How I Learned I'm My Real "Other Half"

Shortly before her 50th birthday, the man Margaret Overton loved broke her heart. Here's how she moved on—and went from a so-called cougar to a "mountain lion."

Shortly before I turned 50, the man I loved crushed my heart into tiny pieces. E-mail and a cell phone were his mortar and pestle. I stumbled around in misery, then embarked on an affair with a younger man.

I didn’t plan to be a cougar—which, to me, still sounds more like a Mac operating system than a dating strategy. But 50 hit me hard. It is the milestone that most clearly states: Life is a hill, and you’ve passed the summit. I wasn’t particularly vain, but I knew if I were to be derailed by even a smallish herniated disk, I would abruptly look and feel my age.

In the months after the breakup, I felt uncomfortably alone. The man I’d been with had been my other half. In time, I thought, he’d acknowledge his mistake, our loss. But my phone remained stubbornly silent.

Winter ended; spring gave way to warmer days. And I partied like never before. One summer evening, I cinched my half-century self into an age-defying spandex dress. I drank too much and stayed out too late. It was then that I ran into a man I’ll call Junior, a handsome acquaintance some 15 years younger. I’d never given him much thought. But that night he burst into song (horribly off-key), making me laugh as I hadn’t in months.

Junior called the next day and invited me to dinner that night. And the night after that. We enjoyed six fun weeks together: wandering familiar streets, window-shopping, sipping wine at sidewalk cafés. I liked his irreverence, his fresh intelligence, his passion. And then one evening as I lay in his arms, I felt the melancholy that visits on certain anniversaries, when your body remembers an event your heart would sooner forget.

He asked what was bothering me. I began speaking about a trauma from the past. He tensed up. He said, “I’m not comfortable discussing personal matters.”

I felt disappointment, but not much surprise. Sometimes what attracts you to someone ends up being the very thing that turns you away. I gathered my things and went home, preparing myself to be alone again.

Junior called the next day. He said, bluntly, “I only want to have a short-term sexual relationship with you.”

I sighed and hung up. I wanted someone with a kinder heart and better manners. And, in fairness, Junior needed someone else, too. He’d only been a placeholder for the man I had to get over, the man who’d been so perfect for me.

Junior called back and said, “Something happened to the connection.”

“No,” I replied. “I hung up on you.” Then I did it again.

It took five more years for my heart to mend. I learned to reimagine love, but it was hard work. I prefer men with compassion, who believe in second chances. And my “other half” is simply me. Now I think of myself as a mountain lion, high on the hillside, just beyond the summit. The beauty of mountain lions is that we're calm and circumspect; we look past perfection to see what lies beneath.

About the Author

Margaret Overton is the author of the memoir Good in a Crisis ($24, amazon.com).