I am greedy for people now in a way that I was not before, and it feels like a weakness.
I have always thought of myself as a loner, comfortable in my own company. More comfortable in my company than anyone else's. It's why I survived for so long in Germany, living in the kind of isolation that horrified my friends and family when I described it beyond my short Instagram captions. It was not that I thought my adrift-in-a-foreign-land state was a necessary sacrifice, although that was true, too; it also felt like that was the kind of life I was always supposed to live.
After all, I was surrounded by beauty, I had my thoughts and my (constantly shifting) sense of self, and a love that still made my heart feel like it may burst...what did I need from other people?
Apparently a lot, or I wouldn't be in England, trying to rebuild a life.
I am not a control freak nor a particularly disciplined person. I've never found a diet or exercise regime that lasted for more than a few weeks. I have no routines. I do not need people to do things my way or no way (well...that's only half true). What I do demand though is a meticulous cataloguing of my own emotions.
I want to know if I'm experiencing melancholy or longing or simple boredom. This knowledge helps me to know when I'm treating my emotions with respect (read: not eating my feelings) or giving them more attention than they deserve (read: obsessively thinking about something until I'm crying for no reason). I like to order myself, to know myself, so that when I'm alone, I'm in company I can stand.
This was a little easier when I was spending a lot of time alone, because I had to be my favorite person out of necessity or drive myself insane. I only half managed it, but I still took some pride in being the kind of person who didn't have an existential breakdown every time they were alone in a quiet room.
So it is odd to find myself on the other end of the spectrum here in England. I spend so much time surrounded by people, especially working in service, that whenever I find myself with hours of solitary time stretching before me, I reach for the phone, desperate to call someone, even though I have no one to call.
This happened to me the other day, and as has become my habit, my brain offered up a short mantra: "Don't mistake loneliness for love". Both admonishment and warning, I repeated this until I slept and morning came, bringing with it more hope and less longing.
One of my biggest fears is waking up many decades from now and realizing that I was a woman who was incapable of living without the love of a man. In some ways, this is good. It means that I do not want to define myself solely by who is loving or not loving me; it means that I don't want to spend my entire life jumping from relationship to relationship, never having a true encounter with myself. But there's also a different fear there: the fear of being vulnerable, of needing love.
When that mantra first came to me -- don't mistake loneliness for love -- I thought it meant that I shouldn't throw myself at whoever was willing and think that the rush of emotions was anything other than relief at not having to face my own shit. It sounded like yet another reminder to be an independent woman -- the only clearly defined goal in my all-over-the-place life.
But then I thought about it a little more.
Mostly I thought about the months I spent in Germany, and how I tried to convince myself that my sadness was some perverse form of self-love; a necessary lesson in resilience and self-reliance. All I learned, really, is that there is a depth of loneliness that could not only break me but also a relationship I treasured.
And, I don't know, all of a sudden, there were worse things than not wanting to be lonely, than needing to be loved. Of course, there's a balance. There has to be some middle point between finding all your self-worth in the affection of someone else and turning yourself into a loveless, self-sufficient island...but on the way to finding that point, it seems like a safer bet to err on the side of being too needy, too attached, too everything. It, paradoxically, feels safer to be vulnerable.
So, when I think of that mantra now, I think, 'yeah, don't make the call; learn how to sit with yourself'. But I also think, 'reach out; don't be afraid of needing someone'. The trick is learning to discern what choice is right for the day, in the same we have to discern the people who are worthy of our devotion. Because the wanting, the needing of other people? It's not weakness. It's life. And when I lean into that, it's a much happier life than any I can imagine as a completely independent woman.