So, one of my dear friends is going through a pretty rough transition right now.
Actually, she’s wildly happy, goes out all the time, and has more fun on a weekly basis than most people I know combined. Nonetheless, she lacks the requisite stability for a therapist and has things on her mind.
Namely: like a lot of women my age, part of her is thrilled to be single and loves her life that way, and another part–you know, the part that grows from some indecipherable combination of genuine longing, physical desire and immense societal pressure–really fucking wants a boyfriend.
A combination that found us absorbed in a morning-after-late-night-out (many boys met, little potential perceived) talk in which she determined to probe the psychoanalytical depths of her issues with intimacy. Why, she posed, was she so afraid of getting close to someone?
Donning my neutral, poker-faced therapist persona, I leaned back on her bed, took a sip of milky black tea, and asked what I imagined my therapist would: “What,” I asked, “is the worst thing that can happen?”
We mumbled through a collective response: pain, heartbreak, suffering, misery, disappointment, loss, devastation.
You know: a heartbreak.. A really, really shitty thing–but a finite thing all the same. Sure, there are some heartbreaks that last a while, but the acute trauma–the brutal, unbearable misery–doesn’t last.
So why is it that so many of us are so paralyzed by the fear of something that, rationally, we all know is temporary?
As someone who makes herself vulnerable with the determined regularity of Michelle Obama’s arm workouts–it would seem a hard question to answer.
So yeah: for mysterious reasons that I routinely, and with equal determination, continuously explore, I don’t let fear of that hurt prevent me from risking it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t know all about that fear.
Instead, I basically live with it constantly. I (shocker) think about it always. Every time I get attached to someone, I enter a constant condition of terror that they will break my heart. And then, usually, they do…and then I get over it…and then I do it again: a pattern that does nothing to diminish the intensity of that fear each and every time.
Because, each and every time, the fear–like the attachment–is different: I’m not (yet) pinning myself to the nearest eligible man-without-a-substance-problem. I get attached to men I find genuinely interesting and exciting, people I love being with and talking to, people I can (you know, almost immediately) imagine a real and happy future with.
And each of them transform that abstract, existential fear of hurt into something concrete and singularly, specifically scary: not just that I will spend a few weeks wimpering couchside but that I will lose this person–this particularly, singularly fabulous person whose affections (and, perhaps most importantly, whose elaborately imagined future with) I’ve grown dependent upon, will take it all away.
Because at any moment, without any warning, they can. A truth that I’m pretty sure will never cease to be terrifying.
But then, so are a lot of things we can’t control: anthrax attacks, sick children, car accidents, plane crashes. And we still all go around living our lives, riding subways and planes, having kids and periodically going on dates, because that’s why we’re here: to see the world, to be passionate, to make families, to fall in love.
What else is there to do?
Pause: So I wrote all that a few days ago, and then WordPress got cranky, and I got lazy and self-doubting, and am only going back to post now. And since writing it I’ve spent time with a friend who has gone through just about more shit in her young life than most people can fathom ever getting through. And you know what? She’s getting through it. Not only that, she’s getting through it while having tremendous success and while surrounding herself with an exceptional amount of devoted friendship and love. And it’s easy to look at her life and think: “Gosh, I could never could deal with that.” And frankly, probably, most of us might not handle it as well. But the point is that if we had to, we would: that all of us are much more resilient than we think, that we handle the shit that we have to handle, and the most evidently stable parts of our lives can dissolve in an unexpected instant.
Which is all to rattle off this list of platitudes (thank you for indulging me): you never know what will happen, and chances are, somehow, you’re gonna get hurt, no matter what. If you’re happy being single, that’s great. Believe it or not, I am, too. But if you’re holding back out of fear, then listen to what I should have told my friend a week ago: whatever happens, you can deal. Get over it.