loving and losing and learning

In the fall in San Francisco I was in the bathroom at Zeitgeist and someone had scrawled graffiti in red lipstick on the back of the stall door.  It was big and messy and earnest and it said “MY ♥ IS BROKEN.”

I thought, Me too, girl.  Not broken like brokenhearted — I was in love then — but broken, like, it just don’t work right.

I confess, I have a history of being a serial monogamist.  Since I dove head-first into the dating pool at the tail end of my teens, my longest solo stretch has lasted only about four months.  And even when I’m actively single (meaning actually going out and attempting to connect with other human life forms, as opposed to inactively single, which involves sitting on the couch in my underwear watching “Snapped” marathons on Oxygen), history proves that I tend to spend a lot of that “alone” time hung up on some unavailable asshole or another who gives me enough attention to keep me interested until I find someone else who is actually willing to date me.  Then, inevitably — sometimes after a couple of months, sometimes after a couple of years — I realize I’m in a relationship with someone who, while possibly wonderful, is also probably wrong for me.  And so the whole process begins again.

It was the same song this year.  I found someone in January that I came to love a lot.  I still love him.  But the longer I stayed with him the more I realized how incapable I was of being in a successful relationship.  I hadn’t given myself enough time to figure myself out before falling back into the comfort of being part of a couple.  Maybe I had never given myself enough time.  I thought for a while I could somehow both find myself and figure out what it is I wanted and still stay with this kind, sweet person whom I feel is so deserving of good love.  Ultimately I had to come to terms with the fact that I was wrong.  My search for myself made me neglectful of my relationship to the point where it was unfair to remain.

It hurt.  It still hurts.  It’s really hard to leave someone you love when things just aren’t working and you can’t put your finger on quite why.  But I’m trying to be an adult and being an adult, I guess, means facing up to your issues and dealing with them instead of repeating the same old patterns.  So that’s what I’m trying to do.

As I’ve grown older I’ve really come to terms with the extent to which I thrive on male attention.  It’s not a quality I find particularly attractive in myself.  I like to think of myself as a strong, independent person, yet I find that I seem to thrive in a relationship, at least at first.  I like having a partner, someone that’s always in my corner, someone that I can call and complain to about the most inane shit and someone that will hold me when I’m feeling lonely, which is often.

But, you know, who doesn’t like that?  Just because I like that doesn’t mean it’s what I need right now.  My girlfriends tell me that feeling of emptiness passes, that you get used to being by yourself.  I have to admit that I have never been alone long enough to get used to it.  I’ve never not had that void in my stomach when I’ve been by myself.  I’ve gotten pretty good over the years at filling it with meaningless pseudorelationships and half-hearted connections, but the older I get the more I realize that filling a hole with crap is not the same as repairing one.

So I’m attempting to avoid falling into the same pattern.  And it’s not easy.  When I’m alone by myself lately (which is often, now being single and still with that pesky issue of not really having much of a job or social life) I find myself doing weird things like standing in one place in the kitchen staring out the window and then looking at the clock and realizing I’ve been doing that for twenty minutes.  Or going on endless slow walks around the same block that I’m sure make me look slightly crazy to my neighbors.  Or reading sample after self-help book sample on my Kindle while rolling my eyes and feeling vaguely patronized.  Or playing the same song twenty times on my guitar until all the people who live in a 100-yard radius of me wish I’d never learned “Rainbow Connection.”  It turns out — for me, at least — that being freshly single is a lot like being freshly unemployed.  There’s the same overwhelming combined feeling of ennui and uselessness.  The difference is that at least when that feeling comes from being unemployed you can blame some other bastard, whereas when you’re single by your own fault, the only bastard is you.

But just like being unemployed, I think there’s a hump here that is possible to get over.  I’m just trying to figure out exactly how to pull it off.  I know it involves keeping busy and developing new hobbies and making a lot of time for myself and it probably doesn’t involve drinking a lot during the daytime.  So now, as I seem to be wont to do whenever I’m faced with any kind of internal problem, I’m turning to you, my infallible readers, because you’re always full of good ideas and great advice.

What do I do?  What do I read?  Where do I go?  How do I figure this all out?  I want to have a successful relationship someday.  I really do.  The problem is getting from Point A to Point B in one solid piece.


15 responses to “loving and losing and learning

  1. This could be me, except instead of running away from relationships because I need to work on myself, I dive 100% into them to avoid working on myself. Then eventually comes this vague feeling of restlessness and misdirected resentment…

    Staring at walls for inappropriate amounts of time, or making laps through the house…ha, omg yes, been there.

  2. I have had the same issues in the past (although all my dating stints were a 3 month cap). I think the hardest part for me was being really really honest with myself while simultaneously not expecting it to all come magickally together after that. Being honest with myself was a lot of work and the payoff was a little further down the line. I did a lot of writing crap out. (The negative to that is that you end up with 27 journals from a decade of writing and can’t figure out how to destroy them without bringing them out into public, which you really want to avoid doing.)

    Also, sometimes just being involved with helping others…helps (in whatever way you want that to manifest; for me it’s mostly animals and then ladies).

    Also all of that crap you mentioned doing is totally normal. BTW. Everyone has crapola feelings when they’re down. “This too shall pass” n’ all.

    I came to really love being alone. So much so that I had to drag out my solo-apartmenthood as long as I could before moving in with my boyfriend. Liiiiike, I’m pretty good company for myself.

    • Thank you so much, Jesse! I’ve been doing a lot of intense diary-writing myself and, yeah, I can barely stand to look at what I’ve written even mere hours later.

      Getting involved with volunteering is a really great idea, I’m going to look into doing something with Planned Parenthood or something. It’s awesome to hear from people who have gone through similar experiences and managed to pull themselves out. I really hope to get to the point where I’m happy being by myself, too.

  3. This post could not have come at a more poignant time for me, having just ended a 2 1/2 year relationship last week.

    I’m in the same boat. I always describe myself as “a relationship girl” and I’m realizing now that maybe that’s just a cop out for wanting unbias approval and friendship. So that’s what I’m trying to focus on instead- improving my friendships that always inevitably suffered when I was dating one guy or another. I’m hanging out with long-lost friends and making efforts to visit my closest girlfriends even more. i’m also focusing on my schoolwork, despite every fiber in my body telling me to blow off classes, because at this point it’s just downright embarrassing to have been in school for so long without even an associate’s degree. Oh, and I’m drinking like a fish, smoking a ton of weed, and rewatching SATC episodes that I could probably quote at this point.

    I don’t think that’s really dealing with it, because I still feel like shit 99% of the time, but it’s all I’ve got.

    • Molly, I’m sorry to hear about your breakup. I hope you’re doing OK. We’ve definitely always been pretty similar in our dating patterns.

      “I’m realizing now that maybe that’s just a cop out for wanting unbias approval and friendship.” This is so spot-on and really sheds a lot of clarity on the situation for me.

      I know what you mean about feeling like shit 99% of the time, though, dude. I gotta believe every day it’ll get a little bit better. If you want to email me and talk it out please do.

  4. It seems like you have a pretty full life as it is, more so than many I’d say. Not many people will ever play in a band, create art, visit new places, or meet exciting people. You don’t have to be someone’s girlfriend to be someone, but if you want to be that’s cool too. Take a breath, relax, and accept yourself. You don’t need a check list of accomplishments before you can feel like you deserve a relationship. You’re great kid; keep on L-I-V-I-N and eventually everything will fall into place for you.

    • You’re right, I guess I take for granted a lot all of the awesome things I have going on in my life because I’m always searching for that male approval. I hate that quality in myself because I should be focusing on all my own endeavors! Thank you so much for your enlightening comment. Sometimes just hearing someone else say it is all it takes to realize it.

  5. Wow..what an interesting read for me. It was very much from ‘the other side of the fence’ for me. I can relate to what you are feeling in some sense, but I am not freshly coming out of a relationship. I have been married for 18 years and have 3 kids: 12,7,and 5. I have a catering business, I am an artist, and also am in two bands. I sound busy, but this is who I am. I found out all of these things about myself two years ago and with a husband in the picture. Two weeks ago, we agreed to separate. It’s a lonnnnnnng story, but in short, my hobbies and busy schedule have taken away from the family. I was given the ultimatum of dropping my extra curricular activities or he walks. I said “See ya!” FOR YEARS, I was stuffed in a box and was never allowed to be me. No one was going to put me there again. Later, he realized that it was him, not me making things difficult. He confessed he wasn’t making the effort to be a part of who I was. He has never come to any of my art shows or gigs because he has to ‘watch the kids’. My point is…..work on you, no matter whether you are in a relationship or not. If it’s a worthwhile one, he will include himself in it all and love who you have blossomed into.

    • Wow, I hope you are doing all right. It really sounds like you are. I so appreciate your perspective on this, because I would never want to give up all my endeavors either. You made a strong and admirable move and I want to be able to have that courage too. Thank you so much for your comment.

  6. There are three things this post reminds me of that might be comforting. I hope they are anyway.
    One is a piece of advice for the recently bereaved that came on a little card from a hospice. It said to treat yourself like your best friend, with the same compassion, open-mindedness, and love. I’ve found that when I’m down I say horrible things to myself that I would never say to a friend with the same problems. Keeping this advice in mind helps me be kind to myself. And that’s something everyone needs to be reminded to do when they are sad.
    The second is a quote from Rilke that one of my best friends uses a lot. Paraphrased, it says that love is two people protecting one another’s solitudes.
    The last one is this.
    Please go all the way through it. It’s short and very sweet, and I think it will help.
    Hang in there. It’s good that you’re trying to understand and love yourself.

    • Kim, thank you so much. I hadn’t read “The Missing Piece” since I was a little kid and now I am in tears — happy ones, though, for once. That was exactly what I needed.

  7. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but am a terrible lurker. Sorry! I love the new blog and how much more open and insightful your posts are here.
    This post is making me come out of my shell because it resonates with me.

    I can’t say that I really understand where you’re coming from, because for me, it’s always been the opposite. But maybe I can share some of my experiences and it’ll help you out? I’ve always been too scared/too independent/too whatever to be in a long term relationship. When I finally felt ready to start exploring, something really traumatic and bad happened to me that did a serious number on my head. Almost two and a half years later, I finally feel ready to go out and start dating, but first I have to move out of the crazy religious part of the south and be an open bisexual girl out in the world. 😉

    I will say that some things that have always helped me when I get jealous of my friends in great long-term relationships – some things that help with the loneliness of knowing that the only person I can really count on all the time is me – is doing things for myself. I’m graduating with two degrees this year, got a pretty awesome internship, I went solo backpacking in Ireland, and I’m preparing to move to the city of my dreams. These things have been good for me, but not for the accomplishment/bragging rights – it’s simply things that I always wanted to do for myself and doing them feels good, feels empowering, feels right to me. It’s doing things with my life that are for me and me alone. It feels like my life is finally taking the direction I’ve always desperately wished for it to go. I don’t know where it’s leading or where I’ll land at, but I’m excited about it.

    And more so than that, I’m learning how to live with myself. I’m learning to like the quiet spaces in my head, to enjoy the solitude. It’s not for everyone, but it works for me. It also really helps that I have about 4-5 friends who are rock solid people. They’re the kind of friends who are always dependable, who can always give me good advice and steer me in the right direction. Having a solid support structure like that helps me a lot with the loneliness and the wondering if something is wrong with me and wanting to have a long-term relationship (but I know that I’m not quite ready yet). I hope that maybe some of this helps? I feel like it took me years to get to this point, but I know that perseverance and determination helped me get here and I’m finally starting to feel happy with myself and my life.

    If you keep searching for what it is that makes you *you* and what makes you happy and what gives you direction and meaning in life – if you don’t compromise in your search for those goals – eventually it will pay off.

    • Mary, thanks for reading and thanks for this comment. I wish the best of luck to you as you move to your new city and look for the person of your dreams. It sounds like you’re an amazingly actualized person and I really admire you that. Thanks for your perspective, it really makes me realize the things I need to do to get to that point myself. ♥

  8. …the older I get the more I realize that filling a hole with crap is not the same as repairing one. <–It sounds like you already have your answer on what direction to take 🙂

    I did THE SAME SHIT in my teens, early twenties. Dating unavailable, generally older guys who treated me like crap OR dating people who were in retrospect wildly unmatched to the future lifestyle I envisioned. Honestly, its cringe inducing when I think back to how much time/energy I wasted. And the reality is it was only me wasting energy, because I basically catered my life to my current relationship, hoping if I put in enough energy it might all finally click.

    Ultimately–I hit total burnout and ended up just focusing on myself for a long patch of time. I lived alone and tried to really grow my career. And then before I started dating again I committed to really looking at things in black and white and listening to friends and family about the type of person I would be best matched with.

    Everybody takes their own path, but it worked for me!! I'm the most "Me" I've ever been (though always a work in progress) and I've been married for over a year to the most AMAZING person. And his own amazingness aside..we are so goddamn compatible, with the same goals and life outlook. But, I had to figure out what those goals were before I could find someone who I clicked on everything with.

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