I dragged myself out of the house yesterday for my long run—4.5 miles. It was my day off, I was tired, my feet hurt from working all weekend, but I knew it was the only day this week I’d have the time to run that far. The sky looked a little ominous, but weather reports said I had about an hour before the show.
1.7 miles in , however, the rain started. Followed by low rolls of thunder, followed by the kind of wind that pulled rain out of the sky in sheets and curtains. Something that resembled a small river was flowing and churning downhill beside me as I ran on a rapidly flooding sidewalk. I remember thinking: I could turn back now, cut this run short. But then I thought: fuck it. I could stand a ferocious downpour. And so I kept running, my feet splashing through puddles the color of rust thanks to all that red Georgia clay in the soil. I erupted into laughter, into joy, into love embodied, into love running down the street in the pouring rain. I felt like such a badass, strong, unruly woman. And I loved myself in that moment in a way that, for most of my life, has been difficult, if not impossible.
It reminded me of a whole slew of things that have been on my mind lately. Namely: love and the shroud of mystery that surrounds it. This past winter, I briefly dated a guy who was bad for me. He had many good qualities, but ultimately: he was dishonest, selfish, and uncaring (or: just plain mean). It took me about a month to figure out just how bad—and while I wish it had only taken me one day—one month is much better than a year or two, which is how long it has taken me in the past. In the midst of trying to extricate myself from that mess, I went to the supermarket feeling rather sad, mopey, and alone. I had the glum outlook that I’d “never find anyone.”
But wandering the aisles, a rebuttal sprang forth from my heart, and it said: “so what?”
It was in that moment that I realized I did not need romantic love, I didn’t need to be loved by some man in order to be happy, to be whole, to live a wildly beautiful and full life.
And over the past few months, I’ve been trying to figure out what that means, and how to do it. I’ve been trying to figure out how one can be truly happy and fulfilled even without a romantic partner in their life, nor on any distant horizon.
It may seem dark to try and figure this out, but, it is a real possibility for any of us: that we might NOT find the love we hope for. We might move in and out of relationships our whole lives. We might not find someone we can be with for forty or more years. We might die before love finds us. The possibilities for how this could not work out are quite endless. So I don’t want to live my life, alone or with a partner, thinking that my happiness is contingent upon my relationship status.
To be clear: I’ve long been happy on my own, I’ve enjoyed my independence, the freedom that comes with being alone. But I’ve always gotten antsy after being single longer than a year or so—as in, OK, this has been long enough, WHERE IS HE!? There has always been the fear that I’d be one of those “unlucky souls” who ended up alone. This fear certainly played a role in my ability to stay in relationships that became unhealthy or abusive. And it certainly played a roll in the belief that I needed to be seen and understood and valued by someone else in order to feel like I was real, or worthy, or whole.
But running through that storm yesterday: I saw myself. I didn’t need anyone to see me (and no one did, smarter people stayed indoors!). I saw me, and that was enough. I loved myself in that moment, and that love is slowly learning how to extend itself into my everyday.
When I turned thirty-four this past March, I momentarily pouted. What a mess my life was! This was NOT where I thought I’d be at this age. But then I realized: THIS IS IT. This is the only life I get. I didn’t want my dance toward the grave to be a sad or incomplete one. Of course, I have always had and will continue to have sad or hopeless days—and that is fine, it’s healthy to feel all of our emotions. But I didn’t want the general trend of my dance to be hopeless or melancholic. Because: my life might never work out exactly how I want it to, how I imagine it. And I might never find the love of my life. But I don’t want to spend my life fighting my circumstances, my reality. I do not want to arrive at my deathbed realizing I could not accept my existence, that shape it came in, the shape that I was. I cannot predict the future, so the best I can do is live fully and joyously in the present. I cannot guarantee I’ll ever find someone who will love me the way I want to be loved, so I may as well figure out how to love myself like that. If this is the only ride I get, I don’t want to waste it wishing it were different.
I’m not there quite yet—I still have days when I hurt because I have never met a man who has really loved me. But I am closer than I’ve been before: to the place where I don’t require someone else’s love in order to feel loved, valid, or good enough. To the place where I soften, where I open up more fully to the world and my existence in it. To the place where I am no longer afraid of what may or may not happen to me. (Unimaginable tragedy awaits us all in various forms, does it not?)
From 2011—2016 I was mostly depressed, anxious, and afraid. I loved my job and I had a lot going for me even outside of work. But I lived in fear and often felt empty, depleted, like I was floating through life, unanchored and directionless. Last year I decided to make some huge changes, and I’ve never been happier. From the outside, the hugest changes may appear to be the decision to abandon my career, to move to a new city. But those changes are merely ancillary, reflective of deeper, less visible changes that I made within me.
The principal changes I made were these: art first. And: face everything, especially the scariest things.
I stopped running from what I was most afraid of and made the conscious decision to try instead to sit with all of it. To look at it directly. To make peace with it, and maybe even, one day, to find beauty in it. When I was in Miami last week for my sister’s graduation, I saw a mural of a man and and a roaring tiger and a biting dog (see above!). To me, that mural felt like my decision: to face the beasts with tranquility, with grace. Because the beasts keep coming. You learn to face one and move past and it, and then another arrives. And I’ll probably never be fearless, but I’d like to be totally comfortable with being afraid. Because as long as we are growing, evolving, living and changing, life never actually gets any easier, challenges never evaporate, things are never perfect, and scary things could always happen.
And ironically, the “art first” change came one night in the fall of 2016 when I asked myself a series of increasingly challenging questions, the last of which was:
“If you had to choose, what would you prefer to lose: a chance at true love, or the chance to be the artist you know you are?”
It was not a “nice” answer, and it was a question which I hoped would always be a hypothetical one, but I knew my answer almost immediately: I’d rather lose a chance at true love.
Making art is the most important thing in my life. So, it must come first, there must always be space for it in my heart, in my mind, in my day-to-day (even if not every day). It would be unfortunate if I never found true love. But my life would not be worth living if I could not be an artist. So.
So if I make it to my deathbed never having found true love, I’ll always know: I chose. Just as I chose to leave my job. I chose to struggle. I chose to fall. I chose less money for more creative freedom. I chose to save myself instead of finding someone else to do it. I chose to try falling in love with what terrified me. I chose to crawl into the dark places and figure out how to illuminate them. I chose what was most important to me. I chose to accept that I cannot control everything. And I chose to accept the shape that my life took, and love my time here on this beautiful planet.
We cannot have everything, and while I hope I never have to choose, I know (if I could only have one thing) exactly what it would be.
Last week, I took myself out on a date “with myself”. A glorious excuse for good wine and food and sweets. It made me think about love. And I said to a friend yesterday: that I want romantic love to be not like sustenance, not like oatmeal or potatoes, but like a gorgeous and nourishing four-course meal, plus dessert. Good for me, and an absolute pleasure to behold, but more than I need; superlative. It’s very likely that I’m a lunatic, that I’m wrong, but I think when we no longer need something—that is when it can function to its highest order, that is when it can be what it is, and not what we need it to be. That doesn’t mean it will be perfect, nor always easy (eg: I did have to pick olives out of my salad on my date-with-self). But if I am already sustained, then I don’t require sustenance. And so I am learning to sustain myself: wholly, joyously.
I really hope I find love. I do. But if I don’t, I’d like to still be wildly alive, happy, fulfilled. It won’t be easy, but my freedom rests on my locating the ability to do so.
Last night, thinking about all this, I found great comfort in Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes”. I’ll close this entry with an excerpt:
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
*Mural (mentioned and at the top of the post) by Miami-based artist Evoca.