"I think I know you," said the woman next to me.
"Yeah, I'm always mistaken for Clooney," I replied.
"Rosemary?" she asked.
We both laughed, and then I recognized her: Dana Wilson! We laughed like we did when we were in love 15 years ago, back when she lived in Seattle and I lived in Los Angeles. Back then, we fell for each other hard, but five months later she cooled off. I pursued her with 18-page, handwritten letters and phone calls. Soon, she asked me never to contact her again.
And here we were, meeting this time while I was performing stand-up on a cruise ship. We hung out for three wonderful, platonic days.
I was lovesick again. One day, she wondered, "Why do you think we met up again?"
I was thinking, Because you are my soul mate, and we are getting a second chance! Instead, I calmly replied, "Maybe for closure." Closure? What the hell did I say that for?! I didn't want closure! This was my chance to have that lifelong love that has always eluded me. I continued, "Maybe for a new beginning, maybe so I could get clear on what I really want in a relationship."
When we parted, she said, "Paul, you are wonderful. I love you."
I was shocked and replied, "I love you, Dana. Absolutely!"
She seemed taken aback and said, "Let me leave now before I cry."
She lives in Maui now. I'm in Philadelphia. The way her soft, sky-blue eyes took me in put me at such ease, even though from the moment I met her again I was tormented. I didn't want to blow it this time.
In other relationships, I have been the interim boyfriend. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Girl dates me for six months—and, then, boy gets girl back. Now I was about to get my girl back. No more Steve Buscemi parts. I was going to be George Clooney!
For years after my divorce in my 20s, I was happy with casual relationships, happy being the interim boyfriend as my lovers moved on or went back to previous relationships. I was a love temp and happy about it. Red flags turned me on. It gave me an exit strategy. One first date told me she had cancer and her doctor gave her six months to live. I thought, She's perfect.
That all changed seven years ago when I experienced my mom's slow death. It was devastating and profound. The severe pain revealed the intense love we shared. After mom's death, I was willing to stop avoiding pain. I wanted love. I was willing to be devastated again.
For four months after meeting up again, Dana and I corresponded with amusing emails and phone calls. A year before meeting me again, she ended a 15-year relationship and sent an email saying, "Life is funny. After my first child, it was so painful I said, 'Never again.' Then time goes by, and you think, I would like another one of those critters. Same with relationships, you break up and think never again, then time goes by."
And at the end of a phone call, she said, "Paul, I don't know how else to say this: I love you." She talked about a soul connection between us that must have started before this lifetime. "And I will definitely meet you again in the afterlife," she said.
I added, "I hope we meet up before then."
I booked on a cruise ship to Maui. We would find out if we had a friendship or a romance. A friend warned me, "You might want to pursue a woman who never said, 'Don't ever contact me again.'"
We had three days together and met under the Banyan Tree in Lahaina. I labored over what to wear. My swanky Sinatra hat screamed, "I want romance." I wore it and felt self-conscious.
"Well, this is bizarre," she said when we met up. "Bizarre"?! How about "amazing"? She looked ravishing, wearing a simple, sexy, black dress. This is romance! We hugged. She was stiff. Friendship, then!
We had a lovely dinner, listened to luau music and watched the sun set over the glittering sea and the volcanoes that formed Maui. She mentioned she occasionally gets washed over with an out-of-body type of euphoria and it happened again while we were watching the sunset.
After four hours, we parted. "Well, I haven't talked this much in a long time," she said. Bring on the romance! We hugged; I kissed her pursed lips, she returned a quick peck. Friendship! I could feel the tension between us and wanted to say that whether we ended up friends or lovers, it was great to have her back in my life. But that would have been a lie: I wanted to star in this movie!
The next night, before dinner, we drove to a spectacular cliff to view another sunset. A perfect place for a kiss. Instead, I stood by her side, my arms stiff. A painful place not to kiss. Things changed after dinner when she gave me a passionate, loud kiss. Progress! But as I processed it, it was a smooch. A mwah! Like you get from your grandma.
The enthusiasm I loved about her was missing. Our conversations were fine, but touched on nothing about what was or wasn't going on between us. We were two frightened people who kept meeting up for dinner.
The next day, she told me she woke up in the middle of the night with a voice telling her: "No!" She had to trust her intuition. How could I argue with that? She wanted me, but God had other plans.
I was so busy trying to win over Dana that I never saw my unhealthy compulsion. An intensity that screams it's real, that screams it's love, but it's a scream from an emptiness asking another to fill it. Everything I said to her was tinged with a need to impress her. So much of myself was hidden.
Ironically, I got closure. It was great to see how far I had come. Fifteen years ago, when she broke up with me, I felt so unlovable; this time, I knew it wasn't personal. She loved me—just not in the way I need to be loved.