I’m fortunate to have maintained genuine friendships over the years with several of my exes; guys who, in spite of our doomed (and often dysfunctional) relationships, went on to become wonderful husbands, fathers, and men.
But my story with this person ended differently. At just shy of one year, our relationship was fairly short but our break-up shook me to my core. I had fallen fast and hard and, simply put, he broke my heart.
I have no idea where he is now, or what he’s doing. I haven’t seen him in more than a decade, nor have we stayed in touch, save for a rather odd yet closure-providing e-mail exchange initiated by him several years ago in the months before I got married. So, his abrupt appearance in my subconscious came as a bit of a surprise.
It took place in a gym, which is hilariously fitting for reasons I can’t even begin to get into here. I was lifting weights – possibly the pec deck – when I noticed him staring at me from across the room with the same soulful gaze that I hold largely responsible for the advent of our entire ill-fated relationship. I made my way over to him. “I can’t believe you’re here,” I said, laying a hand first on his arm and then on his chest, as if to ensure he was real. I kept repeating this over and over again, but he said nothing in return; he just continued to fix me with that same penetrating look.
Finally, he took my hand from his chest, held it, and asked me how I was doing. Are you happy? he wanted to know. And as I stumbled over my reply, he gazed at me intently, stepped forward, leaned in… and then Jim’s alarm went off and I startled awake, feeling thoroughly and completely rattled. What the hell?
The alarming intimacy of the dream stayed with me throughout the morning, causing me to think far more about my ex than I would have preferred as our relationship replayed in my mind – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Adding to my sense of unease was the fact that I had plans over the coming weekend to travel to my hometown of Richmond, where our romance had taken place. Had the dream been a sign, then; an omen that I would run into him? Did this mean I would have to wear makeup wherever I went? Did he even still live in Richmond?
And if I should someday see him again, what would I say? I kept going back to what seemed like the crux of the dream: Are you happy? What a loaded question. In lives laden with daily stress, obligations, decisions, and a never-ending quest for balance amid a world that often seems destined for hell in a hand basket, what is “happy,” anyway?
In my twenties – when I knew this person – happiness took on a much different meaning than it does now. And I’m ashamed to admit, it often centered around a romantic relationship.
Happiness then was loud and impetuous, heady and intoxicating, and largely rooted in black and white extremes. There were no shades of grey; the highs were exhilarating, the lows devastating.
Happiness now, on the other hand, is quieter. Simpler. It’s a feeling of comfort and contentment, but not complacency. It’s often silly and not at all hip. And while there is far more at stake in my life now than a simple broken heart, my current happiness is nonetheless grounded in a strong sense of self-sufficiency.
Happiness now is a quiet commute alone with my thoughts on the rare morning Jim is able to take Lil’ Bit to school; and it’s listening to her chatter away in the backseat on all the other days. It’s a cup of hot tea in the morning. A productive day at work. A lunchtime walk. A conversation with my mom. A single glass of red wine.
Happiness is carving out quality time to write when I’m feeling creative. It’s catching up with a girlfriend, or simply escaping to Starbucks to sip a chai latte and play Words With Friends. And it’s cozy evenings at home in my jammies, interspersed with the occasional date night out with my husband.
Happiness is holding an entire conversation with Jim in the voice of Sir Topham Hatt’s mother, Dowager Hatt, at the whim of our three-year-old, followed by side-splitting laughter as I watch him do the African Anteater Ritual after she demands that we dance. It’s a Sunday afternoon spent with my daughter and nephews at a bouncy house watching them revel in the joy of being kids. And it’s the opportunity to observe my child listen and learn and play and grow, marveling all the while at this extraordinary life I helped create.
Above all, happiness is the peace of mind that lies in the realization that being happy does not always require feeling happy. It’s the understanding that life will throw some curve balls of both the personal and professional variety, and that I will face challenges, rough patches, and even periods of prolonged sadness. But it’s also the unwavering belief that by the grace of God, along with commitment, compromise, a healthy dose of self-awareness, and a strong sense of accountability, I will at some point find myself once again in a place of quiet contentment.
In short, happiness is the love of my family, their health and well-being, a roof over my head, a stable job, and a few of life’s simple pleasures; but in the absence of one or more of these things, it is also the comfort of knowing that, barring the unthinkable, this too shall pass.
I lacked such insight in my twenties, caught up as I was in the drama of my raging emotions. But with age comes wisdom… and a gratifying sense of calm.
So, if a hypothetical encounter with an old flame should ever require me to answer the question Are you happy? I suppose I would respond that happiness is relative. I’m not always happy; not all day, or even every day.
But at the end of the day, if I’m still blessed to have all that I hold dear, then yes…
If you’re happy and you know it, leave a comment.