Love at first sight is one of those Hollywood tropes that really only exists for the sake of plot expediency. At least, that’s what I’d always believed, contrary to the opinions of and expectation of contemporary dating culture, which seems to believe that unless the sky doesn’t light up with fireworks in the first hour after meeting someone, then it’s time to move on. Lust at first sight, I certainly believed in, and even infatuation at first sight, but not love. No, love had to be based on something more than a look across a room.
As the story so often goes, that’s what I believed until it happened to me. Actually, as silly as it is to say it, it was actually love before first sight. It — and the series of events that followed over the next three years — was the most powerful, strange, and mind-boggling experience of my life. I simply didn’t know we could do that. And, of course, more confusing still, as it turns out this “most powerful experience of my life” ultimately meant nothing.
Let me explain.
It was a night in February a few years ago, and, in the hopes of making some new friends, I decided to brave a local gathering alone. (Sorry for the vagueness here; I’m trying to avoid details to protect the innocent!) I was feeling a little awkward and conspicuously alone as night’s festivities began. A couple of minutes after things got started, I heard the back door open. Suddenly felt like my internal organs were pressed against the back of my ribcage, almost as though the room’s centre of gravity had shifted to the back of the room. The late arrival started to walk up the aisle between the rows of chairs; I knew this because I could feel him approach in my body, closer and closer and closer. It wasn’t a large space so before I knew it, I felt him beside me. I took a sideways glance but all I could see from that angle was the left arm of a black sweater. But even that was enough.
My heart instantly felt like it filled the whole room, exploding through the ceiling and crashing through the floor. I sat there completely transfixed as he continued to the front row. He ended up sitting directly in my line of sight, which was probably helpful, since I wouldn’t have been able to take my eyes off the back of his head anyway.
The little of what I remember of what I was thinking was something to the effect of “Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.” I didn’t have a clue what was happening. Nothing in my thirty-four years had prepared me for anything like this.
It got better/worse.
There was a reason he sat in the front row: He was one of the speakers at the event. My “Shit shit shit” refrain continued as he stood up and turned around and I saw for the first time the face of the man who had had this impossible effect on me. The only word to describe his face in that moment is “joy.” He looked like joy personified. It wasn’t just that he was good looking, though, he certainly is that — not Hollywood good looking, but real person good looking. But to my eyes, he just looked … perfect. Joyous, kind, light. And in that moment, deep in my body I heard a voice — obviously not a Voice from Heaven but a really good impression of one — “This is man you will marry.”
It feels like an afterthought at this point, but I can’t not add that when he addressed the group, his eyes lit up with kindness, his voice was strong but gentle, and his words were not only exactly the words my heart needed to hear that night but words that I wanted to spend the rest of my life embodying.
To say I was smitten is beyond an understatement. Even had it just been an adorable, kind-hearted, inspiring speaker without all the other weirdness, I’d have been smitten. But I didn’t — and still don’t really — have words to describe what I had experienced that night. Was it lust, sure. Was it infatuation, undoubtedly. Was it love? That’s a harder question. As much as I want to say no, that’s not possible, I knew without a doubt that night that there was little I wouldn’t do if it were in my power to see him happy, fulfilled, and safe, whether we were together or not. It wasn’t the selfish, consuming “I want,” but a self-denying need for him to be healthy, happy, and whole. And that’s not not love. Whatever it was went far beyond a crush.
Well, to cut to the chase, it turned out my man in the black sweater, whom I’ll call “Wesley,” was straight and married. Oops. And so began a long process of trying to make sense of everything that happened. It wasn’t easy and I’d be lying if I claimed I’ve successfully metabolized it even now so many years later.
Getting over that night’s events alone would be hard enough, but the strangeness didn’t end there. No, my encounters with this man were marked by similar “signs and wonders” for four years. I’ll spare you the narrative, but here’s the highlight reel:
- About a month later, I was walking home from work and my eyes fixated on someone standing on a streetcorner a couple blocks away. I couldn’t look away the entire time I walked toward the corner. It turned out to be Wesley.
- A few months after that, I was at a party. There was a knock at the door and I knew it was Wesley — this despite the fact that I had to reason to believe he would be attending.
- On a similar theme, I was once at a public washroom and when I tried the handle and it was locked, I somehow knew Wesley was on the other side.
- About a year after the first encounter, I was at an event where Wesley suddenly got up and performed an obscure, decade-old song that I had often thought about when thinking about him and that first night.
- Three years after the first night, I was on vacation at my mom’s and was feeling particularly down about my romantic life. Uncharacteristically, I prayed for a sign from God. Within five minutes — and I’m not exaggerating:
- Wesley sent me a Facebook friend request;
- My stepfather called to my mom, “Martie, Wesley’s here!”; and
- I turned the page in the novel I was reading and a new character — who turned out to be the male romantic lead — was introduced, named, you guessed it, Wesley.
There’s a line from the title song from the musical Rent that asks, “How do you leave the past behind when it keeps finding ways to get to your heart?” My situation with Wesley those four years or so fit that question well. It wasn’t just one weird encounter, but a series of weird encounters that reinforced the first one, that played out over years. It wasn’t that I was wallowing in the experience, because I was trying to move past it. It wasn’t that I was some sixteen-year-old who was feeling big feelings for the first time. It wasn’t that I needed a ‘lesson’ about the dangers of over-the-top Hollywood-style romanticism because I hadn’t believed in it in the first place. So, what the actual fuck?
How I processed and dealt with these experiences, and how I’m still in some ways processing their aftermath, is its own story, which will have to wait for another day.
For today I just wanted to share the story, because it’s not one I’ve told a lot of people, but it’s a big one for me. One of the biggest.