As a New Yorker, this is difficult to write, but Woody Allen drives me crazy. The neuroses, the stress, the fast chatter … but it cannot be ignored that he’s a brilliant mind. One of his famous quotes:
To love is to suffer. To avoid suffering, one must not love. But then, one suffers from not loving. Therefore, to love is to suffer; not to love is to suffer; to suffer is to suffer. To be happy is to love. To be happy, then, is to suffer, but suffering makes one unhappy. Therefore, to be happy, one must love or love to suffer or suffer from too much happiness.
This quote has its own Facebook page. I wish I was kidding. People simply keep reposting this quote over and over … fifty-four minutes ago, an hour ago, four hours ago. But let’s not get started on the potentially inclusive brilliance and stupidity of social media (cough, Foursquare), we’ll be here all day.
My sister once wrote to me that “the ONE doesn’t make you hurt so much. The ONE is going to appreciate everything you have to offer, will love to do things for you just to see you smile, will be a partner through good times and in bad. The ONE isn’t all peaches and cream, don’t get me wrong. Love isn’t a Sandra Bullock movie, but when you know that you have complete trust in someone and that someone supports you, is your biggest cheerleader, and knows when to leave you alone because you’re in a mood and loves you anyway. The ONE is easy. The relationship itself shouldn’t be the third person in the relationship. If it requires this much analysis, it isn’t the ONE.”
Which is exactly what a sister is supposed to say when you’re sleeping on her couch with your suitcase at your feet, having just left the home you shared with the love of your life.
Yes, hopefully we will be so lucky to spend our lives with our best friend, who loves us unconditionally, despite mood swings, anger, and idiosyncrasies. Even when we are being selfish, spiteful, or just plain old mean. I would like to think that we all will find a love in which, when we come through that door, exasperated at our day, we are welcomed with open arms and reassurance, safety and security, a listening ear and a patient voice. But I don’t think that kind of love is “natural.” I think it’s a choice. One based on work, patience, and resolve. I think it takes effort. Like Woody said, I think it takes a bit of suffering. You have to want to do it. I think if you can dust yourself off, come out on top stronger, and have the good sense to challenge each other once in a while, then that’s love, too. True love requires love of truth. The truth in knowing that there is good and bad. True love requires the concrete foundation my sister spoke of … and the desire to build a mansion on that foundation … not to stop construction when you’re tired.
I’m a big believer in timing—that it’s not necessarily finding the right person, but both being on the same page at the same time. Both ready to settle down, both willing to forgo every other member of the opposite sex that comes along, both wanting to start a new chapter at the same time. That makes the other person “The One.”
But that’s the beauty of it, I suppose. There is no one definition. It’s different for everyone … because everyone is different. We’re never going to find a love that fits like a custom-made couture gown, every seam sewn onto our frame with our dimensions guiding the needle. We live in an off-the-rack world. And our relationships … love, familial, and friendships … are only as strong as our most difficult, weakest threads.
It’s widely known that the first step in any rehabilitation program is admitting you have a problem. In the past few months, after my disastrous breakup, a very bad habit was born. I stare at people’s left hands to see if they bear a wedding ring. It’s not about sizing up eligible bachelors, for I do this with both men and women of all shapes and sizes. My crazy does not discriminate.
This habit had more to do with hating everyone whose ring finger flashed. Not because I’m anxious to wear a white dress or catapult a bouquet at screaming singles. Instead, I assumed these ring-wearers had it all figured out—that their lives were somehow more complete than mine, that they had a secret—and since my membership card to the Country Club of the Happily Attached had recently been revoked, I was not allowed to know it.
I recognize the absurd nature of this, and am all too aware that we have no idea what goes on beyond closed doors and in people’s relationships. I am not jealous of them. I am jealous of the imaginary lives I created for them. The worst are the ones walking with their golden retrievers. Those are the ones I want to kick in the shins.
I find myself manifesting joyous marriages, doting spouses, and devoted children, family dinners with the golden curled at their feet. Thankfully, after several weeks of this, I am now practiced in hastening my rebound back to reality, where relationships are hard work, children cry, and dogs bark.
The recent loss of love in my life has me thinking about my faith. As children, every night before we went to bed, my mother would tuck us in and help us to say our prayers. She had to help, because out loud we had to name every member of our family, and being Irish Catholic, it was tiresome. On nights she was exhausted, she would allow us to emulate Tiny Tim, and say “God bless everyone.” It was tradition to pray in Catholic school, to go to Church, to celebrate the sacraments … all those choices habitual and preordained, no pun intended.
Now, I’m thirty-two, laying in bed with nightly insomnia, counting sheep. Literally. I’m thinking the phrase must have come from somewhere. At one point in history, someone truly believed this as a remedy for the sleep-deprived. Alas, it’s wildly unsuccessful. This is why I like lamb chops so much.
Sheep don’t work, so, in an attempt to relive my youth, I try praying. Out loud, just like I practiced for so long. I think that God must know more than anyone that there is no shame in honesty, only freedom. So I pray. To help me do better. To forgive and seek forgiveness. I pray that he is working on my future husband as much as he is working on me. I pray for the gift of being able to trust once again without fear of having my heart broken. I pray that there is a future out there that is bigger than one I can imagine for myself.
I’ve spent all these years reaching for something at the top that I couldn’t quite get to, just out of reach, despite the promise of it, the leading on. It remains visible, tempting, glistening, and inches away from my stretched hand. In my attempts to lengthen my wingspan, instead I have fallen. Here I am counting sheep at 2 a.m., when the answer I’m so often told is to find peace in praying to a shepherd. Oh the irony. How’s this? Dear God: I would like a ladder.
With or without faith, I’ve learned that my response to what I am handed determines how my story ends. My goal for the future is to not only have history not repeat itself, Mr. Twain, but also to not have it come close to rhyming.
So despite another solo night, or maybe because of it, I popped open a bottle of champagne, one that friends had given to my ex and me at our Christmas/housewarming party to celebrate our new home. I didn’t have anything to commemorate, in the real sense. But I wanted to toast myself, for putting one foot in front of the other every day during this impossible time, for learning to sleep in the middle of the bed, for admitting my struggles, and persevering despite not feeling like it. Each day is a clean slate that brings both sadness, memories, and reminds me that life is so short, too short to save the champagne for a special occasion. It may not come … And it just may be that opening up that bottle makes it a special night, even if it’s champagne for one.