conquered my fears and had some control over who I love and for how long; we looked as if we might make it. He was brilliant enough for me, and funny. I was sexy enough for him, and quick enough to keep up with his wit. We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other for the first few years, sometimes having impromptu sex and often twice a day. He loved me; I had no doubt. Our problem was simple to me, and impossible to resolve. We couldn’t open our hearts to one another and we were no longer able to hurt each other. We had missed the mark.

The man I had been pondering over lunch was a man I had fallen in love with in my twenties. It was my only experience of love at first sight. I knew we’d be together, before he reached me, waiting just on the other side of an office window for a job interview, but just after watching him get out of his car from a distance and walk toward the building. Money had slipped through our hands like silk handkerchiefs in those days of youth. It was a wreckless time before vocation and children. We were young, curious, naive, and we fed voraciously on each other’s deepest issues. His, a cold mother; mine, child sex abuse. We traveled to beautiful coastal places back then, explored one another sexually and emotionally in every possible way that I would allow. I held him as my ideal, even though I had ultimately walked outof his life with no explanation. I had regarded him as the love of my life. At least until I met the man who turned my life upside down with one simple admonishment: “You don’t know what love is and you should just stop saying it.” It felt like the truth of me. His words opened a door for me, but not the doors to adventure, opportunity and culture that men had opened in the past. It was an opening inward. I hadn’t seen it coming and it changed everything from the way I saw myself to my deeply conditioned methods of navigating the world around me.

A German word I was recently exposed to struck a chord in my perpetual heartsong. Lebensabschnittsgefährte. It’s literal translation from German to English is "periodic life partner." Lebensabschnittsgefährte, as I understand it, is to transition from one season of life into another and, consequently, leave the associated partner and find another more suited to the new stage of development. I haven’t consciously done this, of course. But looking back, particularly at these three lovers, I can see how the pattern naturally developed throughout my life. It would happen again, and soon. Love, as Ehrman said, "is as perrenial as the grass.” A new chapter of story was tickling the back of my neck.