On relationships, Eternal Sunshine, and being alone.

As I wrote yesterday, I am newly single.  I was with my ex (ouch – still feels weird and horrible to say) for two and a half years, which in the grand scheme of things was not a long time.  It was still a significant period of time though, and overall it was a happy, fun, deeply trusting, love-filled relationship.  I ended it.  For a number of reasons, mostly because I had changed a lot since we got together.  I have been having counselling since last year and I am working on old issues that are still an undercurrent to my behaviour and how I feel day-to-day, although due to being an undercurrent they only tend to pop up in times of crisis.  Everybody has them, to some extent, but I want to have a relationship with mine (horribly wanky…and you either get it, or you don’t), or at least to understand them, because they’re part of who I am.  I felt as though I needed to really focus on myself for a while and that is difficult to do when you are in a committed, loving relationship.  I needed to have no commitment, no emotional ties and no responsibilities to anyone other than myself.  And I’ve changed in that time.  The way we related to each other had changed.  I do believe in making a relationship work, I’m all for it.  Sometimes, though, you have to realise why you’re making that decision; whether it’s because you want to cling on to what you had, even though it doesn’t exist anymore, or whether it’s because there is enough of a foundation despite the differences to keep going.  I struggled for so long, because I felt that there was a lot to save, and I desperately wanted to save it. In the end, I felt that the differences were too vast, that I had changed too much, and there you have it.  Now I am single.  A single figure.  Alone.

I have never really been properly single.  I remember looking at serial monogamist friends of mine, jumping from relationship to relationship, and not understanding why.  But since I’ve actually been in relationships, I’ve done the same, only without the guise of the word ‘relationship’.  I haven’t necessarily been shacked up with someone but there has always BEEN someone, whether they were ‘mine’ or not.  And now I am in this situation, I know why people do this.  It is fucking scary being alone, especially if you don’t necessarily have a happy stable family background as an emotional safety net.  It’s all about feeling safe, isn’t it?  Or at least, I think it is to me.  There is a safety in being held, in knowing that you have someone to look out for you.  There is also a safety in being able to hold that person and look after them in return (and as something that I am good at, possibly more so for me).  There is a beauty that exists in romantic relationships that cannot be mirrored in friendships or indeed any other kind of relationship.  Don’t misunderstand me, friendships can be and are beautiful things; as complicated as romantic entanglements, certainly, sometimes deeper, sometimes more intimate, and often more important.  I love my friends, dearly, and without them my life would be filled with less love, laughter and understanding.  And yet…and yet.  It’s not the same is it?  Which is why people do bed-hop, go from person to person, seek out another romance, whatever you want to call it.  The kinship that comes with sharing your life so closely with another human being is a special and wondeful thing.  No wonder we crave it, try so hard to hold onto it, try so desperately hard to recreate it.

Yesterday I had to go out to buy some food and ended up having a DVD binge at a secondhand shop.  One of the films that I bought was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen and one of my favourites.  One of the other films I bought, which I watched yesterday, was Eat, Pray, Love (shhh at the back there…wanted some fluff) which I actually really enjoyed, despite its multiple flaws, but parts of it hit very close to home and I had to pause it for half an hour in the way one does when one is crying so hard that banshee wailing is occuring, punctuated only by deep gulping and occasional hyperventilation.  It was a bit fluffy new age but also resonant in why she was embarking on the journey.  From the film: “Since I was 15 I have either been with a guy or breaking up with a guy, I haven’t had so much as two weeks just to deal with myself”.  Sort of sums up why I am doing what I am doing.  Why despite being terrified of being single, I have made myself so.  And in looking for quotes from the film, found these two brilliant ones from the book (which I now intend to read, even if I am mocked mercilessly for it):

“When I get lonely these days I think, so be lonely Liz. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life, welcome to the human experience. But never again use another person’s body or emotions as a scratching post for your own unfulfilled yearnings.”

“Moreover, I have boundary issues with men…to have issues with boundaries, one must have boundaries in the first place right? But I disappear into the person I love….if I love you, you can have everything. you can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dogs money, my dogs time- everything……I will give you all this and more until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else. I do not relay these facts about myself with pride but this is how its always been.”

I do this!  Oh, I do this.  I’m not proud of it, as she says.  But that’s how I am.  How I ‘operate’.  I love intensely and deeply and fully and that’s not wrong, but it is if it’s at the expense of losing or compromising yourself.  I have never really learnt that balance and it will be interesting to find out how that comes about.

So onto Eternal Sunshine.  Oh gosh.  Never mind all this pain and anguish, the horrible who-gets-to-keep-what, the thought of having to change my next of kin, all that…I would never erase what I had with my ex, the memories and the experiences that we shared.  In the same way that the counselling has been a bit of a Matrix metaphor (prompted by this amazing cartoon), I still would rather feel it all than erase it and pretend it never happened, even though currently it is mostly really fucking shit.  However, my opinion about the end of the movie has changed.  I think. (That’s the problem, nothing is simple, is it? I feel as though it’s changed but I’m still on the fence a bit, because I WANT to believe, dammit.)

I used to think that the ending was so romantic, so perfect.  That they will love each other despite the flaws and give it a go.  And it IS romantic, but romance isn’t everything.  It reminds me of All You Need is Love by The Beatles: “All you need is love.  Love is all you need”.  And I strongly disagree.  It’s not all you need.  I loved my ex partners but that does not make a relationship.  It does not always make you happy.  It can make you sad because you feel as though if you have love, if you are loved, then you SHOULD be alright, and that you shouldn’t be dissatisfied or pissed off or want more, because you supposedly have it all, what people want, what everyone strives for.

Clementine reminds me of myself, and I wish she didn’t, but she does.  I identify so strongly with what she says in that scene but I’m not just going to say “okay”.  It doesn’t work.  I think that there is more.  That it’s alright to not just say “okay”, even when other people don’t understand why and think that you’re crazy and that you have love and a good history and a good connection and therefore are throwing it all away for nothing.

It’s not nothing though.  It’s everything.  As much as it is amazing, incredible, beautiful, wonderful to have that relationship, I don’t want it unless it’s for the right reasons.  Why stay in something or get into something if you have serious reservations or doubts about things?  When Clem says “okay” after explaining that she gets bored etc, THAT is what I am trying to avoid.  I want to know why and to explore it, not just throw myself into something because it appears beautiful and exciting.   It could also be devastating and it’s more likely to be beautiful if I’m going into it with more knowledge and therefore more power, not letting it consume me but instead fully, consciously experiencing it. Of course you should take risks. There is nothing wrong with taking a risk and going for it and seeing what happens. But when you can already see what will happen, or at least what will probably happen, based on experience and The Past and your own behaviours, why do it?

All this has made me realise that I am not alone.  I am alone in the sense that I am without a partner, a partner-in-crime, a lover, a romantic soulmate. But I’m human, and human beings and our needs are freaking text book – like Elizabeth Gilbert, like my serial monogamist friends, like everyone on the telly who jumps from relationship to relationship or has an affair or stays with someone because they’re too scared of being by themselves. I might have made a decision that isn’t that common and that goes against the grain, but I am not alone in the way that I feel, and that is a vaguely comforting thought.