My exact words to him on our first date were: “I’m not looking to integrate anyone into my life. I’m looking to escape my life.”

We met at an Italian restaurant on a warm August night on the two-year anniversary of my husband’s death. We had connected on a dating app, where his witty, cerebral messages stood out, as did his profile picture showing him reading a New Yorker magazine on a couch bathed in sunlight.

That same day, I had gone hiking with my children in a nearby park, where my daughter found a goody bag of treasures that had been placed along the trail for someone to discover. Among the stickers, origami, seed packets and paintings was a flat stone with the words “Follow your dreams” painted in rainbow.

How apropos, I thought. I recently had begun to believe in signs from a benevolent universe. Those treasures, the significance of the anniversary and my first date with this new man all seemed somehow aligned.

For our dinner, I wore one of my favorite form-fitting dresses and put on red lipstick. It felt good to be in something besides my mom uniform of leggings and unwashed hair. Later he would tell me that the sight of me standing before him that night took his breath away.

He was a primary care physician, recently divorced after a long marriage. His son was away for his first year of college and his teenage daughter lived with him in a new bachelor apartment. He had a smile that was equal parts roguish and melancholic, and a masculine voice filled with nuance and humor. It felt calming to be in his presence.

I recognized in him a fellow restless soul; there was a certain daydreamy quality to how he spoke. The details of his disillusionment were different, but life had tempered his ideals in similar ways, and he too was romanced by escapism.

As we stood to leave the restaurant, his hip bumped the table and a glass smashed to the floor. I froze, yet he was unperturbed. He smiled and apologized to the server as we headed out, competent and calm. I imagined him with his patients the same way. His assuredness impressed me.

He walked me to my car and brushed his lips against mine when we said goodbye. Later he would say it was I who kissed him first. “Your car looks like a Georgina,” he said with a grin. His was a pragmatism threaded through with imagination.

He texted me before I arrived home, asking to see me again.

For our second date, he planned a picnic in Portland’s Mount Tabor Park. He sent a map in advance with a dropped pin of where to park. Later, I realized that almost everything he did was premeditated, combed over with scrutiny to ensure a smooth flow. Even in spontaneity, he didn’t leave things to chance.

We walked up the path to the reservoir. He had packed wine, bread, olives, cheese and fig spread in metal tins. I had merely brought chocolates, which melted in my tote bag before we had the chance to eat them. We sat on a slope surrounded by young couples as the sun set.

He told me a story about a patient of his in his late 70s with terminal cancer who had chosen death with dignity. The man had thrown a party, invited everyone he loved, and then lay down to die in the guest bedroom.

My eyes clouded with tears I masked by drinking another sip of wine.

This was before he knew how my husband died. He had chosen his own death as well, ending his life on a similar summer day, taking us all completely by surprise. In one irrevocable moment, life as I knew it was turned upside down, leaving me to parent an infant and toddler alone.

Two years later, I was tentatively venturing back into the world of dating. I couldn’t yet imagine the daily rhythms of life with another, but I longed for companionship and desire. I wanted to immerse myself in the beauty of the world, craving reminders that I was alive even if the life I once knew was over.

The sun slipped below the horizon as I thought about death and the choice to live.

Shortly thereafter, we began a Sunday evening ritual of meeting at various hotels downtown. With my children at home with the au pair, and his adolescent daughter a permanent fixture at his rental apartment, we had nowhere private to go. The thought of our rendezvous sustained me during my long, hectic days. They were the sole time set aside for just me, and I fantasized about them all week.

With him, I could forget I was a solo parent approaching my mid-40s with an endless “to do” list and finite time. I was liberated from the constant reminder I had lost my husband to suicide. For one night a week, usually after my children had gone to bed, I could disregard the stacks of laundry, the administrative tasks of being a psychotherapist in private practice, and perhaps most importantly, I could turn from the ever-present grief.

We went skydiving, and frequented float tanks, saunas and dimly lit lounges. We smoked joints, drank honeyed martinis with fruit garnishes, and made Spotify playlists for our hotel sleepovers. We tried to one-up each other on potential next adventures. He read New Yorker fiction stories aloud to me on his couch while his daughter was at school, light spilling in from floor-to-ceiling glass windows. We contemplated threesomes, dance classes and psilocybin.

It was as though a blindfold had been removed: I saw myself slowly coming back into focus.

Possibility re-entered my life for the first time since my husband’s death. I felt playful, hopeful, in touch with life’s libido. I signed up for piano lessons, began pole dancing classes, bought a stand-up paddle board. All the unlived life experiences I had been too timid to explore felt within reach.

When we were together, time moved differently; it felt like an alternate reality. And yet I never slept enough in those hotel beds, rarely did I eat whole meals and often I had too much wine. The days after were a blur of sleep deprivation and an eagerness to see him again.

I thought about a client who once said to me, “At this stage in my life, I just want to be with someone with whom I can get a good night’s sleep.”

After our adventures, I was not well rested.

“I can’t see myself ever being a father to young children again,” he told me after we had been dating for four months. I had avoided this topic and any mention of the future, knowing I wasn’t ready to deal with the consequences of speaking it into existence.

It was then that I knew: I no longer desired pure escapism. I was ready for potential. He could offer me romance but not the ordinary beauty of daily life. We wouldn’t grow.

There would be no world where we watched Disney+ together on the couch. He would never scoop up my children from their baths, with their red cheeks and slicked back hair. I wouldn’t wake up beside him on an average workday, dressed in plain clothes, unadorned by night magic.

Even sexy lounges, slinky dresses and high heels get old. I found myself craving kale salads, sobriety and a good night’s sleep. As much as I loved our adventures, the indulgence had become imbalanced without the counterweight of simple pleasures.

I was ready for someone who one day could love my children. Who would want to make pancakes with us on Sunday mornings and hold hands at the playground. I had entered a new chapter.

We carried on for another month, but the spell had been broken.

The last time I saw him was the first day of the new year. We drove two hours north of Portland to Astoria and spent the night at a hotel along the mouth of the river. Sea lions swam outside our window. He had brought binoculars, edibles and dozens of tea candles that cast tiny flames against the exposed glass between us and the darkness of the Columbia.

The next morning when I woke, I felt our goodbye in the air between us. On the drive home, we made a stop on the beach, where we took a walk holding hands, then huddled together against the cool January breeze. It felt tender and conclusive.

When we were nearly to my house, he said, “I wish we could keep on the way we have been, but I would feel selfish knowing you want something different. I want you to find the love you’re looking for.”

I thanked him and wished him love.

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