Of all of the unhelpful things I've believed in my life, the most unhelpful is probably the belief that a relationship is what makes a person happy. I'm not sure when I acquired this belief, but I know it was there by the time I was 12 years old and starting junior high. That was the age at which I decided that I would be willing to have sex with a guy if he would be willing to be my boyfriend. Fortunately I was nerdy and unpopular, so I never in a position to make that exchange, but at 12 years old I was willing.
The belief followed me through many lonely adolescent years and into my twenties, when I finally started dating. My first boyfriend was someone who could best be described as a Darth Vader boyfriend, but I was so caught up in the idea that he would make me happy that I couldn't acknowledge that he didn't. It took me four years to get out of that toxic relationship, and 13 years later I still wake up in a panic from nightmares that I have gone back to him. As I was purging my memory box last week, I came across a photo of him, and I felt physically ill looking at it. I decided to leave it in the box as a reminder that some things are worse than being single.
As the years went on, I found myself feeling not quite happy in a series of not quite right relationships. After each one ended, I dutifully returned to online dating, hoping that the next one would fit just a little bit better. But at some point in time, I heard or read somewhere (or perhaps many somewheres) that the best way to find a relationship is to make yourself happy without one. And so I did that. I started investing in friendships and cultivating my own interests and even occasionally hopping on a plane and travelling all on my own.
And at some point, it actually worked. I found myself single and, although still looking, no longer feeling a sense of desperation to get into another relationship. Any relationship. I found myself feeling happy as I starfished across my double bed and wandered alone through museums and used Saran Wrap without being accused of destroying the whole planet. It took me over 30 years, but by simply testing the theory that relationship = happiness, I was able to prove it false.
Empiricism for the win.
Towards the end of my most recent relationship, when it was becoming clear that we had entered the final disaster spiral from which nothing good ever escapes, my partner told me that she didn't think I would be happy without her. She acknowledged that I was unhappy with her, because it was impossible not to, but she also told me that she thought I was just an inherently unhappy person and that my unhappiness had nothing to do with the relationship. And for a moment I almost believed her. But then I would find myself daydreaming of being alone, and in these daydreams I could imagine myself being happy again.
So I left.
And now here I am, in a new city in which it never stops raining and the sidewalks are buried under soggy yellow maple leaves. I spend my mornings trying to pry French words out of my very English brain and my afternoons wandering the dripping streets alone, and it feels like magic.
There is no one here with me, but in this moment I have everything I could possibly want.