The close conversation had reached that point where we had run out of superficial, cheery things to say. I wrung my hands as a thought forced itself into speech: I had been afraid that saying it aloud would make a tentative idea more real than it actually was, but I couldn’t help it, it had been haunting me for too long:
“Um, I don’t know,” I began slowly. “I think, more than anything, I want to be in a relationship. I know that’s a lame thing to say…I believe in feminism and independence and all that, but…it’s true.”
I lowered my head and blushed as my friend reassured me, but I couldn’t help but taste the aftertaste of a remark that was not articulated finely enough. Because, in truth, I enjoy being single. I like going to concerts and kissing strangers without worrying about someone back home. I like quiet moments by myself. And I see people constantly holding hands, constantly spending the night in each others’ dorms and I think: I don’t want that. I don’t want all of that, at least not all the time.
But I definitely want something.
“I guess if he’s one of your best friends — ”
“He’s my best friend. I don’t fuck around with multiple best friends,” Paul retorts.
Walking around campus, I see gently interlocking hands. I see soft touches on waists. During Formal, I see an acquaintance hold his girlfriend close to his chest as they murmured to each other, foreheads and noses touching, acting as if they were the only ones on the dance floor at this dry event. I wrench my gaze away and feel my skin burn where they’re touched and I’m not.
I’ve been reading a lot about dyads. Chromosome dyads, literary dyads. I was reading an analysis on movies: have you ever noticed that male friendship films usually feature two friends, while female friendship films usually feature a group of friends? Society’s way of looking at women is so sexualized that two girls becoming friends on screen is too homoerotic. So cinema dilutes the bond by crowding friends together.
Dilute. My whole life has been about sharing people with others; my happiness has been based on — no, hung up on — my friend groups. Once in elementary school a chain email told me that my favorite number would be my number of best friends. My favorite number is three. This pleased me. That way, I wouldn’t have to invest everything in one friend, could rotate my closest circle in and out of my “big three” based on when friends lost and regained interest in me…
Diluted. Is that what it has been all along?
“Oh, she was my best friend, but I wasn’t her best friend, you know?”
“I think I’m going to room with some other girls.”
“I’m not looking for a relationship right now.”
“It’s not like I need someone to feel complete. It’s more like: for most of my life, I didn’t have the greatest self-esteem. But now I finally feel good about myself; for the first time, I like myself a lot. And I just feel ready to share that good self-image with someone. I want to share myself.”
“Well, if that’s the way you feel, then you will broadcast that in the way you act. When you interact with people, you’ll demonstrate openness and interest. And someone will notice that. Someone will be interested in that. You’ve already put yourself out there quite well. You just have to — “
“Wait?” I asked, voice trembling. “I guess that makes sense. I guess it doesn’t sound like a big deal when you put it like that. But…it just feels so painful in the moment.” Part of me, a smart part of me, knows that my solitude is temporary. But loneliness chafes, after so long.
“I want to love! I want something great and pure to lift me to itself!”
– The Story of an African Farm, Olive Schreiner
In the dead of 3 AM, I hold a pen to creamy journal paper as I simply try to write down what I want.
I want intimacy.
I want to be loved.
I want to love and be loved.
I want unambiguous intimacy, on my terms.
But isn’t that selfish? Perhaps I’m too self-centered for a relationship?
And so here’s the screaming, tortured truth that I can’t explain without a list, without conditionals: I want something real. I want the emotional and the physical chemistry. I want my space, but I want the knowledge that there’s a reliable and open ear and heart poised for me. I want them to be mine and and for me to be theirs — selfishness and selflessness can’t be questions when you belong to each other. I don’t need labels — I just need your unquestionable and reciprocated affection. You — whoever you may be.