No man in your lifetime is ever going to love you.
More than 13 years ago, my then-husband left that message on our answering machine. He had split the month before, shortly after he began an office romance. This was perhaps not the best way to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.
My lawyer had recently gotten in touch with my husband's lawyer to say that I wasn't on board with his plans for our family, which included a quickie divorce.
I don't know what he was thinking when he spoke those harsh words, other than that he was angry that I wouldn't give in to his demands. But I knew that he had chosen them carefully, knowing how much they would pierce my heart.
Instead of just deleting it, I listened to his message over and over. Maybe I thought the repetition would somehow dull the pain. Maybe I thought I'd heard it wrong and that it would miraculously change the next time I played it. I know that sounds pointless now, but at the time, I was in shock—how could the man I had loved so dearly be so cruel?
I tried my best to move on. I lost weight quickly and hadn't looked hotter in clothes since high school. But even when friends reassured me how wonderful, attractive and talented I was, I continued to measure my self-worth by one yardstick: my husband's.
Awake, asleep, it didn't matter—I couldn't shake his stinging words. If I couldn't count on love from the father of my own children, what chance did I have with anyone else? But the thing that tormented me the most was, what if my husband was right?
About a year after he left, I took the kids on vacation. One day, we were sitting by the pool and a hotel employee who I had noticed upon our arrival—a dark and handsome middle-aged Arizona man—brought the children their first taste of prickly pear candy. He sat and talked with all three of us, and I found myself basking in his attention.
A few months later, he came to Manhattan to visit friends and family. The children were at their father's, so we met for coffee and talked for hours, followed by pizza and more conversation. We were about to say goodbye at the subway when he turned around and followed me to Brooklyn instead.
I opened a bottle of pinot noir, and we sat on the couch and talked into the night. When he finally got up to leave, he pulled me close to him and kissed me longer and more tenderly than I'd been kissed in many years. When I came up for air, I was sobbing.
"I want you right now," he said and kissed me hard again.
I cried some more and told him how I still loved my husband despite what he'd done, and that I was still fragile and raw. Arizona man left a few minutes later.
Several years passed, and my husband and I eventually signed divorce papers. I went on vacation again, only this time I was flying solo. And this time I went out with a blond Adonis, 14 years my junior. On our first date, he drove me back to my hotel in his green hot rod before leaning over the gearshift and kissing me for so long that the concierge was still laughing when I got out of the car. A few days later, we ended the evening at his place.
We dated long distance for several months after and one night, while we were on the phone, he suddenly said, "I love you." I hadn't necessarily been waiting to hear those words, but they soothed me nonetheless. To my surprise, I found myself repeating the words back to him and felt like I was finally beginning to heal.