I am a proud, Manolo Blahnik-aspiring disciple of the fictional yet fabulous Carrie Bradshaw. I fell in love with “Sex and the City” during its final season in 2003 just as I was embarking upon my first year of adulthood. As an aspiring New Yorker, I absolutely adored all of the show’s fashion, sky-high stilettos, girly cocktails, and the endless parade of all things Manhattan and fabulous. Although I loved all of the show’s characters, from Miranda’s blunt yet thoughtful toughness, Charlotte’s prim and properness, and Samantha’s brash courageousness, I identified most acutely with Carrie’s relentlessly optimistic quest for The One.
During Season Five, Carrie is trying desperately to discover how she feels about a potential suitor, a writer named Jack Berger. She laments to her friends that she just doesn’t feel what she calls the “Zsa Zsa Zsu” with him. She just doesn’t feel confident that their relationship will work unless she feels that butterfly, flip floppy feeling of being with someone who you really like and makes you feel special. After several attempted tries and failures, Season Five ends with Carrie and Berger serendipitously eyeing each other across the dance floor during a wedding reception, dancing in each others’ arms, Carrie’s blue eyes glinting that indeed the “Zsa Zsa Zsu” had landed, and then we hear Carrie’s ever-present monologue reminding all the hopeful lovers to never, ever settle for love that doesn’t make your heart feel like butterflies. (Start this video at 6:16 if you want to get straight to the magic.)
That right there is the magical, my-prince-will-show-up-in-a-BMW-with-stock-options love candy that single girls everywhere live for. I hope the writers from that season got an Emmy or a SAG award for their writing because I ate every single moment of that episode up with a spoon. Capturing a man who made me feel the Zsa Zsa Zsu became the gold standard for my dating adventures. And I would have bet my life that that feeling was all that a good relationship needed until the Zsa Zsa Zsu came crashing down at my feet two weeks ago.
I started my third, for real, for real, grown-up relationship just before Labor Day. Our first date was one of those dates that you only see on eHarmony commercials. We had dinner at a great seafood restaurant in Annapolis, we walked along a beautiful bridge just outside the restaurant, and afterwards we got ice cream and talked and talked. This was PURE Zsa Zsa Zsu gold at its finest right there.
Somewhere around Hour 3.5 of our six-hour date, he was feeding me ice cream on a bench and he looked me straight in the eye and told me that he would be heading off to basic training for the Army in six weeks. I smiled politely and asked a few more questions so that he could continue talking. All the while in my head, I’m screaming “God, seriously??? Why are you letting this amazing man feed me cookies and cream ice cream on a perfect moonlit bench if you only brought him in my life to just leave right back out?” The Zsa Zsa Zsu got a little tarnished but I immediately decided, “Well, Leah, you better just soak up these next six weeks and prepare your heart to let go when he leaves.”
I’m really not sure all of what happened in September 2013 and I’m still in awe that I got ANYTHING productive done during that time because I was in Zsa Zsa Zsu heaven. He cooked me the most fantastic Ghanian food, we took long walks, he prayed with me, and during a night when I had a panic attack about my now former job, he calmly walked me through several websites to help me find my next career move.
D-Day arrived on the first Tuesday of October. I was doing my best to be all Iyanla Vanzant and super spiritual about the situation, affirm all the great things and lessons that I had learned from our time together, and to just move forward. That plan lasted until I got home from work and just as I was about to allow myself to have a five-year-old, deep, hiccup cry, my phone rang. It was him.
Me (surprised): Hello?
Him: Hello, my darling. How are you?
Me: I’m good. I’m surprised to hear from you today.
Me: I know you’re beginning your basic training today and I thought this would be it.
Him: I told you that I was not going to abandon you. You just have to promise to keep me close to your heart.
Me (now in a puddle of tears for a different reason): OK.
I mumbled out some other lovey dovey gibberish through my tears and hung up the phone. I was honored and flattered that what we had began was something that he wanted to preserve. Carrie Bradshaw never told me what to do when your Zsa Zsa Zsu goes on hiatus but with a man of this caliber, I was willing to see how it would go.
We kept in contact as best as we could during his basic training and indeed the distance made my heart for him grow fonder. My professional world as I knew it was taking a rather tumultuous turn while he was away and my growing affection for him was keeping my heart and mind buoyed until I could see my way clear.
Then on an afternoon in late November when the hell and high water was becoming higher than I could tolerate, he surprised me with a call inviting me to his basic training graduation in South Carolina. There was only one answer to that question: YES. I found a surprisingly cheap flight to Columbia, SC and the countdown to our reunion began. The Zsa Zsa Zsu was back on!
I arrived in South Carolina three weeks later on an unseasonably warm day in mid-December. I rented the coolest black Mustang at the airport and I drove straight to Fort Jackson. I didn’t even stop to drop my bags off at the hotel. Forty minutes later, I was greeted with a trimmer and more muscular version of this man I was growing to adore (thank you, US Army, for all of your GREAT work!) and we spent the next 48 hours celebrating his graduation and picking up right where we left off.
We decided to drive back to the DC metro area from Fort Jackson two days later. Although unplanned, I was up for the adventure. And besides there is no better way to get to know someone you are newly dating than spending an eight-hour drive together.
The drive was a great opportunity for us to catch up on EVERYTHING (Me: Making the leap of faith to leave my job and embark upon my dream of being a writer and editor in New York. Him: His journey from Ghana to the US and his new future as an Army man.)
Just as night fell and we crossed the Virginia state line, he began a curious set of hypothetical questions about relationships. There is no Zsa Zsa Zsu in hypothetical scenarios, so I drove his points right home and asked specifically about US. I was assuming that this conversation would be THE moment where he would magically morph into an African version of Mr. Big, sweep me off to a Fifth Avenue penthouse, build me an gigantic closet, and fill it up with designer shoes. (For those of you who are not “Sex and The City” fans, that scenario is the love crack they were pushing in the first movie in 2008. )
Umm…that’s not what happened at all.
We had an interesting tussle of words that left me silent for about 10 minutes. He broke my quickly rising barrier when he simply said, “My darling, I have no idea what the future will hold for us. We just need more TIME to see what will happen.”
Time? TIME? Ain’t nobody EVER said nothing about time in any episode of “Sex and The City” or any Julia Roberts romantic comedy I’d ever seen. Folks were supposed to fall madly in love upon first glance across coffeehouses, fields of random grass, and bags of frozen peas at the local supermarket. The concept of time and getting to know someone TOTALLY smashes the whole idea of the Zsa Zsa Zsu.
And that’s when I heard the first proverbial crack in my entire theory.
Time? Time? Oh my God, TIME!
My entire dating life came rushing towards me in that car on I-95 as I realized that I rarely gave any guy I dated the TIME to really get to know me. I was so focused on smashing my life together with ANY man for the sake of proving that I could be in a relationship that I never really took the time to see if indeed said suitor was worthy to truly be part of my life. Had we not had another two hours left to our destination, I would have done to him what I had done to most of the guys I had dated when I couldn’t sense or feel that immediate Zsa Zsa Zsu: cut him off and continue my search for the next man who had to immediately fall in love with me…or else.
We’ve all heard those stories of people who fall in love immediately and spend the next 30, 40, or 50 years of their lives together. But what happens AFTER the Zsa Zsa Zsu? TIME. Time to get to see if you can deal with their anger, hurt, anguish, fears, and insecurities. Time to meet their families and close friends. Time to get to know the real person and NOT the representative. Time to pop out your alter ego LaQuisha and see if he can handle her. (I’m proud to report that he’s now seen LaQuisha twice and he’s handled her well.)
Just as I have taken the time to earn my degrees, build my career, and invest in my closest friendships, TRUE love takes TIME, too. That initial spark of attraction is the most addictive feeling in the world, but for a true relationship to blossom, I now know that I have to get beyond that initial Zsa Zsa Zsu and go for the REAL gold: the precious gift of TIME.
When I finally parked that rental car that evening, I walked away exhausted and worn out, but newly enlightened. I had a man in my life who was willing and interested to take the time to really get to know me. And I now had the gift of not pushing him into a improbable fairy tale but of truly valuing the TIME of getting to know him for who he truly is.
I survived the smashing of my Zsa Zsa Zsu, and the Ghanian Sweetheart and I are still going. I have NO IDEA whether he will be here for a season or a lifetime, and for the first time in my life, I’m OK with that. If he only came into my life to smash my romantic comedy ideals, then I’m already blessed beyond what I deserve.
I still break out my “Sex and the City” DVDs from their precious pink suede case from time to time. But I can now leave Carrie and the crew in their fictitious world of the Zsa Zsa Zsu, and finally, FINALLY liberate myself to look at love as more than just a feeling and REALLY enjoy each second of my love life as an ever-evolving gift of TIME.