The first time my heart was broken, I received the best advice about love I had yet to hear, from (as is usually the case, with truly great advice) the seemingly least likely of sources. My manager at the time. A buttoned-up, stretched-too-thin, father to two-year-old twin girls, he and I, up to that point in our brief, professional relationship, had not delved anywhere near a topic as personal as either of our love lives.
Yet I, a hardly-turned-23-year-old, emotional mess with an inability to wear my heart anywhere but my sleeve, no matter how hard I tried, after spending a week blaming a mysterious case of Fall allergies and graciously declining all offers of Zyrtec with a barely-concealed, choked sob and a mumbled, “Thanks, but I don’t need any, really,” for whatever reason, decided to confide in him. Maybe I was finally tired of the front I had been living, for far too long.
He had pulled me into a private meeting to discuss something related to whatever I happened to be doing for my job, at the time, and of course, completely unrelated to my emotional state of affairs. And I, the whole while thinking I really shouldn’t talk to him about this (as it went against everything about professionalism, that had been beaten into my skull with a bat, from before I could walk), slowly began to apologize for my distraction, as of late. And then I told him about my blindsided breakup.
He responded by telling me his own, long-winded tale, of his version of heartbreak, that left the world as he knew it, shattered, all the years ago. And afterward, he told me two truths that I, to this day, carry with me.
That each of us, is, always, alone. And that love is a choice.
The latter was perhaps the easier of the two, at the time, for me to learn.
He exclaimed, as his eyes grew wide, “Love is not a feeling. We do not fall into love. We choose it. Each and every single day, we have to decide to love someone. Love is a verb. And so you need to find someone who is willing to make that choice.”
Ever since, I have not wasted more than a second (okay, really, a few months at most) on anyone who is not willing to make the choice.
You can smell them a mile away. The ones who are searching for the feeling. As so many of us do search.
Understanding the concept and putting it into practice are two separate things. But from my understanding, and the willingness to at least try to change my habits and inherited, neurotic tendency to want to fall into love, I can slowly chip away at the Walt Disney romance my mind spins like a cloud out of figments of imagined silver.
I can decide, time and again, to stay rooted in reality, even when it feels far less fairytale-esque and far more like a ridiculous sitcom in which you cringe as the protagonist, yet again, stumbles into that pothole you just know they should have seen coming. The soundtrack so clearly warned of its appearance, as did the fact that they trip over the same exact pothole, in the opening act of every episode.
The first piece of advice, that we are always alone, is one that I continue to wrestle with, years later. As my manager elaborated, he explained that, although happily married, his wife could leave him at any point in time. He does not rely on her to fill any kind of void he may experience in his life. Instead, he succumbs to the belief that he is, ultimately, always alone.
Because, in truth, the thing that connects us most, as humans, is our own flighty nature. We all live in temporary bodies, and no matter what kind of spirituality, reincarnation, or soul-life you believe in, the one constant among us all is that we are, in our current state of human minds and flesh, always changing.
Even my human understanding of God is always changing too, in rhythm with the present moment.
Ultimately, we cannot rely on any other human for any sort of permanence, or even longevity, in his or her choice (as a verb) to love us.
And any attempt to create a lasting structural bind, between ourselves and another human, is really just the vague masking of a deep-seated insecurity. Such as the belief that we are not enough.
I recently started a business with someone who, when we agreed to begin the project, appeared to complement my weaknesses. I thought I was doing the right thing, by working with someone who would address my own shortcomings, and, consequently, free me up to play to my strengths. And, to be fair, I was doing the right thing, as I was following my gut, the entire way. I do not regret for a second choosing to start the company together.
However, I discovered shortly thereafter, that she had changed her mind, and no longer wished to embark on this path together, at least, not in the same way I intended. Life had happened, steering her along an alternate course. And in the changing tides, she handled herself with integrity and grace. As did I. And to my knowledge, neither of us harbors any kind of ill feeling toward the other.
Even so, today I felt my insides twisted in a knot, as the reality of her decision slowly dawned. That I had, unwittingly, become a solo business owner. And all of the qualms, stresses, as well as the imminent possibility of failure associated with such an endeavor, loomed at me with an eery eye from around the murky corner of the wooded forest in which I found myself wandering.
Around every bend in the road, I could sense the gnarled roots growing larger and more trip-worthy. And I, unable to move fast enough, lest I escape the tree before the impending dusk.
Such is life, I guess. Wandering solo in the forest. Tripping over knots and brambles, and maybe catching myself or perhaps landing, with a scritch and a scratch, before picking myself up, dusting off, and traversing, forward, yet again. Just a bit stronger, or at least slightly tougher this time around.
Recently, I have personally come to know several single mothers. I hold great reverence for each of them, as I cannot imagine being solely responsible for the upbringing of another human. Yet they have done so, beautifully.
Every time I hear another one of these ladies’ stories, I stand in awe for the strength and fortitude before me. Yet now I recognize the common thread between us. While my own situation doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to theirs, there is one minuscule similarity between the tales.
At one point, these ladies, too, must have not had the ability to imagine raising children on their own. Yet when the time came, they just did it. Learning how to do so along the way, and uncovering their own strength, grain by grain.
In that golden example, I know I can walk through my own forest, however different it appears. I can choose, in every given moment, to stop relying on others to guide me or even walk alongside, hand-in-hand. I can allow myself, simply, to walk my path. Even when it feels terribly lonely.
In realizing that I am never the victim of another person’s flightiness, I also release myself from playing the role of the fake hero and inauthentic martyr. Because the other person never was the villain, in actuality. Any kind of self-contrived role, for either of us, is too great a burden for us both to bear. And only when we have dropped the roles we unconsciously play, do we have a hope for connection.
And so today, as I cycled, thoughts swirling until they began to make the slightest bit of sense, I realized just how hidden I was, in my own notion of togetherness. How much energy I had poured into cultivating a shared experience, as well as how much energy is now freed for me, to pour back into myself and my millions of projects.
Because I always have been the lone wolf of the pack. Adaptable enough to get along with the group, and if you mess with one of my babies (albeit, a creative baby), you had better watch out. But perhaps all along, freely myself, on my own.
We all stand, together, in our aloneness.
Rooted in a sense of the solitary nature of our existence, we begin to have a hope for authentic connection. Maybe even cultivating what we so desperately craved, to begin with, in our emphasis on so much togetherness: unity with something greater than ourselves.
This piece was published on Rebelle Society.