(The Root) — You can read this essay in its entirety — plus the thoughts of 40 other prominent African Americans from the worlds of the arts, medicine, religion and academia — in the anthology Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community, available online and wherever books are sold. Find more about the book at wheredidrlovego.com, on Facebook and on Twitter.
I wish I could say it was love at first sight, but the only l-word that could describe how I felt when I first laid eyes on the woman that would eventually become my wife was "lust." I was at a bar called Asylum down in the Village in New York City for my friend Will's 30th birthday party when I spotted Starrene walking by the window. Will and I were in the middle of a conversation, but as soon as I saw her, it was like everything went in slow motion … my eyes stayed transfixed on her.
Starr was wearing a denim skirt and a formfitting top that showed off all her curves, which she had in abundance. Her auburn locks were barely shoulder length at the time but were the perfect frame for her almond-shaped eyes and beautiful smile. The deep dimples in her mahogany skin only added to her cute factor. She was hot! Man, her MySpace pictures didn't do her justice.
Starr made her way through the crowd and over to where Will and I were seated. She greeted him first and then me: "Anslem, right?" Starr was working in PR at the time, and even though we had exchanged work-related emails and were MySpace "friends," this was our first time meeting face-to-face. We wound up speaking for the next half hour.
There was a definite connection between us, but I already knew she was taken, based on her online relationship status — unless that was just a way to scare off the stalkers. That wasn't the case, however, since she mentioned her boyfriend in passing at least twice during our conversation. But I still got the sense she was feeling me. It didn't matter, though, because I would never disrespect someone's relationship like that. So after that night, we fell into a friend zone.
Starr was 24 when we met, and I was a few months shy of 30. She was looking to break out of PR and into journalism, so I became a mentor of sorts, offering up contacts, editor leads and career advice on occasion. We were both night owls, and sometimes her career queries would come after hours, which I thought was odd for a woman in a relationship, but my ego just chalked it up to a girl with an innocent crush on an older man.
As the months went by, Starr and I maintained a strictly platonic relationship. It wasn't until after her relationship dissolved nine months later that we finally addressed the unspoken attraction that had been lingering beneath the surface from the start. We began hanging out more frequently and enjoyed each other's company for the next several months, until I fell in love — with someone else.
Although Starr and I spent a lot of time together, there was never a conversation about exclusivity. I wasn't sure if she exercised her option to see other people, but I certainly did. I was a career bachelor with a penchant for disappearing, and it was during these gaps in time that I would go out with other women. Although Starr and I had a strong connection, because of our age difference I never took her seriously as someone I saw myself being in a long-term relationship with.
It wasn't intentional, but another woman captured my heart. Telling Starr wasn't something I was looking forward to, but it had to be done. The feelings I had for this other woman were something I had to explore, and if this new relationship had any shot at working, I couldn't have any distractions. So on a mild October night, I took Starr to a BBQ restaurant near Madison Square Garden to break the news (and her heart) over buffalo wings and margaritas.
After almost a decade of being single, I was finally ready to commit — just not to the woman sitting across from me. It was a tough pill for Starr to swallow, but she had no choice in the matter. I didn't want to hurt her, since we'd shared many great moments, but I had to listen to my heart, and it was telling me that I needed to take a shot at love in another woman's arms.
We can't help who we fall in love with or when. Starr learned that the hard way, and eventually I did as well. After several months of courtship, my new relationship came to a head. As much as I cared for this new woman, the fact was that we came from completely different backgrounds, and our lifestyles didn't mesh together as seamlessly as I had imagined. As quickly as my love affair started, it came to an abrupt end.
I was heartbroken.
It's always a blow to the ego when someone you really care about rejects you. In the wake of the breakup, I found myself in an emotional slump. I threw myself back in the dating ring to distract myself from my feelings, but I wasn't in the right frame of mind to give anyone my undivided attention. I existed as a fractured soul floating from place to place, until fate intervened.
Anslem Samuel Rocque has been a music and entertainment journalist for more than 14 years and has held editorial positions at publications ranging from The Source and XXL to Black Enterprise and The Ave, where he was the founding editor-in-chief. He is the creator of the award-winning relationship blog Naked With Socks On and co-creator of TheLoversRocque.com, where he and his wife, Starrene, muse about the inner workings of a marriage in progress.
Anslem Samuel Rocque is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer who previously ran the popular relationship site Naked With Socks On. He’s currently wearing way more clothes while working on his debut novel. Follow his thoughts in 140 characters or less on Twitter and on Instagram.