In two weeks I’ll be at the wedding of two dear friends. It will be understated and tasteful and wonderful. There’ll be dancing and familiar faces and just enough summer heat to justify a sundress. Everything will be perfect.
Except I’ll be alone. This isn’t unusual (I’ve never had a date to a wedding, despite being in eight and attending quite a few more). But for a few shining months, there was this potential for a plus one. And now that possibility is gone.
While the ending of a relationship is always painful (and may require you to work from home so your weeping doesn’t distract your coworkers), it’s the resulting hopelessness that cripples me. It slinks down the hall in the middle of the night and curls up next to me in bed. It whispers lies that, no matter how I try to resist or refute, penetrate my weary brain: You’re not wanted, by anyone. People who get to know you leave you. Even those whom you beg to stay, won’t. You’re not worth the effort to be in a relationship with. You’re not pretty or lovely or lovable. You ruin good things.
It takes all my strength to keep these lies at bay, to continually stand firm against their attack. I’m living under siege, and one weak moment, one hour when I let down my guard, and all will be lost. Because these lies are pernicious — they’re poisonous. Listening to them can and will (and has) hurt me. But as nightly phone calls abruptly cease and Skype dates are cancelled, lies fill the holes where he used to be.
What’s painful is when these lies feel like the truth — when I have nothing in my life that seems to contradict them. Every man I’ve fallen for, to whom I’ve shown the best and worst parts of myself, has left. I do have a tendency to let my erratic emotions control a situation, chasing away the very things I love most. And if someone has wanted me, why am I still here, alone, watching Me Before You as my cover in order to cry? (When you’ve been weepy for a week, you have to find excuses for the tears — like sappy movies, breakups of celebrity couples and half-off coupons.)
Even when these things feel true and seem true and shimmer with an aura of truth, they are not true. And this is when I need people. I’ve got to throw back the covers, quit cancelling my plans, and call in my tribe — the literal hands and feet of Jesus — no matter how foolish or self-absorbed I feel. I need them to surround me and remind me of my worth. I need them to tell me I’m not unlovable. I need them to hold my hand and let me weep for the loss I’ve experienced. I need them to speak kindly to me, to believe that God isn’t withholding a good thing from me without cause. They can pray when my words are just tears. They can come behind and strengthen me — the metal studs in the wall as my sheetrock crumbles under the weight of grief.
And I have to stop berating myself for being “too emotional” and “not being able to let go.” I’m giving myself permission to wail and weep and watch too many movies. I’m trying to focus on healing instead of finding an “off” switch to my emotions.
Because this kind of pain doesn’t only come from losing the boy — though he’s great, and I will miss him. The pain stems more from that moment when, after so long being single and resigning myself to this fate, I finally got to ask the question: “Do I get to bring a plus one?”
This pain comes from the loss of hope for more. It’s the unlimited potential that will remain unfulfilled. It’s the internal dialogue that says “I think he’s worth it. Keep going” then slams to a halt. It’s the joy of being seen and known and chosen — only to be returned.
In my worst moments, I use this experience to validate my belief that no one will ever choose to love me, that there’s something in me that’s inherently unlovable, and that dating is far too hard to yield such a good thing. And in my best moments, I recognize this time for what it is: suffering. Suffering that we are guaranteed to experience in this life, suffering that produces endurance, strength of character, and, once the tears dry up and the wounds heal, hope — “and hope will not put us to shame” (Romans 5:3-5).