When it comes to love, can the third time be the charm?

Girl Talk • CLARE MARIE CELANO

There’s a great dialogue exchange between Christopher Plummer and Diane Lane who play father and daughter in the film “Must Love Dogs.”

Lane is admonishing her widowed father about dating indiscriminately, seemingly unconcerned about hurting the women who have come to truly care about him.

Plummer delivers a line that not only prompts understanding and warmth in Lane, but also prompted me to walk away from the TV set — so raw, so real was the impact his words had on my own battered heart.

One who has loved the way Plummer once did cannot help being affected by the heartrending honest expression of his deep sadness as he quietly tells Lane:

“I’ve had the love of my life. No one else can ever touch that, or even come close. So I’m just out there, passing the time, tap dancing if you want the truth. Maybe if I dance fast enough, I won’t remember what I’ve lost.”

After running his words over and over in my head, I got to thinking, after all the relationship screw-ups, the dates from hell, the loves that try the soul and test our ability to hope, no matter what, am I really just searching for what I once had?

And if so, is it possible to find that love again?

If the love of your life has been taken away like Plummer’s or has walked away as in other cases, are we simply wasting precious time trying to replicate the feelings by searching for a relationship that fits as snugly, as comfortably, as perfectly as the one that once left its footprints on our hearts?

I understand Plummer’s statement, having lost one love to divorce, then death, and anotherwho simply walked away from what I thought would be a lifetime connection.

When the chips that have held us together fall down around us, do we continue to pick them up and start all over again? And how many times is enough?

After being alone for years now, it seems to get more difficult to pick up those pieces and put them together to even get myself to a place where I might find someone new. I used to enjoy the anticipation of primping in preparation for a date, performing the same rituals that women have been doing for centuries from Cleopatra right on up to us regular gals.

But at this point, sometimes the only way to get out there again is to strap on the battle gear along with the strappy sandals, apply some protective war paint along with dabs of French perfume and slip on a Kevlar vest along with the miniskirt to protect the vital organ that may be in the line of fire; in other words, we build a fortress around our hearts.

Most of us who are single keep on trying to find “the one.” You know what they say about having to kiss a bunch of frogs … But what about those who have already had the prince? Is there a limit? Have we passed the chance to meet another one, and are we relegated to hanging out on lily pads, kissing an endless parade of frogs? When is enough enough?

For some of us, giving up just doesn’t seem like the right option and yet for those of us who can relate to Plummer’s grief-stricken heart, because we have in fact loved like that, does that mean his statement has substance?

Do we in fact just keep dancing so we don’t remember what we lost? And whether we waltz, samba or hip-hop across the dance floor with someone new, is there a part of us that still yearns not just for the love lost, but for the chance to find it or something like it all over again?

Of course the question remains, if after close introspection, we’ve decided that tap dancing through the rest of our lives is all there is, we must then face the fact that all that “stuff” inside us still needs a place to go.

Marianne Williamson illustrates this point perfectly in her book “A Woman’s Worth,” when she speaks about a woman’s inner life. The context may be different, but the sentiment completely fits:

“It’s as though someone removed our chair but couldn’t take away our longing to sit.”

I must admit there are days when the prospect of finding a wonderful new love and a passionate, nurturing relationship seems possible— a little flirting, a little attention, a little rustling of the hormones you pleasantly discover are still swirling inside your body; this is all good and the idea of connecting with another is definitely on the day’s “to do” list.

But, on other days, which lately seem to outweigh the flirtatious ones, the idea of ever loving another man and being loved in return, seems unattainable. I remember what I once had and think, I will never find another who can make me feel so alive the way those two men who loved me did.

And on those days, the emptiness wraps me in a silent cloak of darkness, and the loneliness is almost palpable. But then I remember that the dances I danced with these two men were very different. The music, comfortable, steady and lovingly warm with one man, stands distinctly apart from the haunting, fiery, yet soulfully sensitive music of the other.

Both are imprinted on my heart.

I’ve always believed love is a choice. We can choose to love again or choose to tap dance, and there are days when I seem to choose to do both.

I came across a DVD that my daughter bought me months ago that provided me with a way to wrap up my thoughts. I don’t know why I hadn’t opened it until now, but everything has a reason. The film was “Sleepless in Seattle.” There’s a scene where Tom Hanks tells his sister, played by Rita Wilson, “It doesn’t happen twice,” referring to the magic he felt with his recently deceased wife.

As anyone who has seen this wonderful romance will remember, Meg Ryan convinces Hanks otherwise in a memorable scene atop the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day, mirroring a scene from the romantic classic “An Affair to Remember.”

Sometimes, it just helps to believe that life can indeed imitate art.

“We don’t receive wisdom,” said French writer Marcel Proust, “we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.”

But no matter how difficult the journey, what former loves can teach us is that there is always another journey to look forward to, one in which we will be richer and wiser.

Contact Clare Celano at ccelano@gmnews.com.