I’ve been writing and talking a lot these past few weeks about vulnerability. Authenticity. And the realizations I’ve had about myself as a result of all this writing and talking have been pretty fucking humbling.
So. Because I cannot write or talk about anything else, I’m going to tell you what happened.
Listen to the podcast interview in which I discuss what I learned from this here.
I have realized, as I said in that post a couple of weeks ago, that while it is extremely easy for me to be open, it is not easy for me to be authentic – to show the people in my life the *real* me, in all its complicated unprettiness. I know how people want me to act, and so that’s what I do. And if I deviate from this performance – if I’m in a bad mood, or depressed – I apologize, and then I fix it.
Because, of course, I am frightened that if I stray from the script, the people I love will leave me.
I have spent my life firmly believing that I can only be loved conditionally. I have chosen man after man who loved me, sure, but who also needed me in very concrete, logistical, and often financial ways. I told myself that I was helping them because I loved them, but the truth is I was also helping them so that I could keep them. Because if all I have to give someone is me, that’s clearly not going to be enough.
And then I fell in love. I know you probably don’t believe me; that’s okay. I wouldn’t believe me, either. But I was in love, so much so that it poured out of me in waves. I told everyone, because I had to. I told the Internet, even though I knew better. It felt like I’d been awake for years, and was finally, finally allowed to rest.
It felt like at last I had a reason for everything that happened; something I could point to and say This is why.
It felt so good.
I talked to my therapist about this at length, of course. I told her how I had this knee-jerk desire to send him posts I’d written on various topics, so we could skip ahead towards understanding each other. I’m better at writing about things than I am at talking – I always have been. I didn’t want to mess anything up with my in-real-life inelegance.
Stop, she said. Do not do that. Let him learn about you from you; not from your tidy little gift boxes of stories.
And so I made a decision: For perhaps the very first time in my life, I would come out of the gate, very simply, as myself. I would not perform. Because I didn’t want to do that anymore, and because I believed that with this man, I could finally, finally stop acting.
I did it. I stopped.
And he left me.
So suddenly, and so cruelly, that it felt very literally – viscerally – like I’d been hit in the face, so hard it left me spinning.
There are mutual professions of true love, concrete plans for the future, just as it has been practically from the moment we met. We know we are acting crazy; we laugh at ourselves for how hard and fast we’ve fallen. We also just know.
He goes to a series of Fourth of July events with his ex-wife and children. I admire him for this; I tell him so. He tells me he wants to know where I’ll be so he can come to me afterwards, but then “afterwards” keeps getting pushed later, and later still. Eventually I need to sleep, so I tell myself he is prioritizing his kids. They wanted him to watch the fireworks with them. He did that because he is a great dad. Then he fell asleep somewhere or another. I ignore how drunk he sounded all day.
I’m sitting in my living room writing about couches, and I get a series of texts.
Here is what they say.
His ex-wife asked for him back. He’s going to give it a try, just to see if it can work. He doesn’t think it will. He loves me. He doesn’t love her. It’s too complicated for him to explain any more fully; I need to trust him.
Hours later, we talk on the phone, for two minutes. He says he has made his decision. A 7.1 earthquake hits at the moment I hang up, which makes for a lovely metaphor: The earth rolling under my feet, as I wonder whether what I’m feeling is even real.
More texts. More promises that he loves me; he just has to see. He’s so scared he’ll find out he was wrong, and it’ll be too late – I’ll be gone.
It’s late – almost midnight – and my phone dings, jarring me from my half-sleep. He wants to talk. He has to tell me something important.
He’s been lying. He’s not going back to his ex. He just doesn’t love me. He’s been lying.
He “does this sometimes.” He “gets excited about people.”
Until, I suppose, he’s not.
I am terrified to write about this, of course. I know what’s coming: You’re so stupid. You weren’t really in love. You’re almost forty years old, how could you act like this?
You. You. You.
So let me save you the trouble: I am embarrassed, and humbled in a way that I don’t know I’ve ever been. I know that I did nothing “wrong.” I know it’s “not about me.” I know that the way this man treated me was far, far beyond the scope of how human beings should treat other human beings. But I also know that I played a role in this, because of course I did.
I created chaos, once again. I distracted myself, once again. I ran full-speed towards the beautiful feelings so that I could put as much distance as possible between myself and the bad ones.
I also want him back. Isn’t that awful? I want him to come to me crying, begging, with some crazy explanation – a gun was being held to his head, perhaps. I want this to make sense.
I live in LA now, which means that I hear the words “the universe is trying to tell you something” more than I’d like. But god damn if I didn’t get the message this time. And here is what the universe is telling me – in the most crushing way possible, because apparently that’s how I need to hear it if it’s going to get through.
I have to stop running. I have to sit in my ugly, sad, shameful feelings, and I have to pick them apart, bit by bit, so I can see what’s inside. I have to learn how to be with myself, by myself. I simply have to stop looking for solutions to sadness – to loneliness, to fear – that aren’t right there in my own little brain and body and heart.
I’ve said all this before; I know I have. I’m embarrassed to be saying these things again. I know that I may not even get it right this time; this lesson is not being learned as neatly as I’d like it to be.
But here it is. Here I am. Broken, and putting the pieces back together. All by myself. Again.
One more thing.
When I got that first text – the one that hit me in the face – here is what I did. I picked up the phone and called Francesca. I walked straight out the door with her talking to me, telling me to breathe, and straight over to my neighbor Margo’s house. I told her I needed to stay there, and she said, “stay.”
Later that night – after the earthquake – Margo and me and her three daughters curled up together on the couch. I don’t remember what we watched. I remember her youngest gave me a beaded necklace – one I’m wearing still – and that we made friendship bracelets from rainbow string.
On that couch, with those women, I was held.
I am not alone. I am loved. I am lucky.
I have said all this before; I am ashamed I can so easily forget my own words. And so I’ll say them again, and again, and again. And then, one day, I will believe that they’re true.