Friday, February 12, 2010

Love Will Get You Through Times of No Money Better Than Money Will Get You Through Times of No Love

Though it's close to Valentine's Day, the morning sky outside looks more like it's emitting the kind of light common around Thanksgiving. That seems appropriate, because I feel like being grateful for the love I have in my life.

Before I moved to Asheville, NC, I lived in a tiny cottage in Laurel Canyon, a small stretch of ridgeline separating Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley. My hillside oasis was perched high enough to catch the ocean breeze, and I could hide out there, pretending that I didn't really live in LA, trying to forget that romance had so far been a failure for me. So I focused on my domicile: I had a granite block fireplace, trees all around me, a secret front garden, and a cozy loft I used as a computer room. I had almost everything I wanted: comfort, music, a pocket of nature full of birds, squirrels and the occasional raccoon.

I also had plenty of  work - at least 70 hours a week's worth. That was the price of maintaining my artsy design studio in Culver City and my Laurel Canyon retreat. My life consisted of long days (including many evenings and weekends), at the studio, followed by the few evening and morning hours I could cobble together in my canyon cottage. I distinctly remember gazing out the little loft window and sobbing on more than one occasion. The view was idyllic, but my soul knew something important was missing. I often exacerbated the situation by heading out to buy myself some extravagant trinket in an attempt to ease the ache, fill the void.

In the early 1990s, I spent a weekend at a friend's cabin in the big mountains outside Lake Arrowhead. While there, I had a vivid dream that I was embracing a short, shapely brunette, who felt like she was melting into my arms. She felt like my soul mate. As I woke up, I tried to cling to the dream, not wanting to let it go. As my eyes opened, a crimson sunrise flooded the cabin with a surreal light. Just before the dream completely disappeared, my "dream woman" said, "I am out there. And you will find me."

That dream gave me the impetus to keep searching. During one disastrous attempt to connect with a Washington, DC-based woman I had met at a Santa Monica bar (a nugget of advice: never travel that far for a date, no matter how desperate you are!), I had this intuition as the airplane soared over the Appalachian mountains: a voice in my head whispered, "There's something down there for you."

As I trudged through my 30s, my career was still consuming me. I was out of balance. Every new attempt at romance failed more miserably than the previous go-round. I had been through personal growth seminars, years of therapy, new agey retreats. I had faced many of my personal demons head-on. I dealt with my adoption, searching and finding my birth parents. I was also changing hobbies. I transitioned from hang gliding (a very male-dominated sport), to playing traditional music, which afforded the opportunity to meet more women. Still, a romantic, intimate, enduring relationship kept eluding me, and each foray into the world of dating spanked me a little harder.

In 1997, I turned 39. It had been awhile since my last relationship, so long that the last woman I dated had since married one of my good friends. The first instant I saw the two of them together, I said to myself, "Wow! They fit." By then, I had resigned myself to the notion that there might never be a fit for me, and I should give up trying and get on with my life.

That summer, I traveled to Western North Carolina for an old-time music festival. Everything seemed to fall into place - I met a fellow graphic designer on the internet before the trip, who put me up for a few nights. It was a hot summer, and one day, the glue on my fiddle melted while in the car trunk, and my fiddle came apart. I panicked, but a luthier who lived 3 houses up the road repaired the instrument overnight! I took it as a sign. The same graphic designer who put me up helped me find a place to live, and by late September of 1997, I had moved to Asheville.

Within a year or so, I met Beth Molaro, a dance caller living in nearby Black Mountain, NC. She helped me get a few dance gigs, and at the dances, I gazed at her when I thought she wasn't looking. I didn't yet know anything about her, but I knew I was very attracted physically. Though I wanted to approach her, I held back, scolding myself for merely lusting after her. At the time, I hadn't yet realized that the perfect woman would be somebody I was attracted to both emotionally and physically (I guess the twisted Catholic dogma I had grown up with was still too ingrained at that point).

A few years later, Beth passed by my camp at a music festival in West Virginia. "Where are you headed?" I asked. "For a hike!" she responded. In a rare moment of bravery, I asked, "Would you like some company?"

Beth said yes, and we hiked to the top of the New River Gorge. We talked incessantly, made connection after connection. I didn't want the hike to end. Beth came by my camp a few more times during the festival, and we visited, though I didn't want to be too forward and scare her off. Besides, my band was playing at the next dance in Asheville, and I knew I would see her there. I would pace myself, though I couldn't wait to pick up where we left off.

The dance came, and afterward, I was stunned to see Beth in the arms of another dance caller. I was crestfallen. Had I imagined the connection we had had in West Virginia? How could I compete with another dance caller? (Dance was her world - I lived in the world of musicians.) Why hadn't she mentioned this guy during our hike? Rather than ask Beth these questions directly, I assumed that I had mistaken the signals. I turned away, in no mood to make another dashed expectation any worse than it already was.

A few years later, I got married to someone else. Did I mention all the personal growth and counseling I had gone through previously? Apparently, it wasn't enough, for I married a woman who was so much like my mother that I don't know how I could have missed the signs. My guess is that she felt familiar and comfortable (in a dysfunctional family sort of way).

It turned out to be another romantic disaster. After 4-5 years, it was obvious (even to my obtuse self), that the relationship was on a destructive, downward spiral, and it was time to move on. My wife and I separated.

Almost as if on cue, I went to a music party and saw Beth. From across the room, Beth heard me talking to another friend. I uttered the phrase, "my soon-to-be ex-wife", and Beth's ears perked up. Later that evening, I couldn't help but notice Beth's big brown eyes beaming at me. It was hard to look away, but I tried to tell myself that it was too soon to think of such things.

A few days later, Beth invited me to go on a hike. I put her off for a few months while I dealt with the dissolution of my marriage - but I was afraid to put her off too long for fear the window of opportunity might close.

On our hike, Beth told me that years ago when we had gotten together in West Virginia, the relationship with the other dance caller was so bad at the time, she didn't even want to mention his name. Back then, she had thought to herself, "One like that. I want one like that!" Beth had even attended my wedding a few years later, thinking to herself, "I hope he's happy!"

When she heard I was splitting up with my wife, she thought "What?! He's not happy??" And that's when she made it plainly obvious to me (again, let me say that I can be quite obtuse in such matters), that she was interested.

Our subsequent dates got better and better. After a few get-togethers, we included her daughter Rebecca in our outings. The three of us got along instantly. On our first "family" date, I remember smiling while watching Rebecca turn consecutive somersaults in the grass, and then turning my gaze to Beth laying in the sun-washed grass while we picnicked on the homemade delicacies she had made to suit my food allergies. I began to realize I could have the "whole package": an incredible, talented woman who both thrilled me emotionally and made my loins ache.

Early in our relationship, Beth and I were holding each other, and I suddenly remembered that dream I had in the Lake Arrowhead cabin, 14 years previously. I even tracked down my journal entry describing it. I knew that Beth was the woman in that dream, and I was so overjoyed to have finally found her!

Fast forward 2 1/2 years, and Beth and I are engaged. She is showing me that our life can be sumptuous, even though my financial situation has changed dramatically since we first got together. Beth is patient, caring and nurturing, and reminds me constantly how much in love she is with me. Rebecca now calls me Daddy, and I melt a little bit every time she does.

I no longer work as hard as I did when I was younger. Good thing, because I would much rather spend my spare time devoted to Beth and Rebecca. Every day, I try to think of ways I can let them know how much I love them, too.

Valentine's Day is nigh, but you won't find us rushing to a store to find some commercial expression of our love for each other. Instead, we'll celebrate by preparing an extravagant, home-cooked meal together. We'll share kisses, love notes, lots of laughter, and emphatic embraces.

Years ago, when I yearned to find a mate, friends would caution me about idealizing romance, saying, "Relationships are work. There's always give and take, always conflicts to resolve. Just like being single, relationships have their pluses and minuses."

Now that I'm with Beth, I have no idea what they were talking about! We fit together so seamlessly that being together is as natural as breathing. We resolve the few disagreements we have almost instantly, because we immediately think about the other person's needs and defuse the situation before it escalates. Every day, we take time to stop what we're doing, look in each others' eyes, and remind each other how happy we are to be together.

This is love at its most luxurious. I don't know how I was so lucky to stumble onto it! It took almost 50 years to find, and I'm so grateful I finally did. Beth was well worth the wait.

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