Wanting love is OK. Having love is not impossible. A plea to pursue what you want in life and love.
If I am waiting, should I be waiting? If am wanting, should I be wanting?— The Decemberists
Me: Yes, yes, be waiting! Be wanting!
I am afraid that us singles have been left fearful of wanting, so we climb on our little flying carpets and hover just above it. It’s a mind trick that ultimately leaves us sad but uncertain of why. We tell ourselves we aren’t wanting, we’re above wanting, but we have a pervasive loneliness that we can’t assuage.
I went to a divorce recovery group of sorts a couple of years ago. It made me so uncomfortable I could hardly keep my mouth shut. The leaders—two passive, soft spoken, doughy guys in their early 50s (I’ll call them Little and Big, because they came in two sizes), had a lot of catch phrases they would return to, as if you kept pulling the little string attached to Little and Big’s backs. These were the words of recovery, I suppose. Everyone in the group was clinging to them so fiercely they all stared me down with accusing eyes when I dared to dissent. And I could tell they were all thinking I was just a poor outsider who didn’t yet know the way. The way to happiness, for them, lay in the pull string phrases from Little and Big. We’ve all heard them: Be happy alone first; You don’t need someone else to be happy; Needing someone is weak; Needing someone is codependent.
Respectfully speaking, I think that is a little pile of bullshit. This is what happens to us when we have been burned by love, crashed in romance, beached on a deserted island with no one to come yank us back into the water. Sometimes, sadly, it’s happened to us over and over again. It seems easier and less painful to decide we don’t need anyone else and can be perfectly happy alone, ballroom dancing by ourselves in the kitchen or knitting a onesie for the chimney. Once we decide this, and convince ourselves of it, we might just be temporarily elated for five minutes or five days. And then the unrest sets in. We can’t identify the unrest because We are happy alone! We don’t need anyone else! But the unrest is there because we drank the potion, a little bit, and convinced ourselves of something untrue.
It is okay, people, to be wanting. It is okay to want a buddy, companion, compadre, and to even, Gasp! think you could be happier with a dance partner. The trouble lies, I suppose, if you wait for that person to initiate a happy life. Yes, be happy anyway, in spite of your loneliness. But, be lonely also. Because it informs you that you are wanting. And things come to those who want.
It is really painful to engage in this relationship with wanting. I’m not honestly sure how to do it. A couple of years ago a friend who happens to be a therapist challenged me to be alone for 6 months— no dating, no searching, just resting in my singleness. So I did it, just to check it out, because I am a student of life like that. (And I wanted to prove him wrong.) It was amazing! I had a million revelations. I noticed all of the ways I was waiting for the right person before I was willing to really dig deep and live in the way I wanted to live. Stop that at once! I decided, and became more invested in the life I had as a single mom of two girls. “I am going to be the one person carrying all the shit to the school ice cream social and not feel sorry for myself,” I decided. And I did, instead of thinking, “When am I going to have someone to help me carry all of this shit!?” “I am going to love my house as if I could live in it forever,” I decided, instead of “Someday I will meet someone and leave, so why get invested here?” It was transformative and intoxicating in a way, to be shamelessly my single self. My married friends act as if they have chosen the lives they are leading, so why shouldn’t I? Why should I act as if this life just landed upon me? When in fact none of us are the masters of our destiny just as much as we all are. It is completely relative.
Anyway, I made a mistake. My friend’s dare temporarily lifted some of the pain I had been feeling about being alone, and made me decide “I do not want!” I threw a tiny temper tantrum in my own mind and became fiercely committed to not wanting. Because it was such a relief! If I did not want, I didn’t have to be heartbroken that I did not have. If I did not want, I didn’t have to be vulnerable, or try to trust, or really, try at all. If I did not want, I didn’t have to reflect much on myself or my practices in getting. Because I was going to be happy alone, god damn it. I wasn’t going to get anything, and that was fine, because I did not want!
Except for that I did. I just buried it deeply in the defenses of radical, empowered aloneness. There is a middle road. It is the road of happy-ish wanting. How do we get into relation with happy wanting? I don’t know exactly, but I’m pretty sure the first step is getting honest. I am pretty damn happy, a decent amount of the time. I am also having a human experience on planet earth— that leaves for some trials of the heart. I am also cognizant that I am living a middle class life in the USA and that makes me pretty damn privileged and lucky. Anyway, in spite of all the bounty I have, I want. I’m going to be okay with that.
Why do I give a care? I guess because my friends in their 30s and 40s are deciding that life didn’t give them what they wanted, and they are becoming complacent in that. My friend said yesterday, “I always wanted a family and I’m starting to realize I’m not going to get that.” He’s 40. I’m worried that we are setting ourselves up for failure with our absurd expectations of what a modern romance should be, and when it does fail we throw up our hands completely and decide not only that our life doesn’t hold that for us, but that it won’t.
Love is in crisis. Because we have made it into something nearly impossible. Any given year, 50 percent of us are suffering from a broken heart. But because love as we know it is flawed, let’s not throw it out the window. Let’s not discard it by saying “Not in this lifetime.” Let’s desire it still. Even through our pain and disappointment. Let’s want it. Let’s keep it energetically alive so that it will continue to evolve. Let’s hold it in mind, and imagine the impossible, possible.
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