At 61, I discovered that the man that I'd loved and trusted for 20 years had a secret girlfriend on the side for the past 10, when he slipped up and left the following text to her on my computer: "I love you and I have always loved you."
So much for the two of us growing old together.
I threw Mark out, changed the locks, turned to friends and family for love and support, and found myself a top-notch therapist.
That was three months ago. It still hurts, and I still miss that scoundrel every day. But I know one thing at 61 that I didn't yet know when I was 21. As my pal Larry said when he heard my news, "The biggest cliché of all is true—time heals."
Or as Laura Nyro once put it, "Nothing cures like time and love."
I now know that the passage of time will make this better. All I have to do is continue to live, to breathe in and out, to survive (one more cliché alert) one day at a time.
"You're going to get through this," Larry assured me, "and you'll meet someone who gets you and you'll become happy again."
How does he know? Well, he's been there himself, as have so many other folks our age, and they all seem to know the special secret about heartbreak: there are no shortcuts–you must go headfirst through the process and eventually emerge on the other side.
Which is the other good thing about breaking up at 61 instead of at 21. I have a lifetime's worth of great friends on my side, who have lovingly gone out of their way to share their accumulated wisdom and experience.
"This will pass. You're a catch."
"Dump him. Keep your sense of humor."
"Don't look back. Forget that putz. He didn't deserve you."
"Wishing Mark ill won't help you heal. Focus on yourself and your future, not on the past and things you can't control."
I'm old enough to know they're right—unlike in my youth, when I had no idea how breakups worked because I hadn't been through one before. For example, I was positive at age 20 that I'd never get over Patrick. He was my world. When he left me, every day was agony. And it would always be agony. My life was over.
Now more than four decades later, I have no idea where Patrick is or what he's up to. I hope he's happy and I wish him well.
I realize, in retrospect, that as much as we adored each other and as much as we had in common (Sex! Music! Pot! More sex!), we were thoroughly mismatched. He was an outgoing party animal. I was an introverted bookworm. He was a drinker. I was a teetotaler. He thrived on excitement and drama. I loved calm and quiet.
"The best thing Patrick ever did for you," my therapist told me years later, "was to break up with you." Amen to that.
And what about Steve? Steve was the love of my life. My soul mate! What I felt for Patrick was nothing compared to how I felt about Steve. When we broke up, I wept for days.
These days, I'm still in touch with Steve and he's still a great guy. He's been happily married for decades to the woman he left me for, who, as it turned out, is perfect for him. And he still has a small place in my life, as he runs my website.
The point is that not only am I now perfectly happy that I didn't end up with Steve and Patrick (or for that matter, any of my other exes), but when I think about them, I feel no pain.
One day, I'll feel no pain when I think about Mark too. Time is going to take care of this for me—if I can just hold on.
I'm not there yet. I'm still throwing out gifts he gave me, ripping up his photos and losing sleep, trying to figure out what the hell kind of creep wants to have two girlfriends at the same time.
And yet? I haven't seen or spoken to him in three months, and there are long stretches when I don't think about him at all. I enjoy good times with friends and family. I go for walks and read in bed, and it all almost feels like a life, like a new beginning.
I know that one of these days I'll be perfectly happy without him. I'll look back on our years together and remember all the good times we shared and wish him well.
He won't be the lying, cheating, loudly snoring, cigarette-smoking, financially-struggling philanderer who broke my heart. He'll just be Mark, my ex, the guy who was charming and clever and funny, and who loved me as well as he could, given that for most of our time together he was also madly in love with Mollie.
I'll be glad and grateful that we're no longer together.
Maybe I'll barely remember him. He'll be as present in my life as Patrick. Or perhaps, like Steve, we'll become friends again. I have no idea. Only time will tell.