I found the man of my dreams so late in life!

Cary’s classic column from

Why can’t I get over my bitterness at my bad luck?


Dear Cary,

It seems crazy to write you at this time because actually I am happier right now than I’ve ever been in my life. I am engaged to a wonderful man and we are going to be married in the spring. He is 53, handsome, with thick salt-and-pepper hair and a truly sweet nature. I am 45. I’m crazy about him and I never thought we’d end up together. When we met, in 1995, we were both married to other people.

I know it sounds like a convenient coincidence, but both of us really were married to unfaithful, abusive people. When “Tony” and I first found ourselves thrown together, we quickly developed intense feelings for each other, yet when we talked about it, we decided not to act on it. Neither of us wanted an affair, for a lot of reasons. So the years went by and we talked on the phone occasionally, or met for coffee once in awhile. In 1997 I told Tony I couldn’t see him at all anymore — I was trying so hard to make my marriage work. I had two small children (Tony has two children as well, but they’re older) and every time I saw him, I wanted to be near him again and I felt I couldn’t “do the right thing” — i.e., concentrate on my husband.

Well, eventually Tony got divorced, and in 2000 I finally left my abusive husband. Now Tony and I are together, and after dating for several years we have taken the plunge and decided to marry. I can’t believe it finally came true — it’s like a dream. He’s the love of my life and he feels the same way about me. Our kids get along great and each set of kids loves the other person.

So, Cary — why am I writing you? This is why. And dear God, I really want to know whether other people feel the same way. I hope you can tell me. I can’t seem to get over wondering why Tony and I didn’t meet sooner, didn’t have a chance to fall in love and marry sooner, didn’t have a chance to have children together. Here’s something funny for you: We grew up in this midsize Southern city only about three miles away from each other. For the first 25 years of my life, Tony and I never lived more than five miles away from each other. He dated a girl in my neighborhood; I often rode my bike past his house (never knowing). Yet we didn’t meet. In 1989 he was invited to my brother’s wedding, but didn’t attend; he was separated from his wife at the time and could have met me then — I was a bridesmaid. It would have been a perfect time to meet — if we had, we could have married and had children. I have the strangest feeling that Tony and I have crossed paths a hundred times in our lifetimes. Yet we didn’t meet. And by the time we did — and by the time we finally got untangled from our bad marriages — it was too late to have a child together. I know I’m incredibly lucky to have found him at all — most people go their whole lives and don’t feel this.

Cary, I can’t seem to let this go. It hurts so much that I’ll never have this man’s child, that I wasn’t his first wife, that I wasn’t there when he was young, that I was with other people, wasting my time. I find myself HATING the woman he married, who bore him two children and treated him terribly. I happened to see a snapshot of that wedding once, and the image is burned in my brain. Why wasn’t that me? Why aren’t his kids mine? Why aren’t my kids his? Why didn’t we have that wild youth together? Why couldn’t it be me in his arms? Why didn’t we meet sooner? Why? Why? I even find myself, for brief flashes, terribly resenting his younger child for being the daughter of her mother and not of me. It’s breaking my heart. I was taught that God leads you to the “one” you are meant to marry. So why didn’t it happen? Yes — we (hopefully) have 25 years of happiness ahead of us. He says to concentrate on that. So why can’t I let go of the agonizing jealousy, and the wondering why it will never be 50 years together? I can’t stop feeling like it’s sooooo late, and it’s not fair. And how do I get past the jealousy of thinking of him having children with someone else? Please say something to help me get over this. Does anyone else feel this way? I can’t bring myself to ask even my closest friends, for fear that nobody else suffers through this!

In Love With Tony

Dear In Love With Tony,

Some things happen for reasons so random, complex and indeterminate that to question them is fruitless. How could you possibly retrace your childhood to learn why you never met? Your bicycle routes through the neighborhood, your trips to the store, the parties you might both have attended: All that is swept away into the past. It’s tempting to try to retrieve it, as though the past resided in some vast TiVo and could be replayed to pick out the details. Replay that scene again: How close did you come to him there? What were the missed opportunities?

But without an accurate record, we replay the past in our heads and, whether we mean to or not, we refashion it to our liking; each time we replay it, our wishes reshape it until we come to believe what we want to believe — that we really were only a hairsbreadth away from winning the Nobel Prize, that an Olympic gold medal was just beyond our reach, that it was only the barest of chances that prevented us from meeting and marrying the man of our dreams. And then, because we have come to believe that fate has not favored us, the suffering begins: Why, Lord, why? When I was so close?

By this time your feelings, though real, are based on a fiction. You were never really so close to being with this man. It only seems so in retrospect. At the time, you were doing what you had to do, and so was he. There were children to be looked after, and relationships to conclude. You had made some choices that had unexpected consequences, that led to unforeseeable difficulties. You worked through those difficulties. You are now grieving for some lost time. But you did the right thing as long as you could. And now you have found some happiness. Your happiness is tinged with sadness about what might have been. But it is still happiness. Having been through so much, you are perhaps a little greedy for more of this happiness. You think of what life might have been like if this happiness had been there all along. It’s understandable to think of such things. But do not let such thoughts torture you. There is nothing you can do about the past now. Let it be.

Spend some time feeling what you feel and remembering what you remember — not for what it means, but just for what it is. Out of this, a story may emerge that explains what happened. Stories are a kind of mercy. So after looking over your past you tell a story. Perhaps it begins as a polite apology to the present, for being unavoidably detained in the past. Or perhaps you say, “There was a raging storm. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights and then I was rescued.” You say you were held captive as a slave until finally set free by strong hands. You say there was some sorcery involved: A spell was cast over you; you were blinded and could not walk away until one day the spell was lifted and the sun shone and you could see and you walked out of enslavement into freedom. You don’t know why you were enslaved, or who put the spell on you, or why your rescue happened when it did. But now you are free, and grateful. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. I was lost but now I’m found.

8 thoughts on “I found the man of my dreams so late in life!”

  1. I cried reading this letter. You are not alone – I have often felt the same thing, over this past year. I am also in my 40’s. Spent 20 years in an abusive marriage. Had LOTS of lovely, intelligent, wonderful children. And fell in love for the first time, with a man who actually loves me and treats me well, a year ago. I flew to Europe to meet him in person last spring: it was magical.

    I love children. I would have loved to have his child. It breaks my heart sometimes that I can’t do that now. It saddens him, too, but mostly he is sad that so many years we could have had were lost and wasted on others who didn’t love us back. As much as he grieves for himself, he grieves more for me – he knows how bad those years were for me, and he can see the emotional scars left behind.

    I can only tell myself – I wasn’t ready for him. For some reason, the gods or fate or my higher self directed me through other avenues in life. I needed to learn some things, I think. At any rate, we both have beautiful children we wouldn’t give up for anything – and we are both supremely able to appreciate the loyalty, compassion, passion, and generosity of each other, because it’s such a sharp contrast to what we’ve known before.

    I don’t think we can always know WHY we take the exact paths we take – but I do believe that all along the journey we’re learning lessons we’re meant to learn. Even now — even in the regret or sadness we feel now, there is something to be learned from it.

  2. Consider youself lucky. I’m still waiting… and bruised! Be happy that your ex-husband gave you the opportunity to have children in the meantime. You have been blessed.

  3. I’m around your age and they’ve kept me from meeting ‘the one’ for this long. Far from having unfulfillable longings for a married friend, I see the intimacy and trust that exists between friends and their partners and wonder why I never arrived there with anyone. Is it me? Is the Adjustment Bureau preventing me from meeting ‘the one’ so I can become something else that I need to become? It’s a puzzle.

  4. So, if you could step through the portal into that alternate history where you wish you were living, the one where you met him in college and married him as soon as your diploma was dry, are you willing to say goodbye forever to the children you have in *this* universe? Is he equally willing to say goodbye forever to his own kids? Because you would have *different* children in that other universe–or maybe no children at all. Your children are their father’s children as well as yours; his children are their mother’s children as well as his. The particular individual children who exist in this universe do not exist in that alternate history.

  5. Great advice, Cary. Dear LW, I want to add that it takes two to make a relationship what it is. The fact that both you and your ex were in bad marriages says something about the two of you at that point in your lives. Perhaps you needed to be in those relationships that didn’t work out to learn how to value a relationship with great potential, and then to be sure it works out. Lessons learned! right now you are assuming that a relationship is all about who you ARE, and not about how you behave or who you want to be. I think it’s quite possible that you two might have met before and not been attracted, or if you got together you would have messed it up. You were both part of two other mess-ups, right? You learned what you needed to, in order that you could become the people you are right now, capable of creating this great relationship you are enjoying. IN that way you can appreciate everyone in both your pasts, including his first wife, for helping each of you become the people you are now.

  6. A similar thing happened to me. I reconnected with my high school sweetheart online after 43 years. We are both divorced with grown children and a teenager. For the past year, we’ve sustained a long distance relationship while living over 2,500 miles apart. In 12 months, we’ve spent 6 weeks together. They were magical. Our first phone call lasted over 5 ½ hours. We talk every night now. Within the next few months I will sell my house and move to his area. I can’t wait.

    The clincher for me was when he sent me a scan of the camp tag I wore when we met at summer camp in 1969. I must have given it to him, and he kept it all those years. Back then we lived several hours apart and made trips to see one another; many calls and letters. Then life got in the way.

    Do we have regrets over the lost years? Yes. He’s now 62 and I’m 60. We look a little different now. We first met when I was 15 and he was 17. We’ve ruminated on what might have been.

    I too feel contempt for his ex at times; other times I feel sorry for her, for not having appreciated this man for who he is. I feel sorry for him too, for the same reason. I myself have baggage from abusive relationships that I’ve put behind me. Yes, I think I would have liked to have had children with him, but that time is past. We have distant grandchildren, and we can share pets together. I’m grateful that we have another chance at this; where there’s life, there’s hope.

    But here’s another thought. Perhaps if we’d become a long-term couple those many years back, we would have broken it. We were so very young back then, with much yet to explore and experience. We had a lot of growing up to do.

    Thank you for writing this letter, and thank you Cary for answering it. It helps me with keeping things in perspective. Best of luck to you for a lifetime of happiness.

    To quote Steinbeck: “Nothing good gets away.”


  7. From someone older than you who can’t find a decent man to date and can tell you dating stories that would curl your hair:
    Be happy you’ve found someone you love that loves you. Be grateful for whatever time you have together for there are many in this world that are alone and don’t want to be, or are still married and pray that they weren’t.
    Whether you have one year together or 40, realize you are blessed to have met a great guy who is crazy about you. There are many of us who are waiting for the same thing to happen.
    Waste time hating his first wife or your ex if you wish. And a waste it would be. You have been given a gift and all you can do is complain that it was delivered by a slow boat from China rather than overnight delivery.

    1. Cary, as usual, lovely. As for In Love with Tony, I have lived the life you didn’t. I met the love of my life young, had his children, and we are still going strong. I got lucky in this way. Maybe not so lucky in others – and so it goes. I agree with Cary that we can tell ourselves any story we want and learn to believe it. Right now you are telling a story to yourself that says you wasted too much time. It is time to tell yourself a new story! You were lost, and now you are found. Let yourself be found! It is never too late.

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