There was a period of my life where I wondered if I would always be a girlfriend. Although I probably wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, I was, without a doubt, a serial monogamist. As soon as one relationship would end I’d find myself in another serious relationship a few months later.
Is this it? I thought. Is this the person I’m going to spend my forever with? I remember thinking this one afternoon when it dawned on me that at the age of 25, in the middle of what would be a 5 year relationship, I had spent almost my entire adult life in relationships. I wasn’t unhappy with my boyfriend at the time but I also didn’t like the fact that I had never taken a year off, or any lengthy amount of time, to just be alone.
Who was I when I wasn’t actively loving someone else? It was easy for me to be a girlfriend. It came natural to me and I was good at taking care of another person. I enjoyed the stability, the building of a life with someone, the idea we were making memories together that we’d look back on fondly in 20 years. But was I good at being single? Being alone? I wasn’t sure.
Funny enough, even though I had these realizations I continued to enter into two more serious relationships after I broke up with my college boyfriend. During this time a lot happened. My brother committed suicide after years of dealing with addiction and depression, and the weight of his death fell heavy on my shoulders. It was easier for me to immerse myself in relationships with people I knew weren’t right for me than face the fact my only brother was dead. If I threw myself into the arms of someone else and made false promises of forever, even if at the time I whole-heartedly believed in them, it was always better than being alone and realizing there was a missing part inside of me that may never recover from the loss.
This was it, right? This was life. This was part of being an adult. Meeting someone, falling in love, making plans. There are songs played, poetry written, monuments built over this grand feeling we all desire in some way. It surrounds us – these ideas about love. Love is the way. Love is the solution. Love is the final answer to how we go about the rest of our lives. Once we find love, everything else is easy. These are the messages we hear, the ideas that are ingrained in our culture and are at the core of what it means to be human.
And I get it. Falling in love, being in love, feels fucking incredible. I’ve never done hard drugs but if there was anything I was addicted to, it was the heady sublime high you can only get from looking at someone else and thinking that person is the most amazing person you’re ever going to meet and that there’s no way in hell anyone else could ever make you feel the way they make you feel. And I thought I wanted it. Hell, maybe I even thought I needed it to survive this massive thing that had happened to me. Because when I was with a boyfriend it was always about something else – the sex, the drinking, the little moments that brought us together, the illusionment of planning a future together. It was a distraction I readily welcomed. Maybe I was a fraud or a cheat for tagging along in a life I knew was never really mine and was never going to be mine. I believed in them, and I believed in us at the time, but then later, after it had all ended and we separated our things into his and hers boxes, I wondered if the entire thing had been a dream.
Back in reality, coming down off the high of loving someone else, I wondered if I had truly wanted any of it. Even in the space of euphoria there was a part of me that always seeked an escape. Was I happy then and there with those men I loved and dated? I don’t know. I want to think so. Maybe it’s happiness I don’t trust because in the end, it always disappears.
After the last relationship ended I fell. Hard. Life was not great. I was probably in the worst position I had been at in my life, both mentally and physically exhausted, and depressed. That’s what happens when you’ve waited your entire life to deal with your own shit. Yes, it was the death of my brother I had tried to slip quietly under a rug and pretend like it never happened, but it was also the accumulation of so many things and moments in life I had tried hard to forget. I always thought it was better this way, to gloss over the pain and get back to talking about what everyone else talks about – the latest Game of Thrones episode, avocado recipes, the asshole boss at the office who just doesn’t get it. These are the things we talk about because they’re easy and relatable, but not because they have any sort of reflection on how we’re actually feeling. I didn’t want to go back to that – to the malaise of numbness we accept as reality, to relationships with people I liked spending time with but didn’t love enough to stay. I wanted something else, something different. I wanted to be alone.
It’s been nearly two years since I decided to take a break from relationships. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve climbed mountains, sled down volcanoes, and danced until sunrise. I’ve moved in and moved out. I’ve healed some of my wounds, but not all. I’ve made new friendships, strengthened others, let go of some, and in the end, learned who I was at 3 a.m. when there was nothing else but the dark of night outside my windows and the sounds of a city moving on without me. I found comfort in aloneness and found my own path to navigate through the loneliness when even the sound of my own voice could have startled me. I still have plenty of days where I question everything – my crazy life, my darkened past, my wild heart, my open future – those are the times that can be the most overwhelming. But then I realize that I am free. Finally, at once, I feel free.