I have been faithful to my loneliness. Myself and I is the most reliable relationship I’ve managed to maintain. Please join Bethany and Her Loneliness for another year of checking “Single” on various documents. Bethany and Her Loneliness joyfully announce the arrival of yet another failed pregnancy. I know, hard to believe. It almost seems as if she’s trying to make a mess of her life. She’s not. Nor is she unlucky as I imagine some might say when she’s not in the room. Unlucky, no. Curious, yes. And willing to find out what happens when…
Life hasn’t panned out as planned. Planned by whom I’m not exactly sure. Hard to piece together the willful proclivity of your own odyssey from the furrowed narrative of every-single-story-you’ve-ever-heard-since-you-were-born. The simple act of imagining another possibility is a revolution unto itself. A whole life could be spent trying to find the permission to hope for something other than what others have hoped for you.
And so you try to make choices not as a rebellion, or as a rejection of what you’ve witnessed as other’s regrets, but as a step in the direction of freedom from what appears to be the almost incessant disappointment that plagues the real life versions of the fairytales. I have a stubborn belief that there is another way. In fact ways. As in more than one. As in options. As in possibilities as yet unconsidered and potentially waiting to be realized.
And so a year from 40 I am unmarried and childless. Not because I am a fuck up. But because I have been fiercely exploring my options. Am I happier than the settled? Probably not. Am I confident that I have made all the best choices? Definitely not. But I am confident that life isn’t about making the best choices. It’s about making choices, or not making choices, and then enduring with honest presence whatever may come. I’m bored to tears at the idea that there is one correct answer to every question. Sometimes one plus one equals three. Sometimes one plus one equals negative forty-two thousand dollars.
I have wanted nothing for my life more steadily than to find someone to love and make a life with. To become a mother. To build a family to belong to. A home to fill with love. And I have continued to repeatedly make choices in the opposite direction. Have I failed? Am I a self saboteur? Or am I just trying to find myself in a different story than the ones I’ve read? Am I faithfully writing my way to the end of a sentence I can actually believe? I still don’t know what that sentence would say.
I think loneliness is sometimes a sideways attempt at freedom. A possible way out of the slavery of masquerading. The invitation doesn’t read, “Come as you are.” So we spend hours trying to figure out how to wrap the present that is our imperfect self, aching to be opened. But once at the party, we find ourselves in a room full of other terrified gifts straightening their bows and telling half truths about what hides behind the shiny paper. We could be honest. But we learn fast. Filterless photos get less likes. And we want to be liked. And sometimes it’s just a whole hell of a lot easier to avoid the whole thing altogether. To make devotional work of not even trying to be disappointed, misinterpreted, or worst of all, rejected.
My sweatpants have never told me they didn’t want to be with me anymore. My sweatpants have never broken my heart.
My loneliness can’t zip up my jumper or make me a sandwich or swoop me from the airport. But I get by just fine. Yes, a sandwich does tastes better when someone else makes it for you. This is a scientific fact. And yes, every time I arrive at the terminal my hopeful eyes search for someone tall, dark and handsome holding an artfully arranged and exotic bouquet of not-just-grocery-store-roses, waiting, hoping and looking for me. I have yet to receive flowers at the airport.
Instead I wince and watch all the shining faces. The elongated embraces. The signs with not my name on it. Just me and my loneliness holding it down in headphones, waiting for my one suitcase. Even when it’s heavy and I am alongside other helpful hands, I manage it on my own. Me and my loneliness in a building full of people. Anyone paying attention knows you don’t have to be alone to feel lonely. In fact, it is sardined in subway cars, or shouting in loud crowded bars that I have felt the most crushed by my loneliness. To feel so completely isolated while surrounded by others only turns up the volume on that inside world that no one is managing to hear, let alone reach.
Who will travel the distance to my heart? Even I struggle to keep it close sometimes.
Love asks of us everything. To be brave and honest, which means being honest about how absolutely terrified we are. How much we feel like running. Or hiding. Or cheating. Or lying. How determined we can be at pretending that anything, anything other than what is true, is. It forces us to look at our pain and panic in all too steady a dose. It shows us the depth of our insecurities and the magnitude of our jealousies. It reacquaints us with our regrets. The ones we’ve spent a lot of time forgetting. It shows us that we are terrible losers and will do all manner of ridiculous things to evade it. We will live bankrupt lives so as to have nothing to give up.
We will spend countless nights alone to avoid feeling the one thing we long to feel the most. Not alone. But not aloneness can be taken away. And I know nothing worse than the journey from the warmth of another’s presence back out into the cold abyss of non-belonging. Everything that was once good is now just brutal floating fragments. A sharp and staccatoed haunting. A horror scene made of what was once your favorite place. Lost in space. The silence, a vice threatening to squash everything that is human and hoping inside you.
We are meant to depend on something other than ourselves and our space suits.
But the closeness you once felt with a force truer than your own breath is no longer true. Your exes are married now and making babies with other women. You are happy for them. And you sometimes wonder how you ever felt that same potential—alive, vibrating, in love then with these now post-romantic strangers. You once knew the terrain of someone’s insides. They traversed yours. An exchange of dares.
I dare you to love something you’ll lose. We lost and I’m so proud we tried.
Perhaps the problem isn’t that we’ll lose. Perhaps the problem is that we’ve been told to find something and hold onto it forever. An impossible expectation. An earnest delusion. “Until death do us part,” we say. But I’ve already died a few times in this life. And I keep loving. A newborn choosing to try again. Meeting and re-meeting my fear of losing with a shudder and determination to keep growing bigger than my fear. Until I lose. Again. And then wonder how I’ll ever recover. How I’ll ever have enough heart left to try again. Until one day I meet someone and it’s not even a choice. It just happens. You fall in love. And it is a falling. Isn’t it? It feels like that, exhilarating and terrifying. Confusing too. Where’s the fucking ground?!
And so in time you navigate a mixture of surrender and death grip. With a tremendous amount of anxiety and effort, you get to the point where you can take a shit knowing they’re in the same zip code. A couple of full moons and you risk telling them your darkest secrets only to find them still there in the morning. Their presence and your dance with and around them become more interesting than your ongoing game of solitaire. Partnership becomes more appealing than aloneness. Not easier. No less painful. But offering more in exchange for the pain. It feels bigger than you too, which is wonderful, and awful. It’s so much more complicated to collaborate and coordinate and cooperate with someone else. And yet when it works, when you touch that shimmering space in the middle of your two heavenly bodies, you feel the truth of the cosmos and your place in it and for a moment you get the whole point of everything.
The distance teaches us about closeness. We are always traveling. And left to its own devices, my mind loses touch with the world it aches to be a part of. I know myself in relation to something or someone not myself. We need each other to know where we are. How close? How far?
Riding the line between solitude and isolation is tricky business. There is a difference. The lines can blur. It IS a bummer to go out and feel worse for the wear than luxuriating in your sweatpants in a rich and meaningful solitude. But then you find yourself wearing those sweatpants to the point of an unhygienic stiffness, stained with the salt of many tears and the chocolate smear of a confectionary attempt at replacing lost love. The only replacement for lost love is found love. Or really just the acknowledgment that having and losing are the two faces of the same coin.
May our pockets be full of that richness. May we spend generously. May we be foolish enough to forget how much it hurt so we will try for joy again.
Or, even knowing what’s at stake, risk it because the glory of the good has the power to save us from doubting that it’s worth it. Or, even if we doubt, doing it anyway, because it gives us something to do other than stare at a wall. Or, if we simply can’t or don’t want to, may we find peace in that stillness. May the quiet of that choice not turn into a numb and estranged heart. May we love our choices, not because they are the best ones, but because they are ours.
I’m not sure what I’m choosing, but I imagine it’s something like the freedom to choose. The freedom that comes not out of separation from but in deep communion with others. The freedom to be honest about who we are, what we long for, and what we are devastated by. The freedom felt in dependence rather than in-spite of it. No longer pretending I don’t when I do. No longer doing when all of me hates that I am. I imagine freedom and integrity are the same thing. Freedom as an offering of your undiminished self—seen, acknowledged and loved by someone else. Freedom as belonging. Because freedom from others is slavery to another kind of lie: that we don’t need each other, when we so clearly do. May we all be honest about that fact. With ourselves, and each other.