One of my buzz words for the new year is love. (I know... so original, right?) Me and probably one billion other people.
I was in a work training course about five years ago and one of the icebreakers was to introduce yourself by saying your name and then sharing one word to describe your values. I heard words like "Family" and "Love" and "Faith." I remember thinking everyone sounded so trite and cliche.
I was the last one to introduce myself and share my word. I cleared my throat and loudly proclaimed, "I'm Lindsey Van Wagner and the word I choose is Freedom."
What did I mean by this?
It felt like I was the only one in the room without a wedding ring and/or a picture of a two-year-old in my wallet. Instead of feeling bad for myself, I felt bad for them. I think that I viewed these people as living in shackles. I convinced myself that I was the strong one - I didn't let society or anyone else tell me what to do, when to marry, when to have kids. I clung to that "I do what I want" mentality.
If I am being honest, Freedom was my word because I was scared. I was scared of my identity being threatened by others coming in to my life. Looking back, I think that I was actually the one living in shackles.
The story I had been telling myself is that I do not really want to be in a relationship. While there have been a couple of very short-lived flings (despite their intensity), I have not been in a long-term serious someone-I-bring-home-for-Christmas type thing since like... 2013. Sure, there are those few faithful suitors who continue to ask me out time and time again, with whom I have stayed platonic, but I convince them to stay at arm's length."Trust me. You might be in love with the idea of me - like, in theory - but you don't really want this."
Yes, this story is admittedly self-deprecating, but it has also been serving a great purpose. It lets me stay in my own little bubble, warded off from the many risks that are inherent in love and connection. Shackles.
For a long time I thought that the only way to grow was in solitude. Our culture promotes and rewards self-sufficiency - especially for women, and even more so in the current landscape of this gender revolution. Don't get me wrong, I definitely needed this alone time and I am so grateful I was smart enough to create space for that. There were a lot of battles that I had to take on solo. But now it feels like I might be staying alone in a self-punishing way. I am strong (AF) and I have developed into a more whole and complete woman, so do my attempts at growth still need to be so sacrificial in nature?
I always liked the idea of fairytales and hopeless romanticism, and I love the songs and music, and dreaming about it - there is a reason I travel far and wide to see Brian Fallon perform his music live. Furthermore, I recently found out I was published in the Caribbean Writer for a piece I wrote called "Hurricane in my Heart" ... (*rolling my eyes*) so I mean yeah I am in love with love. Guilty. But, deep down I held on to the belief that love is for others - not for me. I thought that I should just stay in love with the idea of love, without pursuing the real thing.
When I was living in the suburbs of Kensington and Bethesda, I liked to do my walking/running in the evenings about 6 - 7pm. As I passed by different houses in the neighborhood, I would breathe in the smells of dinnertime. I imagined the families eating and laughing and sharing their stories of the day, children bickering over who did the dishes. Sometimes it would bring me to tears - both tears of joy for their happiness and tears of sadness because I thought it something I would never be capable of having - merely a distant dream. Maybe I had somehow convinced myself that I didn't deserve it.
I also felt shame when I did experience that rare inclination to be with someone, like that made me "needy" or "weak." But, isn't wanting a partner an innate desire and a natural part of being human? From an evolutionary perspective, it may even be a primal instinct; people were safer when they were with a companion, instead of being alone in the wilderness. Even though our lives have become more civilized, comfortable, and less savage, aren't we still kind of living in the wilderness? I want someone to walk with, through it all.
(This image was cropped from a Gaslight Anthem tour poster created by the very talented Ernie of Hellgate Industries.)
Recently, while journaling at night, I have found myself doodling figures of couples! I didn't even realize I was doing it until all of a sudden on the page before me was a guy in a baseball hat standing under a palm tree with his arms around me.
I think I am just now starting to understand that entertaining the idea of a relationship doesn't have to be this black and white thing where I jump into an obscure vortex into the unknown. It's not like I have to decide to be either my own independent entity OR to be with someone forever, losing all autonomy. There are shades of gray and I believe that partners' lives may complement one another - we can have shared common interests but not ALL interests have to be the same. We can have friends individually AND as a couple. We can support each other's journeys, build each other up, challenge each other, strengthen each other.
A few years ago I started making a list of things that it might be nice to have a significant other for "one day," but I said I only wanted a boyfriend ~5% of the time. It has been interesting to watch this list evolve. The first few items were things like: "- tire changes, - help putting suntan lotion on my back, - someone to throw me a towel when I am in the shower stranded, - someone to travel with so I can try more than one meal at a restaurant." I still maintain that those things are important, but recently I have been adding things that sound more like: "- spiritual conversations, - dancing slow to Frank Sinatra on vinyl, - someone to go camping with, looking up at the stars all night, conversing about the beauty in our scars."
Another big thing that has changed is that I realize that I want to BE a better partner instead of only worrying about who will be the best partner for me. I want to support them just as they are supporting me and eventually, at the right time, learn to love them unconditionally.
I think that love need not be something we analyze and pick apart using our rational brains. I will know that it is right by noticing changes in the more abstract regions - heart, soul, instinct. I hope that when it happens, it will feel very natural and organic. I will still be me and we will still be us, and we will continue to grow and work on ourselves every day.
We are the authors of our own lives and we always have the choice to flip the script. Here I am, editing my script, and writing Romeo right on in to it.
Ready when you are.