Yesterday, I had a conversation with a dear friend who is in the throes of a failing relationship. I don’t write much about relationships of the romantic ilk, because I’m not very good at them. As I approach my 13th wedding anniversary, I can still state this without being disingenuous.
The relationship roulette that I played finally had me landing on someone who doesn’t scare easily, whose self-knowledge was only superseded by his compassion for others and who simply stood still as I thrashed about uncomfortably, waiting for me to tire myself out.
It took me a good thirty plus years to reach a point where I accepted that I could be loved and that hey, wasn’t it cool that despite my moodiness and insecurities, he didn’t run away screaming? Part of me feels like I earned it, which is wrong – completely, completely wrong. If we had to earn the love we got, the orphanages would be full and you’d have to buy marriage licenses in bulk.
For a good couple of decades, I struggled as a single woman to support myself, get an education and figure out the meaning of life (still unsolved to date). I dated or did something that looked similar to dating. I spent many hours agonizing over one shitty relationship or another. I went through long periods of being alone – some of them filled with longing, other times with contentment.
The worst moments were those when I realized that all the excitement and passion had been put down on the wrong horse. Those first few months, when everything is new and shiny and possibilities bloom where none had been before – it’s a mixture of euphoria and slight craziness. And then you run into exes or his drinking starts to look like a problem or you realize, without acknowledging it, that you don’t really like him.
This happens in the middle of the euphoria, so you ignore the warning flags or emergency sirens in favor of hope. I’d play a gender card here, but I’ve met enough men who also ignore the male friend who seems to be over far too often or jibes about their jobs or hobbies. Usually it’s because she’s really, really pretty. But we’ll call it holding on in favor of hope, regardless.
I could write about the need for self-esteem and confidence and being secure with one’s self, but I’m writing about the time between creeping doubt, that shadow you see out of the corner of your eye, and the time when you’ll be playing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” on repeat until one of your friends accidentally scratches the CD with a machete.
I found it gut-wrenching and miserable. Some of my friends would blithely move on from relationships, but I was always late to the game. Giving up hope and accepting that the euphoria is over only came after regurgitating every monotonous detail to friends – reminding myself over and over of those things that gave me hope in the first place.
There is nothing lonelier than being with someone, knowing somewhere in your mind that they’re not really with you. It is the loneliest time, these moments between euphoria and the death of hope. Ah, the wild, irreconcilable hope. Imagining the phone ringing or him showing up at the front door loaded with flowers and abject apologies. Visions of a life shared becoming distant and blurry.
I had a lot of good advice to give my friend. In my 20s, I would have talked smack about men and joked about horrible things to do to their cars or laundry. I’ve never been a vengeful type, but I was self-injurious – staying up all night, composing godawful love letters, eating horribly, smoking and drinking too much. So my advice to the heartbroken is now – please take care of yourself.
Be kind, let your grief be yours, sleep properly, write it all out, go for a walk. It all hurts like hell, I know. And these moments of hope crop up over and over again. And each time you have to remind yourself of the things that killed hope. Until one day, it doesn’t matter as much anymore. Until you have a happy moment or two or three and you managed it alone.
Talk to your friends, but limit the gruesome re-tellings. I was fortunate to have very patient friends who years later would recite my obsession with some drunken womanizer and how relieved they were when I finally stopped talking about it. Patience seems to be the quality that the people in my life exemplify.
Perhaps it’s too easy to give this advice. I’m not alone at the moment. But it took a lot of time alone to get here and I know life changes on a dime. Be patient. Take care of yourself. Know that this is going to take a little time. And that being alone is not the flip side of love and euphoria. Being alone is being comforted by the company you know and trust best.