The great love of my life marries today and I am not the groom. I had my chance, a few years ago, but did not realize until too late how fleeting my moment with her was meant to be. Whether it was my fault or hers, and, let's face it, it was probably mine, I will wonder always about the life I might have had with the most loving and loveable woman I have ever known. Sometimes, I finally now understand, love, even crazy love, is not enough. Sometimes, as the romance novelists know, timing is everything.
But today is not a day for remorse. It is not a day for lost causes. Today is a day for celebration. The woman I once promised to keep happy is happy. She tells me she is marrying a wonderful man, with a good heart, whom she believes I would have liked had we met in different circumstances. She lives where she wants to live. She has selected her life's path. All that is left for me to do is to wish her well and to hope that she has made the right choice; that she continues to find in him what she did not find in me. And I am sure he considers himself today the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.
The present I humbly send her today is this column; this public note, this irrevocable display of affection and support and gratitude; this worldly absolution from any guilt or sadness she felt between the time she said no to me and the time she said yes to him. No one ought to have to carry that with them into a marriage. I showered her with as much love as I could muster when we were together. I still love her and always will. So I am only too happy to offer my toast to her now, one more time, before she takes her vows.
I want to thank her, mostly, for rescuing me from hopelessness. When we met, back in the spring of 2005, I was nearly 40 and had been dating off and on for two years following an unexpected divorce. I had lost faith in relationships. I had given up on love. She arrived, unexpectedly, and showed me what was possible. She raised me up from the emotional dead. She drew out of me the poison of divorce and betrayal. Eleven years younger but already more mature than me, she was dazzling, brilliant, funny, and sweet; she both gave and taught me patience and devotion and sacrifice. No woman before or since ever made me feel as desired, needed, beloved, appreciated as she did. No one has yet made me want her more. Some men live their whole lives without this kind of love. At least I had it for one brief, shining moment.
I want to thank her for being so delightful with my son, who talks about her still, and to my parents, who couldn't believe their son's good fortune to have landed such a sweetheart. Until almost literally his dying day, my dad would ask me about her. Near the end, almost exactly two years ago, I did not have the heart to tell him that we had broken up. It gives me peace figuring that he died thinking she'd be in my life when he was gone. And in a way I suppose she is. Rarely a day goes by when something in my life -- the law, journalism, horses, celebrity gossip -- doesn't make me think of her or what she'd think.
I want to thank her for-- it's now such a cliché that I'm almost embarrassed to write it -- making me want to be a better man. She really did. It happens. She made me less judgmental and more open to new ideas. She gave me a confidence I had never felt before. She gave me incentive to reach out professionally into areas I had not yet gone. I became more productive and back involved in the world. And, most important, I learned how to respond with love when so much love was offered to me. I learned how to trust but also show it. And in some way, virtually every friend, family member and romance in my life since has benefited from the gifts of grace she gave so willingly to me.
I want to thank her for making me laugh, at her and myself, and for making me swoon whenever she walked into a room. I want to thank her for the advice she gave me, and for the soothing tone of her voice during times of trouble. I want to thank her for completely changing my outlook on life. Before I met her, as a single father, I never would have considered having another child. Although it took more time than it should have, I came to realize through her love and devotion that there would be nothing more I would rather do in the world than have a child with her. How many poor souls go their whole lives without the heart-string pull of such emotions?
I want to thank her for giving my life's dream contours and a calculus. I want to live on a farm one day, a farm filled with horses and wireless connections where I can write. And now, thanks to her, I know exactly what I want and need in a partner who might just want to get there, too. That's just another gift she gave me; the gift of knowing what is possible in a relationship; of refusing to settle for mediocrity where it counts, and of taking the chance when something inside tells you it could be love. I sound like a sap. I know. But it's no less true. No matter what my romantic future holds, I know there will be no retreat from the standards she has set. Like the song says, surely someone will one day dare to stand where she stood. I can't wait.
On her wedding day, I want to thank her for all those times she stuck up for me -- with her friends, with her family, with her work colleagues. It could not have been easy, explaining to all those cooler heads, why she was so devoted to an "old guy" who lived so far away. Yet she did it, even after she had decided that she would not throw down her lot with me. That's the sort of character I'd like to instill in my son. It's the sort that we think is all around us but actually is rare. It is courage and self-confidence and the ability to see right from wrong. She displayed it every day, right down to the end. Ours was a romance without rancor; a love affair that ended in peace, not war.
I want to thank her for being such an inspiration. She did not give in or sell out or become one of those poor women of a certain age in New York who have put their careers ahead of their lives. When we met, she was living in New York but was not ofNew York; transplanted from the West Coast, she had not allowed herself to be seduced entirely by the City's charms. She took from Manhattan, like so many other beautiful women do, but she never gave to it her heart and soul. She was always rooted even among the rootless of her age and time. She knew she would one day leave the City, and she did, on her own terms. I admire her for that. I respect her for that. And I love her for it.
It wasn't too long after we met that I began imagining what our wedding day would be like. My second, her first, I nonetheless pictured her not taking it too seriously, laughing off the little crises that always pop up. I pictured her stunning in her dress and with that smile that would melt me. I pictured her having a vodka and soda to ease her nerves. I pictured us laughing a lot. I pictured myself at the end of the aisle. It was not to be. I've known that for years. But that doesn't make the love any less real.
So at last my wedding toast today is sincere: I wish the deepest and most profound love of my life a happy life, a good life, one in which she gives to and gets from the loved ones in her world the hope and the passion and the comfort and the support she always and so magically gave to me.
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