There’s a poem by Warsan Shire called “For Women Who Are Difficult To Love” that says…
you can’t make homes out of human beings
someone should have already told you that
and if he wants to leave
then let him leave
you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love
When I was an undergrad, my seven giggly roommates (yes, seven) and I went biking across campus. I like to ask questions that make no sense but tell me a lot about other people. I remember asking “which building would you date?” to my unassuming roommates. One roommate answered Foellinger Auditorium explaining it’s classic, artsy, and highly esteemed. Another answered BIF (business instructional facility) because it’s professional and clean. She later married one of those men who likes suits and repeats jokes from HIMYM, so I guess that makes sense in hindsight. I answered Altgeld Hall, obviously. Although I associate it with the 8:00 MWF math course I nearly failed my freshman year, it has a lot of old charm. It has a rustic little library I used to sit in for hours before I realized I’m probably allergic to dust. It also have a bell tower in it. It’s steady, reliable, less flashy than the other buildings, but the kind of normal that I liked. A getaway where I knew I wouldn’t run into my peers. My second favorite building was the Wesley Foundation’s sanctuary. It’s quiet and impressive at the same time.
But people aren’t buildings.
I was in a long term relationship with someone I started dating in college. It was one of those relationships that went past its expiration date. After graduating, I had the chance to go to grad school near him, but I didn’t. I moved to Ohio for a year and then moved even further to Colorado for another year. In a lot of ways he was like the kind of home you grow up in. He saw me through multiple changes and stayed relatively stagnant. The kind of person/place you visit during holiday breaks, but otherwise don’t really make a priority to visit. I was so preoccupied traveling and organizing that I almost didn’t make time to break-up with him properly (I know this sounds horrible to admit). When I finally moved back to Chicago after two years of moving and changing, it became obvious we were no longer compatible. I used to think people outgrow homes and that’s why they move…but people aren’t homes. They aren’t some empty shell of existence waiting for you to finally come home. They shouldn’t be a holding place for our exhausted selves to come to on occasion. When it ended I didn’t grieve much at all. It was over long before I was asked to move out (metaphorically). The thing about seeing people as homes is it’s dependent on one person staying sedentary…secondary. I don’t have any strong feelings leftover from the relationship. Thinking of it is the same as how I feel when the train passes by my old physical home. I remember it, but I have no real desire to visit it again.
My life is chaotic. I live out of a suitcase (or a Vera Bradley duffle to be literal). I think that’s why I look for Altgeld Halls or Wesley Foundation sanctuaries. Maybe that’s why my diasporic soul searches for normalcy and permanence. Maybe I should stop looking for refuge in my partners. Maybe they should be more (or less actually) than an escape. Maybe I should see people as exciting and desirable on their own and not only in contrast to scary, unbearable, and painful. Maybe I need to stop looking for people to be band-aids for my insecurities and needs.
But people aren’t meant to be homes.
The last person I dated was all sorts of intoxicating. All of a sudden I was willing to do what I had done for nobody else before to make it work. Giving up traveling, putting his needs first, being secondary. Maybe I was willing to be someone else’s home, except people aren’t meant to be homes. Especially not me, I’d be more of a mobile home if anything. It felt like more of a vacation getaway, this last relationship. It was a nice and necessary escape from a reality that was hard to face, but it was never sustainable. And sometimes I think I was more of a dream than a vacation to him. Either way, when it came time to face reality it didn’t work. It’s like our relationship was trapped in a wonderful but unfixable time and place. I think what is worse than a relationship that has gone past its expiration date is one that never took off. So many what ifs and unanswered questions…like those short stories I begin and never finish. It’s like taking two leading characters out of their own plots and story lines and having them guest star for an episode before going back to regularly scheduled programming. It’s a missed connection.
And so maybe you really can’t make homes out of human beings because we are all moving and impermanent. Maybe sometimes we move in the same direction for a period of time. Maybe sometimes we stop for a vacation getaway together. Maybe some lives intersect only on occasion and we should be grateful for those encounters.
Maybe I can’t write in the declarative voice anymore because almost everything is uncertain.
Relationships aren’t permanent and they should never be all-consuming. All-consuming relationships are a recipe for losing oneself. Relationships are fragile after all. How quickly you can go from being someone’s everything to their nothing. It’s far better to remember no one person can ever be our everything, which means losing someone doesn’t mean we return to nothing.
The romance myth tells us we should hold onto love because there is nobody else in the world who will love us again. This isn’t true. Remember what it was like to love and be loved, even if it was only for a few minutes. Remember that just because something is over doesn’t mean it was any less real. And remember that even a ring doesn’t make anything less broken.
People aren’t homes. You can’t buy them or own them. You can’t renovate them to be whatever you want or need according to your changing desire or expectations. You can’t dump your shit all over their interior. You can’t expect them to wait around to comfort your each and every insecurity. People aren’t backup plans or getaways…they exist in the present. They exist and serve many roles and purposes besides being a supporting character in our stories. And we exist outside of playing a supportive character in theirs.
And again I’m really not here for you if you think having radical politics can’t also include struggling to unlearn the romance myth. Maybe I need to start a series called “Leftists have feelings too.”