Seldom do I search for wisdom on finding love. And yet, more than occasionally, it lands in my lap.
Like this gut-wrenching quote from the journal of Sylvia Plath: “There is so much hurt in this game of searching for a mate, of testing, trying. And you realize suddenly that you forgot it was a game, and turn away in tears.”
I’m typically not a pessimist. Nor do I really thrive on negativity (unless we’re talking about self image). There is, however, a hard truth in Sylvia’s revelation: We toy naïvely with chance just to find a mate, never mind what reality tell us. “Maybe this one will be the one,” we say. And so, we roll the dice, half-find and completely lose, tear our souls apart, and start all over again. It’s a sick game.
And I have made it my obsession.
The odds do not seem to be in my favor. Mismatched rolls, snake eyes, dice tumbling off the table. It often ends with me emptying my wallet and curling up in front of the TV alone.
I don’t share this so you pity me — I’m lucky to have the life I do, to have the opportunity to roll the dice at all. I share it because this nightly gamble pushes a question to the fore that I’ve been afraid to address:
What if, despite all of the strategy and good luck, no partner comes my way? What if I spend my life alone?
Again, not a pity play. What I mean is this: If I were to give up my dice rolling altogether, what would my life look like? Where would I put my energy and what passions would come to the fore?
I’m not the first 40-something to ask this question, but it’s new(ish) to me. It reminds me, in a twist of e.e. commings upside-down love poetry that “i like the thrill / of under me [it] so quite new.” Not a partner under me, not a husband or a lover — no. Instead, a full-hearted chase after all else that inspires. A renewed and silly romance with my unadulterated passions.
In some measure, I’ve begun the hunt, poring over methods of self-discovery (like the Japanese concept of ikigai), committing to activities that I know will bring me joy (like writing and volunteering with refugees), and spending time with very dear friends.
Still, I look back on my younger self and I remember dreaming just a bit bigger, wider, more dangerously. There were no guarantees, nor was there a clear path from dream to reality. That didn’t stop me from taking steps toward the realization of those dreams.
I published my own poetry. Made friends with strangers from far-away countries. Launched a television show. Volunteered at my church. Soaked in theater and the symphony like a sponge.
How is now any different? I am older, yes. More easily tired. Stressed. Less energetic. Perhaps even less inspired, less fueled by raw passion than I was just a few years ago.
This is what stops most of us — it takes too much out of us to survive and thrive. To chase after dreams that seem like a dim light in the distance. Surviving is enough, dotted with moments of simple joy that occasionally appear on our path. What energy we do have is devoted to finding a partner who’ll walk that path with us.
There is nothing wrong with this. We are social creatures; we need companionship. But companionship takes many forms and romantic partnership is not the end all, be all of our lives. Happiness can come equally from a tapestry of relationships, and from many-colored pursuits.
So, what are mine? What are yours? Are they the same ones that lit us up at 20, set aside so we could climb the ladders of our career or find a partner? Do we even know?
The hunt for partnership often ends in tears, as Sylvia unabashedly confesses — broken hearts, hurt feelings, billowing self doubt. I am still willing to roll the dice, but not every night, not always. I think it’s time I reserved more energy for what stirs the soul. It’s time to ask my 20 year-old self what I’ve forgotten, and what wide-eyed idealisms I can reignite.
Because, even if the idealized partner never comes my way, I am determined to leave this world far better and brighter than I found it.