For the past week I’ve been playing on repeat Lorde’s fantastic sophomore album Melodrama, and though I’m not exactly twenty years old and not exactly a famous singer/songwriter and not exactly partying in clubs any longer to tend to broken-hearted wounds, I know to the bones what she has written and recorded and applaud her for arranging the album in such a way as to shed light on a very special, sacred truth – we must fall in love with ourselves and learn to be alone, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get goddamn lonely and want to fall in love again.
In the first track she’s struggling to get over a failed relationship – “oh I wish I could get my things/ and just let go” – and by the fourth she’s back into the rushing magic (and the suffering) of getting “caught up just for a minute” and falling flat into a love that will inevitably crumble. By the fifth track she laments that she is better on her own and has learned to “go home into the arms of the girl that I love/the only love I haven’t screwed up” (meaning herself), and though she is “so hard to please” she tries to be her own lover, care for herself the way she once cared for him. She croons oh so beautifully that she “loves it here, since I stopped needing you.” Her relationship with herself is beginning to thrive, the humming high of grasping at nothing, at loving oneself so much that it’s just enough, and there’s no frenzied search to fill the void with someone else. And so it goes. That refrain, that in between, that time alone to collect and go inward, or look upward to the stars – but not to someone else – to try a little tenderness with our own vulnerable selves is a sacred thing, a gentle thing, a difficult thing.
I certainly had to learn how to have a kind, lover-like relationship with myself and not be so dependent on the attention and support of others. And it’s a beautiful walk home, to learn how to cradle ourselves and rock ourselves to sleep, because even though we are social creatures and need each other, if we can’t fully tend to the one in the mirror, it’s hard to let someone else chip in.
But the album goes on, and she spirals through the resentment of broken love and the intrusive memories of past relationships – the “supercut” of euphoric recall – and by the final track she shouts, “now I can’t stand to be alone.”
And so it goes. We are only human. And it can get so lonely being alone.
I spent my late teens and early twenties in the “serial monogamy” turnstile, boyfriend after boyfriend after boyfriend, absolutely incapable and unwilling to learn how to have a relationship with myself and be on my own for even a month. I was in the beginning stages of discovering sobriety and was stripped bare enough – dear god I am not just going to feel it all. It would have been too brutal. I didn’t know at the time that I couldn’t be alone – I just kept taking the cheater back and finding the next one when that finally crumbled and wobbling in and out of savage relapses and shoving shoving shoving down the giant stockpile of suffering underneath time with men. I wrote a lot of poetry and smoked a lot of cigarettes and listened to Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco. Oh, brother.
But then I did learn. The latter half of my twenties I danced on my own, I stroked my own cheek, I found out who I was without a love interest. I spent good stretches without boyfriends or serious dating. I explored who I was with just a career, with just a family, with just a group of friends, with just me. I learned I liked being alone and was at peace alone and did my best creative work alone. I was proud I learned. It felt meaningful and it was necessary, and I wasn’t in any hurry.
But I’m only human, and I can’t always stand it – to tuck only myself in, night after night.
I met someone in another city recently and, romantic that I am, I fell a bit in love with him over a weekend. That might not actually be true – what is falling in love anyway? – it may have just been temporary infatuation and getting caught up in the “rush at the beginning.” I did rush, and we moved a bit fast, and none of that helps the logical rational part of the brain pace itself and see things clearly. Or hell, maybe it was a bit of falling in love. I certainly hadn’t felt that way with someone in a very long time, even my last boyfriend. The truth is it was probably both, but the answer doesn’t matter.
What matters is how I tended to myself afterwards when I arrived back in Los Angeles, and when I heard from him only a handful of times until the screen went dark, and I knew he was gone and it was simply an early summer fling, and that I couldn’t stand to be alone. In came the fears and frustrations and fates and furies. Where is my husband, why does no one love me, if I don’t meet someone soon I won’t ever get pregnant, this is all so unfair and nothing ever works out, and it’s all my fault, I shouldn’t have moved so fast, had I played my cards better this guy would be asking me to move to be with him, and it’s because I’m not this enough or I’m too much of that, and on and on spiral spiral spiral.
And in came the defenses, too, the anger that always masks vulnerability and grief. Fuck him, he wasn’t THAT great anyway, et cetera. You know.
Maybe, finally, it just was what it was, an experience that happened that made my heart flip and reminded me of all of my goodness and all of my frailties and all that I so deeply love about myself and all I’m so sick of and how, at the end of each night, I still want what most of us want – someone to hold me and love me and build a life with. And there’s nothing wrong with that, and that doesn’t go away just because I can hold my own hands now and not squeeze too hard, and it isn’t as if I’m not strong or independent. I’m human, and I let someone in, and I’m glad I did, even if he didn’t feel much like staying.
And if right now, I can’t stand to be alone, I’ll just write about it. I still come home to me and take good care of me. I’ll never stop doing that. I think I just want someone to show all that off to.
I wrote the above piece before my long distance romance with *Jim blossomed and eventually turned into big fat true love, and I keep it there and a part of this piece because I think it reflects an honest and oh dear so sweet snapshot of what many of us go through when we think something isn’t going to work out.
But sometimes, I tell you, things work out.
I think it also reflects how longing for something can feel incredibly risky, especially when there is a whole history behind that longing that tries to convince you it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
Sometimes, I tell you, it matters.
For a stretch of time in my mid to late twenties, I got it into my head that to desire a partnership with a man, to long for marriage and children, to potentially be somewhat supported by a husband, was a shameful and old-fashioned mindset. Sure, I could ponder those things, but did I need them? Hell no, not me! I was a strong, independent woman who could certainly make it on my own. (Where the kids would come from was something I’d deal with later.) And why did I want them to begin with? Surely it was oppressive society that had brainwashed me into believing I needed such mainstream trappings in order to be happy. (Then again, I now wonder what takes precedence over those “mainstream trappings” of love, intimate connection, and family as you grow older, [which are, by the way, probably much more biologically inherent than societally encouraged than we are willing to admit, but I’ll save philosophical musings for another time.])
So I got defensive about it all. I read ridiculous asinine untruthful articles on Salon and Jezebel, I considered myself a victim to the “industrial beauty complex,” and therefore rejected putting much time or energy into looking and feeling beautiful, I judged and blamed men for possessing certain masculine traits (which I now revere), and I stayed nice and alone. Was I happy? Meh. Mostly, I was exhausted from teaching full time and sorting out all of my early sobriety inner demons in AA and Al-Anon. I wasn’t unhappy, but I wasn’t exactly fulfilled. For all that teaching has to offer in terms of personal connection, often being a soul-level rewarding career path, any career in and of itself, for me, simply cannot triumph over intimacy. It just can’t rock me to sleep at night. (In fact, it kept me up plenty of nights.)
Truthfully, much of that alone time was needed and nourishing. The only way out is through, yes? As I declared in the former portion of this post, I learned how to take good care of myself and stand on my own two feet. I was moving through the push oneself out of the crusty eggshell phase of your twenties, which I consider an excruciating decade. (I also wasn’t getting hammered for most of them, which is perhaps why they were ultra up close and brutal.)
But when I began to emerge from this somewhat solitary portion of my life, when I saw the light around much of the feminist ideology that I no longer believed to be telling the truth, when I left the teaching world and caught my breath, when I started dating again in an actual way and tending to my overall appearance with more effort and care, I noticed how many odd beliefs and behaviors I had about women and men, which I now consider misguided, and that these beliefs and behaviors seemed rather common. Namely, that there was something taboo (and therefore guilt was readily available to cling to me like sludge) with admitting that two might be better than one, that feminine and masculine might complement each other, that needing a man and committing to a man was a lovely thing.
So as I dated haphazardly and bitched and complained about it all with my girlfriends, I felt this strange paradox that I had to somehow feel put out by love, had to keep justifying I didn’t actually really want or need it, while all along I actually did want and need and believe in and felt I deserved just as much as the next happily married person – a partner. How dare I!
So, yes, as I dated haphazardly, I had to kiss some frogs first – some benevolent toads I just couldn’t have a future with, others dangerous poison tipped slimers who seemed hellbent on making me suffer. Still, I wanted, still I needed. (Perseverance and resilience, priority one!) I had a lot of rules about the type I longed for, even though I was beginning to understand that how you felt with someone was far more important than the appearance or the stats. Love is a feeling and an action, not necessarily what you see in an Instagram post (except for the ones about puppies.)
But when you’re getting better, it’s a jagged line, and I think this applies to any period of change and growth. Up, down, two steps back, whoa look-y here, I’m different! I had quite a personal evolution, a few years in the making, around certain fundamental outlooks strongly correlated to men, women, and relationships, and this, I believe contributed to my ability to be receptive not defensive, hopeful not cynical, when an eligible man, a prince instead of a frog, came along and sat next to me at a bar in Chicago.
When I met and fell in love with Jim, I knew. But I also kept getting the sense that to some, I was foolish for putting quite a bit of stock into a man I hadn’t known in real time for very long. Again, women are taught today, for better or for worse, that we don’t need men, that there is now something inherently shameful about chasing love, and especially rushing into love, and as I explained above, I believed this once, too. Yes, women don’t need men like they need oxygen and food and water, and we can do any damn thing we want on our own thank you very much (well, mostly) but it’s also just fine if we do need a little bit. I dare say that many of us do better with a (healthy) partner by our side. I also believe rushing is only rushing if you are fighting against what is naturally unfolding. For Jim and me, it just naturally unfolded quickly!
There were those who questioned (no doubt with good intentions) my decision to travel to see him more than he came to see me and my ultimate decision to move to another state to be with him and start our life. Risky perhaps, but I just knew, oh god did I know. Luckily, most were highly supportive (or just really good at keeping their opinions to themselves), and some shared with me their own whirlwind romances that blossomed into highly successful marriages and families. As Harry once declared to Sally, “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Though the taboo of needing had me a bit freaked out at times, I went with how I felt in my heart, mind, and soul – not only how I felt with Jim but I how I felt in general about moving and knowing that my entire life would change. I felt pretty darn dandy. Calm. Secure. Not anxious or fearful that I was making some terribly stupid and impulsive decision that I would regret a month later. (Which I haven’t, for a second.)
Ultimately, though, this was about my learning process, my experience of changing my beliefs and attitudes, my willingness to be honest with myself about what I actually valued and where my faith resided, and my saying yes to something that seemed to land at my feet wrapped in a big bright bow. There is sacrifice, sure, to letting go of the single life – which often brings a fresh-air sort of freedom and possibility – and the stroke of dreamy yummy solitude, but that sort of equanimity also comes with more depth and staying power, from within an individual, regardless of external circumstances. Perhaps I was just more comfortable within.
Yes, the taboo of needing – if Jim were to exit my life suddenly, there would be a giant gaping hole – the mere thought of it threatens to break my heart. And I consider that a pretty grand success. Especially because, well, I wrote a whole damn essay about how it was just a random fling that would never amount to anything and how I guessed I was sort of alright with that, or at least had to be, and wouldn’t you know – there is so much that I don’t know.