It’s been a strange few months for me, full of tumult, goodbyes and new beginnings. I finally decided to go to dental school and left behind my life in Washington, D.C. to move to Pocatello, Idaho. I unpacked my bags and began my classes. My new life began.
With moving inevitably comes loneliness. This loneliness is nothing new, as I’ve moved to college, to a new city, and been to summer camp more times than your average Joe. However, this time it’s a little different.
I’m trying hard not to place a judgement on it, but the truth of the matter is this: I’m 25. I’m still young, but I can’t help feeling a little old to be entirely starting over. By my age, many people are married—some people even have kids. Alone time for them is a precious commodity. I would say a vast majority of people have made their adult friends or are in a relationship that has some long-term potential. And yet, here I am, 25, alone in a new town, single.
This has caused some interesting introspection. Namely, me asking myself the question, “How did I get here?” How did I get to be 25, single, living in a small town, alone? The answer came through a typical route for me: a song.
I will often find that if something is troubling me, I’ll get a melody stuck in my head. It could be a snippet from a song I know very well, but often, it’s a song that I heard long ago and forgot about. Fantastically, if I listen to the song, the lyrics will usually pinpoint exactly how I’m feeling or clarify my process in some way. Call it God, call it my subconscious mind answering what my convoluted conscious mind cannot. The song today was glaringly obvious: “Someone New” by Hozier. Specifically, the lines, “I fall in love just a little ol’ little bit every day, with someone new.”
Reading the lyrics was a bit of a ‘come to Jesus’ moment for me, I must be honest. This song is about using love to escape pain, escaping pain through the use of others. Not others you know and love and with whom you have built trusting relationships. Strangers.
Thinking back on my own relationships (I’ve had 4 relationships that lasted about 2-3 years each), there comes a point, around year 2, where things just get…the same. Not in a bad way, necessarily. It’s just that I can begin to predict how the rest of my life might turn out. If I do X, he’ll probably do Y. If X happens, we’ll respond in Y way. I think it’s called stability.
What nobody ever talks about, though, is the terrifying underbelly of stability, the one that apparently I can’t seem to handle: acceptance. In order to be stable, you have to accept the way things are. I’ve always blamed my failed relationships on timing or on a flaw of the other person (usually their lack of drive). However, the facts necessitate a review: I’ve had FOUR failed relationships, each lasting over two years. Nobody gets that unlucky, I think.
I was forced into consideration of my past, and what I uncovered was appalling. I remembered something I had mysteriously forgotten over years of talking to myself in my mind: I had cheated on not one, not two, but THREE of my past boyfriends. Let me reiterate that. I had FORGOTTEN I cheated on THREE PEOPLE. It’s crazy what the mind can do. Not the behind your back for weeks on end cheating, more like the ‘I got too drunk and I made out with someone and felt so guilty about it I broke up with you the next day without telling you why” or the “you left for the summer and I accidentally fell in love with my lab partner and texted him all the time but never acted on it” kind of cheating. Either way, it is nothing to be proud of. In fact, what it means is this unfortunate fact: I am probably single not because of timing or because of my past partners, but because of….me.
I can delve into my reasons for cheating fairly easily: I am terrible at the little thing called ‘acceptance’ that I mentioned above. This, in turn, has one clear cause.
It’s not something that I talk openly about very often, but I am a recovered eating disorder sufferer. I was bulimic from the time I was 14 until I was 19, with lapses every now and then until the present. Because it’s something that is private and that I’ve managed to put in my past for the most part, I don’t think about it often. But the truth about any addictive behavior is that it can sometimes have tendrils that cling around long after you kill its root. After years of not accepting anything about my body, of always wanting to improve myself somehow, I got into the habit of ‘never settling.’ Now, even though bulimia is gone from my life, I have always been averse to settling, never satisfied with things how they are and always wanting to improve. This is both a blessing and a curse. I have been extremely successful at school, sports, and at work because of my drive. However, my relationships take a hit.
When I’ve cheated on people, it’s always at about year 2, around the time where things get a little too stable for my liking. I can predict how the other person will be, and how I will be, and I am faced with reality, and I want to get out. To put it another way, I am faced with myself, how I really am in relationship. And I want to leave. Like Hozier says, “there’s an art to life’s distractions, to somehow escape the burning weight”: you simply “fall in love with someone new.”
I don’t think I’m alone in wanting to escape the burning weight that simply being alive bestows upon every one of us. However, that doesn’t make me any less accountable for the ways I escape it. While I haven’t cheated on someone or even been in a relationship for a long time (for over two years), I still can’t accept how things are. My move from DC was less about wanting to go to dental school and more about wanting to leave and start over in a new place, to keep things exciting, to leave things behind. And here I am.
I look at people my age who are married and think, how the hell do they do it? How the hell do they find someone and say, “yes, this is it” and then just love that person forever? I think the answer might be this, something I’m bad at: they stick with them through the rough times. They ACCEPT their partner, even if they get depressed, if they take a while to find a job they care about, or if they get sick and struggle. And most importantly, they accept themselves, who they are as they choose to still love another person, day after day.
For the first time, it becomes clear to me staying with someone through the hard times is not settling. That’s love. Finding someone and accepting their flaws, and your flaws, is how you live your life together. In the future, I hope that every step takes me a little closer to accepting myself and accepting others better. Then maybe, one day, alone time will be a precious commodity for me, too.