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I didn't see it coming, though there were the usual signs. Unreturned e-mails, cancelled plans, vague excuses as to why she wasn't available. A sudden retreat after such a promising beginning.
It started like so many relationships with a new partner: The excitement of realizing someone is interested in you. Shared recognition, knowing glances. The joy of doing new things together. Activities and successes are more special because you share them. And in time, there would be the acknowledgment from others that this was an established partnership.
I met Helen in an Intermediate Bridge class. She was more experienced than I was, but we were both eager to learn. As the weeks went on, we would wait for each other at the end of class and walk out together, discussing the evening's lesson and the fun of playing bridge. Gradually, we would make sure we sat at the same table during class.
Things progressed to the point of playing together outside of class. We agreed to go as partners to an introductory duplicate game on another night during the week. I was excited, but nervous, too. Would I be good enough? What would it be like to play together on our own?
I arrived early, and waited anxiously for Helen. She came a few minutes late. I was thrilled and relieved to see her. The evening was a great success, and we placed in the top half, even though it was our first time.
Our relationship deepened. We attended class weekly, and continued at the duplicate game as well. As the weeks went on, we gradually improved, strengthening our partnership and becoming more attuned to each other's communication and style.
Finally, we came in first one night, a shared accomplishment that testified to a strong and successful relationship. We had lunch together one day; a long, confessional meal where many confidences were shared and much coffee was drunk. For me, it really felt as though we were headed toward something lasting.
But as so often happens, things began to falter when we tried to take the relationship to the next level.
We agreed to go to a more competitive duplicate game, feeling we were ready for the challenge. The evening started with great anticipation and excitement, but we quickly realized we weren't up to it. We came in second to last, a crushing blow.
I tried to downplay the defeat, saying that it happened to everyone, that next time would be better. I knew Helen was very disappointed in my performance. But I assumed that, as partners do, we would work on it.
Bridge-playing took a break over the holidays. Afterward, brimming with anticipation, I e-mailed Helen to resume playing. At first she said yes, and we made plans to meet at a game.
That day, however, she sent me an e-mail at work saying it was "too cold" for her to go out, but she would see me in class next week. I proposed playing on a different night, but my inbox fell silent, with no response. Still, I didn't see what was coming next.
When classes started up, Helen was nowhere to be found. Finally, after about a half hour, she arrived. She sat with me, but made no mention about playing in other games. When class ended, I asked her if she wanted to play later in the week. She started to talk about the cold again, not wanting to go out at night, being very tired.
After a few more stammered excuses, she confessed to having met someone else, a woman who could play during the day. It turned out they had been playing together for some weeks, and she was very committed to this new partner.
Her words flooded over me as I struggled to comprehend what she was telling me.
"My new partner and I really understand each other," she said. "We have so much in common. We have great chemistry. It just feels like it was meant to be."
My mind was reeling, I was having trouble focusing and I felt emotionally overwhelmed and upset. Then I suddenly realized … Helen was breaking up with me!
As if to dispel any lingering doubt about that, she ended the discussion with: "But we can still be friends and have lunch sometimes." The only thing she hadn't said was "It's not you, it's me."
I could not believe what had happened, and was at a loss to understand how things had gone downhill so quickly. I couldn't sleep for several nights, and had trouble concentrating at work. I despaired of ever finding another bridge partner, and worried I would end up alone at the end of the lessons. Going solo just isn't an option in bridge.
After several days of moping around, at my husband's urging, I called an old friend I knew who played, and asked her to go to a duplicate game with me.
We had a lovely evening, though I made it clear I was on the rebound and not yet ready to commit to a new partnership. I am still too broken up for that.
Joanne Shenfeld lives in Toronto.