I want to be the sound, that sound I am sure every person on every planet makes but no one will ever make quite like you, when you stretch your body as far as it will stretch in the morning. That soft mix of moan and squeal as you bend the sleep from your weary bones and remind them that they were built for being vertical no matter how much they love the feeling of lying down.
I wonder how it’d feel to be your favorite song. The one that makes you stand to look for the hand that can only land on the small of your back and spin you in slow circles to the words you know by heart. I want to be known by heart like all the songs that act as soundtrack to all the memories of all the things you’ve ever done.
I want to be your dreams, be they nighttime dreams that take you to places that you have never been or put air between your feet and the earth that you’re locked to or just simply let you sit around a table that you and I built out of old wood we found on slow walks through rainy fields.
– Tyler Knott Gregson
“Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Thank you. Please sit down. Please sit down. Thank you. I love you all. You’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend. And I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read.
Thank you, Hollywood foreign press. Just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room, really, belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it. Hollywood, foreigners, and the press. But who are we? And, you know, what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places.
I was born and raised and created in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola [Davis] was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, and grew up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Italy. Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Ethiopia, raised in — no, in Ireland, I do believe. And she’s here nominated for playing a small town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania.
Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts. They gave me three seconds to say this. An actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like. And there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, passionate work.
There was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. There was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life.
And this instinct to humiliate, when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform, by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life, because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing. Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence incites violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.
This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call them on the carpet for every outrage.That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in our constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the committee to protect journalists. Because we’re going to need them going forward. And they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.
One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day whining about something, we were going to work through supper, or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor. Yeah, it is. And we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight.
As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art. Thank you.”
Meryl Streep’s Golden Globes Acceptance Speech,9 January 2017 (원문출처: Harpersbazaar).
한 어부가 고기잡이를 마친 뒤 배에서 늘어지게 낮잠을 자고 있는데, 마침 그 곳을 지나던 사업가가 말을 건넸다.
“하루에 몇 번 고기잡이를 나가쇼?”
“여러번 나가면 고기를 훨씬 더 많이 잡고 돈을 많이 벌 거 아니오?”
“돈이 많으면 훨씬 풍족하고 여유있게 살 수 있지 않겠소? 일에 매달리지 않고 느긋하게 항구의 풍경을 즐기면서 말이오.”
“내가 지금 그렇게 살고 있잖소?”
이 이야기에서 어부와 사업가는 삶의 질을 끌어 올린다는 공통의 목표를 가지고 있다. 차이가 있다면 사업가는 돈이 삶의 질적 향상을 가져다 줄 수 있다고 믿는 데 비해 어부는 이미 삶의 질을 충분히 누리고 있다는 점이다. 누가 정답에 가까운지는 자명하다. 어차피 돈을 벌어 삶의 질을 살 거라면 돈을 버는 힘든 과정을 생략한 어부가 지름길에 있는 거니까.
흔히 삶의 질은 빈곤이 해소된 뒤에야 고려되는 것으로 생각하지만 앞의 이야기를 보면 반드시 그렇지만도 않다. 이야기에 나오는 어부는 ‘하루 벌어 하루 산다는 의미에서’ 외부인(사업가)의 시선으로 보면 빈민에 속하지만 정작 당사자는 전혀 그렇게 생각하지 않는다. 빈곤 자체도 그럴진대 삶의 질을 객관적인 지표로만 판단할 수는 없다.
그냥 그 곁에만 있으믄 배도 안 고프고, 몇날을 나도 힘도 안 들고, 잠도 안 오고 팔다리도 개뿐혀요. 그저 좋아 자꾸 콧노래가 난다요. 숟가락 건네주다 손만 한번 닿아도 온몸이 다 짜르르혀요. 잘 있는 신발이라도 다시 놓아주고 싶고, 양말도 한번 더 빨아놓고 싶고, 흐트러진 뒷머리칼 몇올도 바로 해주고 싶어 애가 씌인다요. 거기가 고개를 숙이고만 가도, 뭔 일이 있는가 가슴이 철렁혀요. 좀 웃는가 싶으면, 세상이 봄날 같이 환해져라우. 그길로 그만 죽어도 좋을 것 같아져라우. 남들 모르게 밥도 허고 빨래도 허고 절도 함시러, 이렇게 곁에서 한 세월 지났으면 허라우.
잘 있는 신발이라도 다시 놓아주고,
고개만 숙이고 가도 철렁한다는
그 시인의 첫 페이지는
‘고요로 깊어지소서,’ 라고 적혔다.
겨울 솜이불을 걷어내고
조금 이른 봄이불을 덮고
한잠 깊이 잤다는 당신에게
나는 웃고 또 웃어보였습니다
건물 지하방에 사는 어린 남매가
담벼락 앞에서 놀다
빨아 널어놓은 이불보에
말간 얼굴을 비벼도 좋을
봄이 오고 있습니다
My go-to piece of writing that calms my storm. Revisited. Works more today than ever.
Once at Bar-le-Duc Montaigne saw a portrait which René, King of Sicily, had painted of himself, and asked, “Why is it not, in like manner, lawful for every one to draw himself with a pen, as he did with a crayon?” Off-hand one might reply, Not only is it lawful, but nothing could be easier. Other people may evade us, but our own features are almost too familiar. Let us begin. And then, when we attempt the task, the pen falls from our fingers; it is a matter of profound, mysterious, and overwhelming difficulty.
After all, in the whole of literature, how many people have succeeded in drawing themselves with a pen? Only Montaigne and Pepys and Rousseau perhaps. The Religio Medici is a coloured glass through which darkly one sees racing stars and a strange and turbulent soul. A bright polished mirror reflects the face of Boswell peeping between other people’s shoulders in the famous biography. But this talking of oneself, following one’s own vagaries, giving the whole map, weight, colour, and circumference of the soul in its confusion, its variety, its imperfection — this art belonged to one man only: to Montaigne. As the centuries go by, there is always a crowd before that picture, gazing into its depths, seeing their own faces reflected in it, seeing more the longer they look, never being able to say quite what it is that they see. New editions testify to the perennial fascination. Here is the Navarre Society in England reprinting in five fine volumes3 Cotton’s translation; while in France the firm of Louis Conard is issuing the complete works of Montaigne with the various readings in an edition to which Dr. Armaingaud has devoted a long lifetime of research.
To tell the truth about oneself, to discover oneself near at hand, is not easy.
We hear of but two or three of the ancients who have beaten this road [said Montaigne]. No one since has followed the track; ’tis a rugged road, more so than it seems, to follow a pace so rambling and uncertain, as that of the soul; to penetrate the dark profundities of its intricate internal windings; to choose and lay hold of so many little nimble motions; ’tis a new and extraordinary undertaking, and that withdraws us from the common and most recommended employments of the world.
There is, in the first place, the difficulty of expression. We all indulge in the strange, pleasant process called thinking, but when it comes to saying, even to some one opposite, what we think, then how little we are able to convey! The phantom is through the mind and out of the window before we can lay salt on its tail, or slowly sinking and returning to the profound darkness which it has lit up momentarily with a wandering light. Face, voice, and accent eke out our words and impress their feebleness with character in speech. But the pen is a rigid instrument; it can say very little; it has all kinds of habits and ceremonies of its own. It is dictatorial too: it is always making ordinary men into prophets, and changing the natural stumbling trip of human speech into the solemn and stately march of pens. It is for this reason that Montaigne stands out from the legions of the dead with such irrepressible vivacity. We can never doubt for an instant that his book was himself. He refused to teach; he refused to preach; he kept on saying that he was just like other people. All his effort was to write himself down, to communicate, to tell the truth, and that is a “rugged road, more than it seems”.
For beyond the difficulty of communicating oneself, there is the supreme difficulty of being oneself. This soul, or life within us, by no means agrees with the life outside us. If one has the courage to ask her what she thinks, she is always saying the very opposite to what other people say. Other people, for instance, long ago made up their minds that old invalidish gentlemen ought to stay at home and edify the rest of us by the spectacle of their connubial fidelity. The soul of Montaigne said, on the contrary, that it is in old age that one ought to travel, and marriage, which, rightly, is very seldom founded on love, is apt to become, towards the end of life, a formal tie better broken up. Again with politics, statesmen are always praising the greatness of Empire, and preaching the moral duty of civilising the savage. But look at the Spanish in Mexico, cried Montaigne in a burst of rage.
“So many cities levelled with the ground, so many nations exterminated . . . and the richest and most beautiful part of the world turned upside down for the traffic of pearl and pepper! Mechanic victories!”
And then when the peasants came and told him that they had found a man dying of wounds and deserted him for fear lest justice might incriminate them, Montaigne asked: What could I have said to these people? ’Tis certain that this office of humanity would have brought them into trouble.. .. There is nothing so much, nor so grossly, nor so ordinarily faulty as the laws.
Here the soul, getting restive, is lashing out at the more palpable forms of Montaigne’s great bugbears, convention and ceremony. But watch her as she broods over the fire in the inner room of that tower which, though detached from the main building, has so wide a view over the estate. Really she is the strangest creature in the world, far from heroic, variable as a weathercock, “bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal”— in short, so complex, so indefinite, corresponding so little to the version which does duty for her in public, that a man might spend his life merely in trying to run her to earth. The pleasure of the pursuit more than rewards one for any damage that it may inflict upon one’s worldly prospects. The man who is aware of himself is henceforward independent; and he is never bored, and life is only too short, and he is steeped through and through with a profound yet temperate happiness. He alone lives, while other people, slaves of ceremony, let life slip past them in a kind of dream. Once conform, once do what other people do because they do it, and a lethargy steals over all the finer nerves and faculties of the soul. She becomes all outer show and inward emptiness; dull, callous, and indifferent.
Surely then, if we ask this great master of the art of life to tell us his secret, he will advise us to withdraw to the inner room of our tower and there turn the pages of books, pursue fancy after fancy as they chase each other up the chimney, and leave the government of the world to others. Retirement and contemplation — these must be the main elements of his prescription. But no; Montaigne is by no means explicit. It is impossible to extract a plain answer from that subtle, half smiling, half melancholy man, with the heavy-lidded eyes and the dreamy, quizzical expression. The truth is that life in the country, with one’s books and vegetables and flowers, is often extremely dull. He could never see that his own green peas were so much better than other people’s. Paris was the place he loved best in the whole world — “jusques à ses verrues et à ses taches”. As for reading, he could seldom read any book for more than an hour at a time, and his memory was so bad that he forgot what was in his mind as he walked from one room to another. Book learning is nothing to be proud of, and as for the achievements of science, what do they amount to? He had always mixed with clever men, and his father had a positive veneration for them, but he had observed that, though they have their fine moments, their rhapsodies, their visions, the cleverest tremble on the verge of folly. Observe yourself: one moment you are exalted; the next a broken glass puts your nerves on edge. All extremes are dangerous. It is best to keep in the middle of the road, in the common ruts, however muddy. In writing choose the common words; avoid rhapsody and eloquence — yet, it is true, poetry is delicious; the best prose is that which is most full of poetry.
It appears, then, that we are to aim at a democratic simplicity. We may enjoy our room in the tower, with the painted walls and the commodious bookcases, but down in the garden there is a man digging who buried his father this morning, and it is he and his like who live the real life and speak the real language. There is certainly an element of truth in that. Things are said very finely at the lower end of the table. There are perhaps more of the qualities that matter among the ignorant than among the learned. But again, what a vile thing the rabble is! “the mother of ignorance, injustice, and inconstancy. Is it reasonable that the life of a wise man should depend upon the judgment of fools?” Their minds are weak, soft and without power of resistance. They must be told what it is expedient for them to know. It is not for them to face facts as they are. The truth can only be known by the well-born soul —“l’âme bien née”. Who, then, are these well-born souls, whom we would imitate if only Montaigne would enlighten us more precisely?
But no. “Je n’enseigne poinct; je raconte.” After all, how could he explain other people’s souls when he could say nothing “entirely simply and solidly, without confusion or mixture, in one word”, about his own, when indeed it became daily more and more in the dark to him? One quality or principle there is perhaps — that one must not lay down rules. The souls whom one would wish to resemble, like Etienne de La Boétie, for example, are always the supplest. “C’est estre, mais ce n’est pas vivre, que de se tenir attaché et oblige par necessité a un seul train.” The laws are mere conventions, utterly unable to keep touch with the vast variety and turmoil of human impulses; habits and customs are a convenience devised for the support of timid natures who dare not allow their souls free play. But we, who have a private life and hold it infinitely the dearest of our possessions, suspect nothing so much as an attitude. Directly we begin to protest, to attitudinise, to lay down laws, we perish. We are living for others, not for ourselves. We must respect those who sacrifice themselves in the public service, load them with honours, and pity them for allowing, as they must, the inevitable compromise; but for ourselves let us fly fame, honour, and all offices that put us under an obligation to others. Let us simmer over our incalculable cauldron, our enthralling confusion, our hotch-potch of impulses, our perpetual miracle — for the soul throws up wonders every second. Movement and change are the essence of our being; rigidity is death; conformity is death: let us say what comes into our heads, repeat ourselves, contradict ourselves, fling out the wildest nonsense, and follow the most fantastic fancies without caring what the world does or thinks or says. For nothing matters except life; and, of course, order.
This freedom, then, which is the essence of our being, has to be controlled. But it is difficult to see what power we are to invoke to help us, since every restraint of private opinion or public law has been derided, and Montaigne never ceases to pour scorn upon the misery, the weakness, the vanity of human nature. Perhaps, then, it will be well to turn to religion to guide us? “Perhaps” is one of his favourite expressions; “perhaps” and “I think” and all those words which qualify the rash assumptions of human ignorance. Such words help one to muffle up opinions which it would be highly impolitic to speak outright. For one does not say everything; there are some things which at present it is advisable only to hint. One writes for a very few people, who understand. Certainly, seek the Divine guidance by all means, but meanwhile there is, for those who live a private life, another monitor, an invisible censor within, “un patron au dedans”, whose blame is much more to be dreaded than any other because he knows the truth; nor is there anything sweeter than the chime of his approval. This is the judge to whom we must submit; this is the censor who will help us to achieve that order which is the grace of a well-born soul. For “C’est une vie exquise, celle qui se maintient en ordre jusques en son privé”. But he will act by his own light; by some internal balance will achieve that precarious and everchanging poise which, while it controls, in no way impedes the soul’s freedom to explore and experiment. Without other guide, and without precedent, undoubtedly it is far more difficult to live well the private life than the public. It is an art which each must learn separately, though there are, perhaps, two or three men, like Homer, Alexander the Great, and Epaminondas among the ancients, and Etienne de La Boétie among the moderns, whose example may help us. But it is an art; and the very material in which it works is variable and complex and infinitely mysterious — human nature. To human nature we must keep close. “ . . . il faut vivre entre les vivants”. We must dread any eccentricity or refinement which cuts us off from our fellow-beings. Blessed are those who chat easily with their neighbours about their sport or their buildings or their quarrels, and honestly enjoy the talk of carpenters and gardeners. To communicate is our chief business; society and friendship our chief delights; and reading, not to acquire knowledge, not to earn a living, but to extend our intercourse beyond our own time and province. Such wonders there are in the world; halcyons and undiscovered lands, men with dogs’ heads and eyes in their chests, and laws and customs, it may well be, far superior to our own. Possibly we are asleep in this world; possibly there is some other which is apparent to beings with a sense which we now lack.
Here then, in spite of all contradictions and all qualifications, is something definite. These essays are an attempt to communicate a soul. On this point at least he is explicit. It is not fame that he wants; it is not that men shall quote him in years to come; he is setting up no statue in the market-place; he wishes only to communicate his soul. Communication is health; communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty; to go down boldly and bring to light those hidden thoughts which are the most diseased; to conceal nothing; to pretend nothing; if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.
“ . . . car, comme je scay par une trop certaine expérience, il n’est aucune si douce consolation en la perte de nos amis que celle que nous aporte la science de n’avoir rien oublié a leur dire et d’avoir eu avec eux une parfaite et entière communication.”
There are people who, when they travel, wrap themselves up, “se défendans de la contagion d’un air incogneu” in silence and suspicion. When they dine they must have the same food they get at home. Every sight and custom is bad unless it resembles those of their own village. They travel only to return. That is entirely the wrong way to set about it. We should start without any fixed idea where we are going to spend the night, or when we propose to come back; the journey is everything. Most necessary of all, but rarest good fortune, we should try to find before we start some man of our own sort who will go with us and to whom we can say the first thing that comes into our heads. For pleasure has no relish unless we share it. As for the risks — that we may catch cold or get a headache — it is always worth while to risk a little illness for the sake of pleasure. “Le plaisir est des principales espèces du profit.” Besides if we do what we like, we always do what is good for us. Doctors and wise men may object, but let us leave doctors and wise men to their own dismal philosophy. For ourselves, who are ordinary men and women, let us return thanks to Nature for her bounty by using every one of the senses she has given us; vary our state as much as possible; turn now this side, now that, to the warmth, and relish to the full before the sun goes down the kisses of youth and the echoes of a beautiful voice singing Catullus. Every season is likeable, and wet days and fine, red wine and white, company and solitude. Even sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life, can be full of dreams; and the most common actions — a walk, a talk, solitude in one’s own orchard — can be enhanced and lit up by the association of the mind. Beauty is everywhere, and beauty is only two finger’s-breadth from goodness. So, in the name of health and sanity, let us not dwell on the end of the journey. Let death come upon us planting our cabbages, or on horseback, or let us steal away to some cottage and there let strangers close our eyes, for a servant sobbing or the touch of a hand would break us down. Best of all, let death find us at our usual occupations, among girls and good fellows who make no protests, no lamentations; let him find us “parmy les jeux, les festins, faceties, entretiens communs et populaires, et la musique, et des vers amoureux”. But enough of death; it is life that matters.
It is life that emerges more and more clearly as these essays reach not their end, but their suspension in full career. It is life that becomes more and more absorbing as death draws near, one’s self, one’s soul, every fact of existence: that one wears silk stockings summer and winter; puts water in one’s wine; has one’s hair cut after dinner; must have glass to drink from; has never worn spectacles; has a loud voice; carries a switch in one’s hand; bites one’s tongue; fidgets with one’s feet; is apt to scratch one’s ears; likes meat to be high; rubs one’s teeth with a napkin (thank God, they are good!); must have curtains to one’s bed; and, what is rather curious, began by liking radishes, then disliked them, and now likes them again. No fact is too little to let it slip through one’s fingers, and besides the interest of facts themselves there is the strange power we have of changing facts by the force of the imagination. Observe how the soul is always casting her own lights and shadows; makes the substantial hollow and the frail substantial; fills broad daylight with dreams; is as much excited by phantoms as by reality; and in the moment of death sports with a trifle. Observe, too, her duplicity, her complexity. She hears of a friend’s loss and sympathises, and yet has a bitter-sweet malicious pleasure in the sorrows of others. She believes; at the same time she does not believe. Observe her extraordinary susceptibility to impressions, especially in youth. A rich man steals because his father kept him short of money as a boy. This wall one builds not for oneself, but because one’s father loved building. In short, the soul is all laced about with nerves and sympathies which affect her every action, and yet, even now in 1580, no one has any clear knowledge — such cowards we are, such lovers of the smooth conventional ways — how she works or what she is except that of all things she is the most mysterious, and one’s self the greatest monster and miracle in the world. “ . . . plus je me hante et connois, plus ma difformité m’estonne, moins je m’entens en moy.” Observe, observe perpetually, and, so long as ink and paper exist, “sans cesse et sans travail” Montaigne will write.
But there remains one final question which, if we could make him look up from his enthralling occupation, we should like to put to this great master of the art of life. In these extraordinary volumes of short and broken, long and learned, logical and contradictory statements, we have heard the very pulse and rhythm of the soul, beating day after day, year after year, through a veil which, as time goes on, fines itself almost to transparency. Here is some one who succeeded in the hazardous enterprise of living; who served his country and lived retired; was landlord, husband, father; entertained kings, loved women, and mused for hours alone over old books. By means of perpetual experiment and observation of the subtlest he achieved at last a miraculous adjustment of all these wayward parts that constitute the human soul. He laid hold of the beauty of the world with all his fingers. He achieved happiness. If he had had to live again, he said, he would have lived the same life over. But, as we watch with absorbed interest the enthralling spectacle of a soul living openly beneath our eyes, the question frames itself, Is pleasure the end of all? Whence this overwhelming interest in the nature of the soul? Why this overmastering desire to communicate with others? Is the beauty of this world enough, or is there, elsewhere, some explanation of the mystery? To this what answer can there be? There is none. There is only one more question: “Que scais-je?”
지금 번지고 스미는 것은 고즈넉함이다.
화실 바닥에 손수건이 떨어졌을 때 소리나지 않게
숨을 쉰다 나는 커졌다가 다시 작아지는
평평한 허파를 보고 있다 언뜻 보면 잎이 큰
칠엽수 나뭇잎 같기도 하다 약간 뜰썩이며 흔들린다
당연히, 손으로 주우려고 해도 손에 잡히지 않는다
그 것은 창문으로 들어온 햇살 자국이다
낮은 의자에 앉아서
그림을 그리는 친구의 애인이 나에게 말했다
수채화는 젊은 사람들이 그리기 어렵다는 것을
수채화는 물감이 다 마를 때까지 기다려야 하는데,
젊은 사람들은 그 것을 기다리지 못해요
물감이 다 마르기 전에 다시 손이 가거든요
When my then-boyfriend Mark lost the lease on his Brooklyn apartment, moving in together made good sense. We were in our 40s, both battle-scarred from decades of romantic unhappiness, and had finally found the relationship we had longed for our entire lives. So even though the timing was bad (we had been dating for only six months), we knew where this was headed. Why wait?
“I’m ready to take it to the next level,” said Mark, while cooking chicken paprikash in his soon-to-expire apartment.
I watched this sweet, handsome man sauté onions, and my heart turned upside down. After two decades of dating guys who could barely commit to next week, here was a wonderful man who wanted to be with me, plain and simple.
I was thrilled — and terrified. Sure, Mark and I were having a glorious time: weekends picking apples in the Pennsylvania countryside, brunches at his favorite Mexican diner. But living together was different. Or at least I thought it would be. I couldn’t know for sure. Because, to my deep embarrassment, I was nearly 40 and had never shared a home with a boyfriend.
For most of my adult life, I was unattached. I spent my 30s with a slowly escalating fear that I would never find a partner. My anxiety wasn’t merely about getting older and supposedly less desirable in our youth-obsessed culture. I also worried that my single years were shaping me, hardening me into a woman too finicky and insular for a lifetime partnership.
I had noticed that friends going through breakups often took solace in the fact that they had learned from those failed romances. They had acquired important skills such as how to be vulnerable, how to set boundaries, how to listen and how to speak up. They had learned the art of compromise and forgiveness and how to love someone even when you don’t always like them. Through practice and repetition, they were mastering this exquisite, complicated dance, cultivating wisdom and muscle memory that could be successfully applied to future relationships.
I was glad my friends had found an upside to their heartache, but statements like those also made me nervous. If one learned how to have a happy partnership by trial and error, then I was missing crucial on-the-job training.
Even so, when it came to the particular question of whether Mark and I should move in together, I knew my concerns were valid. “It’s too soon, and for the wrong reason,” I told my friend Paul at a bar one night.
He shook his head, looked at the ceiling and said, “No wonder you’re single.”
I stared at the bar, furious. How dare he take my very reasonable reservation and turn it into a pathology! Soon we were having the kind of bitter argument that makes other patrons glance your way with wide, curious eyes.
Once we had cooled down, I explained how hard it is to be a longtime singleton, how people assume some deep psychological issue is preventing you from finding a partner, rather than allow that maybe you just haven’t met the right person.
Paul listened, apologized and we ordered another round.
Later, I thought about it. Paul may have been unfair, but he also wouldn’t have upset me if part of me didn’t think he was right.
So I took the leap: I asked Mark to move in with me. If I was truly an intractable spinster, I might as well find out now.
Mark said yes, and on a sunny May morning six weeks later, he moved into my small one-bedroom apartment. I sat on my — our — bed and watched him hang his clothes in the closet I had just cleared, feeling like someone who had talked her way into a job she wasn’t quite qualified for. I didn’t know what was ahead, only that it would be difficult, but worth it.
That was nearly eight years ago. I’m still waiting for the part where it gets hard, still waiting for the “work.”
O.K., that’s not completely true. Like any couple, we have conflicts. He has punched walls. I have walked out the front door and circled the block. But I can count those kinds of fights on one hand.
Mostly, I have been shocked to discover how easy it is to live with and, now, be married to Mark.
My husband and I didn’t calcify as we grew older. Instead, as I believe most people do, we became less selfish and more patient, quicker to admit when we’re wrong, more apt to notice when the other person needs some space. I understand, in a way I never could have in my 20s, that sometimes the best way to resolve a conflict is to go in the other room and read a magazine for a while.
And there’s nothing like two decades of loneliness to make you appreciate a spouse. Sure, we annoy each other sometimes. Mark has lost countless hours of his life waiting for me to find my keys, and I will never agree that it’s O.K. to use dish towels to mop up spills on the floor.
But Mark also makes me laugh every day, has fascinating insights about everything from 1970s cop shows to campaign finance reform, and he gives me his unwavering support whenever an editor rejects my work or an acquaintance treats me shabbily. Compare this with the stresses of longtime singlehood — the bad dates, the condescending relatives, the Sunday nights — and you can deal with a few stained dish towels.
If you have lived alone for two decades, it also means you can’t subconsciously (or directly) blame your partner if your professional or creative life hasn’t worked out as well as you had hoped. Whatever career and financial mistakes I’ve made (and there have been some doozies) are mine and mine alone. When you meet your partner at 40, there’s no mental backtracking: “I could have been a senior V.P. by now if we hadn’t moved to Tucson for his job,” or “I could have been a rock star if I hadn’t had to cover everyone’s health insurance.”
Most important, I’ve realized I never needed a long boyfriend résumé for the experience. In the 20 years before I met Mark, I learned a lot of hard lessons: how to be a self-respecting adult in a world that often treats single people like feckless teenagers; how to stand at cocktail parties while my friends’ in-laws asked me if I had a boyfriend; how to have warm, friendly dinners with strangers I had met online as we delicately tried to determine whether we could possibly share our lives together; and how to come home to an empty apartment after a rotten day at work.
I realize these less-than-giddy examples may conjure up those deadly words: “desperate” and “pathetic.” But I wasn’t desperate. If I had been desperate, I would have settled for a relationship I felt ambivalent about because I was afraid to be alone. Instead, I learned to relax into the open space of my quiet home and unknown future. I also learned there is a difference between feeling something unpleasant (loneliness, longing) and being something shameful.
Being a single person searching for love teaches you that not everything is under your control. You can’t control whether the person you’ve fallen for will call. You can’t force yourself to have feelings for the nice guy your best friend fixed you up with. You have no way to know whether attending this or that event — a co-worker’s art opening, a neighbor’s housewarming — will lead to the chance encounter that will forever alter your life. You simply learn to do your best, and leave it at that.
Relationships are work, but so is being single, and I became pretty good at it.
Even though Mark and I don’t fight much, several years ago we had one that made me wonder if this was the end. It began as an innocuous argument over vacation time, or lack thereof, but it somehow unleashed long-brewing resentments that escalated and culminated into two harsh, staccato syllables. It felt like a car crash: plunging into darkness, time stopping. I sat up straight on our bed, heart thumping, wondering if the life we had built together was going to come tumbling down.
In that moment, the future was vast, black, unknowable. But I wasn’t afraid. Splitting up would be awful, but I would manage.
I didn’t panic or try to make the moment any different from what it was. I simply sat in that untethered space, two angry people not speaking to each other, without any knowledge of what was on the other side.
After a time, it could have been minutes or hours, Mark took my hand and squeezed, and I squeezed back. We would get through this one, and most likely others. I didn’t have relationship experience, but I had life experience of another kind. That has turned out to be just as good.
Sara Eckel lives in Kingston, N.Y. Her book, “It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single,” is out this month.
Paul Cantelon ‘Un Bouquet des Violettes’
from New York, I Love You