After picking up her coffee, Meara looked around the crowded café for a seat. Every seat seemed to be filled. After looking further, she noticed a table in the corner where a man about her age sat typing on his laptop, and the seat next to him was vacant. Approaching him, she said, "There are no other available seats; would you mind if I join you?"
"No, you're welcome to join me," responded Sam. "Just let me finish recording my thought, here, and I'll put this away."
"Don't stop on account of me. I just want to rest my feet."
"I like my characters, but I can get back to them at any time. Real people deserve attention when they are present." After typing for another minute, Sam closed his laptop.
"Are you an author," asked Meara.
"I respect authors too much to put that label on myself. I just enjoy writing short stories in my spare time."
"I've always loved escaping into books. They've helped me learn about myself, others and the world around me. I can experience anything I choose, right from the privacy of my own bedroom."
"I guess I do that in reverse," said Sam. "Rather than just read about other people's thoughts and feelings, I enjoy writing down my thoughts and feelings. We can still have strong thoughts and feelings, even if our opportunities to experience them are limited. Sometimes we can fill voids in our lives by living vicariously through our own thoughts and feelings."
"What do you write about?" asked Meara.
"Love," said Sam.
"So you write romance stories?"
"My writing wouldn't fit the style of romance novels. I label my genre as romantica, what I see as a good blend of romance and erotica, but my primary focus is showing how love can exist beyond the confines that limit us."
"Are you saying love is easy to be found? I know I've never found true love, so if it's out there, what's blocking my vision?"
"Love cannot be found. Though we can find compatible potential partners, love is something we choose to create, develop and nurture. Love is a process that takes action. We can't just sit back and expect it to be handed to us."
"But don't you need to find the right person?"
"Let's say you adopt a puppy. Can you tell me you only have the capability to love that particular puppy and could never have loved the puppy in the next cage? You love that puppy because that puppy gives you unconditional love. It is attentive, playful and eager to give you all the kisses you could ever desire, without demanding anything in return."
"Are you saying we could experience love with anyone, just like loving any puppy?"
"Not quite. You are more likely to find puppies eager to give unconditional love than people. People tend to be more self-centered, looking at what they can gain rather than what they can give, but I believe love can grow between any two caring people who feel some degree of mutual attraction, and where red flags of incompatibility aren't present."
"So, I've spent 60 years unwilling to settle, and you're telling me love is all around us, just waiting for us to make it happen?"
"Not quite that simple, but not as overwhelming as people assume. We all want to love and be loved. Primarily, it's about feeling safe enough to let nature take its course. Just as we can love the puppy that happens to be at the shelter, we can love the person who just happens to be sitting next to us."
"OK," Meara said hesitantly. "Maybe it might help if I read your stories and learn about your definition of love. Would you be willing to let me read them?"
"I have no problem sharing them, though let me warn you; many people read a short segment, get turned off by an unconventional pairing and then never take the time to understand the underlying trend flowing through all the stories. Here's a link to my stories, but realize reading them will just give you a deeper understanding of me. They aren't meant to push my agenda onto anyone else."
"Thank you. I look forward to reading them. By the way, my name is Meara. I've enjoyed our conversation, but I have a business meeting to attend so have to leave now."
"I'm Sam. It's a pleasure to meet you, Meara. I usually stop by here every Thursday after work. People watching triggers my creative energy. Maybe I'll see your smile again. I hope your meeting goes smoothly for you."
"Thanks, Sam. I will read your stories. Enjoy your week."
One week later
"Well, if it isn't smiling Meara. My stories didn't chase you away. Have a seat and join me."
"Thank you, Sam. I must admit I was caught off guard when I started reading your stories, thinking you might be drawn to relationships I couldn't see myself in, but the more I read, the more I realized you weren't limiting yourself to one type of pairings. I began to view the pairings, along with the consistency of the concept of love, as a statement that love is only limited by the limitations we place on it. Is it truly that simple to love?"
"Yes, Meara, that's what I believe. I believe our self-imposed limitations, resulting from insecurities and self-doubts, are most likely to be what prevents a loving relationship. We obviously can't make people open to something they don't find attractive, but there is a lot of flexibility in what we find attractive. Some of our requirements may be rigid, but the majority of our preferences would not make or break a relationship. We view the overall package, not the details. As high school students, we assumed everyone would focus on the pimple on our nose, while people generally saw us, not the pimple. When the total package outshines the details, those details become irrelevant. Did you love your puppy any less when his spots weren't symmetrical?"
"Sam, the more I read your stories, and the more I hear the words you share, the more I can relate to your concept of love. Deep down, I realize your concept is what I've always dreamt of experiencing. Unfortunately, after too many disappointing experiences, I'm scared of allowing myself to be vulnerable and hurt again."
"Meara, you've learned from those experiences. Trust your knowledge and judgment. At this point in your life, you know what works and doesn't for you. Just be honest with that, and you'll like the results."
"It's scary, but you are right. I know better today what works or doesn't for me than I did when I was younger. If I don't trust myself, who can I trust? After all, what have I truly got to lose? Sam, I need to share some things about me. I always felt my breasts were too small and inadequate, but my 34Bs are larger than the A-cups you seem to write about. People have always told me I'm too skinny and I need more meat on my bones. You like subtleties, yet this is my natural hair, carrot-topped ringlets and all, making it impossible to hide in a crowd. I'm pretty plain and not what most guys are looking for. At 5'9" and 60-years-old, I'm much taller and older than any of your story characters ... Sam, you can stop me anytime you wish."
"Do I have to?"
"You want me to continue listing my flaws?"
"Those weren't my words."
Meara took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "OK, Sam, help me understand."
Sam said, "Meara, my name is Sam..." and leaned over to whisper the rest of his name in her ear.
"What is your reason to reveal that?"
"The same reason you had to reveal your list. We both know your list was not a list of flaws, and I'm pretty sure you felt stronger and more assured as the list went on. We both did the same thing. We acknowledged the value we see in front of us. By giving each other ammunition that could be used to hurt us, we say, 'I trust you to not use this against me.' We both want to be accepted and appreciated as we are. I revealed myself in the stories I wrote, so you equalized the vulnerability by sharing your list. Vulnerability is what gives depth to a relationship. We reveal everything, including what can be used to hurt us, needing to know the truth won't be an obstacle to what we seek. You said, 'this is who I am. Please accept me and see value in my true self. I promise to hide nothing from you, for this is where I want to belong.' I responded with my full identity, the final key allowing you the ability to destroy my career and livelihood. Thank you, Meara. I'd love to join you on a very special new journey."
Meara tentatively reached out and placed her hand in his. He covered her hand with his other hand, enveloping it with acceptance and warmth. Their faces slowly gravitated toward each other, till their lips met.
Sam and Meara's relationship built slowly, yet steadily. They loved their conversations about love and relationships and enjoyed their closeness. Sam picked up on her caution and didn't apply any pressure. They both were totally satisfied with their hugs, kisses and tender touches. Meara wanted to discuss each of his stories, so she was sure she didn't miss any important aspect. She was surprised how much she was learning about herself as they discussed the stories. Other than her past partners being incompatible, she learned how rushing into those relationships made the experiences more traumatic to her. Something about Sam was different, and she had no desire to gamble on losing him.
"Sam, I know we both enjoy being with each other, yet I realize there are more stages to a relationship. I admit I want to go further, yet something holds me back. I know you say consequences are more a result of our actions than the actions of others, so I want to know what I can do to let go of my barriers."
.... There is more of this story ...