Does our understanding of past events and actions clarify to reveal the truth, or do we adjust our memories to make them more positive or at least less troubling?
I’ve always needed a woman in my life. In the mid-1980s, I had been divorced for a couple of years, and I had been involved with a woman who lived in Houston, as I did, for most of that time. The relationship was a difficult one, with many ups and downs—strong emotional and physical attraction juxtaposed with neuroses that couldn’t permit equilibrium.
We broke up, and I was on my own for a time. I was strongly tempted to try to restore the previous relationship, but I resisted, knowing it would be a mistake.
A friend, George, who lived in Dallas invited me to a party at his home, a reunion of a number of people who had worked with and for him over the previous years. I drove up with another couple in their car.
The party included several women from George’s office, several of whom were single. I found myself very interested in one of them, Nancy, a secretary and book-keeper. Nancy was pretty, with a trim figure and blond hair short but full and stylishly cut. She was wearing dark glasses—I don’t know why—of a brownish shade, and they, somehow in conjunction with net stockings and a relatively short skirt, gave her, to my eye, an exotic look.
Conversation was easy. I told her she seemed “svelte,” and she was pleased. We laughed at that word, we exchanged stories about George and jokes at his expense, and shared our experience of working for him. She was funny. She thought I was funny. Without quite stopping the light back and forth, we soon were talking about our lives and current situations.
I was enraptured. Nancy seemed perfect. She was exactly the woman I needed—svelte, attractive, independent, witty, and very interested in me. When my friends needed to leave to return to Houston, they had to almost forcibly drag me to the car.
Of course I was in Dallas the next weekend, and of course she was in Houston after that, and of course we ran up telephone bills. It was wonderful for a while.
Nancy was very happy and was always telling me how happy she was. Early on, she and her best friend had talked about “bozos,” guys who just wanted to have fun and sex, half of them lying about being single. The friend had a “No Bozos”—the red circle with a bar over a clown image—bumper sticker. I was not one of those, thank goodness. How lucky she was.
But I began to see her differently. Her tastes and interests were actually not so aligned with mine as I had believed. There were moments when I felt as if a filter, like one on a camera that warms the scene or adds contrast, had been lifted briefly. One day, as we were leaving her house for a walk, Nancy put on a baseball cap. It was a bit large for her, and she looked like Lucy playing baseball in the Peanuts comic strips—cute, but very very different from the image in my mind. I asked her not to wear it. She insisted; she loved those hats and had a dozen different ones.
My view of her shifted. I concealed it, tried to put it out of my mind, clung to the image I had had, but to no avail. I saw that she was really not the person I had thought she was. Far from being a svelte, educated, sophisticated woman, she was a tomboy. She was a gal who played softball—probably bowled—, went to sports bars and games with pals from the office.
I was torn. I wanted to maintain all my declarations of love, but my interest in her diminished. The understanding that we would be together whenever we could became a burdensome commitment. I wished I had not been so ardent until then. I made up reasons not to go. I didn’t answer the phone. After a few weeks of pretense and denial, I told her I was sorry but I was getting back together with the other woman and would not be seeing her anymore. She was crushed.
I justified the hurt I had inflicted on her by telling myself I had been conned, that she had “done a bait-and-switch” on me. She had pretended to be what she knew I was looking for, but she wasn’t. On that basis, I let the affair go and was not very much troubled by the pain I had dealt her.
But the fact is that that she had not misrepresented herself. In my need, I had projected the woman I wanted onto her, as if she were nothing but a basic framework on which I hung the attributes I wanted.