“My life is over. I’ll never feel the way I felt when I was with…” Fill in the blank. A relationship with a man or a woman who fulfilled you for a time — briefly or extended, has come to it’s end. To heal a marriage from the destruction of secrets and betrayal, doors must be closed — for good.

These endings happen, more often, it seems than is publicly acknowledged.

I once attended a play at a community theatre in a small town that is the county seat of one of the most conservative sections of North Carolina. The title of the play has vacated my memory, but I well recall the two people who occupied the stage — a man sitting at a small desk on one side and a woman at her own desk on the other. They had met for one glorious date when they were young adults. But they never met again, for whatever reason — life. And yet, they maintained a correspondence through love letters for the rest of their lives into old age. That one date was the experience of their young lifetimes, an experience never forgotten, unrepeatable, and transformative. Despite marriages to others, they kept their secrets of fulfillment to themselves. The audience stood in rapturous applause at the curtain call, and I wondered: “What deep, enduring chord did this love story touch in such a conservative audience?”

Of course, the answer is obvious. Unrequited love is more the norm than the exception. The one who got away, the woman or man about whom we wonder, “What if?”

A photo of the one who escaped from me sat in the bottom of a metal file box I used to keep, along with other mementos, ribbons, and rewards from my past. Her 7th grade school picture displaying her pretty face and blonde hair and blue eyes, and a smile that filled a universe. Her image, slightly tattered through the years, traveled with me from place to place each time I moved, well into my 40’s. Then one day, I decided that I was being silly and immature — it was time to say goodbye. So, into the trash can she went.

But she never left me.

A phone call from time to time, whenever I visited the city where she lived, would reawaken the longing and the wondering. Once, we even met for a glorious afternoon walk at a nearby park, deciding afterwards that it might be best to forego such meetings that could result in the disruption of our lives and relationships. But still, once or twice a year, she visits me in my dreams, and I can’t wait to talk to my therapist. “WTF? Why can’t I get her out of my head?”

It’s not me, I’ve learned, that won’t forget. It’s my heart. It’s my soul.

At the end of the movie, “Shakespeare in Love,” there is scene where a broken-hearted Shakespeare says to his beloved Rosalind that his life is now over. Sadly, Rosalind is betrothed to royalty and will leave England the next morning for a new life in colonial America. That Shakespeare is bereft is an understatement — their mutual loss is deep and palpable. Yet Rosalind is prophetic. She tells Shakespeare that his life is far from over, delivering to him the plot for his next play and the next chapter of his incredibly creative and artistically prolific life — a legacy and labor of love for the world and for the ages. A woman who he would have preferred to marry, became his Muse.

When my lost love visits me in my dreams, I feel alive and excited. My heart is full to overflowing and I don’t want the dream to end. But like Rosalind, my lost love sends me back to the daytime universe to search for that aliveness and exuberance in my relationships, my work, my creative outlets, and in the world. Sometimes, successfully….Sometimes, not so much. Not necessarily a destination, but a journey worth pursuing.