Classics pt. 6: ‘Only’ but not lonely
Originally posted Oct. 22, 2004.
I don’t know if it’s the change in the weather, but something about the onset of fall makes loneliness sting just a little more. Especially here in the East, there’s something when the chill creeps in to hug unguarded skin that reminds you you’re not in anyone else’s embrace. There’s nothing at all affectionate when the wind tries to cop a feel. It’s like this season brings on a nesting impulse — that makes you wish for a warm body in your bed at night to press cold feet against in the dark.*
Like sister, the brother
Between lonely baseball viewing, and a recent conversation with my youngest brother, I’ve given some thought to longing. You see, I used to be the queen of it (now I’m probably just more expert at repression). Having a chat with the “little” brother (21 as of last month) took me back. We were talking about his weekend entertainments which, since he’s still in training down Pensacola way, tend to be limited by the bus routes extending from his base. Walmart is a frequent destination.
But what he really likes are coffee shops — being the romantic Broadway child that he is (not that all four of us turned out that way, but we so-called “bookends” sure did — creative and moody, just like our guitar-playing pap). Being a most notorious latte fiend myself, and one who is fond of the cheerful buzz created by caffeine consumed in cardboard, I can appreciate his taste. The problem, however, is that my youngest brother’s sensual side is sadly underdeveloped. Not enough, for him, to drink in the civilian chatter, or savor the aroma of those infamously scorched Starbucks beans. Oh no. Like the piner-in-training that he is, he’s gotta sit there wishing he had company. And probably not male company. Probably not even a sister’s company. Most likely: unrelated, female company. Apparently he feels this way quite often.
Now, lest my mild sarcasm confuse you, I’m really not using him for sport, but for example. Rewind nearly ten years previously, to a dim-lit Arizona curb along the sidewalks of a mall. Sitting down, awaiting her parents’ taxi service, we find a young and romance novel-addicted Anna, passing the time with daydreams of the Crush. What if suddenly he were to drive by? Wouldn’t that make everything happy? Indeed, there was a period where every time I found myself alone in an undesirable circumstance, I’d simply imagine myself away to a place where the Guy of Gal Broadway’s Hour was actively onstage, and saving her from boredom, unhappiness, or solitude.
In search of pro-choice relating
Freshman year of college: alone in a small, Midwestern town, suddenly separated from my fam by several states, a massive ocean, and some countries, I reached a new low. Like many young college women, I was becoming obsessed with choice. Only it wasn’t the choice of what happened to my body, but the choice of people to be in my life. It had dawned on me that practically no one in my life was there voluntarily. I was born to the same parents, we had the same classes … or some other circumstance contrived to bring us together. But none of those people who knew me were acting as free agents in seeking my time. Only a boyfriend, I was convinced, would be demonstrating that commitment.
God, of course, didn’t quite see fit to let me get what I thought I needed (although He did at least relent on my first kiss). Eventually I decided that maybe His choice mattered most of all. This didn’t stop me crushing on guy after guy (without which we wouldn’t have this blog, to make the obvious point), but over time I learned to enjoy my own company.** Good thing, because there’s a helluva lotta dancing I would’ve missed out on without learning to do it myself. Of course, the solo act doesn’t work so well with swing dance — and too much solitary “practicing” actually makes you a rather bad partner — but in general getting comfortable with “me” has helped.
Before you worry I’ve gone off the psychoblather deep end, however, let me clarify. I don’t mean that Anna got narcissistic (any more than previously), but that I learned to — most of the time — stop escaping into dreams of company. I’ve gone to movies by myself, even bars by myself (which, as a chick not looking to hook up, is a pretty ballsy thing,). Of course, part of this is just my social makeup — at least surrounding myself with people grants a pseudo sense of interaction. I mean, I could be eavesdropping, after all. That’s why I was always so bent on studying at coffee shops in college and grad school; doing all that work at home laid bare my loneliness, diminished within sightline of others.***
It’s a lesson I hope my brother will learn, because I think he’d enjoy his present more. And not just because, someday down the line, he may be so overwhelmed with noisy children that he actually starts to long for the solitary days of youth, but because I think contentedness is a habit. Just like dreaming your way from the present is a habit. If you’re always casting your mind off into fantasy, you’re training yourself to be perpetually unsatisfied. Eventually the only thought that makes you happy might be imagining yourself, imagining to be happy. Yes, that would be a masturbatory fantasy, you’re right. Kind of sad, considering most of us probably start the fantasy habit because we’re alone. It’s just that, somewhere along the line, there stops being anyone but the fictional someone whose company can actually — supposedly — make us happy.
Me, I’m hoping for a real man, with real kisses, and real sex (and real passion for Jesus). But until he comes along, happiness in absence is better than a dream.
*Not that they would get to do the same with you, of course; isn’t the point how other people satisfy your needs? Forget about their needs; this is America, where selfishness is patriotic! Or something like that …
**And that of God as well.
***Earshot being part of the social-study package, since I never sought to labor in the library.