I feel lonely. And why is it that the word lonely feels like a hunk of forbidden fruit? Why did the guy who works at the bar I frequent recoil when he asked me how I was, and I told him? I go there enough, at least once or twice a week, we know each other’s names, and what each other does. I know his girlfriend just dumped him. I know he likes ice cream, strawberry, and uses humor to make himself feel better—common enough. And on his days off, he likes to sleep and watch Netflix. And so, I thought, we talk enough, I could be honest. But people don’t like a girl who is honest. What people like, I remember, is a pretty girl who performs well, and is contained. That is not me.
It went like this: He said, “How are you? And I said, “I feel lonely.” And then I saw the look in eyes, and I knew I’d made him uncomfortable. So I tapped him on the shoulder and told him, “It’s okay.” Then, I ordered a drink and sat down, alone.
I’m lonely because:
My life doesn’t look anything like I expected it to look. Which is and isn’t terrible. My life is beautiful, in fact. Still, I suppose I didn’t know it was possible to feel orphaned by an idea. But it happened.
In May, I’ll turn forty. I’ve officially reached middle life. The currencies of exchange I’ve long relied on— my youth, my figure, my fertility have not been performed well. I did not capture someone’s heart, and I did not become a mother. And I am past the moment when people say, “Oh darling, you still have time.” (Time for what, exactly? I always wondered.)
As it turns out, it is possible to perform one’s gender all wrong.
I’m reminded of this because it’s Easter. Well, not because it is Easter, specifically, but because it is a holiday, and I have nowhere to go. Because all around me, the people are together as a couple, or with the family, and there are children everywhere, running around, laughing, becoming. So what I did was, I spent the whole of the afternoon wandering my tiny city, unmoored, self-conscious, thinking about the way that society separates and divides and then quarters men and women and women from each other, wondering, where does a woman like me belong?
I think belonging makes you feel like a person. And this not belonging felt acute.
For the last twenty years, I’ve watched girls I grew up with grow into women whisked away by marriage and motherhood, but not me. That didn’t happen to me. Instead, and by no fault of my own, I’ve grown to inhabit the space of a single woman. I do and do not own that space. And so when this lonely feeling settled in yesterday, I had to pause. I didn’t realize until I did that loneliness could also be gendered. And what I mean is, having not been able to develop and bring to life all that I am literally capable of with my body, with my mind, and with my heart. There lives in me a deep want to love, to care, to nurture, to mother. The stain of my life has been drained of color due to insufficient intimacy.
To admit loneliness is to submit oneself to the fear and anxieties of others, to become a lightning rod of sorts, for their fantasies, for landscapes they do not dare to go. A separation of which reiterates the codes of human behavior which, over time, results in a paucity of human interaction that is meaningful, and touching. We want the human experience but not really. We want to live our lives but not feel our darkness. Suppose I hoped the bartender would admit that he was lonely too. But anyway, good thing I am not afraid of the dark. My tongue is alive for it.
I paid for my drink, and wandered home, settling into my emotion. Suppose being abandoned by an idea, a concept of femininity isn’t so bad. Suppose it wasn’t the right shape for me. The thought alone strengthens my bones.
Amsterdam. Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, wanderer, and dreamer. She wants to know, what are you afraid of?
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