On My Own

I recently read Kendra Syrdal’s post about loving a woman who have spent a lot of time on her own. After I stopped singing my favorite song from Les Mis (okay, I haven’t stopped), I thought back to last winter.

Just after Christmas, a friend and I took a long drive. We went north, settled somewhere gorgeous for a few days, then drove somewhere else. We stayed there overnight, drove on. We stayed somewhere new, we drove home. The whole trip was planned and we knew the addresses of the places we were staying ahead of time, but now the entire trip feels like nothing more than drifting. The pair of us were leaves that floated, back and forth, swayed by unseen breezes, until we settled back into life on the ground.

We Southern ladies saw more snow than we had in years. We met and reconnected with great people. We walked a lot. We found new bands to fall asleep to. We listened to Marissa Meyer’s Winter. We talked. We talked so much that I don’t know where we were that week—if it was daylight or night, if we were driving or sitting or walking or creating—when she confessed a fear to me.

She didn’t say it like she was afraid. I don’t know if she knew that’s what it was, this thing she was telling me.

She knew a man. She’d met him years before who had asked her out. She’d said yes and had a good time. Because of her schedule, it was a sacrifice to go. But she enjoyed herself. He asked her out again. She knew him, had known him, and trusted him as well as one can trust the friend he’d been to her. He confused her a little, which may be part of why she kept sacrificing sleep, studying, time with friends and family. She shaved time here and there, which added up to a couple of hours a week to spend with him. Then he asked her for a little more, and a little more. He didn’t push her, but he asked. An extra half-hour. A few texts. A movie. Slight things to most that were significant sacrifices for her to arrange. He called her a few days before Christmas to ask her to be his girlfriend. She asked, once she got back to town and after her trip with me, if they could sit down and talk about what that means. He said yes.

We were in the dark car, the dashboard throwing green and red and orange onto our faces as snow fell on the salty roads. Or we were lounging on white sofas under woven flannel blankets, knotting yarn into hats and scarves and blankets for unborn babies. Or we were breathing on our gloved hands in the not-darkness of a city’s New Year’s fireworks, huddled close in our thin coats. She’d told me about him already. Now she told me, “I don’t know how to make sure he knows I want him.”

The obvious answer might be, “Tell him,” but she wasn’t referring to their impending conversation, once our drifting leaves landed on the ground again. She meant making room for him in her life. She meant the lawn mower. She meant the space next to her in the pew. She meant the bargain sofa. She meant the laugh from her parents’ driveway.

My friend has been on her own for a long time. She’s been an independent landowner, a landlady, a professional, a traveling specialist. She expected to remain that way, in part because of her schedule and in part because falling in love isn’t easy for her. She’d made a life for herself where she rarely needed to call a mechanic and never took the broken lawnmower home to her dad. She organized rental vans for her furniture and brought cardigans to keep her warm at church. She’d figured out how to live her life alone, and she made it the best life she could.

She doesn’t need this man who wanted her to be his girlfriend. She doesn’t need his help or his companionship. Even as she confided this fear to me, she knew her life would be simpler without him: more sleep, more studying, more time for the people she already loves. But she wanted him there.

She knew he would need to feel wanted, maybe want to feel needed, but she didn’t need him. She wanted him there, if he understood exactly what her life entailed and still wanted them to be a couple, but she knew that it would take time to make room for him. It would be hard. I heard how afraid she was to do this, because what if he left? What if he changed his mind? What if it just doesn’t work? It takes so much longer to put yourself back together than it took to fall apart (thanks, Suzanne Collins). Learning to be lonely but okay is a bone-breaking kind of hard, but once you’re there, you can live. Maybe you can live for the rest of your life in just that way, delicate but secure.

My friend knew she’d need to trust him. She knew he’d need to feel wanted. So she was confessing that she didn’t know how to make that happen.

I heard her fear under her clinical tone, but I also heard her hope. After she laid everything out before him—what her life would look like because of her programs and her job—and after he considered what it would mean for him and them, she hoped he’d still want to be her boyfriend.

She hoped, and that’s why she was trying, more than a week before their conversation, to figure out what she would need to do to make it work, for him to feel valued.

I’m telling you this story about her because it could be a story about me. The details are not the same, certainly. I’ve decided to make space for someone at the same time he decided I wasn’t worth it. I’ve refused to make space, and he’s gone away hurt. But after last winter’s setting-less conversation, I realized that I have also built my life to be on my own. I want someone, but I don’t need anyone. And I know that, because I’ve been on my own for so long, strictly relying on friends for what I simply cannot do myself, it’ll be hard for him to figure out I want him. It will be hard for me to show or tell him.

I won’t need him. People like to be needed. Some people are used to being needed. I’d much rather be needed than to need anyone, though honestly I like being my own, mostly autonomous unit.

My friend is a beautiful blessing in my life. Her boyfriend thinks the same. I admire her so much for both her hope and her fear, for understanding herself this well, for giving me a few words to better understand myself as well.

Update: Their wedding was fun and poignant and lovely and loving.

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