My mother can be an insanely confusing, hectic person. She runs rough shod over plans, has to pee one more time right as the elevator arrives, and will break the faucet in the kitchen as easy as look at it. I still love her very much, for a number of reasons, but a secret quality that people who stick with her get to know is that she has a wise and compassionate heart. She may vibrate through life like a butterfly on amphetamines, but at the center of all that manic energy is a deep stillness that merely observes and accepts.
When I am being overwhelmed by my own hamster wheel brain, I know I can call her up, put her on speaker phone, and let her words flow over me. She repeats herself, but she also usually says what I need to hear.
“You can’t let how someone else treats you decide who you are,” she says. “It has nothing to do with you. It’s something going on in their own life, and you’ll never know what it is. I know it hurts to have expectations of someone, and for it to be sweet and nice, and for them to let you down. But it doesn’t mean it wasn’t real, or it was a lie. It was beautiful as it was, and it didn’t work out because of the circumstances.”
She has this pep talk pretty much down.
It is very similar to a pep talk she used to give me far more frequently about 7 or so years ago. I was very much in love with a guy who told me he was in an open relationship and his girlfriend was cool with us messing around. She actually wasn’t, and so he got a new girlfriend. It wasn’t me! That was the last time I was in love and I was such a different person, it’s hard to even remember what I was thinking or what I hoped for in that situation. All I know is that I was just sick with it. It was like being haunted, but the ghost was my own mewling, desirous spirit. In retrospect, I realize that my life had a lot of empty spots I was trying to find direction and meaning for. Obsessive love was a good placeholder for action, work, committing to a direction in life. It passed the time.
I remember I used to come home (we were roommates! ha ha!) and see the light in his window from the street. A thin line under the curtain, a glimmer of hope that I might see him, smell him in the hallway, hear his laughter in the kitchen. It took months for me to realize that the light I was seeing was actually a reflection from the lamps outside. He was almost never home, and his imminent appearance was entirely a construction of my own mind. If that isn’t a metaphor I don’t know what is.
It took time, but I did eventually wake up from it. He could have crawled towards me on his hands and knees begging to be mine forever, and it would have meant nothing. But loving someone so much and having it go so badly burnt me out. I dated, I had partners, I had sex, but I genuinely think that was the real beginning of my six year break from romance and three years of celibacy. It’s like when the roots are damaged on a tree and it takes awhile for the tallest branches to die away.
This sounds terrible, but I have come to believe that love is to some degree a mutual delusion. That’s why it is so destabilizing when the person you thought was embarking on that delusion with you jumps ship. The reality you’re floating on dips and twists. You can’t find your footing. Very briefly this year, I felt like I was in sync with someone, that we both wanted similar things, and liked each other enough to maintain a romantic lie together, at least for a little while.
I was wrong. It didn’t go on long enough for me to establish a world around our connection—my faith in him was small. I thought he’d contact me when he said he would. That was it. Waiting on a message saying that yes, he would come see me. Or no, he would not. There is a lot of joy in trusting someone, in believing they value you enough to see things through and keep their promises to you. Every day, I could look at my phone and think, “Maybe now.” I could hear a song that reminded me of him and smile.
But there was that cynical part of me, the scorched earth person, who kind of knew he probably wouldn’t keep his promise. Folks tell you who they are! It’s a cliché, but it’s true. We’re always trying to look under and around and in between the words for another meaning, while they’re sounding out the syllables for us. The time he told me he didn’t think love was real. The time he told me ghosting is okay in certain circumstances. The way he ended our last conversation in a crude joke after we shared a vulnerable moment. It was all there. It wasn’t even a riddle.
Every time that reasonable, tired, defeated voice started the litany of evidence, another one popped up. This voice I also recognized: it was the me before she ever had her heart broken, from longer even than 7 years ago, maybe all the way back to the very first time someone I trusted let me down. That voice would repeat all the sweet gestures, the fun of his company, how he held me as we looked at the ocean and said I should move to L.A. so we could do this all the time. It was an overlay that made the picture hazy.
So I just listened to my mother’s voice, because I didn’t trust the interior buzzing. I felt scared to move forward and try again (again, again), because I obviously can’t tell the difference between the real thing and a lie, between a reflection on the glass and someone being at home.
Then about a week ago, I woke up up in the middle of the night needing to pee.
I sleep naked and live alone and leave the bathroom door open when I use it. These are the luxuries of age and overwork and I shall not part from them. I was sitting on the toilet with the two cats swarming around my feet, psyched to have a human semi-alert in the house at 4 in the morning. And I thought of my old roommate who I had loved for the first time in awhile. I thought about how I used to pray for any reason to contact him, to email or text, to try and get him to explain his behavior. How sometimes he seemed disgusted with me, at other times he’d weep in my arms declaring his own feelings.
Part of what’s been bothering me these past few weeks as I’ve transitioned from tentative skepticism to bleak certainty that I would never again hear from this new guy I liked, is fear that I would become the same trembling mess I was so long ago if I let someone in again.
I haven’t yet.
I’ve been sad, I’ve been upset and confused, but I haven’t been trying to make someone be something they’re not or do what they can’t. Part of that is no longer being 25, of course; time has taught me my mother was right. You can’t control someone. Attempts to are usually much more painful than simply holding out a hand and giving someone a chance to take it. Part of it is finally getting that you really don’t ever know what is going on with someone else and it’s a better use of energy to understand what the hell is going on with yourself.
All this is just to say, I’ve been dating and I’ll be blogging about it again real real soon. Thanks for reading.