After my 3rd break up, I’m finally realizing an unhealthy pattern
In 1964, Dean Martin released his version of the now-classic pop song “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You.” I first heard the song during a kissing scene on the ’90s cult classic show “Freaks and Geeks,” and it immediately became one of my favorites. Some years later, “Sex and the City” addressed the song in a more cynical way.
“I can’t believe I used to like that song,” Carrie Bradshaw says to her GBF Stanford Blatch. “It’s the codependent national anthem.”
I’m thinking about the song again now here at the precipice of yet another break up.
Charles* was average by most measures, and yet I inexplicably became infatuated after our first date at a pricy Izakaya restaurant where we ordered chicken liver on skewers, towers of sashimi and frothy shōchū cocktails. I had just finished watching Season 2 of Stranger Things, and he had hair just like Steve Harrington. Unlike most first dates, this one wasn’t painful or awkward. It was fun. We had an immediate connection. I knew those were rare. I wanted to cling to it like a treasure.
For the next 6 months, our lives became intertwined. I brought him to my company holiday party. I met his childhood buddies. We went on a ski trip together with mutual friends. We played Words with Friends, went to museums, visited very grown-up cocktail bars, attended a myriad of concerts. He was my number one friend on Snapchat. His parents and his best friends from college all knew about me.
There was the time we stumbled into a pizza place at 2 am drunk after a party, and he told me he loved me. It was the best slice of greasy pepperoni I had ever had. There was the time we slow danced in his living room to a romantic pop song and we held each other and made some tentative travel plans for 3 months out. “You know I love you,” he said over and over again. “I know.” I said it like Han Solo in “The Empire Strikes Back.” He could be my Leia. I held him tighter. God, was there really anything better in life than hearing those words? Was there anything that could top that high?
I built our short-lived love story around our most affectionate moments, where we appeared like a real couple. I put blinders up to his ambivalence about me. I breezed over his adamantine declarations that he didn’t want to be in a serious relationship at this point in his life. He would change his mind, of course. I convinced myself that he would fall madly in love with me and I with him. That one day he would finally introduce me to his close friends, his family. That we’d take trips together to Tomales Bay, where he’d teach me to shuck oysters, or to LA where we could eat good Korean BBQ and party in West Hollywood with the Kardashians, and that we’d finally go to Fenway Park to watch a Sox game (though I found baseball dreadfully boring).
None of that happened. He dumped me in the clinical and curt way you can only do when you’re not in love. “We want different things. You want a relationship, and I don’t. ” It seems that Charles had, predictably, never been on board or aware of my beautiful narrative I’d set up for us. I had been imagining, and he had been living in reality. And did I really love him, or did I want so badly to be in love again that I fabricated a screenplay in my head and forced him to play a role in it, then became hurt when he couldn’t recite his lines? Indeed, it seemed I had lost something I never truly had.
As much as I thought of myself–and cultivated a brand as–a confident and independent woman, I secretly dreaded being alone. I needed a man, maybe not to make me happy, but to fixate on, to chase and to occupy my emotional energy. I used men to create a sense of self. I felt fabulous when men validated me, and destroyed when they rejected me. It was the way it had been since a young age. Friends called me boy-crazy. I was uncomfortable being single. I had moved from man to man, infatuation to infatuation, since I was 16. I did love Charles, but more so I became obsessed with the idea of having him as a partner. I wanted the world to see that here I was, being coveted and wanted in the most supreme way. Here I was, worthy of love. Couldn’t you see it? Did everyone see how important I was?
The days after our break up, shaken by paroxysms of sobs in bed, I met my monster head on. Like a revenant, it had returned to haunt me. My ugly and smug old friend, the human-shaped gaping crater in my heart, smoldering from the impact: loneliness. I was alone again. I no longer had a person. I was no longer part of a pair. I was a nobody once more, like what Dean Martin had sung all along.
Why do we feel like we’re nobody when we don’t have anybody? I tried to pinpoint the source of my sadness. I cried for our shared things. The life that had been created in the fragile overlapping sliver of our venn diagram. The knowing that there was someone out there who really cared, who had a spare toothbrush for me in his bathroom cupboard, was gone, and that was the emptiness that stung.
What will happen when I don’t look for someone else to fill the hole that Charles left? Who knows what undiscovered treasures or trials await in that space: discomfort, obviously. Pain. But maybe growth, some unexpected glittering revelations, the elusive fountain of self-discovery, spewing fantastical light! This time, I don’t want to fill the emptiness. I don’t want to do anything. I just want to leave it alone for once. I wanted to treat it like a piece of odd, antique furniture in my studio apartment, a fixture in my life. I didn’t want to be hostile with it. I could learn to tolerate, maybe even like the loneliness. We could be friends. Maybe, I could still be a somebody.
*Charles is lucky I’m not using his real name