Stories are not told. They tell themselves. In their own time. When they are ready to be revealed. And are ready to be heard. When their meaning can be ascribed to something other than a stroke of bad luck or poor judgment. When we know why that story has become embedded in the fabric of our life.
“You must write about this,” the woman across the table from me urged.
A complete stranger, I had minutes ago finished recounting to her, another divorcée traveling through Eastern Europe with her two college-age children, how I came to eat dinner with them alone on my second and last night in Munich nine months ago.
“No,” I replied. “I wouldn’t know what to say.”
“You will,” she assured. “You will.”
In a small touristy restaurant that paired strangers together at communal tables, I dined on wiener schnitzel and apple strudel amidst wait staff dressed in traditional German garb for over-emphasized dramatic effect. I could not help but smile at the room’s traditional but tired décor as it evoked happy memories of the many family vacations I spent in Epcot with my then young and complete family. I missed being part of a couple, though no longer the man I had been coupled with for nearly a quarter of a century. Divorced less than one year at the time, I struggled unsuccessfully that evening, and for many evenings to come, to make sense of the turn of events that brought me to that dinner table, separated by thousands of miles of ocean from my three children, without anyone by my side.
Those days make perfect sense to me now.
During that latest ride on the dating merry-go-round since separating two years earlier, I had finally grabbed for and believed captured the brass ring – my dignity. My convictions were finally my own, a feat recently accomplished as I closed the door for what I believed the last time to a demeaning non-relationship relationship forever. I knew I wanted more. And, after much heartache, finally believed I deserved more.
It should have been a time of accomplishment and pride. I had defined my boundaries, no longer agreeing to compromise my values and my morals in the hopes of finding true love. Yet, there I was again, licking my wounds from another kick from a Universe that appeared to never see fit I reap any reward for maintaining my self-respect.
My family and close friends had begged me not to go. And I had seriously thought about not going – but for all the wrong reasons. Which, of course, led me to the wrong decision, one that left me isolated and vulnerable in a foreign city I had never before visited less than an hour after reconnecting with the man I was there to see. As I read the proverbial writing on the wall, I called my ex-husband for urgent help.
“I’m in trouble,” was all I needed to say.
Without hesitation or question, he immediately obliged. With one quick instruction to his personal assistant, he plucked me from a situation in which I had naively become entangled. Thanks to his easily accessible resources and a quick swipe of his credit card, I had been effortlessly rescued.
Before leaving on that fateful trip, I had enjoyed two dates with someone new, a third excitedly penned on the calendar. My mother vehemently suggested I cancel my pre-arranged trip in part because of this new prospect, but more so because I would be traveling with someone I knew only a couple of months and not all that well. In light of her ardent protests, I carefully considered it.
In my mind, though, canceling equated to hedging my bet, deciding which potential relationship the more promising, and choosing between the two. Of course, there was never a choice in my mind. It was always the second of the two – the man who espoused the same values I did, the man with more of a similar background to mine, the man who was more local, and the man I was actually interested in seeing again. The man I did end up seeing again for nearly five months.
But when he announced on our second date his recent registration with an online dating service sometime between our first and second meetings and had dated different women nearly every night over the course of the previous week, my decision became obvious. The late Maya Angelou summed it up best when she said, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.”
So I did not.
By all accounts, it is healthy advice. Yet somehow I was misdirected by it. And though I was an option to both men as they were to me, I failed to make myself a priority in either scenario. I rested my decision solely on where I would likely receive the most attention, and not on what was best for me.
Up in my newly reserved room, in a commercially classless American-owned hotel that stood out in stark contrast to the centuries-old streetscape, the morning sun streamed invitingly through my window. Feeling more like an unwelcome guest, I pulled the curtains closed and crawled into bed, sick from the near-bronchitis I had been nursing over the previous few days and jetlagged from the nine-hour flight plus three hours spent on the ground in Munich airport where I had waited without word from the man I was meeting that his flight had been delayed. Not a word to warn of his late arrival, no arrangement made for my retrieval, no address provided for the friend’s home where we would be staying so I could, at a minimum, travel there earlier myself. Only silence, and in its place space left for my mounting trepidation.
The itinerary had been set a couple of weeks earlier. We were to meet in Munich, spending one night in his local friend and friend’s long-term girlfriend’s home before traveling with our hosts to Prague for a long weekend. Another woman from my gentleman friend’s hometown, traveling through Europe alone, was to also be there during the first night of our stay. I questioned the sleeping arrangements and was reassured if space were tight he and I would stay elsewhere. She was scheduled to depart the next day anyway, and he indicated his satisfaction, even pleasure, with the limited overlap of her stay, citing her tendency to be irritating with longer doses of contact. Though not completely comfortable, after his reassurances I reluctantly agreed.
A few days before my trip, the man I was scheduled to meet informed me he had invited this same female friend to extend her stay and join in on the weekend to Prague. After thinking it over for a day or so more, I voiced my discomfort and offered to cancel my trip altogether so as not to deprive him of this weekend excursion. He insisted I still come, offering to stay back in Munich at the friend’s home with me while they traveled. Insisting he was okay with his decision, I decided to move forward with my plans.
When we finally met up at the airport nearly three hours after I had landed, and were shortly thereafter greeted by our host who would be driving us to his Munich home, I was pressured almost immediately to leave with them for Prague within the hour, despite my friend’s previous promise otherwise.
By the time we reached our destination not more than 20 minutes later, following my flippant offer to stay behind in Munich while he went on to Prague for the weekend without me, an offer he promptly and incredulously accepted, I knew what I had to do.
I picked up my bag and walked straight out that door. Not only did my friend let me go, he silently picked up the back end of my duffel bag as I dragged it down four flights of stairs and dropped it on the street for me before turning his back and walking away without a word.
For months I have carried this shame. Shame because I cannot blame anyone for this debacle except for myself. I should have known better. Or should I have?
I retold this story only a few weeks ago while on a first date. When I concluded, my date, without judgment, asked, “Do you know what a mulligan is?”
I did not. I looked back at him, wide-eyed with confusion.
A mulligan, he explained, is a golfing term used to describe a second chance given a player following a blunder. My trip, synonymous with yet another misguided attempt at finding a healthy relationship, was just that – and one (if not many) to which we are all entitled.
Yes, I had swung – badly – and missed. But that swing was no different from those other bad swings before it, and surely not any that came after. Except with one notable difference: With each subsequent swing my stroke continues to steadily improve.
A failed marriage is the same. Divorce its mulligan, the mulligan affording us a second chance to get back what we lost and discover what we have not yet had. I, for one, still plan on taking that chance because, as any good golfer knows, “The most important shot in golf is the next one” (Ben Hogan).
And, more so than ever before, I am playing this round to win.
A quick note: On my one-year blogoversary, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to you, my dear readers, for allowing me to share with you my many mulligans and the life lessons I have learned from them. Your comments, both positive and negative, as well as the conversations you inspire, are always thoughtfully considered and appreciated, reassuring me we are all on this journey through ‘divorce, dating, and discovery after age 40’ together. Thank you so very, very much.
Have you ever had a bad date?