The best thing my grandmother ever taught me is that it is ok if someone doesn't love you. That it is almost wonderful when someone doesn’t love you.
When I was 18, I started dating a man who was much too old for me. He was smart and funny and adored me because I looked up at him with the big eyes of child. I listened and learned from his lectures on film and art and culture.
Of course, after a while, I took him to meet my grandmother, my favorite person other than him. He seemed to charm her as he did me. But before I left, she took me into her tiny kitchen and I'll never forget the look on her face when she said, "He doesn’t love you." She was so serious, more serious than I had ever seen her. "And it is ok. It will be ok once you figure it out on your own." I was stunned. The air seemed to leave my lungs and I just stood there unable to breath. I remember thinking to myself, "How could someone not love me?" I wanted to say it to her, but I didn't. It sounded so self-centered, so childish, that I couldn't utter the words. I just smiled at her, unable to speak. She hugged me and we left the kitchen.
It would take me two years and two breakups with this man to finally figure out that my grandmother was right. He didn't love me. He never did. If he loved anything other than himself, it was the idea of me, a young girl whom he could shape into a replica of himself.
It is 10 years later and I can still hear her say the words, "He doesn't love you. And it is ok," and I still think it is the best advice ever given to me. The very best gift. I wish I could tell her this, but it is too late. She has Alzheimer's and thinks I am her own mother most times I visit her.
I saw him on the street the other day. He was walking home from the theater with a girl. It looked like a date. I was wearing my polar bear pajama pants and pigtails, walking the dog with my husband. Our eyes met, him on his side of the street, me on mine. I smiled and thought. "Thank you for not loving me."