It’s 1:00 in the morning, and tears are streaming steadily down my face. It’s been two hours and while the intensity of my crying has subsided, I haven’t been able to totally turn the faucet off. I haven’t cried like this in months; I haven’t felt like this in years.
I am keenly aware of the gaping hole in my chest – a familiar sensation, as this particular evening is reminiscent of how I commonly spent my evenings in years past, particularly in my undergraduate days. Back then, though, I had neither the awareness nor the words to describe exactly what I wanted, other than, I wanted a boyfriend.
When I was younger, I used to sob for hours, multiple nights a week, usually while my mom listened to my broken record of a tearful spiel about how lonely I was and how badly I wanted someone to love me and how disheartened I was that I couldn’t find that. I always felt foolish in those moments – out of control, intense, emotional – but no matter how embarrassed I felt about behaving in such a way towards my own mother, the pain and the need to express those feelings almost always won. Add humiliation to the mix of already-painful emotions such as loneliness and hopelessness and anger, and I was a living recipe for a shame cycle so strong, it called for multiple interventions from multiple friends over my high school and undergraduate days.
Time passed, I went to therapy, and I learned how to better control my emotions; I also began processing my own desires regarding romantic relationships, breaking down the warped views I had for myself and the unhealthy, twisted reasoning I had for wanting one. I learned how to put words to my experiences and name my needs and feelings to help replace my unhealthy desire for relationship with a healthy one. As I gained greater self-awareness, the intensity of emotional experiences such as those detailed above subsided; the desire, however, did not.
Here I am, age 25, fresh out of grad school, years away from the last major ‘episode’ I had on the topic of romantic relationships, yet I suddenly find myself thrust back into the intensely painful and unpleasant experience of staring my deepest desire in the face and truly feeling all of the feelings that come along with not having it. But now, at this point in my life, I have the words to understand why it is I still want this so badly and why it hurts so much that it’s not there. It leaves a distinct hole, and I’m still working on coming to terms with that being okay.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have dreamed about my wedding since I can remember. Daydreaming about Prince Charming is no stranger to my daily routine – and it was especially necessary during my grade school days of being bullied. Having someone to fantasize about – a strapping man who would sweep me off my feet and be a major role in the life of my dreams – helped me hang onto what little thread of hope I still had within me that I deserved a beautiful life full of unconditional love (the rest of that hope being metaphorically beaten out of me by bullies who did their best to convince me that my sole purpose in life was to serve them). As I grew up and entered the age of dating, the fantasy became more and more of a real possibility, but the further I walked through my teenage and adult years, the harder it became to continue dating and waiting for a good man and staying single. Not once in my adult life have I ever engaged in a committed, long-term romantic relationship. I nonetheless continued dreaming, holding onto that little thread of hope.
In therapy, though, we discussed that this fantasizing and ‘magical thinking’ was simply a defense mechanism that was now preventing me from actually engaging in a healthy romantic relationship because I was too attached to my own ‘story’ of how it should go. Outside of therapy, I heard countless advice from friends and family and the media about how people find themselves in relationships as soon as they ‘let go and stopped trying’ or were ‘just about to give up’, and it was at the point of zero effort that the person of their dreams waltzed right into their lives. It sounded like the fairytale fantasy that I had dreamed of, and it would actually come true if I could just let it go!
So I tried – I tried so hard – to stop daydreaming, stop trying, stop wanting it altogether – in hopes that the man of my dreams would waltz into my life as easily and effortlessly as so many others swore he would.
But he didn’t.
And I never really stopped daydreaming.
And I definitely never stopped wanting it.
So I continued walking along my merry(ish) way, still single. Still lonely. Yet, adding shame to the mix, wondering why I still wasn’t good enough or why I wasn’t able to figure out how to actually practice the confusing advice that so many had given me. But at least I was more emotionally under control than I used to be.
So why is it I found myself tonight feeling like I was back where I started years ago?
Maybe it’s the circumstances: we are in the midst of ‘social distancing’ (read: isolation) like no one has ever seen or experienced before. It’s natural that we’re all going to feel a little lonelier, right?
I certainly don’t disagree, and I know that everyone is feeling the ramifications of social distancing as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak; however, what I am feeling cannot be labeled as a loneliness resulting from this particular situation. Yes, I arrived in NYC for the Grand Closing of literally everything, so I have no good friends to speak of yet, nor do I have a community or social network. But I am not feeling a lack of friends or support – I have plenty of wonderful friends to call on for support from Ohio and SF, and I am living with family. It is admittedly disappointing that I cannot make friends the way I would have liked when I arrived, but that is not causing significant loneliness right now; rather, social distancing and isolation are magnifying the loneliness I have always felt as a single woman and bringing up feelings of hopelessness that I have not experienced in quite this way. It is bringing a bright light into even sharper focus on a deep need that has never been filled the way that I desire it to be filled, while laughing in my face that there is nothing I can do about it right now.
It’s not just that I want a partner, you see – it’s what having someone in the role of partner provides in my life. It’s what I have observed the role of partner provides in most people’s lives, and why exactly we want it so badly, beyond just getting to spend our lives with one special person.
To me, the role of partner is reserved for someone who ‘gets’ me – who sees me in the deepest, most intimate way, a way no other person has ever been able to see me. And that doesn’t mean they see me this way because other people haven’t tried, but it means that the person who is my partner resonates on my level; he is naturally, without trying, able to understand me and my perspectives. That doesn’t mean we agree on everything, and that doesn’t mean that having a relationship doesn’t take work; rather, it means that I can fully be myself around my partner, and he understands me in a way that I have never been understood by anyone else – and I, him. The way we see each other is profound, vulnerable, and validating.
It’s not just that I want a partner – it’s that I want to feel validated, seen, and deeply understood by another person, and the truth is, right now I’m not. For most of my life, I have been told that I’m ‘too intense’ or ‘too sensitive’ or ‘too much’; I’ve been told that my daydreams are ‘too aspirational’ or my expectations are ‘too high’, but when I reflect on those messages, I find myself realizing more clearly that I wasn’t being seen – I was being told to be something that I’m not because other people couldn’t understand who or what I was. Even today, I find myself feeling like I’m pleading with others just to be understood in why I feel lonely when I’m surrounded by people or why I feel misunderstood when people tell me that they understand or why I feel frustrated because I cannot always put words to the experience I’m having.
I am only now realizing the specialness of what it means to be an intimate partner to someone because I am only now identifying what exactly it is that I feel is missing within me that simply cannot be fulfilled by my existing relationships. This is simultaneously empowering and extremely disheartening.
It is empowering because, for the first time in my life, I can name exactly what I want and why I want it. I can identify the needs that a partner meets in my life that are not met by other significant relationships, such as friends, parents, and sisters.
It is empowering because, for the first time in my life, I am truly ready to engage in a committed romantic relationship and be successful at it. I hit NYC ready to date and meet the man of my dreams, knowing exactly what I want and need out of a relationship, and knowing exactly how to take care of myself along the way.
But it is extremely dishertening because, for the first time in my life, I have to sit with this emptiness, accepting that I am being stopped by forces beyond my control; the power to decide to do something about my singleness has been taken away from me. I can’t effectively date – social distancing has more or less removed that option from my life for the time being. I am finally ready for exactly what I’ve dreamed about for my entire life, and now I don’t have the option to pursue it. That hurts – and lots of people don’t understand at all what this pain is like.
Or if they do understand what this particular situation is like, they do not see me intimately enough for me to feel deeply understood.
For the first time in my life, I don’t feel truly understood at all – and the only person I know who can see and understand and listen is the one person who is not in my life right now.
Utterly and infuriatingly paradoxical, isn’t it?
To be fair, I am doing what I can in terms of dating through dating websites and apps; however, I believe that forging a true relationship can’t take place online or over texts, nor have I ever had much luck with online dating (and I’ve been online for over two years). As a result of social distancing, meeting face to face is almost impossible. These circumstances and limitations have had quite a negative impact on me, and have brought up extreme feelings of hopelessness. Yes, I have options to date still in a logical sense, but emotionally, I feel like dating is off the table right now, leaving me stuck.
I am not asking for additional advice or suggestions here; this post is not intended as a brainstorming platform, but as an expression of the complex and challenging emotions that I am facing not just as a single woman, but as a single woman in the midst of a worldwide COVID-19 epidemic. Please do not offer suggestions to me on what I could try or tell me that there’s just nothing I can do right now so I just need to hold on a little longer and then I can start living my life again. I understand the positive intent behind these statements, but please believe me when I say that I feel frustrated and misunderstood when I hear them, and they only add to my feelings of shame and hopelessness. This is not an accusation or attack on anyone – I do not cast blame or anger. I have chosen to include this section as an honest offering of the impact of statements such as these on me right now. The most helpful thing I have heard was not being told that someone understands, but was actually my mom affirming that she doesn’t fully get what this is like for me right now, and it sounds really disappointing.
Sometimes, the most helpful thing we can offer someone is not telling them we understand and then offering our own experience of it, but rather listening and admitting that we don’t get it, and validating the feelings they are sharing. Because that’s what I’m actually feeling right now – I feel misunderstood in my quest to find deep understanding in a partner, and this may sound rather confusing and counterintuitive, but I actually want to be validated in my feelings of being misunderstood.
I am incredibly fortunate and blessed to have the friends, family, and support that I have in my life – you all meet so many of my emotional and social needs! But at the end of the day, none of you are my partner, and while he is absent in my life, I will continue to feel like something is missing; I will continue to feel alone and misunderstood to varying degrees. This is a challenging notion to accept in the face of messages such as ‘You just need to become totally comfortable being single’ and ‘You just need to trust God – he always listens and understands.’ But this is where I’m at right now; I’m not going to fight it anymore.
I still feel that hole in my chest, but the tears stopped shortly after I started writing. I’m a control freak, and seeing as this is an out-of-control situation for me, I can’t help but feel hopeless and deflated; the only thing I can do is accept how I feel.
That’s going to have to be okay for now.
My deepest thanks for reading my heart once again.
With love and gratitude,
(Cover image photo credit: Tim Nieland from Unsplash)