Image Max Kisman

    Anna (44): ‘I knew him as a friend, as an acquaintance, as the father of a toddler in my class. And when his wife said they were getting divorced because his care and devotion had begun to oppress her too much, I was surprised. I was sorry. I myself was never so well endowed by life. Getting nasty and irritated from someone who is extremely involved, who prefers to do everything together, who takes your problems to heart, I would have liked to experience.

    Dad left early

    My father left when I was 6, after that I only saw him sporadically and not at all since I was 12. As a little girl, I cherished pictures of me crouched between his strong legs. I quietly fantasized about a future. You were inseparable, my mother used to say, but I don’t have that memory. I only remember the cold despair I felt when he suddenly disappeared for good.

    I was 20 when I got married for the first time and there was violence in my second marriage. I never felt safe or in my place anywhere. They say that every jar has a lid, but I started to doubt that around my 40th birthday. I am a fine mother, I knew that, I really have my qualities, but as a partner, wife and daughter I was no good. Because everyone always left me.

    Nice and homey

    When the caring man began to care for me after hospitalization, I accepted with gratitude. He was divorced against his will, I came out of surgery rickety. We could both use some company and distraction. He brought me food, made tea, we got on well with each other’s children. The desire to be touched was no stronger than the desire to be with him. Just being in a room with the two of us felt nice and homely.

    He continued to visit me even after I had recovered. Perhaps the difference between friendship and love is less than is often thought, I thought. I enjoyed his attention. He was someone who, when I came home tired from work, could say, sit down. Tell about your day. That food will come soon.

    Together we could do everything

    Gradually, our affection took the form of a relationship. After we kissed the first time, he wanted to hide it from our kids. But when we told them later, everyone shouted, yay, so anyway, we knew it. To friends he said: I won the lottery, I was so hurt by my wife and yet I found someone I fell in love with again. But when I whispered that I loved him, he replied: I can’t say that yet. Meanwhile it remained pleasant and peaceful.

    On the weekends when the kids weren’t there, we walked in the woods. Then we were silent or we just talked a bit. This man was the first person I told how much it still hurt that my father had left me. How insecure that made me. It’s not your fault, he’d say, pulling me close, “And I’m not leaving. Not today, not tomorrow. Maybe you should go find your father if you really want to?’

    Together we could do everything. In previous relationships I was always the one who cooked, now we stood side by side in front of the stove like we never did anything else. We hung up the laundry together. Each on one side. Hang it up like that, we smiled at each other. And I showed how to hang a shirt without it creasing. He picked flowers from the side of the road that I dried and kept. Other men hated the stuff I left lying around. An open book on the kitchen table was put right back in the bookcase, but he left everything behind.

    Be part of his family

    We camped with our kids. His eldest was already 12 and I remember my friend saying, I’m sleeping with him in the tent tonight, I don’t want to leave my children behind. A comment like that caused a short circuit in my head. A child understands that his father sleeps with his girlfriend, right? There were also days when he didn’t say anything or little. Then I got scared. But I also thought: know your demons, learn to trust. And indeed there was always an invitation to come and eat. Once he even invited me to his son’s school project.

    It meant a lot to me to be part of his family and extended family. After I was 6 I had never felt so safe again. The sense of belonging to someone, and not the chance of being abandoned if things went less well, gave me so much relaxation and strength that after thirty years I mustered the courage to track down my father. My boyfriend and I started making plans for later. Our dream was a long-distance hike through Scotland.

    Everything went black

    On August 22, 2021, his mother texted. “What a pity it didn’t last between you.”

    As if a dam had burst, I was so engulfed in fear. I called him up, he was in the car with his kids. “Sorry, what you just heard wasn’t meant to be,” he said. And a little later when I was with him: ‘It has nothing to do with you, but I do not want to go any further.’ He gave no real reason, except that it “felt better to stop now.” Then everything went black.

    The following days I couldn’t teach anymore, I cried along with every toddler who had trouble saying goodbye. My confusion and depression became so great that I was even hospitalized for a while. Now things are better. Last spring I went hiking in Scotland, alone. I vowed never, ever to lean on another again. Never again experience that uncertainty that comes with love. How can I believe it’s not just me, I’ve always been the woman for a while. I am the woman with whom no one stays.’

    At the request of the interviewee, the name Anna has been changed.

    CALL

    For this column and the podcast of the same name, Corine Koole is looking for stories about all types of modern relationships, about people of all ages and all preferences.

    Participate? Mail a brief explanation to: [email protected]

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