Living Unscripted: When Is Love Real or Just Imagined?

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By Shaz

“Who hasn’t had real relationships with imaginary people or imaginary relationships with real people? What else were the arts invented for if not for consummating the deep and necessary loves that can only be lived in the imagination?” -Joseph Campana, Poet

On more than our fair share of enchanted evenings, my gal pals and I have met strangers, seriously, across crowded rooms . . . and they’ve become friends and some, eventually lovers. We may have had the best of romantic intentions as our eyes met — but not all of us are wholly available. Pre-existing “comfortable” relationships that linger long past their expiration dates are the safety nets we install in flirty emails or occasional trysts giving us the sense, real or imagined, that we are liked, loved, appreciated . . . and not alone. If you’re alive, chances are you’ve got a few.

Bond, James, was holding on to one such imaginary relationship with his Florida fillie (aka FF). They worked together for decades — and privy to her steady stream of incompetent lovers, he imagined himself her Knight in suit and tie. After years of fantasizing, he left his unhappy marriage to pursue it . . . and they did actually mambo for a few glorious months once his divorce was finalized. Soon afterwards, however, FF bolted, uninterested in a long-term committed relationship. After a year and a half of frustrated attempts to win her back, he decided to branch out and that’s when, having asked for and received my stats at a Christmas party in NYC, he had an interesting, albeit out-of-town distraction. I certainly had enough insider information from endless late night chats with the guy, so no excuse for sitting here now, wondering how it happens that I’m holding my heart with one hand and extending the other in the STOP (In the Name of Love) pose . . .

Bond, James, invited me to come down to Tampa for a few days in August which coincided with my need to get away from both the gal pal tension & the couple from France who were using my apartment for 10 days on exchange for four weeks in their pied-a-tier in Paris. I’d put enough time and space between the magical moment’s ensemble with Surfer Dude and the trip to Tampa to be ready for however Bond, James, and I would reconnect after two months living the days of our lives in different cities.

Greeting me just outside security he was definitely eye candy. . . We motored off in his daughter’s cherry red VW convertible bug (on loan to dad for the weekend) heading downtown to his very cool corner apartment on the 29th floor, two terraces and glass walls overlooking the Bay. The caterers arrived, the guests followed and before the evening was over we were entertained by a couple of actors singing songs from my first off-Broadway musical. Sweet. Eventually, the guests left, the caterers cleaned up and we were left to figure out how to begin the beguine, picking up where we left off in June.

We figured it out. In the living room, on the terrace, in his bed, in the candlelit shower . . . in the dark movie theater, playing strip poker and laughing through sidewalk water fountains at midnight — even in the back seat of the cherry red bug in the airport parking lot after I got bumped from my overbooked flight home, to stay another day . . . “I really need to nap,” I said on the drive back downtown . . . “Me too,” he said, hands on the wheel, equally exhausted. “Just nap, promise?” I begged in a soft, almost desperate voice. “Uhmm,” he murmured thoughtfully, looking straight ahead, “not sure I can do that.” “Me either,” I whimpered.

And so with no one to answer to, we indulged our seemingly insatiable appetites with a multi day dose of vitamin sex . . . and Bond, James, became a very real person in a very real relationship with me. But what does that mean?

We said our good-byes feeling sure we were on to something pretty fun and amazing but without promises of exclusivity or longer-term commitments, knowing that real or imaginary, we both have other romantic relationships in our lives — and the possibility of engaging in others.

I still hear regularly from Surfer Dude. He misses me. Or “the me” he thinks I am. And I miss him. “The him” I think he is. Doc is coming to town in October for one of my play Openings . . . and I haven’t even told you about Big . . .

But Bond, James, clinging to his imaginary relationship with FF, was taking center stage. The vines of his effort to entangle FF into his daily routine, were strangling his ability to get on with his life — certainly life with me.

We’re talking about folks over 50 and FF was not only his adult life fantasy and business partner, she and her roommate are also manipulators of his social schedule. They’re there, 24/7 and it became clear a week or so after separating, that it’s impossible for us to have a conversation about his day without one or the other of them having played some significant role, confusing him.

And so I’m sitting here, with that one hand out in the STOP (In the Name of Love) pose, competing with an imaginary relationship he’s having with the woman she’ll never be but is none-the-less so stuck in his mind, she may never grow old. I, on the other hand am eliminating sugar and carbs from my diet as fast as I can with minimum effect to the sag beneath my upper arms.

I repeat. What’s real? And what does “real” mean?

There’s another “friend” of his I met the night she brought him to that Christmas party, who believes Bond, James, to be her man . . . There’s a college friend of mine who’s confessed in recent emails to having a lifelong crush on me . . . Paley is still waiting for Mr. CEO to fully commit and ditch the girlfriend he’s claimed not to be in love with . . . Emma’s not letting go of her sometimes relationship with her out-of-town guy because it’s easier (and more meaningful) than putting herself out there for someone new.

Are these relationships real or imagined? My guess is, if it’s not reciprocal, it’s not real.

Relationships don’t have to evolve into a traditional format, but more than one thought cannot occupy the same space at the same time. When we cordon off a section of our hearts and minds for other love relationships, real or imagined, there’s that much less room for the right guy when he comes along. If we can just let go of the clutter once and for all, someone wonderful will come in to fill up that newly emptied space . . . that’s how it works.

Tool Man and Karen are the furthest along in their relationship yet he’s never used the “L” word. Biking along the Hudson in the wee hours of the morning after a long night of playing in the park downtown, Karen got brave and asked him if he thought they were in love . . . “We are madly in LOVE!!!” he yelled to the moon and they pulled over to savor the moment of truth. Lovers on the same page: a real relationship with a real guy. That’s the goal.

NOTE TO SELF: High-five, Karen!

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.