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winter_loveI was recently at a party and the topic of dating came up. I overheard one of my close friends telling a woman, “You should talk to Rachael. She’s a dating EXPERT.” I was quick to interject, “I’m not an expert.” Though I have dated a lot and documented my experiences. So I’m at least a “dating enthusiast.”

What I found in my “research” was that the best time to meet potential suitors is during winter. One of the coldest nights of my dating project resulted in three phone number acquisitions. So it’s not just a hunch. Winter means opportunity.

I say this because winter also means cold and slush and despair and overeating and guilt about not going to the gym enough. It’s boots and chapped lips and google searches for “Mexico all-inclusive.” But it is also bars with twinkle lights, fireplaces, cashmere sweaters, and drinks that warm and replenish. Most importantly, winter inspires a longing for togetherness.

You may argue, “But summer is romance and walks on the beach and kisses at midnight and margaritas on decks.” And I will argue that summer is more lust than love. It is carefree and barefoot and sex with the door open (as my neighbor across the alley has decided) and a time for abundance of people and plans. It is not about focus and it is not about monogamy. It is festivals and parties and that lazy nostalgic summer vacation feeling where we haven’t a care in the world. A care like wanting to have a partner, pursuing a meaningful connection and building a future. I’m not saying it’s impossible to find love in the summer, it’s just more likely in the winter.

Here is my winter vision: Men who love the way your scarf grazes your face and and how your cheeks get rosy from the wind. Sitting close, talking for hours and prolonging the inevitable chilly trip home. Walking arms entwined. Snowflakes. A skating date around the ribbon. A trip to the aquarium. Hot chocolate. Beer flights. Sharing warm chocolate lava cake.

Take it or leave it- winter is the shit for love.

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After months of indecision, I am finally coaxed off the fence.

I look up the number to Circa, a jewelry buyer. When the voice on the phone asks what I’d like to sell, I reveal my past in three words. “An engagement ring.” While it’s a rare transaction in my world, I have a feeling they encounter this every day.Image of jewelry to be used by Heavely Treasures Inc. for website or catalog.I’m not saving the ring, just in case. I don’t want to make it into a pendant. I don’t want to make it into anything but a mortgage payment or two. I have just quit my job to live the dream—I’m writing my first novel. It’s the story about the year after I got divorced. I challenged myself to meet 50 possible suitors with the goal of figuring out what it really was that I was after. Afflicted artist guy? Flex in the mirror guy? Buy you tampons and chocolate guy? I had no idea and was determined to make my definitive must-have list. And then write about it.

The Saturday morning of my appointment is unseasonably warm for April. I dress up a little, throwing on a black velvet jacket over jeans. I wear eye liner and mascara, something I usually reserve for formal events, hoping to look more put together and less like the girl who has no idea what she’s getting herself into.

I take the red line to Chicago and march toward Michigan Avenue. As I approach the Hancock, I’m shaking. I try to reason with myself. Is it regret? Is it the vulnerability of thousands of dollars in my purse? Am I scared that the jeweler will be condescending and offend me with a low offer? Or is it a growing pain?

My friend Stacey agrees to meet me downtown for this mission. Tall, leggy, blond, blue-eyed and fearless, she turns everything into an adventure. She is the friend you expect to see whizzing by on the back of a motorcycle. Topless. Simultaneously she is the calm, collected confidante. She thoughtfully acknowledges every detail and appreciates even the slightest of achievements. And today, she will not let them take advantage of me.

My ears pop as we shoot up to the 25th floor to find a suite with glass doors. They buzz us into the waiting room that is both luxurious and sterile. A sanctuary for unwanted gems, this is where jewelry stylishly goes to die. The receptionist who is behind a thick but decorative shield of glass greets us. Circa is on serious lockdown. Stacey takes it in, audibly enjoying the ride. “Wow. This is a quite a place you’re taking us to”, as if we were fine dining. The next locked door opens. We meet Ed.

Luckily, Ed is not the fast-talking pawn-shop type I feared. He goes with the rest of the experience- slow and calculated, suit and tie, distinguished, grandfatherly, at ease, taking care in shaking our hands and acknowledging our names. He is more like a doctor than a salesperson. He ushers us in to small office with a floor to ceiling window. We take a moment to admire the people and cars so small beneath us. Ed and Stacey hit it off immediately. She wants to know about drama and heirlooms and he doesn’t disappoint. He shares a story of a husband who uses his wife’s money to buy a larger than life diamond ring for his lover. She is convinced we can interview Ed and put together a book of his wildest transactions.

She is truly my cheering squad today, my date to what feels like a wake. While Ed steps out of the room for a moment, I open the casket and show her my ring. I’ve heard people say that they would know their diamond anywhere, as if it had enough character to be distinguished in a line up. I’ve never felt that way about mine.

In fact, this is my second diamond. I broke the original just months after getting married. I cleaned it often and one day, it slipped right out of my hands and onto the marble bathroom floor. The collision left a cloud on one side. At closer inspection, it looked as it had a bite taken out of it.

The insurance agent wasn’t convinced, “No one breaks a diamond.” “Well, I just did.” In a world where paper beats rock, why can’t marble beat diamond? After I re-explained the incident more than a few times, he finally sent us a check. Once we had the appraised value in our hands, I realized, we had actually profited from this mistake. I asked my husband, “Should we keep the money? Do I really need a ring?” Getting a new one was like ordering an appetizer halfway through the entrée. I felt gluttonous. Maybe the time for this ring had passed. But he took my hand and insisted on replacing it, “You need your ring.” He knew how much I loved it. Of course I did- I not only chose the setting, I helped pick out the diamond. Together, we made appointments for stores on Wabash we had never noticed before, learned about the 4 c’s and got comfortable using a loupe. I had been waiting all my life for this ring and wouldn’t leave the details to chance. In hindsight, these were not the details that required my attention.

He and I were the best of friends. But getting married and living together exposed a side of us we didn’t know, we couldn’t navigate and we didn’t like. We were both overly particular and constantly at odds over big and small issues. I didn’t understand why he needed to grind coffee every morning knowing it would wake me up. He couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to stay at home with the children that we didn’t have yet. The issues piled up and buried me first. I tried to climb out, scheduling an appointment with a therapist the day after our one-year anniversary. I told her, “Marriage is all pedaling and no gliding. I thought the first year was supposed to be magical. Like newlyweds, right?”

I wasn’t sure what answer I was looking for her to give until months later she simply stated, “I think you weren’t ready to get married”. Not us. Me. It was my fault. I steered us into this glacier and there was no turning back. Of course, when you go to therapy to explore why you’re not happier in your relationship, your relationship goes sour on its own. I suggested separation and he asked, “What do you expect to happen?” Inside I knew, separation is the gateway drug to divorce, which is what he suggested. Our marriage netted a year and a half. Our wedding had been so small that most people barely knew we were married. Just a blip on a timeline, but a scar I will always have.

My ring is now in a pile with gold I have received throughout my life. I have a small collection of half hearts that all carry the message, “Best Friends Forever”. Why do girls need to lock it down so early? My ring represents a similar proclamation except that I hold both halves.

The process of giving it up is similar to buying it. Ed weighs the diamond, compares the color and clarity and counts the imperfections. Stacey and I are fascinated watching him conduct what looks like a science experiment, taking notes and seeing a whole world in something so small.

I won’t have the ring in my possession for much longer and I want Stacey to see the engraving which is even more brilliant than the diamond. It’s a tiny love letter, a reminder of how special someone once thought I was. She reads it out loud, “Forever…maybe?”

“(Sigh) Keep reading.”

“Longer. Forever maybe longer.”

She’s puzzled. It sounds much more fluent in my head. I explain, “He used to add “maybe longer” to regular statements about forever. As in, “this Kardashian marathon might go on forever.  Maybe longer.”

It was the sarcasm and sentiment of putting this inside my ring that I loved about him. For me, it was a reminder to add humor and levity to any situation, no matter how ridiculous. And that we would be in it together, way past the wheels falling off.

Or maybe not.

Ed is careful when he removes the body from the room. We thank him and shake his hand.  Stacey is still hoping to coerce Ed into publishing his tales. We extend a heartfelt goodbye and head to a bar on Michigan Avenue to celebrate the successful trade and huge weight lifted. I sip my wine and imagine the wonderful new home my diamond would soon find.

After consigning the last tangible memory of my marriage, it only makes sense to make the ring’s partial inscription the title of my book. A story about forging the road to my next big love. A journey where I don’t take life too seriously, this time around.

Forever Maybe fits perfectly.