I Believe in Second Chances
(This I Believe, 2014)
How often do people get a second chance? From the time you’re small, you’re always being told “there are no second chances,” and “you only live once,” but I’ll tell you—I believe in second chances.
I met my husband Jim back in the late 1980s. Of course, back then I had no idea he’d ever become my husband—I was dating another guy, and quite seriously. Jim was his friend, and we met, but I wasn’t looking for a new boyfriend. Howard, the guy I was dating, was Orthodox, and I really thought that a life of traditional Judaism was in my future. (Oy, could you imagine?!?)
Eventually, Howard and I broke up—which was probably a good thing, since I know now that Orthodox Judaism would have quickly driven me insane—though we remained friends. Howard moved back to his native Ohio, and I resumed my thoroughly secular life. Shortly after that, Jim got in touch with me and asked me out. Well, it was a bit of a quandary. I thought he was a nice guy, but he was Catholic, and I was still laboring under the delusion that I just could not date a man who wasn’t Jewish. But I agreed to a date, and we had a very nice dinner and discovered that we really did enjoy each other’s company. And so we continued to see each other—but always, there was this nagging voice that kept telling me that I was being mean to him, because I just was not going to get serious about a man who wasn’t Jewish, right? But we were so compatible, and had so much fun whenever we got together that, at least in the short term, I figured it didn’t matter. I liked him so much—he was interesting, funny, carried on a good conversation, and was one of the smartest people I’d ever met. What was not to like?
Jim and I established a lot of “history” while we were dating at that time. He helped my dad install a ceiling fan in my apartment and shopped with me for furniture. We took day trips up the Hudson Valley. We had a lot of fun—but as things got more serious, the elephant in the room got larger and larger—we liked being together, but the Catholic-Jewish thing mattered, didn’t it? And so we eventually decided to stop dating, though we remained friendly and even saw each other occasionally at other social gatherings, but those occasions got fewer and farther between, and we slowly lost touch.
After I broke it off with Jim, I tried everything to meet the proverbial “nice Jewish boy.” These were the days before the internet, so there were no places like JDate or Match.com to go to. I tried Jewish singles dances (oy!). I tried the classifieds (double oy!). Unfortunately, these guys turned out to be what I called “Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Dweeboids from Mars”—and most of them were about as deep as a puddle in the desert. They couldn’t hold an intelligent conversation, let alone tell a joke. I’d call my folks after each date and complain about the idiots I was meeting, and my dad would say, “Well, it’s your fault. You broke up with Jim Ryan.” He said that a lot, actually. Every time he came to visit me and looked at that damned ceiling fan, he’d say, “Gee, I wonder whatever happened to Jim Ryan. He was a nice guy. Don’t you think so?” Yeah, I thought so—thanks for rubbing it in, Dad. I knew I’d let a good thing go, but it didn’t pay to dwell on that because it was over and done.
I was really getting to be okay with being single. Better to be uncoupled than to put up with guys who had the actual chutzpah to say, “Well, you’re nice, but I got 25 answers to my ad and you’re only the second person I’ve met, so I have to meet the other 23 in case one of them is better than you.” Yes, someone really said that to me. And then over the Presidents’ Day weekend in 1995, Howard called from Ohio to say hello. I had just moved to Yonkers a couple of weeks before, and in the course of the conversation, he said, “You know, Jim Ryan lives in Yonkers. I bet he wouldn’t mind hearing from you,” and gave me Jim’s phone number.
I was hesitant to call. We hadn’t spoken in a long time—what if he had a girlfriend? What if he was engaged or married? But I took a chance and a deep breath…and I called and said, “Jim, this is a blast from your past….” He didn’t hang up on me, and he didn’t tell me he was married or had a girlfriend, so I took that as a positive sign…and we talked, and it turned out he lived about five minutes away from me, so I invited him over for coffee—and he pretty much never left.
Yep, I got my second chance—and it was funny, but when I opened that door to let him in for that coffee date, I was really glad to see him. I remembered all the fun we’d had when we dated before, and all the things we had in common and the jokes we’d shared. And suddenly it didn’t seem to matter that he was Catholic and I was Jewish—all I really cared about was that this was that same funny, smart, interesting man that I’d been stupid enough to allow to get away before, and I was not about to let that happen again.
When I told my family that I was seeing Jim Ryan again, there was a hugely pregnant pause, and then both my brother and my dad said, “Well, for God’s sake, Susan, don’t screw it up this time!” I didn’t—and neither did Jim. He proposed that summer, and we were married in October of 1996. Howard, who had dropped Orthodoxy by that time, came to our wedding. In retrospect, it was probably better that Jim and I didn’t get that serious or get married the first time we were dating—we both had a lot to learn about the things we really wanted out of life, and we both agree that we would not have been ready then. And besides, by getting back together and taking our second chance, we ended up with James. We’ve been happily married for 18 years, all because of that second chance we didn’t believe we’d get but did—and we wouldn’t change a single thing.