We were sitting at an outdoor café in a piazza built by Andrea Palladio in the quaint town of Vicenza, Italy when my husband asked me what I was thinking about. I was lost in the past for a while, thinking of someone.
His name is Romano. He was an Italian civil engineer, the man whom I thought I would be married to instead of the lovely man in front of me. Romano and I went out on and off for five years. I thought he was my soul mate because we came from the same Catholic background and had a lot of things in common. He was thirty-eight years old and I was seventeen years old. I graduated from high school when I was barely sixteen. I was a college drop out working at a travel agency when I met him. I know our relationship stirred a lot of rumors but when I was with him chronology did not matter. He reassured me that he did not care what others thought and that our age difference did not matter because he really liked being with me. He respected my wishes and never pressed me to do anything I did not want to do. He asked me to marry him several times during the five years we were going out but I repeatedly told him that I was not ready. We dated and hanged out whenever we have the time to. He was working at an airport construction project long hours and was playing in his company’s soccer team most nights and weekends. I worked ten hours seven days a week to keep afloat and partied like a teenager should. He asked me to live with him so I would not have to worry about paying rent but I refused his generosity every time he broached the subject. Maybe I was not desperate enough to save a few hundreds in rent money or maybe I knew even then that we would not be together forever.
My family did not have any objection about our relationship. They even tried their hardest to push me into marrying him. “What else could you ask for?” they said. “He is educated, has a stable job, has a home, and a car…” they would add. “I don’t know,” I would answer truthfully. Maybe I knew that my husband would come along and sweep me off my feet when I was twenty-two.
All our mutual friends knew that we were going out. Some of them were not very keen on the May-December angle of the relationship. They all know that after I broke up with my long term boyfriend in high school, I swore that I will never go out with a guy my age because of all the dramas these kind of relationships entailed. I was not equipped to deal with all the emotional complexity of young love. I chose to date men a few years older than I was because they seem to have a very busy schedule and could not be bothered with all the details of my life. I like having a life of my own and not feeling that I have to answer to anybody. Maybe I knew that I would someday meet a man who will let me live the life I always wanted but did not have a clue of what it was at the time.
I thought I loved Romano. I was happy when he called every night to wish me goodnight. I cancelled appointments with my friends to see him play soccer.I grinned from ear to ear when he sent flowers to my workplace or when he brought boxed meals at my office when I was working late. I was always eager to see a movie, go to dinner or watch a play with him. I even relished the time we hanged out at his apartment drinking his collection of Italian wines. I loved that he could have had his way with me several times but did not take the opportunity. “I want it to be a mutual decision. I will not coerce you into doing something you might regret later,” he said. And I thought, “Please do!” but I never gathered the courage to initiate physical intimacy with him or tell him what I was thinking. Maybe he knew that I would not be his and I somehow I knew that we were not meant for each other.
I regret the fact that I seemed to have strung Romano along for five years. I did not intend to. It just happened that way. I thought I loved him until I met my husband. I remember feeling guilty when I realized that I am in love with another man. I met him at a restaurant and told him about it. I saw the pain in his eyes. Then he asked, “Are you sure?” I just nodded my head and stared at the table because I cannot bear to look him in the eye again. I had to leave because I felt so horrible. He still called every night to say goodnight (he left messages since I did not want to take his calls) and sent me flowers until I left to join my husband in his hometown. I did not give him my new address or phone number. I know he could have kept in contact with me if he wanted to but I am glad he did not. Maybe he knew that we will be both better off without further contact and that we were not meant to be.
Maybe I made up all the MAYBEs in this story so I will not feel so bad when I remember Romano. The only thing I am sure about is that I married the right person. I do not regret loving my husband twenty something years ago. I still love him and will be loving him for a long time to come.