Last updated on February 16th, 2023 at 01:17 pm
It was a chilly March day. We were at his favorite beach.
We had driven an hour down the coast from my house in San Francisco to get there, chatting and laughing with the radio playing in the background, my bare feet propped against the dashboard, flip flops kicked off.
It was our first date, dear reader, and already, I was smitten.
We finished our picnic and lay down on the sand in our T-shirts and jeans. I crawled into his arms to get warm. Later, he would kiss me. But first, he held me. I remember feeling his heartbeat, the wind whipping over us, and hearing the waves crash on the shore when three birds flew overhead.
There was something about the simple purity of the moment, the sounds and sensations, the warmth of his body, the elegance of birds in flight, and the feeling of it, the rush of a wild new crush, my heart a flutter, that made it unforgettable. It was one of those perfect moments, etched indelibly in my memory, a snapshot frozen in time.
I emailed my sister the next day to tell her, “I think I’m in love.”
First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage
Fast forward a few years. The wedding is in just a few weeks. And no, dear reader, Steve isn’t marrying me. Certain dreams don’t always work out as we hope. Yet even the greatest setbacks can often turn into the greatest gifts. Steve would inadvertently turn into one of my Zen teachers, and become my “accidental guru.”
Our dance in life taught me more about myself, what dreams I want to come true, and how resilient I am than anyone had up to that point.
Steve helped me find myself, helped me tap into my own deepest sense of what I want, and to find a kind of freedom I’d never known before so intensely–the freedom to be myself completely and to live in each moment as it was unfolding, without fear of what was coming next. To trust I was headed in the right direction with my big dreams even if they didn’t always go the way I thought they should.
They Met Across the Interwebs
I met Steve not long after separating from my ex-husband. I’d been so afraid to enter the dating world again. After several months of shying away from men, I wrote down a vision of what I was seeking in a man and in a romance.
Three days later I met Steve. As if I had dreamt him up, he delivered everything on my list – passion, whirlwind romance, laughter, joy, and heat – and turned me into one giggling, blushing, frantically texting, teenage girl in no time.
Oh, we were over the top. We joked that this would be the Grand Epic Romance, that our first date would be one for the movie marquees –the Greatest First Date in the History of the Universe (or, at the very least, the greatest first date between Lisa and Steve).
Before we even met in person (we connected first through a dating site), we declared that the “world was on fire.” Steve joked about baby names.
He told me he didn’t need to see other women. I canceled my date with another guy before I even met Steve. This made him giggle so hard he spit his water out all over his notebook, just from the sheer hilarity of being “the other man” before we’d even connected live. It was ridiculous, dramatic, hot, and campy fun. Our lives were going to be the “Endless Frolic.”
We Hadn’t Even Met Yet!
And then we met . . . and yes it was all laughter and sweet kisses, fun and naughty fantasies. We texted or emailed back and forth all day long, joking and teasing and bantering, plotting out what we would do to each other later. Our emails and texts were so hot that I’m surprised my computer and phone didn’t just burst into flames.
We talked about the travel dreams we’d create. Los Cabos, Whistler, Tahoe, Taos. We gave each other sweet and silly nicknames. I was in so deep, hooked hopelessly on the Steve love drug. The day after our second 12-hour date, I said to a co-worker, “Stick a fork in me. I’m done.”
And Here is Where Your Heroine Loses Her Sh*t
And then, right before our one-month anniversary, Steve decided that things were too intense for him. He needed space.
I wish that I could say I handled things gracefully and let him take all the time he needed to recover from his own broken engagement (Steve had left his fiancee a few months before meeting me) and just encouraged him to do the things he wanted to do, to go “be Steve” for a while and come back to me if and when he was ready. Given the chance to do it over, that’s what I’d do today.
But at that moment, I had no sense of distance or space from Steve, and I wasn’t ready to give him up. I had become a love junkie. I wanted my fix. I vacillated between adoring Steve and excoriating him–how! could! he! leave! me!
I used to laugh with Steve about what a little hippie Zen girl I was, meditating daily. Yet, I acted anything but Zen. All I could focus on was that the big dream I thought I most wanted in the world–i.e. Steve–was being taken away from me. Our break-up, therefore, was just as over the top as our romance. The day we broke up, we emailed each other back and forth 75 times (I counted).
Steve’s “need for space” became a permanent break, which was hardly shocking, considering the daily barrage of love and hate mail he got from me. I really just about became the poster girl for “what not to do” during a breakup.
Revising The Story Of “The One Who Got Away”
For years I was so mad at myself for screwing things up with Steve. If only we’d moved more slowly. If only I’d let him go more gracefully. If only we could have dated longer. If only I had not gone completely crazy. If only, if only, if only . . . My go-to fantasy whenever I wasn’t happy with my life at the moment was this happy-la-la-dream-land I imagined I would have inhabited with Steve, where every day was full of bliss, hot sex, utter hilarity, and endless adventures.
What I forgot, what I lost sight of, was that creating a fun adventurous life doesn’t actually require a Steve. Steve is not the source of all laughter. Steve is not the Universe’s go-to source of joy. Steve is not the only one who can generate passion and heat. That is the “myth of Steve.”
Paradoxically, Steve was a catalyst for me to remember that my big dreams shouldn’t be wrapped up in someone else, and to recover my own sense of innocence and magic about achieving them. During our brief courtship, in my state of glee, I tumbled into the happy childhood I never really had (because I was such an anxious, overachieving child, taking the troubles of the world onto my shoulders at a very young age).
Meeting Steve reminded me that simply enjoying life is important, that life is as much about the joy in going for our dreams as about reaching any specific end goal.
Recovering A Sense of Innocence and Magic
So Steve was my teacher, but not “the one” for me. And, let’s be real. So much of what I felt for Steve was steeped in fantasy. We dated for one month, which is a blink of an eye in a lifetime. Yes, it was one helluva wonderful month. However, a lot of what I grieved was the idea of what “could be,” the plans we’d talked about that never happened, the dreams for my life that started to grow jungle-wild when I thought I had found a willing, dedicated, joyful partner for me.
I am grateful that somehow I have recovered my own sense of innocence and magic again along the way because, for a while there, I thought it died with Steve, with the ending of our romance. I felt like I temporarily lost my innocence again when Steve ended things because I followed my heart with him so blindly, and felt a deep sense of trust and security both in Steve and the future of our relationship.
My big dream of writing a book is such a gift because I get to rewrite not the history of what actually happened in my life, but my perception of it. Writing about the past has helped me to make sense of it, finish healing from it, and bring closure to what still felt incomplete. I get to decide what the story of my life means, and learn from what happened to me.
Perception is Reality
Steve used to say, “Perception is reality.” If I believe that my life is tragic, I get to live that reality. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, that’s my truth. When I viewed Steve as “the one who got away,” it made me sad.
When I look at it instead as a sweet perfect moment in time that taught me about myself, blew the doors of my heart open wide, and allowed me to believe deeply in the possibilities of love, I am filled with gratitude.
I think I learned more about myself from that experience than I have through any other experience in my life so far. I had to shine the light on my own darkness and acknowledge my role in how the drama unfolded. I had to grow up.
Still Enjoying The Endless Frolic!
Now, that said, “growing up” doesn’t mean not having ridiculous amounts of fun. Steve reminded me to lighten up on myself and enjoy life, and his version of “enlightenment” still resonates with me to this day. I am all about the fun.
Steve shows up in my book, and yet he’s far from being the main event. The book is about my journey of learning to love myself, as I am, despite the trauma of my early 20s, despite the moments when I fell into despair, despite any mistakes or perceived failures. I am nearly 200 pages into writing my book now and as I continue to write and revise, I want to focus on the magic that is at the heart of living my dream life.
Because my life can be the “Endless Frolic,” with or without Steve, living joyfully every day, and living my dreams, is up to me. I choose to love the dream journey and to live my life fully, giving thanks for the gifts along the way, loving what is, and honoring the changes life brings.
I’m grateful that I met Steve, grateful that I experienced such a fun, silly, hot, over-the-top romance, and grateful that I learned that the greatest gift that you can give someone or something you love is the freedom for things to turn out and be as they should. Sometimes not having a dream come true ends up pushing you towards a bigger, better dream.
Lisa P. Graham is an inspirational writer, life coach, TED motivational speaker, and globe-trotter whose passion is to help others to find happiness and meaning in their daily lives. A political activist at heart, Lisa would like to empower more women to run for political office as a way to create positive change in the world. You can find her on her website or watch her TEDx speech on YouTube.
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