This is a guest post from Fraylie. I love the way she writes, which is why I have her on here so often.
Last week, my roommate, Jessica, and I sat in a Union Square coffee shop while donning two newly purchased felted wool hats. Jessica’s was a demure dusty rose with an elegant grosgrain hatband in “whiskey.” Mine looked like Indiana Jones had stumbled onto a Vogue cover shoot, unsuccessfully trying to appear brooding and coquettish. We were sipping hot chocolate (because that’s what damsels in hats drink) while waiting for a screening of The Hunger Games and my inevitable need to feel awkwardly attracted to the baby faced Peeta Mellark.
Forever alone, I joked. I exaggerated the sigh preceding my habitual quip with Jessica when we talk about our prolonged illness called singledom.
Two thirty-something women sat beside us. I heard one of them say to the other well why don’t you just try OkCupid? Jessica and I bit our lips and looked at each other sympathetically. We had both forayed into that online cornucopia of lovelorn couch surfers with poor results. Before I had time to put my foot in my mouth, I leaned over in their direction.
“Don’t do it,” I chirped, pulling at the brim of my hat. Half expecting my comment to go unnoticed, I was surprised by their enthusiasm during what became an hour-long conversation about finding love in New York City.
We talked about a number of things. How it’s normal to be depressed by your twenties, what it means when a guy says meet me at a bar near my place, and how connecting with a long distance pen pal implies re-grouting the bathroom tiles, smoothing the wrinkles in your duvet cover, and the expectation that nobody will need to get a hotel room.
It felt like the perfect plot to a direct to DVD movie that occasionally airs on Lifetime. Two best friends in their twenties cross paths with two best friends in their thirties and navigate the mediocre world of urban dating.
Opening up to these women felt like the first honest thing I had done all day. I was relieved and truly thankful despite the absurdity of the situation. And when we began chatting about living with a significant other, I spoke about something I often considered while looking for a crumb of stability in my past relationships. I had called it co-independency.
When I got home that night, I placed my hat on my dresser and sifted through a box of college transcripts, gallery invitations, poetry and photographs. I came across a hand-written list entitled, “what I want, in small statements.” It was an explanation of modest hopes for the future of my relationship with my college boyfriend. Co-independency was defined as follows:
I want separate and together spaces. I want our love and lives to converge meaningfully, drawn from experiences and spaces that we have explored alone, with others, and together. I want our together spaces to be trustworthy and safe. I want our alone experiences to help us grow.
I want to communicate. I never want us to take each other for granted. I want nothing to be habitual. I want to always question and move while being open to each other. I want to continue listening.
Then there was this part, toward the end.
Home is embodied – it is a collection of selves and experience that you bring with you and share. I want to encourage my sense of home. I want to share it with others.
At twenty-one years old, I suppose I was a bit doe-eyed when I assessed “what I wanted.” I remember tearing the paper from a Moleskine while sitting on the bed that my boyfriend and I shared on the first floor of a little house. At that point, he had moved out, though he would occasionally reappear, unshaven and apologetic, asking if he could stay or talk or make love.
Space is a big issue when you’re pretending to be an adult. And it wasn’t about things like doing the dishes or whether or not I took too long to shampoo my hair. It had nothing to do with the broken window locks or my landlord’s blind dog that would wander into our kitchen and paw at the garbage can. No, it’s not easy to play house in the real world.
Co-dependency was our parasitic reality. We became flattened by ideas of domesticity that neither of us explicitly discussed. It was a deeply rooted anxiety – a mutual worry that neither of us could name nor point to as the source of our fear. We thought we were making sacrifices for the good of the relationship. And when it all became normalized, routine, and habitual, we could sit on the couch, touch each other, and feel alone.
What I mean is that the things we loved, beyond each other, became steamrolled in the process of making our house a home. I stopped photographing and he stopped making music. He assumed that I needed him to be there all the time, and then I simply got used to it. We felt guilty. And we didn’t know how to talk about it in fear of upsetting each other. But when the anxiety and the guilt bubbled over, it got ugly. It became driving off in the middle of the night or sleeping on the couch because we didn’t have the language to deal with our problems. But in the end, he told me that he couldn’t be responsible for my happiness. He could no longer sacrifice his space and time to continue playing house.
My list was originally intended for his perusal, as though I could reclaim all of the fights and curses and slamming screen doors and turn it into some sort of life lesson. That to be co-independent meant that we could open ourselves to the vulnerable nature of honest communication. That we asked for space when we needed it. It implied that we loved ourselves before attempting to love each other.
In the end, co-independency is a really simple thing. It’s as easy as saying that two people love and learn from each other. But it presupposes a sense of self-awareness that is not automatically hardwired into the human brain. It assumes the people in question are not looking for their partner to save them from themselves.
I don’t think co-independency was possible for me at twenty-one because I was an insufferable doormat. Thinking about another person afforded me the luxury to not think about myself. And I put all of my eggs in one basket, as my mother used to tell me. Or maybe it was that continued to “count my chickens.”
But I think it’s possible now because I learned how to be alone. In a way, it’s what you do in New York City – you assess the perimeter of your own island. Maybe that’s why I connected with those women from the coffee shop in such an unprecedented and intimate level. They were unashamed of those coastlines, the rough edges of their own self-awareness.
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So beautiful. Thank you, Fraylie. I’m rereading this and thinking about how one day I will be able to brag that the famous writer Fraylie Nord used to guest-post on my blog.
Fraylie Nord is a writer and photographer living in Brooklyn. You can find her work at fraylienord.com
Fraylie’s Unroast: Today I love how my ankles look in cuffed jeans and my reclaimed Dansko clogs.