This story is not mine to tell. I stole it – a conversation with one of those strangers who, under certain circumstances, become intimate for a few hours, to then vanish forevermore. I should have asked for her permission to tell it but now it’s too late. I decided to write it because it poses an interesting conundrum – walking away from her, I asked myself “Would I do it? Would I go forward under the same circumstances?”
Lauren (not her real name) is a pixie of a woman, with animated blue eyes and short blond hair, how I would picture a good fairy. A failed marriage which dissolved when still young, and after years spent building a business she loved Lauren never had much time to fall in love, until an acquaintance set her up on a blind date, when she was in her early 50s.
Dinner with the stranger goes smoothly.
“Everybody always told me I would know it immediately when I met the right man. I don’t know that is what I thought but I remember thinking, once dinner was over, I hope this man calls me again.”
He did. He was interesting and kind and, early in their acquaintance, he disclosed he had cancer.
What kind? Lauren asked.
The good kind, he replied. I am fine now.
A year later, he was not so fine. The cancer was back, the expectations not great. They got married and, two years and 8 months after their first meeting, he died.
“I wouldn’t change anything. I would do it all over again” Lauren answered my unspoken question.
What kind of person does it take to open her arms to heartbreak willingly and joyfully? Would you trade a handful of months of happiness for years of just memories? Or is being in love, no matter the circumstances, a recipe for heartbreak along the continuum of any relationship anyway?
In youth, death can have romantic connotations, in the way only improbable circumstances can. At 50 or 60, the possibility of death is much more tangible. Would you welcome it so readily as Lauren did?
We fall in love full of good intentions, hoping for the brightest future, but to know from the start the outcome will be a permanent separation, sooner rather than later – how many of us would even consider it? Yet, doesn’t the person who has entered the realm of the sick deserve a shot at love, whatever the cost?
The other side of this story is the single cancer patient, who struggles with when to bring up the big C: too soon and it will scare prospective partners away; too late and it will feel like a betrayal.
There are no easy options when navigating an illness alone and none of them as charming as The Fault in our Stars.
Lauren was accepting of an illness she knew would rob her of love but her husband was also accepting of her presence, and let her in at a time of vulnerability and diminished capabilities. Maybe the difference between love at 20 and love at 50 is that, when we are young, we tend to think we can change ourselves and our partners. At 50, we take what is and we simply egg us on to be the best versions of ourselves that we can, no matter the circumstances.