Mating, Dating, Relating, Medicating

Feb 22

Wherever You Go

I used to love to watch him drive. Something about handing over the keys to my Jeep and settling in to the passenger seat, the chance to study his profile unabashedly, made me  deeply, profoundly content. I dove into those moments when they came, absorbing their flavor and texture, memorizing every contour, because I knew they would be fleeting, and few. I was right.

He was a serious, careful driver, obeying all posted traffic laws and never getting angry when people cut him off. I’m more of a boundary-pusher, myself–I never met a speed limit I didn’t exceed by ten miles per hour–but I loved the look of concentration on his face when he changed lanes. Sometimes I’d have to look out my own window to hide my unaccountable smile.


Here I am, on the last night of my first ever solo vacation. I’m sitting at a little iron table in the garden of my B&B. The night air is soft, just the temperature of my skin, and heavily perfumed with nightblooming jasmine. (Someday, I will live in a house–a small blue cottage, hopefully–where I can smell this every day.) I know there was a time when I couldn’t imagine ever traveling so much that I wouldn’t be able to remember how many plane rides I’d been on, or which cities I’d already visited, but now I can’t remember what it must have been like to be that girl. Yet another new phase I tipped into, unaware, years ago now. (Have I been to St. Louis? What’s the name of that town I went to in Vermont?) I was the first person in my family to own a passport. A generation ago, my people went decades without crossing state lines. I remember what that was like, too, passing into West Virginia the first time I left Ohio and being awestruck by those green-blue mountains. I used to think I’d go to college there–it seemed so far away and exotic.

Key West is fine. I’m staying in a nice place. I went kayaking around a mangrove island–my first time kayaking in the sea, though not my first time in a kayak (that was in Costa Rica, in a jungle river where little spider monkeys stared at us from the banks.) Sailing out to the mangroves, I befriended a gay couple from DC who work in the same industry I do, and we did the usual virtual Rolodex comparison, drawing a mental map that placed us only millimeters apart. The world really is so small. In Zanzibar once, my sister and I started talking to a woman staying in our tiny, remote resort and discovered we we lived only two blocks apart in DC.

The reality of just how small the world is reminds me of one of my favorite self-help maxims, the one about geographic cures. Wherever you go, there you are. Your problems are not localized; when you move around, they go with you. Or at least find you, sooner or later. As much as I believe this, I ignore its essential truth all the time. Every time I exit baggage claim I expect to seize my birthright as a beautiful, dazzling, splendid creature whose laughter wafts down from balconies on to slightly envious people each evening. My frizzy hair and chubby, sun-scorched face are always such a shock in the bathroom mirror when I unpack my toiletries that first night. I avert my gaze and line up the “Radiant Glow” face powder I’ve brought so that I will subtly sparkle in the candlelight that is surely going to adorn every table where I sit from now on. Tomorrow, I vow to myself.

As a departure gift, my good friends from my last job gave me a gift certificate to an amazing spa here, and that’s where I went soon after the plane landed. I’ve had my share of massages, and this was a very good one.  It’s amazing, really, that even at a high price point the quality of a massage varies wildly, though not as amazing as the fact that I have bumped through life blindly and still wound up a person who can confidently make that statement. My mother started working in the family store at 13, and I had my first spa treatment years and years before she had hers. On the great continuum of who deserves what, and who gets what they deserve, don’t bet that my location is the sensible one, from whatever angle you view it.

This is one secret of the ladies who lunch, who pay to have someone pour their water and knead their tired feet and smooth oil over the unloved skin of their necks and shoulders, who sit naked under plush bathrobes and enumerate their trigger points to smiling women with strong forearms while Enya plays softly in the background: no one else touches them. I  have friends who have stopped having sex with their husbands, overwhelmed by the tactile demands of motherhood. Their only chance to be free of clinging hands is when they lay down to sleep. Intellectually, I get it. Whichever side of the fence you have to mow, the work is demanding, and sacrifice is required. Emotionally…emotionally, I pay people to listen to my problems for 50 minutes a week and to run their hands over my body a few times a year, when the gulf between me and the human experience gets too unendurably vast. Emotionally, I write an anonymous blog and cry every time I hold a brand new baby.

Emotionally, I haven’t even kissed anyone since he left.

Deep in a conversation about where our lives are going, an old friend commented recently that he envies my ability to be present in the moment and take life as it comes. We were having lunch in a nice restaurant, so I managed, with effort, to hold back the hot flood of tears his statement provoked. Taking life as it comes is exactly what I strive to avoid, every day, in every way. I shook my head. “I can’t talk about that,” I choked. I had an identical reaction when my therapist suggested that we envision what a happy life for me might look like if I don’t ultimately find a partner or have children.  No. There is nothing down that road I want to see.

I know the conventional wisdom on this, that you find love when you stop looking, and get pregnant when you begin adoption proceedings, and lose weight when you learn to love the crappy body you have. That if you write down the name of your greatest fear and burn it in a smoldering fire spiked with sage, you will be free. When the student is ready, the teacher appears. For me and my worldview, this is anathema. If you take your eye off the ball, it’s going to smack you in the face.

(Sorry, therapy faux pas: If I take my eye off the ball, I will die alone and with a black eye.)

Maybe the people who get their heart’s desire when they finally give up wishing for it have actually just paid their karmic dues and earned their reward, and the timing is pure coincidence. You resign yourself to staying in a job you don’t like and someone calls you the next day with an offer you couldn’t have conjured up in a dream. I make peace with never having love or children and wake up ten years from now and realize that my life has been a complete failure in the ways that matter most to me, so I might as well just stay in bed forever.

A friend of mine who went through a bad breakup last January said recently that she still thinks about her ex every day. I’ve been mourning that relationship longer than I was in it, she said. Much like my unseemly preoccupation with love and babies, we are not supposed to talk about these things. Tell a roomful of single 30-something women that you are afraid you’ll never be happy without a family and watch their faces slam closed. The deal is, old boyfriends recede into the mist and we don’t talk about what they take with them. The deal is, if you say you are afraid of being alone and lonely, you are casting aspersions on the lives other women build for themselves to keep that fear at bay. The sisterhood of singledom fractures along these lines. The people who have resigned themselves wait for the rest of us to cross over, one by one. Step into the flattering, indirect light. There’s a rattan basket for your sandals on the left.

The women who have truly made peace with their single lot are a scarce breed, though from time to time, I hear of sightings.


I don’t know any more what I’m supposed to think about him. I juggle two narratives: in one, I think he was the one for me, plainly and simply the person I am supposed to be with, but it didn’t work out and now that’s the story I’ll be working with from here on out. In the second narrative, I became irrationally attached to the wrong person, who never loved me and was quite upfront about it, and even though I know how long it takes me to get over these things, I self-destructively gave him my heart anyway and now this hole in my chest is the story I’ll be working with from here on out.

I’m leaning toward version two lately. It’s the better of the two, but still: In the parable of the scorpion and the frog, which one are you really disgusted with in the end?


I think being away this week, knowing I’m going back to a whole new world when this job begins, has unmoored me a little bit. I’m daunted by the possibilities open to me now for reinventing myself, and so I’m buying a lot of shoes and taking a lot of naps. I want to be lit up by this new chance, incandescent with gratitude, my internal fire a beacon that draws new opportunity my way. (That damn geographic cure again!) Instead, I’m a little sunburned and with boinging humidity curls, my heart still cracked and sore these many months later. My room here is green and yellow, and I painted my toenails Big Apple Red for the trip, hopeful that I’d meet someone who smelled good enough to kiss. I might never actually lay eyes on him again, never see the tender hollow at the base of his throat that used to preoccupy me so. I hope I can evict his ghost from the space he still occupies in my head, and fill it with something vibrant and new as this next chapter begins. My hope has characterized our entire relationship, from the electric beginning to this burnt end.

The sunset today was spectacular. I was by myself, and it was not one iota less beautiful for that. Wherever I go, there I am.

16 Responses to “Wherever You Go”

  1. I_feel_you says:

    Wherever you go, there you are…easily my mom’s favorite and most frequently stated phrase. It’s profound, yet so nonsensical. I loved this post, though admittedly did not understand all the words, but loved how it sounded.

  2. Swistle says:

    I greatly, GREATLY dislike the whole “When you accept -slash- stop trying, that’s when it happens” idea. It’s supported only by anecdotes from people who need to be questioned further on their claims. And I disbelieve all theories that can be proven no matter what: “Oh, it wasn’t true for you? Yes it was: you just DIDN’T let go! You were just PRETENDING acceptance! That’s why it didn’t work!”

  3. Farrell says:

    You need to create a new story for you; a new narrative. Don’t let it be all about Lieu. When my husband left me when I was 7 months pregnant for a co-worker he met two months prior, that was my story. For a long time. That story is one of a vulnerable, scorned, bitter, angry woman. And I stuck with it until my anger almost killed me. And then – it took some time, yes, and a lot of self-talk – I decided I didn’t want that one event to define me for the rest of my life. Did it affect me? Incredibly so, of course. But I wanted to finally make myself free from his emotionally abusive chains, and I did – with the help of friends and a lot of work and a lot of time. This isn’t about “letting go” or “getting over it.” (HATE when people say that because nobody tells you HOW). This is about not letting one event define your entire sense of self for the rest of your life….

  4. asplenia says:

    This post, the entire post, is one of the most beautiful, honest and raw things I have read on the internet. It is filled with humanity and hope and the truth of how endings leave us, and struck me particularly today because I’m struggling with these things too. I especially loved your poignant quote: “The deal is, old boyfriends recede into the mist and we don’t talk about what they take with them. ”

    I should also confess this post made me consider getting a massage… :)


  5. asplenia says:

    Also, the way you described the hollow of his throat was so vivid. It was like reading a line in a romance novel.

    Sometimes I wondered if it would be healing to capture stories after they’re over. Like, wouldn’t that be nice, to write a love novel? But I tried and it took me 2 painful hours to write about a kiss and I just gave up.

    This quote is very apt:

  6. Jesabes says:

    Amazing. This was one of those pieces where I was so transfixed I was deaf and blind to anything going on around me.

    (Also, “it’ll happen when you stop trying/hoping” is bullshit.)

  7. Megan says:

    I have never believed in soulmates, or the idea that there’s only one person out there that you’re “supposed” to be with. This is partly because I don’t believe that there’s a force out there pulling all of our strings, but also because the idea that, of all the billions of people in the world, there’s only one who will make you happy is completely absurd. It’s overly romantic and allows you to push people away because they have some habit that really annoys you, so you figure that they must be the wrong person. It’s also depressing as hell, the idea that this person exists, and you may never meet him, and you might just have to settle for someone less than that and be discontent your whole life, always wondering what could have been.

    Having said all of that, I spent a lot of time in my life battling between what I wanted from a partner and what I needed from one. The two things didn’t really go together that well, and I usually got them confused. The result was that I spent a lot of time being unhappy in various relationships, but mourning them far beyond what they deserved once they were gone. But from all of that experience, I finally started to understand myself more, and learn the difference between what I want and what makes me happy.

    Which meant that when I was 34, I was finally ready to meet this guy. He was completely different from guys I had dated before. He wasn’t a musician, he didn’t have a ton of baggage, and he was a total geek. I’d spent so much time looking for the cool guys that I didn’t realize that they never made me happy because I spent too much time and energy trying to be what I thought I needed to be in order to be the right partner for them. But this nerdy guy with dimples made me laugh so much my stomach hurt, and never for a minute was I uncomfortable or anything but my natural self with him. I didn’t agonize over whether I should say what I was thinking or feeling. But most importantly, I never, ever doubted how he felt about me. There was no playing it cool, or waiting three days before calling, or saying no to the first invitation just to prove that he was busy. He was totally up front about what he wanted and felt. And I’d never had the combination of both being able to be myself AND being with a guy who didn’t play games.

    So what all this rambling was leading to is that while I don’t believe he’s my soulmate, I did (and do) believe that I had been right to break up with the guys I had dated before him. Because the guy that I’d always needed, the guy that would make me actually happy, did exist, and I’d met him.

    I think your post is beautiful, and I can only hope that you are able to enjoy taking life as it comes and enjoying each moment as it happens. If you focus too much for your future, you’ll always be worrying that things aren’t going according to plan, instead of loving the life that you’re already living. Like Farrell said, you need a new narrative that focuses on you, not Lieu.

  8. rooth says:

    I really love your posts. The words just seem to flow out of you and it all ties together and makes sense, it’s exactly how I think about it in my head. Vacation / travel never transforms me into the person that I “think” that I could be – I still have all the insecurities and anxieties I have when I’m home. Am I pronouncing things correctly? Am I being a garish American? Do people know immediately that I’m a tourist and will I get taken advantage of? Sometimes it’s okay not to let things go and just to stew. I allow myself that time and for me it’s a bit of a release every single time

  9. Wow, this is so beautifully written. I know we are in very different life situations, but I identified with it all. Babies make me cry, too. even though by all accounts I’ve gotten a great lot in my life, it is not how I pictured things going. I was supposed to be something else by this age, something more, something different. I am still working at it, but I don’t think acceptance of a failure is the key. I think it’s the opposite.
    An aside, but your post made me think of this: I have a friend who was stuck in a bad marriage to a man who didn’t want kids, and then she got divorced finally, got pregnant, had a miscarriage, then couldn’t get pregnant, married someone new she’d known for twenty years, moved jobs and towns and lives, and adopted two kids, and every single picture of her I see she’s smiling from ear to ear. It didn’t work out how she planned, but it worked out in a better way, in the end. That’s what I keep focusing on. This isn’t what I wanted, but maybe there’s something else I can’t even imagine out there waiting for me instead.

  10. Maggie Mac says:

    I have never left a comment but after reading this post knew I must.

    Your writing is extraordinary. I don’t know why the path you are on has been overshadowed by so much heartbreak and sadness but I know with absolute certainty that writing is your future

    You are “lit” from within already – in so many ways – and that comes through in your brilliant prose.

    You have all the talent and beauty and charm you will ever need. We just have to find you an editor because this shit MUST be published.

    And now I’ve broken my lenten vow not to swear for no less than the 6th time in just the first two days of Lent. Sigh.

  11. C_girl says:

    @i_feel_you, your mom sounds smart. And don’t make fun of my vocabulary; it gives me bad flashbacks to grade school :)

    @swistle All of the smart kids hate it, yet its hold is strong.

    @farrell My god, I can’t imagine what that must have been like for you. I’m so sorry.

    @jesabes Thank you.

    @megan I love your story. I hope that’s how it works out for me, too. And I totally hear you and Farrell both–the story of me and Lieu is not the whole story of me.

    @rooth Thank you. I think that wish/anxiety is familiar to a lot of people.

    @readingandchickens I like that story about your friend. And I think you and I are wired similarly as far as not thinking we are doing what we SHOULD be doing. We should DO something about that!

    @maggiemac That is what I’m calling you from this point forward. Thank you, as always, for your kind words and support. (And you might want to pick another Lenten sacrifice while you can salvage the season somehow…)

    You guys are all always so thoughtful and supportive. I appreciate it a whole whole lot.

    @asplenia I LOVE that quote! You always have good ones.

  12. Angelika says:

    I LOVED this. I think the flip side of this is getting everything you thought you wanted and then realizing maybe it isn’t what you wanted after all. That’s where I am now. Le sigh.

    I don’t comment much, but I LOVE your writing.

  13. Katie S. says:

    This is just… gorgeous. I love it so much I’m trying to think of who to send it to.

  14. “The women who have truly made peace with their single lot are a scarce breed, though from time to time, I hear of sightings.” I think you might be right, but I’m hoping this will begin to change because it may be a reality for so many. This is why I love the blogosphere. This is a beautifully written piece that I may never have come across in other circumstances.
    -The Spinsterlicious Life

  15. Meg says:

    You capture so well the feelings of heartbreak and loss — it brought me right back to losing my first love, which was almost seven years ago. So much has happened since then — I’ve met and fallen in love with someone else, I’ve lost family members, I’ve graduated college and begun writing in earnest and traveled the globe, blah blah — but it takes nothing at all to whip me back into the moments we say goodbye for the final time, those tender moments when I knew I would never see him again.

    I think of it less and less, and rarely now, but the heart doesn’t forget those days and weeks and months. Your friend’s comment, about mourning the relationship longer than she was in it? It’s so true. True for many of us. I knew him for such a small amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but I know I won’t ever forget him.

  16. Ally says:

    This post is absolutely lovely and captures what I feel but never feel bold or safe enough to admit. Finding your blog a treasure, absolutely love your writing style. Beautiful honesty and keen sense of humor. Thank you!

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