Once you were in the Florida Keys with your mom and her old college friend, Holly, who said something that you’ve clung to ever since. “Nancy’s daughter is too busy,” Holly said, leaning on the counter of the rental house. “Too business-minded to be looking for love or settle down with a family.” You had latched onto that--not vocally, but for days after you thought about it. For years after, you remembered it. You thought, if you could become business-minded, successful, busy, studious, then maybe, just maybe, no one would notice that you’d always disliked the idea of falling in love. Maybe they’d never notice that you didn’t. Not that you don’t love--just that you love in the ways that don’t matter and you’re alone in some of the ways that do.
Is it lonelier to be searching for love and fail to find it, or to have never felt it at all and be completely sure that you never will? You don’t know, but to be sure of “never will” feels wrong --every book and movie and friend and family tells you so. Every friend has someone else or is searching for someone else to be their best friend and a partner--someone to share a life with. You watched over Claire’s shoulder a couple times as she scrolled through Tinder. “What do you think of this one?” she asked. You looked him over. He was plain, white, with a nice enough smile. You thought she could do better and said as much. She nodded and swiped right anyways. You rolled your eyes but thought, what if that’s the one? What if this time it works out and that's the one she’s going to share her life with? The one she’ll start to blow you off for to hang out with? The one to know your best friend better than you will?
He wasn’t. But there will be one someday.
You remember being little and reading books, never understanding the girls who chose boys over their homes and families. “You’ll understand when you’re older,” your mother said. But you didn’t. You don’t. And you thought maybe the answer was that you weren’t interested in boys. But then you kissed Alex and realized that you could probably go without kissing ever again. It felt like a mistake when you told her that.
“What's the difference between what we have and just being friends?” she asked and you could tell from her tone that she was upset--that you’d hurt her. Which you knew you would from the moment you started dating because it felt like all you could think about was the moment that she’d wake up and realize that you were never going to be as invested as she was. And to be fair, you had warned her. You’d said you would try. You never promised you’d be good at it. You never promised you’d be able to love her in the ways that mattered. And you wanted to answer her honestly, but you couldn’t because you didn’t know how to without scraping another line of scars down her heart--that heart was precious to you even if your feelings weren’t romantic. She was your best friend, and you thought that might be enough. In the end, you did your best to set her heart down gently. You’d broken it, just like you knew you would, but you didn’t cry and that, more than anything, convinced you that there were just some ways in which you would always be alone.
You spent a long time alone in other ways too--spent a long time uninvited. Were you alone by choice, like you thought, or did you simply say you liked being alone to give yourself some modicum of control? To make the rejections yours instead of theirs?
You remember a parent-teacher conference with a teacher everyone loved in high school. “She sits in the back and she’s quiet,” he said. “That’s okay.” He made it sound like he was happy to accommodate your desire to be alone--like he respected that aspect of you. But all you could think when he said that was that it wasn’t really a choice. You didn’t want to be alone, necessarily. It was just that your friends were in other classes. No one in this one wanted to talk to you. Smart kids, talented kids, honors kids who grew up together, went to church together, live-laugh-loved together. Their parents’ houses a hop, skip, and fifteen-minute walk from each other. How could you stand a chance? The cracks weren’t big enough for you to slip in. So you’d resigned yourself to waiting by the teachers during group projects, knowing that they’d assign you to a group of people who’d chosen each other, or some unlucky soul whose friend was absent that day. Once, you’d been thrown in with two girls, Abby and Kendall. You’d made a quip about another girl that made them laugh.
Abby smiled, delighted. “I didn’t know you talked like that!”
“I’m just quiet,” you said. But maybe it was more accurate to say that you didn’t speak because you thought no one would listen--and you didn’t want to be right. So once again you put your nose to the grindstone and worked--all business for years.
But aren’t you glad--aren’t you lucky--that this time it was different? That despite your best efforts, you’re here languid and melting into the front seat of your car in the dorm parking lot. You’ve been here for six hours and your friends are cycling in and out as they go to class or practice or home. And you’ve been in your car, the windows fogging up from the moisture and your legs going stiff while you twist in your seat to talk. You haven’t been quiet for a long time. Is this not enough? Claire in the back and Elle in the passenger seat and Joe throwing open the trunk to crawl in the back after practice. Why is it that you think this is not a way to love that matters?
Laurence Dean is a graphic designer by day and an aspiring writer from the hours of 1:00 AM – 5:00 AM. She loves fairy tales, ghost stories, and legends. She is a fervent defender of spiders and snakes.