“Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.” But ain’t that the truth? A friend told me this tonight. Lyrics from one of their favorite singer songwriters, Josh Ritter.
In the Uber home, it made me think about mix tapes and mix cd’s and my favorite movie, “High Fidelity.”
In the opening credits, John Cusack says:
“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?”
I spent most of my early adult life reveling in sad songs; songs about heartbreak and loneliness and longing. There’s obviously a pathological and deeply intrinsic reason why John Prine, Ani DiFranco, Chamberlain, Chris Stapleton, David Gray, Jason Isbell, Ryan Adams, Bon Iver, Band of Horses, The Shins and the like are my go-to, play on repeat, “top five” kind of must haves on a mix tape. Sure there are one hit wonders like Flick’s “Maybe, Someday” and Drive By Truckers’ “God Damned Lonely Love” and Damien Rice’s “Cannonball” too but, mostly, I go to all those artists and songs when I need to feel. When I need to bleed emotion. And when I don’t, I avoid them like the fucking plague. Like tapping into them, even for a moment, will invoke the spirits of melancholia. All of those songs and bands were discovered through mix cds that someone made for me, by the way. Very High Fidelity. And, yes, I could definitely arrange all of my albums autobiographically and blow Dick’s mind too.
So I listen to podcasts now most of the time instead … to occupy my brain and allow it to gnaw on something else, anything else.
For most of college and beyond, my best friends were this group of four guys, all of them in bands. I loved who I was in that circle. We became friends because one of them was borderline obsessed with me sophomore year, and I was too inexperienced to feel anything but creeped out. But we all just magnetized each other after the initial weirdness and that was that. I didn’t really fit, they were way too cool and too popular. The vicarious popularity fit me like an oversized wool sweater — scratchy but I could hide inside it. It felt like I was living someone else’s life and it was way too big for me. I never really “fit” anywhere but, for whatever reason or circumstance, we were an inseparable package deal.
We all had other friends, some tangential, some mutual, some exclusive. But at the core, it was just us. We left college together. Moved to Pittsburgh just blocks from each other; the four of them all together in one house, me in my own space but at their house more often than my own. It was the BEST of times. Later, I lived with two of them, one and then the other after the first got engaged, and our houses were always the spot for the whole crew. I reluctantly fell in love with another one of those boys of mine, the one who started it all with his bizarre interest in me seven years earlier; he broke me. The rest didn’t pick a side, even when he got engaged to her five months later. Eventually, they all paired off and got married and life just … changed.
I moved to DC in 2006 for a job after grad school and things have just never been the same. I went to all of their weddings. Several baby showers. Increasingly infrequent catch ups when I was back in town, though I always had to go to them; they never came to me. I still love them, deeply. But I only know them now through pictures of their kids that their wives post on Instagram and their annual holiday photo cards. It is weird to watch my boys age, one year at a time. And the rest of them still have him, and her, and their two kids. It’s as if I never existed in their circle now or, more accurately, as if it’s a relief for everyone that I exist four hours away. And I have for the past 16 years.
The five of us used to mean everything to each other. Now, if I reach out for a happy birthday message or some other random text, they respond as if it is genuinely so good to hear from me. And it nearly breaks my heart, it feels so good. But neither of us keeps it going and not one of them ever initiates. They never did. Still, if you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have never ever dreamed that we’d grow apart. Never.
I feel as though my life has gone through three phases of my friend circle pairing off, getting married, starting families. With very few exceptions, I am the only single one left, and have been in each group. The boys. The SoMD friends. The DC friends. Three phases across twenty years. Every time, although I am in the same places and spaces, meeting the same pool of potential matches, they pair up. They move on. I remain. I don’t have a circle in this phase. Now it’s a mosaic with bits and pieces that remain from the old circles and new, none of which really fit together and I don’t have the desire or the natural ability to be the glue for everyone anymore. I think that time in my life has passed.
Every person I have ever dated, with exactly two exceptions, got married right after me. Most have children. That was always the holy grail for me; being a mom. At 42, it feels like John stole the last embers of that dream from me. The last three years? Gone. I just can’t help feeling like I got left behind in every phase of my life. And now, unlike all the other times, the thing I wanted most in life has just … evaporated. It doesn’t mean that I don’t still ache for it and, foolishly or not, still hold out hope for it. It feels too heavy and final to let go completely.
I strongly doubt any of my friends, in any circle or phase, would see it that way. They’d say I didn’t settle. Or that they admire my independence. Or that I’ve always been so comfortable on my own. But none of these things are actually true – I haven’t had the opportunity to settle, I’m independent only by default, and I have grown accustomed being alone but I would give my soul to have a companion in this life. I feel like I’ve done all the right things, put myself out there, pushed myself even when it wasn’t comfortable, intentionally sought out places to belong … for what?
I’ve been on the online dating sites for two decades, off and on. Many of the same guys from more than three years ago, before John, are still there — with the same pictures. And it’s still the same story now at 42 as it has been all along, even back when I was younger and objectively more attractive … the guys I’m interested in do not respond or aren’t even active, but the guys I would not talk to in a thousand years in real life will message me. It is demoralizing! I don’t want to make anyone else feel bad — they’re expressing interest in me the same way I’m expressing interest in men who apparently think they deserve better. What a crapshoot.
I’ve been paying $100 an hour to talk to a therapist so I can move past John and “betrayal PTSD” as quickly as possible. It’s going great, as you can tell. I admitted to her that if had I seen John on a dating app three years ago, I’d have swiped left. He wasn’t my type. He’s grown even less so over the past few weeks, for obvious reasons. I grew to love all the things about him that apparently were never real. Except DP and one other, I’ve never been initially attracted to anyone I’ve ever dated. But I also can’t make myself swipe right on someone whose picture does nothing for me.
So what’s the bloody answer? Even when I go on a date with one of these guys I deigned to give a chance, like I did this week, I’m still tangled up in the knots that he tied. That they all tied.
Mood music: Maybe Someday – Flick