• Relationships

Dear Sister: Maybe You Will Be Alone Forever

I’d like to say I don’t know why you’re letting him back into your life and bask in that ignorance, but I do know why. You’re almost 35 now and want nothing more than a flesh-and-blood child of your own with a man you love—more than you wanted that master’s degree, that great job you have, that beautiful house you bought with your own money or that strong, athletic body you worked so hard to get back after he broke your heart the last time and ran off with someone else.

We were raised to believe that we could have anything we wanted if we worked hard enough for it. We were also raised to believe—through offhanded comments and uncomfortable insinuations—that the most important thing as a woman is to have someone who loves you and to find him before it’s too late.

I understand why you let him come over now that he’s single again, clean out the gutters above the garage, and cook chicken and vegetables on the grill. The online dating sites didn’t work out and all of your friends of friends in that smallish town are married (most with kids), so it’s a comfort to have someone around who’s more than a friend—even if he’d never dare utter the words “I love you” after leading you on for seven years, making you believe he’d commit.

I never told you that he came on to me one night long ago when I was home on vacation from college. I was watching a movie in mom and dad’s room by myself while you were downstairs, probably helping dad with the computer like the patient daughter you are. He came in, sat too close to me and made a comment that made me uncomfortable; I laughed it off and suggested we go downstairs. I guess I never mentioned it to you because I was afraid you’d think I flirted back.

And I never told you about how years later he told me—with an earnestness that almost made me believe him—that he was going to propose to you. This was after he’d left you, but you—being your forgiving self—had invited him out to the bar because he was “feeling lonely.” I never told you because even though I hoped it was true, I knew he’d never do it, and I didn’t want to give you false hope.

Sometimes, when you’re able to stop masking your pain with that comedy routine about the last of your viable eggs, you open up to me on the phone. You tell me, with the kind of sincerity that could make cynics weep, that all you want is something simple—a beer on the porch after work with a man who loves you, a family. You tell me that you just want to be touched. Meanwhile, I’m on the other end, unsure what to say, watching my boyfriend make funny faces at me as he cooks us dinner. A lump fills my throat as I fight back tears, both from how sad I feel to know that you’re sad and how unfair it is that I have someone to share these loving acts of simplicity with, and someone as amazing as you does not.

So what should I tell you over the phone when you say, with what I imagine to be glossy eyes, that it’s no big deal, that the two of you are friends now? I’m too much of a coward to tell you to kick him out of your house. If it makes you feel loved to have him there, the last thing I want to do is take that away from you—even though I know the best thing would be to get tough with you. Sometimes, though, those loving acts of simplicity aren’t so simple.

Maybe I should try to forget how much he’s hurt you and just trust that you know what’s best for you. Still, I can’t shake the memory of that one time you called me crying after a drunken phone call from him—the one when he called you bad names because you admitted to him that, yes, you had slept with someone in the two years it had been since you broke up.

So you should tell him to leave, and maybe, after some time alone, all the promises of those tired sayings—”you’ll find someone as soon as you’re happy with yourself” and “it will happen when you least expect it”—will come true. But what if they don’t?

We were raised to believe that we could have anything we wanted if we worked hard enough for it. We were also raised to believe—through offhanded comments and uncomfortable insinuations—that the most important thing as a woman is to have someone who loves you and to find him before it’s too late.

I know it wasn’t fair, and we fought through it pretty well. But the residue of that upbringing still remains.

You are the greatest person I know, and you would be an amazing mother. You deserve to have everything you dream about. If you work too hard to find love, though, it seems you never find it. I swear I can hear you doing math in your head, wondering how many years before you could settle down and have a baby if you met someone today. I know because I’ve done similar math in different romantic scenarios. We don’t admit to the calculations, though, because that’s not how strong, smart women like us are supposed to think.

Maybe you won’t find anyone else. What if, as you fear, you’re alone forever? I love you so much that when that fear causes you pain, it makes my heart hurt. My heart hurts, too, because your fears are the same as mine.

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