“People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
This sentiment has been expressed in lots of different ways by lots of different people, but I first heard it from Don Draper, and it has resonated with me ever since. It might embarrass some other English majors to have one of their favorite quotes come from a television show, but this English major slash TV junkie is fine with it.
Listen, my twenties were terrible. And exciting. And then terrible again. And then exciting, but in a really, really terrible way. My friend Helen Jane would say that years 20-30 are everyone’s time to be stupid and crazy, and she’s right, but lord was I ever stupid and crazy.
- I was in ten different monogamous relationships, three of them with people at least nine years older than myself.
- I had three nervous breakdowns.
- I got arrested.
- I sort of broke up with one person twice.
- I flirted briefly with alcoholism.
- For three years, I hardly ever left the house.
I was kind to people who were cruel to me and cruel to people who were kind, and above all, I was unspeakably cruel to myself. I sat around waiting for my life to start, berating myself day and night for waiting for my life to start. I existed in a constant liminal state–between jobs, between relationships, between careers or goals. I convinced myself I wasn’t good enough for anything or anyone.
But mostly, the problem was the dating. I’m the child of parents who are both very straightforward and honest. They don’t manipulate people, they don’t say things they don’t mean, and they’ll own up when they’ve done something wrong. For those and other qualities I’ll always love them, but I went into the world somewhat unprepared for people who lack those qualities. I didn’t listen when people told me who they were, and I paid for it.
So this is what happened. I dated someone whose backpack made a loud CLUNK on the table whenever he came to stay at my house, indicating that he’d brought his gun over again. I dated someone I was afraid of, and the first time we broke up, I took him back because I was afraid of him. I dated someone who’d had a recent stint in a mental hospital, and we got drunk together every night. I dated someone whose son kicked my dog. I dated someone who found my email password and used it. I dated someone who made me change my locks.
The things that happened to me in my twenties make me feel like I’m different from other people. My friend J has dated lots, too. She said once that she has a hard time discussing her relationship issues with her close friend M, because M married someone she met in college and therefore doesn’t understand What It’s Like. And I get that, but I think J was referring to What It’s Like to be really lonely for a long time, and that’s not how I feel different.
I have never had much trouble with loneliness. I’ve always spent lots of time by myself, and can avoid feeling lonely even when single if I maintain some close friendships. The thing I miss most when single is having someone to whom I can tell really boring stories. Some asshole ran a stop sign on my way home from work! I read this article online about blah blah blah today. Tonight for dinner I ate a peanut butter and chocolate syrup sandwich. That sort of thing. But otherwise it’s not a huge problem.
I have a divorced friend who is currently single and looking for the right guy to be with. She gets upset when she talks about it sometimes, and again, I get that. But that particular longing, that “When will I find my someone?” feeling, isn’t one I’ve experienced much. Loneliness looks pretty bad when you’re comparing it to being with someone who is right for you, but compared to being with someone who is wrong for you, it’s fucking cake.
I feel different from other people because I think all that disastrous dating has made me a little, well, callused. Untrusting. And another word I can’t think of. It’s not introverted, because I’m pretty outgoing. It’s something that means that I don’t reach out to people emotionally like I used to, or that I let my inner life take priority over the needs of others. I don’t know if I ever believed in the idea of a Right Person for everyone, but I definitely don’t believe in it now.
I am in a relationship now, and have been for the past four years. He’s a wonderful guy, I love him lots, and I trust him nearly unconditionally. We live together, but we have no current plans to get married. Given everything I’ve been through, getting married feels like pushing my luck.
Soon after I turned 30, the turmoil of my twenties just sort of went away, like a calm after a drama hurricane. Part of that is due to my boyfriend, who is refreshingly easygoing and straightforward (and doesn’t have much of an internet presence, god bless him), but part of it is also due to getting older. Whatever was in me that made me do all the regrettable things I did in my twenties just isn’t there anymore, and I’m glad.
(I hate when people end their blog posts with questions for people to answer in the comments, but, uh, I really want to know if your twenties were as insane as mine.)