Just over a week ago I met an ex, my college boyfriend, for drinks downtown. He was in Minneapolis only briefly, on the way home from a high-school reunion, headed back to New York the next morning. Yesterday afternoon I spent time with a more recent ex, my husband of many years, when we took Oedipa to the dog park to run off some steam.
These recent outings have left me thinking about love, and the end of love, and the ways in which love will not end. These were wonderful moments, these moments I spent with these men I used to love. With my college boyfriend, there was light-heartedness and wonder and surprise, I think, that we might still find one another vibrant and exciting. With my husband, there was a profundity, a sense of how big the thing we tried to accomplish was, and how sad it is that we won’t continue trying together.
I keep thinking about the unbearable lightness of being. Not the Kundera novel, which I’ve largely managed to forget, but the phrase. I’m having trouble finding footing in my life right now, and I think it has something to do with this unbearable lightness. How can it be that these eruptions that occur when men and women come together and break apart are remembered, after time has passed, so lightly? How can it be that we can once again come together only to drift through each others’ lives?
I have enormous difficulty with endings. It seems impossibly sad to me that there is such a thing as over. I guess I could chalk this up to my anxiety over that final ending—that death which lurks behind all the pain and pleasure of our lives. Someday I will die. And I will die alone. And maybe, more than death, it’s alone that I can’t quite stand.
Last night I felt deeply, awfully alone. I wanted, very badly, to be comforted and held. Following my friend’s advice, I did what I desperately wanted but desperately feared to do. I called the man I’ve been dating and asked to see him. I wasn’t going to call him. I was going to drown myself in books and ideas and try to distract myself from the pain of being alone. I was going to try hard not to obsess over whether I found myself so alone because of some lack in me, some failure on my part. Some refusal to be the good girl, to settle down and create a life with someone. I was going to try hard not to feel like I well and truly deserved to be so alone. And I was going to fail. I believe I was determined to fail.
When it comes down to it, I’d planned a night of suffering for myself. There is something wonderfully self-indulgent in suffering. When you suffer, it’s all about you. Forget about the complex world in which we live, the ways it ties us up in crazy knots as we try to wind our way through it. You are the only being in the world, and if the world is shit it’s because you made it so. Well, fuck that.
The world sometimes proves an unforgiving place. There are constant pressures—from both sinister and well-meaning sources—to seek a particular form of happiness. Find a man, get married, buy a house, raise a family. Not that there’s anything wrong with this path. This path seems to work for some folks. It’s just not for me. And I was determined to suffer for that—in the absence of any punishment forthcoming from the world, I would punish myself. I would deny myself the love that I do not believe I deserve.
How much of suffering is self-inflicted? I spent time, wonderful time, with my college boyfriend and with my husband, but instead of enjoying the fact that we can still drift lightly through one another’s lives, I would chastise myself for the failure of those relationships. I would seek out guilt, the better to suffer. Certainly I made my share of mistakes in each relationship—there’s no denying that. But we’ve all moved past our past mistakes, and I do believe that we’re all capable of accepting one another just as we are. Why can’t I simply enjoy that, the wonderful luck of that?
Is it for the same reason that I could not, at first, bring myself to call the man I am dating, to admit my need, to come to him one human being to another and asked to be loved as I am? The men in my life are not the ones telling me I have failed. I’m doing enough of that for everyone involved. And though I may be getting that message from the world at large, I’m certainly listening for it. So hard, in fact, that I often fail to hear the other message that’s being communicated—by my college boyfriend, my husband, and the man I am dating. These men remind me that whatever I am, whatever my messy and muddled relationship with the world, I am loved.
Is this not, perhaps, more frightening than being alone?