I have never read the New York Times’ Modern Love columns for the same reason I avoid real estate flyers in resort towns: they aren’t for me. I’ve never been able to take the flight of fancy needed to read about others’ love stories or dream houses.
I was so far away from a robust love life or bank account that reading stories of love or listings of vacation homes made me sad and resentful. Even stories of heartbreak or failed relationships elicited a response of, “Hey, at least they experienced love before it all went to shit. At least they had a relationship.”
I was 46 and had never gotten out of the gate.
Sure, I had been in relationships here and there. I was in a six-plus-year relationship in my twenties. But it was mostly long distance and when I finally moved cross-country to be with my boyfriend, we decided to live separately but within walking distance of each other’s apartment.
In retrospect, that was a bit fucked up.
But truth be told, deep down I knew he wasn’t “the one.” I loved him but I was laissez-faire about the whole situation, which should have told me something long before I was six years into it.
My thirties and the first half of my forties are a blur of Nerve, Match and OK Cupid first dates that didn’t lead anywhere but to a closed door and closed heart. I had a yearlong booty-call with a depressed, possibly alcoholic academic. That was a meager Band-Aid on my painful love life. Then there was the musician-electrician, a lumbersexual who broke things off with me via Facebook IM, preferring to get back together with his much-younger, former drug addicted ex-girlfriend.
That left me licking my wounds for years.
Then Carl—my unicorn, my white whale—appeared. All those lonely years melted away into a vague memory in the face of our love.
We’ve been together just over a year and have been marking relationship milestones: moving in together, two-week vacation, meeting the family, wearing matching Halloween costumes, hosting Thanksgiving, one-year anniversary…
That brings me to our Christmas tree. After a quick trip to Home Depot, we erected our 7–8 foot Noble Fir in the living room next to the fireplace for what was sure to be a welcoming, cozy tableau. We brushed off dead needles and filled the tree stand with water, and then Carl left me alone to string colored LED lights and strands of bubble lights with the strategery that comes from mild OCD.
Then came the ornaments.
There was a enormous Santa-sized buttload of them. Carl had accumulated an impressive collection over the years, adding to his treasured retro ornaments, handmade by his mother and spectacular in their number and craftsmanship.
As he laid out his assorted angels, Santas, and snowflakes, I opened my own bin, rediscovering my beauties, nestled in tissue and shredded paper. In addition to the hipster raccoon bandits that look like extras in a Wes Anderson film, I pulled out my tiny glass birds with the tinsel tailfeathers that clip to branches.
Negotiation ensued. Collectively, there were just too many ornaments for our tree. Carl suggested another tree for upstairs but the thought of going back to Home Depot hurt my head. My OCD flared with a plan: we would start with our A-list ornaments and work our way down to the filler nutcrackers and shot-in-the-ass snowmen. When the tree reached maximum ornament capacity, we’d pull the plug and ship the crappy leftovers to the island of misfit ornaments to think about what they’d done. In other words, back into the bin for another year. Thankfully, Carl agreed and we proceeded to integrate our ornaments with the grace and communication with which we’ve integrated our lives.
Who knows, maybe we’ll get two trees next year to accommodate the full lives we’ve lived separately, and the ornaments we’ve picked up along the way. But for this year, we came together, merging our lives, belongings and yes, even our Christmas ornaments.
Now that I’ve done the unimaginable and met the love of my life—at 46, no less!—I may just resolve to read a Modern Love column or two in the new year. I think I may even write one.