“It would have happened anyway,” she said. It would have been something else, another incident, no matter how small, that exposed the bigger commonalities we lacked.
And there it was, both the truth and the puzzle. Dating in midlife, when we can be so frustratingly fixed in who we are and how we act, is difficult enough already. We’ve all had our hearts broken, often many times, and we’re afraid to get too deep into a relationship until we feel certain about it. So we seize on incompatibilities, no matter how small, until the growing weight of them tips the whole thing into failure.
People say you’re not supposed to sweat the small stuff — except when the small stuff represents big stuff. But it’s hard to know for sure when small becomes big until you get dumped.
Years earlier, I worked hard to understand why my divorce happened. I kept thinking I was right about everything we fought about, then eventually realized, oh, maybe not. Surely, I had learned a little humility in the years since. But relationships kept ending, and I kept analyzing, and all the analyzing didn’t end the endings.
Why so many flameouts? Were there self-defeating habits I had failed to detect through therapy? Was I making bad choices? Were they making bad choices?
She and I walked for an hour. By the time we finished, I still didn’t understand how Cheesegate had come to be so consequential, but I knew enough. You can do the work, unpack the demons, seek others who have done the same, and still never convincingly explain why a relationship ends. What you need to do, however, is explain it to yourself in a way you can live with and learn from.