I began by telling you this would be a story from the other side of “what if?” What I should have said was that it’s only the first installment in an ongoing series of questions that all begin with “what if?” Because as you might expect, once you get a glimmer of an answer to any particular question, there are handful of others that come tumbling in to take their place in line. This whole tale began with me asking, “What if I left the comfort and security of what I knew to search for a relationship that would resonate powerfully with my heart and soul?” I’m happy to report that I now have an answer to that question. But I’ve also needed to address a half dozen more “what ifs?” as well.
“What if we get to know each other better?”
“What if we really like what we see?”
“What if we fall in love?”
“What if we decide to commit our lives to each other for the next, oh, thirty years or so?”
Big questions indeed. And of course, every one of those questions would lead to another handful that needed answering.
Well, if I had wanted life to be simple and easy, I would have just stayed put, wouldn’t I? But something called me onward. Into the unknown. Into a future where my path was uncertain and there were no guarantees. An observation by Jungian psychologist James Hollis comes to mind.
“Anxiety is the price of a ticket on the journey of life. No ticket, no journey. No journey, no life.”
Let’s be honest. When we’re lying on our deathbeds, do we want to congratulate ourselves for all the times we were well-behaved and colored within the lines? Or would we rather reminisce about how much fun we had? I love the fact that that quotation comes from a book Hollis wrote called Swamplands of the Soul. It is always necessary to spend some time lost in the wild before we can discover our true path. And I can tell you I certainly spent a fair amount of time feeling as though I’d lost my compass.
But I hadn’t really at all. To use the example I’ve made the focus of this memoir, I knew I loved shoes with a fiery passion. And that passion was the fuel that powered my uncertain reach into the vast unknown of the internet to send my little blog to float on its own on the currents of the web. Wonder of wonders, a kindred spirit saw the colors I was flying and paddled over to take a closer look. From the outset I could tell that Melissa and I had enough in common to be good e-friends. But then as we circled ‘round each other with the playful give and take of a couple just beginning to interact, we found we had a whole lot of other interests and passions in common than we would ever have imagined. As it unfolded, it was rather astounding. Well, that’s the word I used. Melissa preferred to say it was astonishing. You like rock music? So do I! You’re a Mac fan? So am I! You love London? So do I! You love to read? So do I! You like sci-fi movies? British humour? Japanese cars? Dark chocolate? So do I?
I had pretty much decided that anyone I met was only going to offer a pale facsimile of the easy delight I hoped to enjoy with a partner. And Melissa had pretty much resigned herself to being single. But then, as John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
In hindsight, that simpatico we felt isn’t entirely surprising. Remember that I had been blogging every day for a year when Melissa first discovered Every Clog Has Its Day. And she’d been reading it regularly for a year before we began to truly turn our gazes toward each other. That’s a lot of my personality that had been expressed online for her to take in and get familiar with. And a lot of opportunities for her to be delighted—or not—by the things I had to say and how I said them. Just as the topic of the blog helped select her as someone I could share a particular mutual interest with, I think the flavor and tone of my writing and the side topics I chose drew her closer in other ways, too. And for my part, at the same time, I was regularly enjoying the way she expressed herself in the comments she posted and in the e-mail she sent. By the time we actually started flirting with each other in earnest, we were already feeling mutually attracted for a number of well-established reasons.
In the unfolding of our attraction, though, it wasn’t certain we would hit it off at all. First infatuations are often riddled with projections. Expectations about whom we think the other person is. Fantasies we’ve indulged in about love and relationships. Honestly, the partner we think we’ve found is usually not the partner who is actually there. But that needs to be the case starting out. There’s got to be enough attraction to get a human being over the hump of inertia that would keep us at home wondering what’s on TV. As two strangers begin to find their footing together, the blinders fall from their eyes and they discover just how truly “other” the other person is. In our case, fortunately, I was astounded (and Melissa was astonished) by how much we actually did have in common. Our initial courtship could easily have foundered, and we might have ended up merely fellow footwear fanatics who would reach out with excitement whenever a particularly noteworthy pair of shoes turned up online. (Which is something we actually do do, by the way.) But as we began to tease out and to explore each other’s nooks and crannies and share the treasures we had stored up in our personalities, we found ourselves falling more firmly, more deeply in love.
Following the exchange of e-mail that closed the last chapter—what Melissa calls my “big reveal”—we began to woo each other in earnest. You’d recognize the usual milestones that charted the evolution of our desire. Our first tentative e-mail exchanges soon turned into eagerly expected daily messages. Observations about life, people, the universe...shared with wit and humor and a desire to be found entertaining and attractive.
Next came the songs we shared with each other because we found we both respond to music so powerfully. Peter Gabriel’s version of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love.” “Hardliners” by Holcombe Waller. “You (Make My Life Come True)” by The Roches. “Delirious” by Luka Bloom. “Harbor” by Vienna Teng. “Hearse” by Ani DiFranco. “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie. “Hungry for Your Love” by Van Morrison. In an ideal world, this story will be made into a movie, and these songs will be in the soundtrack.
Then there were the images: our first photos to each other that we could show our friends. Followed soon by our first photos to each other that we couldn’t show our friends. No, these will not be found among the illustrations.
Next there were the anxieties over our first phone call. What if either of us was put off by the sound of the other’s voice? What if one of us brayed annoyingly when moved to laughter? What if one of us tended to monopolize a conversation unpleasantly? It doesn’t take a lot for a relationship to click, but there are so many pieces that need to fit for it to keep on clicking. And our biggest moment of truth was still ahead of us.
After two months of phone calls and e-mail messages, we came to the crucial acid test of our long distance courtship: our first face to face meeting.
Does it feel as though I’m skipping through this all too quickly? I can hear you clamoring for more details. But in my defense let me argue that I’ve told you as much of my story from the other side of “what if?” as I can. It’s a love story, yes. Boy meets girl; boy digs girl’s shoes; boy falls in love with girl. But you don’t seriously expect that the two of us would simply jump from the astounding (or astonishing) fairy tale of our “once upon a time” beginnings to settle down to a placid “happily ever after,” do you? The slow motion dropping of bags and running into each other’s arms at the airport to be followed by nothing but non-stop harmony and bliss. This is life we’re talking about!
What I can tell you is this: against all odds and contrary to what one would expect would be possible, Melissa and I found each other. And not just found each other, but found each other and fell in love. That’s Book I. Book II would pick up the thread and tell the tale of how that love put down roots, followed by Book III in which it deepened and matured, and then subsequent volumes would carry us to the end our days. We’ve given ourselves roughly 30 years to let this particular story play itself out, and at this point we’ve barely gotten the melamine unpacked. Melissa has only just moved to the same city. There’s not that much to tell. If I were to keep writing, all you’d be getting is explication and setting. Give us some time to have a little crisis, climax, and resolution, please.
I can give you one glimpse into our lives together so far. Late last year as we were making plans to fit the contents of Melissa’s three story home into my three bedroom condominium, we wrestled with what would be the best way to store our huge mutual collection of shoes. We had the idea to put some of them on display in a tall storage hutch from Ikea. But as we looked at just how many clogs and boots and other forms of footwear we had...and how little one lone cabinet could contain, a new plan suddenly came to Melissa: move the bed from the wall it dominated and fill that entire 20’ length of the room with floor to ceiling bookshelves. Then fill those shelves with our footwear favorites.
And that’s exactly what we did. One hundred and forty-four pairs of the most amazing wooden clogs, platform boots, and high heeled sandals we’ve come across in our fervent wanderings on the planet.
I think it’s obvious why we call it The Wall of Infinite Pleasure!
I have clearly died and gone to heaven. Not only have I found a partner and playmate who shares my passions, she’s just as eager and willing to celebrate them as I am, too. It’s truly astounding. Or astonishing, depending.
For now, that’s the tale I’m able to tale. It’s a true story. And a real one, too. Which means our lives together are full of twists and turns and unexpected dips and dives. Moments when we crashed and burned. And moments of the most exquisite ecstasy that this life can offer. I believe I’ve found the partner I set out to find. While I know better than to use words like “always” and “forever,” I truly believe that Melissa is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. And she’s told me she feels the same. Can you ask for anything more than that?
In this life, we make the best choices we can based on the best resources we have to work with...and then hope it will all work out. And as we were reminded in the recent British comedy/drama, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it will be okay in the end. And if it is not okay, it’s not the end.
Oddly, that’s not the only pat phrase that comes to mind. I can also say that love came my way when I least expected it. I also found love when I wasn’t looking. And while I’m at it, I guess I proved the wisdom of: to thine own self be true.
What’s next for Melissa and me? As I said, that’s a whole ‘nother set of “what ifs.” You can bet that wherever our feet take us next, they’ll be shod with the most astounding shoes (well, astounding for me, astonishing for her) that we can find. We’ve walked a lot of roads in our lives, and we’re proud that those journeys have made us the people that we are. But interestingly, what makes us fit together so well are not the personalities we possess, but the perspective. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery summed it so neatly,
“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”
[On my feet as I bring this story to a close: Melissa got me some amazing tiered leggings from Black Milk Clothing and wanted to send them a photo of my pair in action. It took a few moments of debate in front of The Wall of Infinitie Pleasure, but I eventually did find the proper pair of shoes to do them justice: my Ronsons from Jeffrey Campbell. While we had the camera out, we also posed in our "his and hers" Andees for the folks at Miista. Yeah, we're definitely having fun together.]