A long time ago, I was standing in one of those lines.
You know the ones. Glaciers move faster. Might as well pitch a tent and break out the freeze-dried food, because you’re in it for the long haul.
I’d been staring at the head of the person in front of me for so long that every I was on a first name basis with every strand of her hair.
I was just wondering whether it was too late to switch lanes when I heard something. A song playing over the loudspeakers.
I had no idea who was singing it. I don’t usually listen to country music. But the lyrics caught my ear.
It was a song about a guy who is out with his girlfriend when they see another woman. The girlfriend can tell from the look in his eyes that the woman they just saw was his ex. Fear strikes her. Maybe her boyfriend still has feelings for this woman. Maybe their relationship isn’t as secure as she thought.
He sees that she’s reacting. He moves immediately to reassure her. And the way he does it is just perfect.
“Yes, there was a time / I thought she had it all / She meant the world to me / Back when the world was small.”
I thought: Yes! That’s exactly right.
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who worries that you can’t love her (or him) with your entire heart because you’ve given that heart away before.
That worry doesn’t come out of nowhere. Have you ever been with someone who talked about an ex-girlfriend with an unmistakable glow in his eyes? He tells you he’s over her, but you know the truth.
These days, no matter who you date, he’s going to have a relationship history. He’s going to have one first love he never got over, or an ex who keeps popping up in his life like a bad rash.
What do you do about it?
Do you close your eyes and pretend his past doesn’t exist?
Or do you let him know that it worries you? That you feel vulnerable when he talks about his exes or hangs out with them?
That’s sure to convince him you’re not insecure in the slightest. Even better, cyberstalk him and interrogate him about every attractive girl on his list of friends.
Obviously, I’m joking. But what DO you do?
You change the way you think.
And his past stops worrying you, no matter how much it gets in your face.
As much as it hurts, you need to see how he relates to his exes. You don’t want to ignore his past. The respect he shows his exes lets you know whether he can hold a woman’s heart with tenderness.
But you also need to know he’s put his past behind him. He’s not holding back with you because of residual feelings from some other woman.
Try something for me. Imagine a man and a woman. His world is a circle, about an inch across. Her world is a circle, about an inch across. Merge those two worlds together, and they fit perfectly. He is her entire world. She is his entire world.
Now, imagine that his world expands. (Why? Maybe because he grew as a person, or changed careers, or just got a bit older.) His circle gets larger; it’s now two inches across. Part of it sticks out from the world he shares with his girlfriend. She’s no longer his entire world. She’s only part of it.
If they both continue to grow and expand in different directions, their common ground becomes smaller and smaller, like a Venn diagram.
At some point, they may decide to break up, because what they have in common is no longer enough to sustain a relationship.
Can you see where I’m headed here?
Then he meets you. And your world is a perfect fit for his world. You contain each other perfectly.
You’re walking along the street one day when you see a woman. And you know, from the instant they exchange surprised glances of recognition, that they were once romantically involved.
Do you feel threatened?
Or do you remember that he loved her back when his world was small?
Sure, they still have something in common. But it’s miniscule compared to the entire world he shares with you.
(Sometimes, a man and a woman will break up for other reasons than outgrowing one another. When they meet again, their worlds still fit perfectly. That’s when you need to keep your eyes open.)
That long-ago day changed my outlook. These days, I don’t get mad when a long line makes me wait. I listen. You never know when you might hear a universal truth caught in song.
 Thanks to Google, I figured it out: Collin Raye singing “That Was a River,” written by Susan Longacre and Rick Gile.