If you had to tally it all –time, money, effort, heartache- how much have you spent just to possess it?

Sally and Tom were the type of couple that, in my estimation, would surely beat the odds and have a reasonably happy future together. They were in their early fifties when they met and presumably long past the impulsiveness of youth. He was a retired union pipe-fitter who had just opened the business of his dreams, a café; she was a speech therapist dividing her time between several local elementary schools.  Both divorced and familiar with sting of being deceived by others, they were as brutally honest as possible with each other.  This transparency worked well for them, as they both had considerable baggage from the past.  Tom was a recovering addict, a 12-Stepper, determined to start his life anew.  Sally struggled with co-dependency all her life, but after jettisoning a long-absent husband and spending countless hours in therapy, she too was ready for a brand new life.

Initally, they were only friends and spent most of their time hanging out with mutual acquaintances.  Before long, they discovered they had more than intellectual interests in common and became lovers, much to Sally’s delight.  It was, for her, the end of a years-long sexual dry spell and she welcomed her newly found womanliness with enthusiasm.  Tom, being handsome, fit and middle-aged, never experienced such a famine and had his pick of many eager ladies.  However, he was honest and respectful of Sally.  The numbers of interested women gradually dwindled to only one, and within a few short months, he moved in with her and they began a quiet domestic life.  Content at last, the years passed in serenity…

…until Sally sent me a blunt message on Facebook a couple of weeks ago saying that after four years of apparent contentment, she had ended the relationship.  We met over breakfast last Sunday.

“He finally moved the rest of his stuff out of the garage,” she said calmly, taking a bite of omelette.  “… and I’m only forty grand worse off.”

The restaurant was crowded and noisy.  “Forty what?”  I asked.

“Thousand dollars,” she shouted.  “With all the back rent, groceries, utilities, dinners out, plus all the money I gave him to keep his business afloat, I figured he owes me about forty thousand dollars.”

I nearly choked on my egg-whites.  “You can’t be serious, Sal.”

She was.  She had bankrolled him, personally and professionally, for years and was uncertain when, if ever, he would repay her.

“He gave me a check for fifty dollars last week,” she said with a sigh, “only after I hounded him and threatened to get an attorney.  At this rate, I’ll be dead before it’s all repaid.”

For a woman out 40k and her man, she was remarkably dry-eyed.  Over the next hour, I learned that Tom’s money management skills were almost as bad as his weakness for women.  He had never turned a profit from his business and relied upon Sally’s monthly handouts to pay his employees and supplies.  She, being a generous soul, gave freely and didn’t even ask him to pitch him for their home expenses.  He, being a consuming soul, took freely and never volunteered to split expenses.  Neither would he follow Sally’s business savvy and did nothing but watch his business founder and eventually close.

It was only after months of idleness and unemployment did he finally return to pipefitting.  His union paid him well, but he never offered Sally a penny.  And so it would have continued indefinitely had not Sally wearied of the burden and demanded that Tom pitch in for their mutual expenses.  He decided to move out instead.

“He said his mother needed him, but I suspect he needs her more,” she said with a wink.   “I found some cancelled checks in the trash piles he left; his mother has been giving him money, too.”

Her remark was cavalier, but I’ve known Sally for years.  She has a big heart and it’s easily bruised.  “Your attitude is amazing.  You seem so calm.”

“I wasn’t always like this,” she admitted.  “I spend a lot of time drinking wine at night.  But I heard a song on the radio when I was driving over this morning and it really made me smile.  Remember that Beatles’ song, Can’t Buy Me Love?”

Of course I did.

“I think I was trying to buy Tom’s love and look what it got me.”

I reflected upon her words during my long ride home.  Did Sally think so little of herself that she had to purchase companionship, or was it symptomatic of a deeper ill, maybe a collective fear?  Who among us hasn’t gone above and beyond for someone who wasn’t worthy?   We’re hurt, we’re ashamed, but the fault does not lay with our exploiter.  Until we truly believe we merit the very best, we will be confounded by the less-than.


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