Two weeks ago, one of my girlfriends announced her engagement, and with that news, the ranks thinned once again: the married, the almost-married and otherwise paired up leaving a starkly dwindling singlehood trapped in that often-uncomfortable place of longing, despair and resignation. There, happiness for another’s good news can sometimes be dwarfed by a dimming hope for the arrival of love in one’s life.
At least one of my single friends has been resolutely bracing herself for the empty years ahead, a series of disappointing prospects leading her to believe an enduring partnership is not in her future. Another keeps an open mind and heart, though her single status has begun to chafe, while a few others raise the occasional lonely, and sometimes bitter, lament from otherwise satisfying lives.
In the face of their pessimism or flagging optimism, after each episode of blighted promise or the pity party thrown for elusive romance, I’ve been there to champion them on, to assure them they will not end up alone, that it is only a matter of time before that special someone sets his sights upon them. It is easier, I know, to remain positive and encouraging from the contented perch of my own relationship.
But though my words may sound Pollyannaish, I honestly believe they will find love when they’re ready for it, and, in many cases, have given up the gnawing search for it. Not that I consider myself a relationship expert but my limited experience has taught me that the love we seek often appears while we’re too busy enjoying our lives to even have noted its absence.
That, at least, is the way it’s always been with me, though I can count the boyfriends I’ve had on one hand and got such a late start in the dating department that it amused my sorority sisters to no end when I was alternatingly delighted and unnerved by the prospect of being swept up in my first genuine romance during my senior year of college.
They laughed when they heard how M., who would become my first boyfriend, first love and the first guy to break my heart, failed to deliver the perfect first kiss he’d planned, while holding my hand under a starlit sky, because at that moment, I chose to make a beeline for the campus shuttle bus.
And when he told me he loved me, a few short months later after I’d invited him to dinner at our sorority house, this self-proclaimed romantic could only reply, “I’d better get you to work,” as I was about to drive him to the alumni fund-raising job he held on campus.
For all the sweet and tender visions of love I’d stored up, inexperience made me awkward and innocent and often naive. I had grown up, after all, in a home where dating was not allowed. It was more of an unspoken than a stated rule, given how strict my father was and my own early, sheltered Caribbean upbringing, where such experiences were delayed for as long as possible. Those implied restrictions could have made me resentful, especially when I watched friends embark on their first dates and fall into budding romances. When I skipped both my junior and senior proms, without a pool of possible dates to choose from (though my dad did offer to accompany me and my mom volunteered the son of a friend I barely knew), I could have been crushed.
But despite the occasional yearning to be part of a twosome, I was mostly content and happy with the life in front of me. And it was those qualities, I believe, that eventually brought me to that first blush of love. Even when M. and I would go our separate ways after I graduated, my heartbreak was never rimmed with the anxiety of wondering who would replace him. I didn’t fear being alone, didn’t pack up my heart and place it out of reach from future bungling, hopeful advances. I mourned, and every now and then railed, engaged in as much introspection as I could for a 22-year-old, eventually tried to be friends and ultimately turned down an offer of reconciliation. And all the while, I kept busy doing the things I loved to do, which at that age primarily involved dancing late into the night, several times a week, at one club or another.
I met B., who would become boyfriend No. 2, on such a night. Ours wasn’t the easiest of relationships and I unfortunately moved into toxic territory when we split up and I fell for ED (short for Epic Disaster, as mentioned in prior columns). But on both occasions and even with the smattering of men I dated in between, I was always more invested in enjoying the moment than I was scouting for prospective dates or partners. ED and I would run into each other for almost a year before he asked me out, but the night he did, I’d been intently feigning a swing dancing aptitude with utter abandon and plenty of wild laughter as my brother and I careened around a Manayunk dance floor with some friends on New Year’s Eve.
Joy, I believe, is a potent elixir for attracting the things we want. Rather than casting our nets into a future we hope will deliver us to happiness or usher in that someone or something to make us feel complete, there is power in tending to the life before us, in filling it up with what nurtures and inspires and pruning from it what doesn’t. In learning about and pursuing what truly brings us joy, in cultivating our own goals and ambitions and coming to know and love ourselves with a deep appreciation for all we have to offer, we shine in a way that cannot help but draw others to us, including a future mate. And the more effort we devote to ensuring our wholeness, the better we become at attracting a relationship that will support us on that journey.
By the time I met my boyfriend Zane four years ago, I used to say a relationship would be the cherry on top of an already wonderful life. And though we would later go our separate ways, we reconnected after I had one of the best dates I’ve ever had — with myself. I had planned on driving to D.C. with three girlfriends to see one of our favorite poets when, one after the other, they begged off at the last minute. My first inclination was to cancel the trip but when the day for the lecture dawned, I put on one of my favorite outfits and drove down to the Washington National Cathedral amid a riotous spring serenade. I leisurely wandered the gardens, laughed and cried my way through the poems shared in the majestic sanctuary, struck up a warm conversation with a stranger on the way out and then sat on a garden bench to read. I then planned on heading straight home but decided instead to treat myself to a sushi dinner. By the time I pulled into my driveway later that night, I’d spent an enormously satisfying day in my own company.
The following day, after months of no real communication between us, Zane called. And it wasn’t lost on me that the moment I realized how fulfilled I felt in my own life, and how comfortable I was with myself, I was given something more to appreciate. That phone call marked a new and beautiful beginning for us. It also served to remind me that what we want rarely comes to us when our eyes are fixed on some distant horizon, our longing tightly clutched in our hands. Rather, being able to celebrate who we are and all we have without expectation can be just the push that swings open that closed door and scatters our dreams at our feet.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times