I find myself in a difficult stage of existence and many times over the past few weeks I have had this thought: “I know that in five years I will vehemently say that nothing could persuade me to relive my mid-twenties.”
I often thoughtfully ponder what I have done in the past five years. Being back home brings back a lot of memories and I am constantly running into people I graduated with. I think we all feel very small on the inside and are afraid to say it. After a few drinks we all loosen up a bit and can agree the following: Being this age sucks and I have no idea what I’m doing.
For so many years I defined success by the relationships I had with other people. The status of my love life, the bonds of friendship, and the loyalty of family. Unfortunately, I lacked one important piece: my relationship with myself. This must come before all other relationships. It is the foundation on which other relationships are based and with a weak relationship of self, other relationships are doomed to fail. Intimacy on any level cannot be pulled off without a healthy level of intimacy with the self.
It’s been nearly a year since a series of events that changed my path. I have been reflecting on what has happened in the past year and in some ways I can say I am proud of the progress I have made. In other ways I can say that although I think I am headed in a mostly correct direction, I really can’t say for sure. Naturally, my thought process is entirely dependent on my mood. Which varies intensely throughout the day. It occurs to me that without a love partner in all of this, I have entirely too much time to think about myself.
In some ways, this has been excellent. I find that I am less and less developing attachments to people (particularly men) for the wrong reasons. I am more cautious in some ways and less cautious in others. And I am learning to trust my instincts and constantly put my needs before others. Because of this, I say no. A lot. It feels like a lot to me, anyway, because up until relatively recently I typically said yes. If I didn’t say yes right away, most people knew they could wear me down with very little effort.
What I have found most interesting is how other people react when I tell them no. It reveals a lot about human nature. We are all pleasure-seeking individuals and it is interesting to see what happens when another person seeks pleasure from me and cannot get it. It’s probably something most people don’t even think about, just another facet of the social network, but I find myself fascinated by watching what other people do.
I’ve always held a significant amount of pride for being incredibly consistent in my behavior. I was the port in the storm. Anything anyone needed I could provide. I was showered with love and affection for being exactly what some people craved: an endless form of resources and kindness. If you were hungry, I fed you. Needed money? I got your back. A ride, a shoulder to cry on, a stern talking to. All of these things flowed from my heart and into the people I loved because I had so much to give and it made me feel that I had a purpose, a role, and that I was of value.
After all, if I am not meeting the needs of others, what good am I?
A few times I found myself completely tapped out. My job was draining, my relationship unhealthy, and my friendships taxing at times. I would frequently “disappear” emotionally. I wouldn’t return calls or texts, I blew my friends off, and I would be emotionally absent in my relationship.
Then, after a few weeks, I would begin to feel guilt over not meeting the needs of these people I claimed to love. The process would begin again.
Negative side effects of this pattern of behavior are numerous.
So, I finally decided to start making conscious decisions based on MY needs first. I am being careful not to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other. I am still just as sensitive and kind and loving as I have always been, but rather than walk around as the soft and gooey past-Kyrston, I am now protected by a fierce hard shell.
I think that part of this also has to do with fearing intimacy. I really morph into a different person when I am in love. It happens so gradually that I never notice until it’s too late, and as we all know, being in love makes even the worst partner seem charming in all the wrong ways.
My foray into the dating world has been… interesting. Meeting lots of interesting and nice people. Pursuing additional time with some, losing interest in others. Again, mostly dependent on my mood. Socially I think this used to be frowned upon, but as time marches on the generations are becoming more and more accepting of so-called unconventional behaviors. Add to that the fact that I was firmly out of the dating loop for a few years and I’d say I have a lot of catching up to do.
I’m starting to get a grip on what I care about. What I like, what I don’t like. What matters to me and what doesn’t. All of it feels incredibly healthy and stable and I have a deep-rooted knowledge that this is the correct way to live out the mid-twenties. In a nutshell, I am stocking up on a vast array of life experiences and also checking in with myself along the way.
When something happens I pause to consider: what is happening? how does it make me feel? how do I think I should feel? where do my feelings come from? what do I want to do?
This can be kind of distracting in the moment, but I’ve found it’s a pretty good system for keeping myself on the right track.
To illustrate an example, I stopped drinking coffee a few weeks ago. It would be one thing if I drank one cup a day. Even two wouldn’t be that bad. But I drink several cups in the morning. Some at work. Some at night. It was getting completely out of hand. So, I just decided to quit one day and start drinking green tea instead.
Several times over the course of the past few weeks I have wanted coffee. Once or twice I felt completely heartbroken that I would not taste it for a long time, if ever. When I wake up in the morning my dad leaves the pot on and there is half a pot just sitting there, begging me to drink it. The first time that happened I poured a cup but also brewed a cup of tea. I was standing in my kitchen looking at both cups side by side, having a conversation with myself about which one I wanted. Eventually I dumped the coffee in the sink and drank my tea. After I told my dad that story, he started dumping out the coffee before he left for work.
I read somewhere that adding a slice of lemon is healthy because the acid in the lemon helps your body absorb the antioxidants. So I put lemons on the grocery list. I sliced them. It’s a relaxing routine, heating the water until the teapot whistles. Letting the tea bag soak in the water. Dropping the lemon in and waiting for it to get hot, and then pulling it out so squeeze every last drop of lemon juice out of it. Discarding the lemon and drinking the tea. For some reason, hot tea stays hotter longer than coffee. It takes twice as long to drink one cup of tea than it does to drink a cup of coffee. It’s soothing. And since I know I’m not drinking it for the caffeine, I can savor the taste.
A few times at work I’ve wanted coffee, tonight being one them. I was just so tired and feeling pretty lousy and weak, and my brain wandered to the coffee. I had a conversation with myself about how it would make me feel to drink the coffee after so many days of being strong and resisting the urge. Finally I decided to drink decaf instead, because it would make me feel better to taste the coffee but still have the control to resist the caffeine.
As it turns out, I have been sleeping a lot better. I don’t have headaches and I feel energized. Not so much right now, because I pleasure-sought a little to hard last night and I’ve had a mild hangover most of the day. But typically I feel energized.
I also feel rather hollow most of the time.
As awesome as all of this self-discovery is, I find myself to be terribly lonely. There is a luster and effervescent feeling associated with being in love, being in a partnership, that I severely lack. With all the clarity and righteousness I feel, I also feel very cold sometimes. There are moments when I know for absolutely certainty that I never want to get married again and I could really do without falling in love, either. And these are not necessarily moments of anger or bitterness. They are regular moments of contentment and a feeling of self-satisfaction. Pride in being emotionally self-sufficient.
But, sometimes, I think back to that feeling… and I think that I could probably never be alone long-term. I have such a huge heart, so much passion inside of me, and so much love to give. It feels a waste to lock it all away for whatever reasons are most current. Today it is that I am on this path and I am driven and I am focused and don’t have time for silly things such as falling in love. Other times I am resolute that I will never love again, like that, because the pain is not worth the effervescence of it all. And other times I think that it is just a complete waste of time, because people hurt each other and if anyone’s going to hurt me, I’d like to be that person. I can deal with me, I trust me. I don’t trust another soul past the superficial level.
I battle with how this newly found outlook on relationships affects those around me. I feel hardened and insensitive, but perhaps that is only in relation to my former pattern of behavior. As my dad might put it, the way I feel now is probably the way that everyone else feels, and I’ve been doing it wrong and just now catching up.
Well, I always have been a late bloomer. Itching for the gun to go off but always last to cross the finish line.
So, I reflect on these feelings as well. I wonder what ties people together, and I try to objectively watch what drives them apart. It makes me sad to see that most interpersonal relationships are built on needs being met. A connection can be as real as you think it is in any given moment. We all know that once in a while you see someone and your heart skips a beat, a longing glance can be exchanged and it feels like hours of conversation. But in the grand scheme of things we are all just on our paths to seek our needs and we randomly bump into one another and then bounce away in another direction. Sort of like a bunch of rubber balls in a room. Let them loose and they’ll bounce all over the place. Once in a while some connect and then bounce off each other in another direction. This brief moment of contact, for the rubber balls, is an accelerated version of our relationships.
And then there are those balls that, by sheer dumb luck, will bounce together again from a complete different set of points. This has been especially evident to me moving back to the town where I went to high school. There are all of these people around me and I’m reconnecting with them but being careful not to get too close, because odds are we’ve been thrown together twice now but in the long run we probably won’t be thrown together again.
I don’t exactly understand the point of all of it. I suppose this is the thing that philosophers have been asking of our species since the dawn of time: what does it mean to be human?
For now, the best I can do is actively think about it and try to follow my instincts.
What does it mean to be human? To know that, ultimately, it’s all pointless and hopeless, but to press on and resolve to be happy anyway.
In terms of falling in love and giving over your heart to someone, you’ll know when the time is right. Those moments of loneliness will lessen over time, but they’ll never completely go away.
You’ll know when the time is right when you feel lonely, but you find that you’re able to comfort yourself. When the loneliness transforms from a craving that feels like hunger pangs into a soft, quiet longing: that’s when you know you’re ready.
In my mind, only when we are truly content with our own company and ability to fulfill our own needs can we be ready to let someone else in. When the thought of having a relationship feels less like a necessity and more like a bonus, THAT’S when you’re ready.
It takes time. Continue to use that time for self-reflection. It sucks, because humans tend not to like what they see when they turn their microscope of judgment inward. But it’s only when we fully come to grips with who we are, only when we discover the true self, that we are fully aware and can function more easily in society.