Falling in Love
Denise and Jon
As told to Cliff Williams
Edited by Cliff Williams from a recorded and transcribed conversation with Denise on September 12, 2023. Her life, she says, “is about finding love at any time, even when the past has been painful.”
Denise’s first marriage ended in divorce after three years. “He turned out to have serious mental issues—he raged at me and was abusive. There was a lot of pain for me in that, and I went through dark times. He was very tortured, and he took his own life about ten years after we divorced.
“After a while, I met someone at an online dating site who I fell in love with. But it didn’t work out, and the grief I felt at losing that relationship was severe. I reached a point when I didn’t know how much more I could take of becoming attached and then losing someone.
“Then I met someone who I saw on and off for about ten years. But I didn’t feel the intense passion you have when you’re falling in love. I thought maybe I was broken and couldn’t have strong feelings for anyone again. My parents wanted us to get married. His mom wanted us to marry—his dad was gone—and his sister did too. But I couldn’t marry someone without that magical feeling of being in love. I think that feeling is important. I tried to get it but couldn’t make it come, though I cared for him and loved him as you do a friend.
At the Gym
Denise met Jon about ten years ago, when she was forty-three. “It was at the gym where I was working as a wellness coach. He was usually on an elliptical machine, and he would take off his headphones and give me his full attention when we talked. I didn’t think of him as anything more than a nice guy, because he was much older than me, twenty-four years older, I later learned. I wasn’t open yet to the idea that at a certain point age doesn’t matter.
“One day, Jon brought in an autistic music student, because he is a music teacher. Jon was so kind and patient with him that I thought, ‘What a sweet man.’
“After a few months, Jon gave me a handwritten letter and a CD of him playing piano. The letter said, ‘I wish we could meet in a café in Paris, but maybe a local café will do.’ Jon was separated from his wife at the time, but he was still married. I’ve always had a firm rule about not seeing anyone who is married. It could lead to waiting for someone to divorce and it never happening, or it could lead to ripping apart their family
“I didn’t want to risk either of those things, so I called him and said I couldn’t go out with him because he was married. Plus, I was seeing someone then—the ten-year, on and off person. ‘I could, though, meet you in the break room downstairs,’ I said. It was an awful, dingy little room with a vending machine that gave you really bad coffee and tea.
“We met there, and he bought me a seventy-five cent hot chocolate. I stood in that dinky room with him for about five minutes and drank it. We laughed because of that room we were in. Even though the letter Jon had written was romantic, I didn’t think of him in that way. But I liked the kind way he treated people, and I liked it that he was very attentive to me. He would drop everything to talk to me.”
The Magical Feeling
A couple of years later, Denise got up a music band. “I was going to play acoustic guitar. I had someone on bass and someone on bongos, but we needed more. I asked Jon whether he wanted to be in the band. He said sure.
“We got together and practiced. Jon has a master’s degree in music, and he taught music and gave guitar lessons, so he was on a much higher level than the rest of us. I asked him whether he could help me with some chords on the guitar. On the day his divorce became final, I went to his house for a guitar lesson.
“All of a sudden, as he was helping me with the chords, I started to feel a really strong chemistry with him. It was definitely and unmistakably that magical feeling of being in love.
“We got together again, and he read to me out of The Four Agreements by Don Miguel. I loved hearing his voice. He touched my face, and again I felt something very strong. It was then I recognized I was falling in love, really hard. And it was happening fast. I realized there was nothing wrong with me, after all. I wasn’t broken. I could still fall in love.
“These feelings were growing between us, and we started seeing each other. We took walks together at night, looking at the moon and cuddling and kissing.”
Denise had been living with the ten-year, on and off friend. “He had stayed up at night with my dad when he was dying, and I thought I should try to fall in love with him. He was a fantastic person, and he loved me. We tried living together, even though the right feelings weren’t there on my end. But when I met Jon, I decided to stop lying to my friend, and to myself, and tell him the truth: ‘I do love you, but I’m not in love with you. We need to stop this.’
“My friend moved out, and I helped him through the pain he experienced. He called me almost every night, crying. I felt terrible because I had never had to reject someone and cause them pain. I knew how much it hurt. This friend eventually admitted that I was right to end things, and we are very good friends now, like family.
“Although I hated to hurt this friend, I was glad I had met Jon and could feel so strongly for someone who was not only charming and supersmart, but also good, kind, and generous. I began to believe that the age difference between us didn’t matter. Love is a soul thing beyond the ages of the two who are in love. Both of us are much younger in spirit than our chronological ages.
“Jon became beautiful to me. And I knew he was crazy about me. We talked about getting married within a month of getting together, though it had been two years since we had first met.”
A Home with Love
Denise and Jon looked at houses. “We found one that turned out to be a great house for us. We have been in it since that unexpected whirlwind of falling in love eight years ago.
“I think back to my college years, when I was so sad because I needed the stability and love that I now have with Jon. I have always wanted to be with someone I know isn’t going to leave, sharing fun things together.
“I’m not going to say that everything has been easy. You have your favorite things, you have everything set the way you like it, and the other person has the same. So you have to come together and learn how to blend.
“Not every day has been blissful. We went through a growth phase when it was work to get to know one another and to accommodate to each other. But we never gave up.
“Someone told us to think of being in a relationship as being like a growing child. Our relationship was messy and required a lot of learning in the first few years. I have to forgive Jon sometimes, and he has to forgive me sometimes. We have to decide—do we want to argue about this or do we want to have a nice day?
“In most of my relationships, I have wanted to receive love and attention, to be given stability. Now I’m finding that giving love and stability to someone else makes me happy. I finally have what I was looking for, in a phase of my life when I can appreciate it and see what love means.”
© 2023 by Cliff Williams