The Bucket List: The Love of My Life

by Just Juan
  1. Find the love of my life. A lifetime of mistakes, bad calls, and heartbreaks undone by a woman whose mere presence holds much significance to my future: how’s that for a love story? Can’t wait to see it in person.

Those who know me personally—and even those who’ve read through the posts on this blog—know that I’ve led a very checkered and tumultuous love life. I’ve detailed some of it in The Single Guy’s Perspective series. Of course, there’s the story of my first love and how her life was so tragically cut short…something I still feel somewhat responsible for even more than a decade later. There’s the story of what may very well be the worst girlfriend ever and how she changed my life. There’s the story of how a small-town girl straight up told me that my big city aspirations were too much for her dreams of being barefoot, pregnant, and able to enjoy Sunday dinners with her mother in the boondocks of Middle Georgia. There’s the time I got pushed aside in favor of giving a child’s father a 2nd go-around to be a heartbreaker. There’s even the story of when I was literally left out in the cold as yet another woman walked out of my life. In between and alongside all of that is the Lost Decade of Dating, which pretty much made the entirety of my 20s a long list of heartbreak after heartbreak concerning my dating life. I recall writing in Triumphs & Tribulations IX, during the Summer of 2009, about how much “it amazes me that I’ve found so much meteoric success in my life regarding faith, career, finances, education, health, and independence while being an absolute failure at love”. My love life has been that kind of a rollercoaster. I can’t entirely say it wasn’t expected though. After all, a very, very wise woman who’s like a mother to me did tell me that I wouldn’t end up with just any woman…that I was a crown jewel and I’d probably get hurt quite a bit on the way to finding the love of my life.

I’ll admit that all wasn’t bad in my dating life. There were some bright spots, here and there. There was the Portuguese-Japanese woman I dated for a spell late in the Summer of 2008. She was the most exotic woman I’ve ever met…and not just from a looks standpoint. There was the pre-med major from Northwestern that I met on the Monroe Station platform during my 2009 trip to Chicago. That was actually a pretty cool long-distance dating situation until the 6300 miles between Chicago and Tokyo really settled in. I’m actually still in amazement at how she just casually walked over and pretty much inserted herself into my life…kinda made me feel like the hunted instead of the hunter. There was The Parisienne, whom I met during my time in the National Capital Region. Of course, the Canadian Cutie is in there too. All were great women but those situations all ended in heartbreak for me as well. One way or another, neither of those women ended up being the love of my life. They all ended up alongside many other women on the list of dating and relationship situations that never worked out…a list that has, on divers occasions, produced real tears whenever I’ve written about those heartbreaks in Triumphs & Tribulations.

All that has happened in my love life, beginning on Halloween Night 2003, has essentially made me “a greying tower alone on the sea” just like Seal described in his renowned track, “Kiss from a Rose”. My experiences in love are part of the reason why the track gets a rotational play in my Windows Media Player. I think it’s safe to say that my late first love, Valorie Drew, set the gold standard for everything I wanted in a woman. She had all 5 of the characteristics the young—perhaps naïve, perhaps forward-thinking—17-year-old version of myself wrote in the final entry of Triumphs & Tribulations II. She was (1) smart, (2) funny, (3) sassy, (4) sexy, and (5) stable. I’m not sure why I listed all of those things as desirable characteristics in a woman back then but she sure had them all with plenty of room to spare. She also had a 6th characteristic that I haven’t really been able to describe using a simple, one-word term. It was a characteristic that I didn’t discover until we were in our final moments together: a quiet strength that made me a better person without me even knowing she was doing so. I remember, in 2004, on the 1st anniversary of her death, I wrote her mother a letter explaining that it was “an intangible characteristic of legendary proportions…one I deeply regret not having a chance to tell her about while she was alive”. It’s no secret that I do miss her dearly. Throughout the years, I’ve thought about countless what-if scenarios had she survived that automobile accident…even if she would’ve been immobilized for life.

At some point in life, when the thousands of entries I’ve written in Triumphs & Tribulations are gazed upon by eyes other than my own, the reasons why I considered our 1 ⅓ years together as my personal representation of Camelot will be clearly understood. What will also be clearly understood is the toll the chase for a woman of her caliber—in regards to having the 6 characteristics—has taken on me for almost all of my years as an adult. From Halloween Night 2003 until now, that chase has included 38* first dates—22 of which were first date flameouts, meaning I wasn’t granted a 2nd date. That chase is why there were 4 relationships—all lasting less than 1 year—that failed colossally, leaving me asking myself “what the f*** happened”. The chase—or the heartbreaks associated with it, for that matter—is why I’ve spent ½ of my adult life abroad, recovering from the wounds and why the entirety of my 20s—arguably the prime years of my life—were littered with disappointment after disappointment.

But do note that there is an asterisk next to the number of first dates I’ve been on since Valorie’s death 11 ½ years ago. That asterisk is why I’m writing this post. Last June, while I was in the shadow of the nation’s capital for the Worth The Wait Revolution Gala, the host—Dr. Lindsay Warren—told me personally that God would bring “an awesome woman” into my life. She said that my season was near. Externally, I smiled and played nice about it but internally, I was filled with pessimism. I thought she said all of that because of my contributions to her non-profit since I first discovered it 3 years ago, as I was making my exit from Andrews to my final assignment in Korea. It turns out that she was definitely on to something. In July of last year, I gave a final go and that’s when I came across my current girlfriend. The rest is history, as the old heads would say. In the time I’ve known her, Mercedes has truly been a breath of fresh air in my life. She certainly possesses the 5 original characteristics I looked for in the women I pursued. But, unlike any of the 37 other women I’ve dated since the Fall of 2003, she possesses the elusive 6th characteristic. She’s literally made me a much better version of my already awesome self. She embodies everything that “Kiss from a Rose” means. Since her arrival into my life, I’ve been the happiest, most productive, most energetic version of myself…things that have lain dormant for years. Even people around me have noticed that my perennial unassuming and nonchalant disposition has been replaced with a somewhat more bubbly and engaging personality. One could easily say that she “became the light on the dark side of me”. I’m reminded of one of the very early moments in our relationship, where she showed her love to me. It was just a hug but it was the way she hugged me. It had all kinds of weird feelings running through my veins…stuff I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager. I was inspired by it. So much so that for 7 straight days, I surprised her with a different token of appreciation to show my love towards her. I guess you can say that whole “when it snows, my eyes become large and the light that you shine can be seen” line in the track applied there. But it’s a few lines in the chorus that really cemented this home for me: “the more I get of you, the stranger it feels, yeah/And now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the grey”. To me, that translates to the more love she showed me, the better it got for me and now that this thing between us is very serious, that long-elusive concept of love is shining bright in my heart. I could basically break down every word in that track, every verse and apply it to her and our situation but the overall message is clear: she is the rose that that kissed me on the grey and gave me back all of the color, the life that I lost through the heartbreaks in the Lost Decade of Dating. She is the love of my life.

That written, all roads now lead to the inevitable: Item 40 on the bucket list.

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