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Take New Paths Toward Fulfillment

Sat., May 17, 1997, midnight

If you walk around with a stone in your shoe, eventually it starts to feel normal. If you drink lousy coffee every morning, you think that’s what coffee is supposed to taste like. And if you get shot down every time you get your hopes up, you start to wait for the bullet.

Jackie was 9 years old when her parents divorced. It was the 1960s and the only ones getting divorced were movie stars. She was the only one of her friends whose parents weren’t together. The only one whose mom and dad came separately to parents’ night. She remembers how sad she would be every Christmas when she would have to stop playing with her new toys at her mom’s house and head over to her father’s.

Looking back, Jackie says that was the first major disappointment in her life, but far from the last. It seemed to set a pattern. When she was 11, her best friend dropped her for someone else. When she was 15, she tried out for the cheerleading squad and didn’t make it. When she was 22, she was rejected at every medical school she applied to. Nothing ever turned out right. Life was one disappointment after another. Get used to it.

After the med school fiasco, Jackie went to graduate school to study biology. She worked her way up to head of a major laboratory at a drug company. And then when she was 29, she met Mitchell. He was 32, a doctor. They met at a conference and began a whirlwind long-distance relationship. Every second weekend Jackie flew to New York and every fourth weekend Mitchell flew to Chicago.

“Mitchell was everything I could want in a man,” says Jackie. “Everything any woman could want. He was smart, funny, compassionate, insightful and attractive.”

Mitchell was also romantic. He’d meet her at the airport with balloons that said, “I love you.” He bought her a bracelet with her birthstone just four months after they met. He faxed her at work every day and burned up her e-mail account with messages.

“After about a year, it all became a little too much for me,” says Jackie. “I felt a little claustrophobic. I felt like I was wearing a leash tethered to somebody 1,000 miles away. Mitch and I had an appointed phone time every night and I felt like I had to be home for that call or I’d risk angering him.”

Jackie started to pull away. Her tone cooled on the phone. She answered e-mails a day after they arrived instead of instantly. She canceled a few weekends and started criticizing a little too often. It took Mitchell about a year to grow tired of Jackie growing tired of him.

But he did and he broke up with her. And after he did, Jackie realized, through therapy, how an old theme of disappointment was ruling and ruining her life.

“Looking back, I was probably so afraid of being disappointed myself - would this great guy leave me, let me down, etc. - that I fended off what I probably viewed as inevitable disappointment by breaking off the relationship before he could. I guess you could say I shot myself in the foot to protect myself from somebody else shooting me there.”

Jackie saw Mitchell this year at the same conference where they met years earlier. He looked great. He was friendly but cool. Jackie felt disappointed. What else is new?

“The feeling of being disappointed and not getting what I wanted felt so familiar. It fit, like an old glove.”

But a nasty old glove, not a nice one. One that Jackie is trying hard to lose.

“My goal in my personal life now is to travel down a different road, so that I don’t seek out disappointment and make it happen just to relive my past.”


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