Forward (and Backward) Through the Ages

I’m starting to wonder when I decided I was old… not in words, but actions. I don’t look in the mirror very often, and my mind’s eye stopped adding years long ago. For instance, high school and early college don’t seem like they’re that far away, but 2016 was my 20 year high school reunion (I didn’t go, but I did note its passing). The past few years have slipped by quietly without fanfare, as I have become extremely introverted…. have always been, and yet compounds yearly. It takes more energy than I’ve got most days to get out and play. I prefer to read, write, and watch streaming video… in that order. No longer do I plan outings on a daily or even weekly basis. I plan outings around how lonely I feel, and solitude is addictive.

Alone, I do not wonder if I have said the wrong thing. Alone, I do not worry if I’m wearing the right outfit. Alone, I do not have to compromise. Alone, I do not have to share.

To paraphrase Hafiz, I don’t surrender my loneliness quickly, letting it cut more deeply to ferment and season me as few human or even divine ingredients can. It has been the only solution to overcoming emotional instability, and not because I don’t like people. Like most introverts, I’m hilarious at a party. I just need absolute quiet to recharge. What has been different over the last three or four years is that behaviors once acceptable to me aren’t, and I only truly enjoy being around people when I feel strong enough to uphold my own standards of excellence.

Wow. I just reread that and thought, so you’re curating your real life existence like a Facebook page? Shudder. And yet, it’s true. In no way am I ready to let anyone past the walls I’ve put up to avoid talking about all manners of grief. When I go out, I want to experience pleasure, which invariably means putting away all the things that have caused me to recede from interaction in the first place.

However, there is no barbed wire around my heart, no need to sting anyone if they try to jump the fence. If I feel like one of my boundaries is coming down, I question myself.

  • Do I want a deeper friendship with this person?
  • Does what I’m about to say improve on the silence?
  • How much do I care if this private thought becomes known to another person?
  • How much am I hurting myself if I don’t share my thoughts? No risk, no reward.
  • Is the idea I want to share appropriate for this friendship?

They are questions I can answer fairly quickly in my head before beginning to speak, and I believe that is the difference between the me of a few years ago and the me of now. I have always been intense; I have not always been the type to think deeply before I speak. The “think it, say it” plan wore itself out.

I am infinitely more measured than I used to be, because it took emotional disaster to make me realize that I could have avoided hurting friends and family alike by taking in everything they’re saying, and letting silence hang in the air until I have a chance to respond thoughtfully.

I don’t crave solitude because I’m afraid of getting hurt; I crave solitude because in it, I cannot hurt others. I feel I have done enough of that for a lifetime, and though of course conflict is unavoidable in life, there are certainly good and bad responses to it. It is my work to do to learn healthy coping mechanisms and implement them, lest I have a repeat of the end of vitally important relationships.

It’s getting to the point where people are starting to ask me why I don’t date, that it’s certainly been long enough since my divorce, etc. I don’t want to start dating just because it’s socially acceptable for me to do so. I want to start dating when I feel I’ve learned the lessons that the universe wanted me to learn before making any committment besides friendship. I find that I am learning plenty in how to be a responsible and responsive friend, and that is enough… mostly because in my struggle with grief, responsible is easy and responsive is hard.

If being responsive to friends is hard, I do not want to even think about romantic interests feeling ignored…. because, of course, nothing says I care about you like unanswered texts and cancelled plans. It is a morass in which I’m unwilling to engage.

This has much less to do with my divorce and much more to do with my deceased mother. While Dana is the greatest love of my life up to this point, I am and have been ready to leave the past there. I just can’t see inviting someone else into the deep grey haze my life has become. My friendships are helping it lift, but not enough. Not yet. My thinking is that you have to walk before you can run, and being a good friend is several steps in the right direction. A lot of people don’t give friendship its full due. I didn’t until relatively recently, and I will never make that mistake again. That warning is etched deeply into my bones.

My friendships are what remind me that I am indeed not as old as I feel, because laughter makes me lighter.

For instance, tonight I went with Dan & Co. to see Pitch Perfect 3. Fat Amy finds out that she has money, and wants to create more shows. I lost it at Fat Amy Grant…. oh, that’d be so good for Christmas. Now, most people would laugh at this joke. I howled so loud that I think everyone in the theatre heard me. For most people, they’ve heard of Amy Grant. Preachers’ kids of my age are STEEPED in her. I laughed for me and my mother alike. We would have run that line into the ground, and it would have provided us entertainment for years.

That moment felt like metaphorical communion….. a moment just for us, without letting anyone else in. I could feel her laughing inside me….. and for a few seconds, I felt….. young.

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