A couple in their mid-fifties, he thin with gray hair and beard, she thin with the faux blonde of younger years, embraced outside the arrivals area at Dulles Airport. Their bodies leaned into each other, almost collapsing with longing and relief. As I drove by them, I said to my daughter who I had just picked up, “That will never happen to me.”
“That’s sad,” she said.
And it was.
At a certain point, after a protracted divorce, two failed romances, some dismal dates, and the degradation of the on-line dating search, I gave up. I could appreciate the beauty of love, and companionship, and passion, but I was coming to terms with the fact that those were in my past and that in the future I would be alone, like my mother. Only she was 79 and I was 52; and she had been widowed after 54 years of marriage, and I divorced after 21 years. But the expectation that we would both remain without love was the same. She seemed pleased with the company; I was disheartened, but, nonetheless, satisfied that I was confronting reality.
But it was a lie. I was living within the illusion that if I pretended to accept myself as happy happy happy alone in my now empty nest, I would be rewarded with lasting love, full of respect and passion. It’s damn hard to challenge myths when they are so lovely to behold in spite of the pain and disappointments of past relationships. Or is there still a belief, beyond skin deep, that there doesn’t have to be such a dramatic parting from the initial moments of endless possibility and the ending moments of failure and loss.
Not long ago, on a solitary Saturday night, I watched a romantic comedy on my laptop. The story was silly and irrelevant, but the absolute beauty of watching two young people falling in first love was compelling. And, the sensuousness of the first touch of hand on bare arm and then the delicate pull into a kiss and embrace was so poignant that I couldn’t help but cry, nostalgic for moments long lost and a reminder, too, that my time for such innocence has passed. I ached in my unending loneliness, watching the movie to its happy end, saddened in my wisdom that it does not always end that way.
It’s not that I am continually confronted by my aloneness or that it continually bothers me, for I have embraced my quiet weekends and the absolute lack of necessity to coordinate anything with anyone. Yet, this luxury at times feels more like a stillness than a celebration. And I miss being able to express my love, whether for a child or a lover. Perhaps the aloneness is not just for a passionate shiver, but is from that intrinsic part of me that needs to care for others. Or is it that I need to be absorbed into another person’s life for my life, the motions of one woman, is not enough to evoke my fullness—has never been enough.
When I became a teacher nine years ago, I didn’t think I could do it because I didn’t know enough of anything to teach, and I wouldn’t be able to remember so many names. Those issues, I quickly understood, are easy to deal with, but it was the capacity for compassion that I never realized I had and which seems to have come out (though, surely, some students don’t see it when they only think of me as strict). Was this confusion based on my being an introvert? Are we lead to believe that an introvert only lives within the self, when, in reality, it is that our interactions need to be meaningful and fundamental, rather than a shower of words and laughter at a party? Have I not been able to fully comprehend who I am because I have enabled a societal norm to derail an honest appraisal of self? Am I an introverted people-person who needs both the engagement and the silence? Do I need love, in all its forms, and feel the lack of all. And so the longed for quiet has its flipside lack of intense interweaving of life with life.
A friend who has been divorced for many years says that it takes time to grow into solitude. Now that I realize how integral those relationships are to who I am, and not that they were roles to play that broke up the continuum of self, I realize that there will be no honest comfort if I am not giving comfort. I am that women who needs to lean into and be leaned onto; I am that woman who needs to heed the hearts of others.
What to do? There are the facts of two daughters who moved away for college: one who stayed away even after graduation, and the other who has only just begun her freshman year, and there is, too, no arrival to anticipate at the end of the day with a mental and physical embrace. I will forever miss the everyday presence of loved ones which has been an integral part of my presence.
But if the ache will not be soothed by solitude, then it is up to me to create relationships, in some form, for solitary solace will not suffice.