We are sitting on the giant root of an oak tree at The Cloisters, a medieval park filled with lush formal gardens on the northern tip of Manhattan. It’s late summer. The light bounces off the Hudson River and flickers in the leaves. He looks nervous. I’m shaky too. We’ve been together almost a year, and I’m wondering whether he might be getting ready to give me a ring.
Instead, he looks away from me. Silence. Then he turns back, and in an awkward tone, he says that he doesn’t feel the kind of “intangible connection” he needs to get married and start a family with me. Instead of starting our life together, he is ending it.
My stomach lurches. I ask him if we can go sit somewhere else, as though moving might make this feeling go away, push back what was about to happen.
No. He wants to break up. And with those words, everything that I have imagined about our future abruptly blurs: walking on my father’s arm down the aisle dressed in a white hourglass dress; living in the downtown loft with the sky-light office where I would write; being in my parent’s suburban backyard, where our baby would splash in a plastic pool at a Sunday barbecue.
“I’m sorry I wasted your time,” he says.
And with that, it’s over.
Alex and I met at a rooftop party in Greenwich Village in the summer of 2000. I was thirty-one, and more intensely focused on my career than on my romantic life. I was dating a lot, but I was more interested in meeting up with groups of friends for after-work drinks and lingering over dinners at the latest hot spots than I was in nesting at home with one man or starting a family. Getting serious in a relationship that would lead to marriage was in the back of my mind, but I was in no rush.
Alex came to the party on a date with another woman. I was charmed by his shyness; his big, wistful blue eyes, the way he quietly lingered on the sidelines of the gathering. At the bar, a mutual friend introduced us, and after a few minutes of small talk he complimented my social ease and made a self-deprecating comment about his lack of it.
I responded to this subtle flirtation by offering to do the talking for him; then we exchanged cards.
A few weeks later I decided to take the chance and email him. I told him I wanted to write a story about his company as an excuse to get together and find out if he was still with his date from the party or if he was available. He responded a few days later by inviting me to a party at his apartment, but by then I had gone out of town on assignment. When I got back, I returned his email asking him to get together for drinks. He thought my late response was charming.
We met at a bar on Bedford street with a red glow. Young business guys swooned at the bar in knock-off Ferragamo ties. Alex pointed to this detail and sardonically mocked the faux romance. I immediately liked his astute observations, A few glasses of wine turned the mood of reserved professionalism towards giddy laughter. And then standing on the street corner he kissed me—a kiss so charged that when we parted I had walked four blocks before I realized I was heading in the opposite direction of my apartment.
The relationship got serious quickly.
At the time, some of my friends were starting to settle down; a few were even having their first child. These were the friends who started giving me those raised eyebrow looks that said: “When are you going to start?” My grandmother, especially wanted to know when she was going to be able to give me her diamond ring, the one given to her by my grandfather when she was only twenty-three, the one intended to be my engagement ring.
So I told myself that it was time. Time to give myself over to the ineluctable pull of domesticity, time to join my peers in the next phase of life, time to settle on someone and commit and build a life together. But even more than that, it was time to do something about that subtle timeless urge buried somewhere in the connective tissue between my heart, brain and my gut. With a start, I now understood: I wanted to become a mother. I, too, wanted to rub my cheek along the top of a baby’s fuzzy sweet smelling head, to hold a helpless child close, to whisper I “I love you.”
I told Alex I loved him after only a month. He said he loved me too. I started getting excited about the future; almost immediately, I began to romanticize our wedding, our baby, our life as a family. Everything about him seemed right, like I was making a responsible—and yes, I’ll admit it—socially acceptable choice. He was well-educated, ambitious, and tall. He had a wonderful self-deprecating sense of humor: once had sent out a bachelor holiday e-card greeting with a picture of a wanting dread locked Caribbean siren on her knees covered in sand on the beach. But where her face should have been, he had photo-shopped a picture of his own.