Pros of lockdown: No longer having that feeling, as you fall asleep celibate and alone, that every other twenty-something is out there having passionate sex with all and sundry.
Cons of lockdown: Falling asleep, celibate and alone.
Pros of lockdown: Sisters being legally prevented from seeing their boyfriends and love interests, making them seem every bit as single as you are.
Cons of lockdown: Knowing that, unlike your sisters, your singledom is not caused by a government directive but is rather an unavoidable fact of life.
I am not in the habit of missing things. I do not go in for mourning that which I cannot have much as I don’t subscribe to giving weight or time to things outside of my control. I consider it pointless in a world rendered pixellated with so many other interesting points to worry over, iron out, fetishize, solve. I don’t think this is particularly healthy of me but with my penchant for all things expedient, immediate and most crucially, productive, it is, sadly, inevitable.
I am pretty good at refusing the tendency to ‘yearn’. After early adult years spent either wallowing in the lost kingdoms of the past or worrying about and projecting onto the future when all my present ills would forever be eradicated, I have grown a skin inured to anything but the present moment. And, should I not like the present, I simply alter it into a landscape I do like. This works well for me. In fact, it has perfectly prepared me for the current pandemic, safeguarding me from the tsunamis of nostalgia so many have succumbed to while also barricading me from the lustful daydreams of the future. Both preclude and exclude the ability to enjoy the present strangeness and I, as evidenced by my romantic history and music taste, have a weakness for strangeness.
And yet. There are a few exceptions to my refusal to “miss”. And one is glaring.
The sticky, unavailable but supposedly unforgettable him.
And it is becoming strange – that pesky word again! – not to mention it; this urgent yearning I have for someone to be with me through the turbulence. Not someone, him.
Because if this online exercise in exposure is honest, then it should be honest about the aloneness of this pandemic. The searing, physical realisation that I am without partner, without ally, without the text that lights me up from the inside and saves every crap day with some banal private joke made precious with its implicit affection. It should be honest about the fact that for the first time in a long time, I almost wish I wasn’t “single” – whatever that bizarre word means. That I am longing for someone I cannot have; someone I’m scared I’ve lost and, worse of all, someone who as I’m writing knows none of this. And I can’t tell him.
let me just say, in a trial run of brevity: I miss him.
I know/assume/valiantly pray I’m not alone in this. That all of us seemingly independent, seemingly whole, unfettered, uninterested humans are all struck down with this ailment of the heart – this reaching into the vault of our memories to find an ex, a Tinder date, a sort-of platonic friend, a crush never acted upon to dredge up, to breathe new life and hope back into, to stuff with Styrofoam and bolster the dream of them and the potential of “us” into realness again. To make the loneliness of “me” a little more bearable.
I have many thoughts on the single experience during this time and I hope to share them with you in the future but, in the interest of being on time for my hot date with a jigsaw man who’s going to puzzle me up in 20 minutes (calm down, I’m legitimately going to buy more puzzles from a safe, sterilised, social distance), let me just say, in a trial run of brevity: I miss him.
That is a difficult sentence to write – my obstinacy and the curated version of myself that is self-sufficient and above such weakness make it difficult not to erase it.
And then this bastard came along and now I cannot help but wallow in the want for him. It is an outrage and an affront to everything I’ve worked so hard for and I am livid, irate, incandescently pissed off about it.
But we are not talking and so he doesn’t know and I am not used to having to repress every passing feeling I have and so what option do I have but to post it online? I am grown unfamiliar with the practice of restraint that I don’t know what to do with this unusual grappling with dual vulnerability and desire. I have carved myself into a figure of self-satisfied strength, indomitable independence that relies on nothing and no one for fulfillment. I have gone out of my way to make a point of personal resilience and have been almost cruel in my self-sufficiency. The parts of being single others hated I relished, to the point where I now don’t know how to miss someone, I don’t know how to articulate the emptiness of their absence, or vocalise the quiet sadness in me their silence evokes.
COVID has made me acutely, inescapably, almost unbearably aware that I am solitary. The reality of falling asleep alone every night, cradling my own head in the darkness as I try to ignore the space – cold and empty – where it feels an other should be.
Except it is not an other I want. It is not room I want filled. It is room once filled – by him.
He is the thing I think of before I fall asleep and the reason I sometimes wake up feeling emptied by his absence. We don’t speak of it and I can’t quite find the words to tell him because we are not together, there is no possibility of us being together and another conversation excavating what we are to each other and what we want and where this can go is futile and boring. I live in one hemisphere. He lives in another. And, apart from the few months we were gifted, that is all we’ve known and all we are due to know for the foreseeable future.
And I am generally completely fine with this set-up – grateful that we met, in awe of what we had, content with our silent promise of friendship. That is enough for me. I am generally superb in my continued refusal to give in to the wastefulness of missing him – the complete pointlessness of the “wish you were here” repartee that only serves to make us both feel sad and left out. Until bedtime. And then, when I trudge up to my room and my single bed after the round of family “goodnights”, my good sense and robust rules desert me and I am wracked with the hole of him, the gaping abyss that swallows my bed, my sleep, my resolve.
IT IS ANNOYING. I DO NOT LIKE IT. MAKE IT STOP.
You see, since my last serious relationship ended, I have relished sleeping alone. I have starfished into the delicious abyss, I’ve curled myself foetal-like until coiled in a smug ecstasy that doesn’t have to shrink itself to accommodate sinewy limbs or cold feet. I have gone to bed with a sigh that has become as ritualistic as a prayer – my own rosary of gratitude as I exhale into fresh sheets, grunt myself to comfort and bury a path to sleep. In my box-room in Dublin, I whisper words of thanks to the world most nights. It began, in the first weeks of that break up, as gratitude for having somehow survived another day, a disbelieving exclamation to find myself still breathing, still putting on pyjamas, still brushing teeth, still capable of sleep. And, as I began to rebuild myself, it became a habit of humility – a tip-of-the-hat to privilege and the joy of another day spent without pain or hunger or violence. In winter, I would delight in hugging myself to warmth, giddy with the knowledge that I was enough. The only arms I wanted were my own.
This continued even as I opened slivers of myself to men again. The boys I’ve dated in the intervening years were rarely gratified with overnight stays. I longed for their departure, keened for the stretch of the bed and found ways and means to reclaim it.
And then this bastard came along and now I cannot help but wallow in the want for him. It is an outrage and an affront to everything I’ve worked so hard for and I am livid, irate, incandescently pissed off about it. My night’s have become a simpering homage to masochism and nostalgia – six months since last I saw him and yet here I am, woefully reliving the rituals we had little time to perfect and yet perfect them we did, finding new ways for bodies to fit. A year of knowing him and only two months of that spent on the same continent and here I am, the great regretter, wasting brain space on the memory of curving into him as he curled around me, the safety of his arm heavy around my waist, the lock of his fingers tangled in mine. The grunt and sniff of him finding shelter from the tentacles of my hair…the nightly wrench of it as it tangled under his heavy head. I miss the kiss goodnight. I miss the exhale – that joint release of breath that is a wordless acknowledgement of happiness, of peace. I miss waking up beside him. I miss the recrimination having stolen the covers all night long, I miss the shoulder-squeeze, the tickle of his eyelashes as he reached to kiss me good morning.
The parts of being single that others hated I relished, to the point where I now don’t know how to miss someone; I don’t know how to articulate the emptiness of their absence, or vocalise the quiet sadness in me their silence evokes.
My mother asks me how he is over coffee and I cannot give her an honest answer but will spend the next three nights being assailed with the memory of the last time he slept in this bed with me, when we were both drunk and delirious with the surprise of just how WELL this was going. Of the agony of meeting my parents – and extensive extended family – for the first time, showing up hours late and inebriated. Of my aunt following him around the kitchen and telling him and anyone else that would listen that he looked like Hugh Jackman. Of kissing him in the cloakroom while my family revelled under the fans of the overheated kitchen as Abba played.
Or the time after that when we drove down together on a Thursday afternoon and he quietly put on a playlist on the rental car’s radio, I later realised he had made for me. The car breaking down and I nearly killing us as I sandwiched the car into a frankly suicidal U-turn that left us perpendicular on a dangerous bend and he tried not to shout at me while I sweat the car into reverse.
Is it ok that I’m writing this? Am I violating us?
It’s just – it is such a rare and beautiful thing to find yourself in someone else’s arms and to know, if you could choose to be anywhere in the world in that moment, you would still choose there. I miss that.
And maybe it’s quarantine, maybe it’s the uncertainty and the visceral, terrifying awareness of how singularly alone we all are and how we could potentially die this way. Maybe it’s the daily-mourned absence of my vibrator and lack of sufficient outlet for the radioactive synapses of pent-up energy that is causing this infantile desire for touch, reassurance, unconditional love. Or maybe it’s just him.
Does it matter? Does it matter if I’m projecting or horny or feeling insecure or really have met the love of my life? The point of this is that sleeping alone is proving harder than I ever envisaged in my smug early-twenty years when infinite sex and an array of delicious boyfriends seemed not possible but a downright guarantee. The infallibility of my independence is showing itself to be a little more porous than I allowed myself to admit. Turns out, I am yawningly unexceptional in my desire for love. I think this is what lockdown is teaching all of us, though. Of our hardwired, positively inescapable need for companionship, connection…and the lengths we will go to – from “pocket-dialling” old flames to pledging bizarre sacrifices to deities we don’t believe in – to get it.
I cannot text him and tell him everything I’m thinking. Mainly because it won’t change anything. It won’t make him happier, it won’t bring him closer to me, it won’t rearrange the world so that his hemisphere is miraculously the same as mine, our timezones, weather forecast beautifully synchronised. And so, because I can’t, I’m writing it here instead. For him, for me, but for you too. For the love you’re missing, or have yet to meet but craving, for the boyfriend 10kms away or the date rearranged for when lockdown ends. Or perhaps for those not alone but lonely, who might share a bed but little else through this pandemic and thus finding this Dystopian universe not to be a reaffirmation of love but rather the heralding of its end. So here it is, I suppose.
The ache of the sleep alone, the beauty of missing. It sucks, it’s a little sad, but isn’t it beautiful too? To still be capable of the hopeless romanticism and rambling love letters of your adolescence, and the dramatic self-indulgence to still believe publishing them on an online forum is a good idea.
He says he reads everything I write. This, I suppose, is the real test.
- The inhibitionless joy of self-isolation that enables you to share your innermost thoughts online with the safety of knowing that by the time you see people again everyone will have forgotten all about whatever indiscreet over-share you went out of your way to publicise. Cons of self-isolation: Instilling you with a Carpe Diem, cocained penchant for creativity that makes you believe every thought you have should be shared with strangers.
- The songs that exacerbate the heartache in the most deliciously masochistic, thinks-she’s-in-a-coming-of-age-teen-movie kind of way: ‘Galileo’ by Declan O’Rourke, literally anything by Cigarettes After Sex for post-10pm listening, Lost in the Light by The Bahamas, everything The National touches (but I would say this on any given day).
- The photos that I never take often enough and feel incredibly awkward orchestrating whenever I can bring myself to whip out my phone but that I am wordlessly grateful now to have as proof that we existed, that it was all real.