I watched the smoke fade into the streetlamp, delicately – seductively – making it’s way from the lips of a stranger, only to disappear into the night. It was colder than I expected and I was weaker than I imagined, downing uncountable glasses of wine at this fine establishment in Paris.
Le Parigot? Le Pearle? Le something.
I couldn’t remember the name and they didn’t have it posted anywhere I could see from my window seat, covered up almost completely in my pashmina from Chinatown, waiting for the silence to be filled up with conversation. My mom examined her hands idly, while skirting eye-contact with me and drinking red wine (my favorite, her least).
I gave her a brave smile and tried to ignore the embarrassment swelling from the pit of my stomach so big that I felt suffocated. The bar was too small. The bartenders were looking at our table. I didn’t have anything to focus on but those cigarette-smoking French women standing outside, laughing about something I would never know about.
It’s okay to cry, honey, my mom whispered, reaching out to hold my fisted hand. It’s healthy, even.
In Paris, mom? In a lovely bar in an amazing city when I’m on an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime trip with my mother? I responded, bitterly. It’s okay to cry now? When I have so much to be thankful for and I should be so happy?
Well, aren’t you happy? She asked cautiously – I’m sure she was waiting for me to explode.
The question was simple: happiness? And though I had asked myself the same thing many, many times before, I’m not sure I ever considered the answer as thoroughly as I did then, miles and miles away from my city, far, far away from the life I built. I felt foreign here, distanced from the stresses and the worries that I harbor in New York. I didn’t think about money or career, I didn’t focus on running or staying healthy, I didn’t care about who I was dating or if I was putting myself out there.
In Paris – and yes, in Rome, too – I was just existing.
I was savoring. I was in awe of everything I saw and nearly everyone I met. The food tasted richer, the wine was better, the views were incomparable. Every single second of every single day, I focused on what was happening right then – not what was next, not what it meant, not what it would be – but just what it was.
So why was I crying? I wondered, overwhelmed by a mix of exhaustion, alcohol and intrigue. How could I not be happy in this very moment?
I am happy, I started, slowly. I’m probably happier now than I’ve been in years. But no matter how far away I go or what I’m doing, it’s still there. It still finds a way to creep into my thoughts.
What does? she asked as she motioned for another half-bottle of wine. Mothers really do know best: when their 25-year-old daughters are sort of having a breakdown in a café, ask for more wine.
My fear of being alone, I said firmly.
We both let the words settle there in the very tiny space between us, listening to the other patrons speak in a language we didn’t know, listening to the sound of a bike bell speed down the road, listening to the heaviness of the words and how they sounded when spoken out loud.
But aren’t you more afraid of settling? she smiled at me.
It was that all-knowing grin – the one she only has when she knows she has said something right. When she has broken the barrier of my overindulging emotions and given me a realistic perspective that I (let’s face it: desperately) needed. The wine arrived and as she poured, she continued:
I’m proud of you for that Linds. It isn’t easy to stay single, just like it isn’t easy to find someone worth the work of a relationship. But even though you’ve been lonely and you’ve had some pretty bad dating experiences, and it’s been hard, you have still stuck up for yourself and held out for what you want. And in that, you’ve stood up for love.
I wasn’t crying anymore and I didn’t feel the need to for the remainder of the trip. In fact, the fear that follows me most everywhere started to feel less important, less ambient. It was one of the kindest things that someone has ever said to me – and something that surprised me with its truth:
It is hard to stay single.
It doesn’t seem like it when you’re dating and trying to locate at least one man who actually wants the same thing that you do. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re swiping left and right, replying to messages and trying not to analyze hidden meanings behind mostly meaningless text messages. It doesn’t seem like it when you haven’t had sex in months (and months), and it doesn’t seem like it when you’d give anything – everything! – just to have someone to come home to who loves you unconditionally (and isn’t a fury white pup). The frustration and the fatigue of being single can feel harder than being in a relationship – but in reality…
…being single is a choice. And staying single is difficult to do. Settling, however – that’s easy.
There are more than enough men who would be my boyfriend if I wanted one that badly – but I don’t want just any guy. I’m not looking for someone to pass time with. I’m not in the market for something so casual that it’s forgettable. I’m not in such a rush to be in love that I rush past my standards and forget about what being in love really means and truly requires.
So even if the fear of being alone feels heavy on certain days – and yes, even in Paris – I know that holding out is better than settling into something that ultimately, won’t be worth it.
And if I forget it from time-to-time – as I know I will – there is my mother who will never forget to remind me (just as I’m reminding all of you). As she said when we hugged good-bye, with tears in both of our eyes, after 10 non-stop days together traveling through Europe:
Don’t you settle. He’s a comin’. He’s on his way. I promise.
It might take him a while – but ya know what? I can wait.