At first, people and articles give you plenty of advice on how to live a happy single life. You bring along a book when you dine alone. You learn the pleasures of having the newspaper all to yourself on a Sunday morning. You go on ski trips with friends and sign up for a stained glass workshop on Thursdays. It’s a good life and as the months roll by, you get more confident, perhaps planning a solo trip or dabbling in DIY.
With so much time, you finally have unlimited opportunities to explore your unlimited potential to do and say and create. So you do. And say. And create. For many years. Sometimes you meet someone new, but when it doesn’t work out, it’s okay because you have projects and new lighting in the kitchen, autumn in New York to look forward to.
But after a few years, a shadow begins to darken the edges of your life. A shadow that gradually tempers your faith and desire – everything that puts colour in your cheeks – while you’re busy visiting antique markets with your mother and babysitting your nephews.
You won’t notice it happening, but eventually, other (cooler) emotions begin fill in the spaces where joy once reigned. You feel less enthusiasm while volunteering at the community garden. Cooking for one becomes laborious. You’re still independent and proud of it, but you’re also a little more reserved. A little more judgmental when you look in the mirror. A little more judgmental of others.
The shadow creeps in because you have begun to forget.
To forget the small things that you never knew you could forget because you didn’t understand their value. Having someone carry in your groceries. Having someone care if you ate your lunch. Having someone give you compliments.
(but that’s not entirely true, is it? you know how much you miss the compliments. you go about your daily affairs, getting haircuts and dressing well, but some days it feels a little symbolic. though you know that you shouldn’t rely on outside validation to make you feel attractive – that’s what the articles say, that’s what your yoga teacher says – the lack of compliments implant a suspicion about whether you’re being noticed at all. “am I still there?” you ask, patting yourself down. compliments mean that someone sees and appreciates you. that someone is making memories of you. they make you feel less invisible, yes?)
Most importantly, you forget how to let someone back in after so many years of being alone. You dutifully build a barrier against loneliness. A fortess to protect the hopes that over the years, were bruised, crushed, rejected, scoffed at, dumped on for reasons many or (worse) for no reason at all. A wall to keep fragile tendrils of desire safe from future harm, because you suspect that they won’t survive another lashing.
But there is no door in the wall that you’ve built (the articles didn’t say to add a door). The wall made from the detritus of past relationships pressing down on fears about future relationships, thickening with each new encounter and always keeping your hopes and desires just out of reach. You don’t need them, you tell yourself. It’s enough that they are safe.
Truth is, you do need your hopes, desires and even your fears. You need them as much as the touch of a warm hand against your arm in the night. Don’t forget them. Don’t keep them safe. If you think you have lost them, push your fingers into the shadows to dig them back out again. Because when someone does appear, quite suddenly, while you’re pouring a drop of milk into your espresso at a local bar, how will you break through that wall? There will be no time for tender shoots to push through to the light. No time to push away the shadow that has slowed down the movement of your fingers.
How do you learn to let someone back in? You live like you’ve never been hurt at all.
*A piece of prose that never grew into anything else.