By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
To be very honest, this post is breaking a promise I made to myself, a promise that I would not write this post, at least not today. Not on Valentine’s Day, but I feel compelled. To be even more truthful, I’m not sure for whom I am writing it. Maybe I’m writing it for kindred spirits who will be alone today, or maybe I’m writing it for those with partners so they can better understand us. Maybe I’m just writing it for myself. The intention is honestly not to throw myself a pity party, but I don’t know how it will turn out. I guess we’ll discover this together.
With some of my previous posts, it might surprise my readers (or it might not) to learn that I am actually a hopeless romantic. And, yes, I’ve been hurt. More than many people can possibly fathom. But, I still believe in love. I believe that couples should enjoy each other, and I believe in great romance. For those of you with a significant other, I hope you know all of the love and joy in the world, and I would never want to detract from that in the least.
Before going any further, I need to explain that I am loved. Of that, I have no doubt. I have more people that love me, and would do anything with me, than perhaps anybody has a right to. As I write this, I am sitting in the basement of a former student turned friend who is letting me live with her and her family while I get back on my feet. I cannot tell you the kind of sacrifice this is, and the fabulous care she has extended to me. But, there is a distinct difference between the love of friends, no matter how close and sincere, and the love of a true partner in life. When I am I have many friends who remind me of this love, and for that I’m truly grateful. Their love has literally (yes, in the correct sense of the word) saved my life. But it is a different kind of love.
One thing that is difficult to understand is just how lonely you can be even when you are with somebody. Living with my wife, I had my first major heart attack. She had asked me to leave, but circumstances kept us together for two more weeks. Shortly after that, I felt the pain in my chest, I had one position where I could recline without being in complete excruciating pain, for a short time I would throw up every time I moved, even to put a foot on the floor. After I had nothing left to throw up, it was replaced with the dry heaves.
I knew I was having a heart attack, and figured that it was serious. My wife accused me of acting, saying I was just pretending because she asked for the divorce. I was immobile, and literally dying, and completely alone. I did not seek medical attention, because, frankly, I didn’t care if I lived or died. And neither did she. My wife didn’t care, and I didn’t care enough to reach out to my friends, or seek the medical attention that I needed. I just laid there hoping to draw my terminal breath.
It wasn’t a suicide attempt per se. I didn’t take any active motions to hasten the end, but neither did I face it. After I moved out, and the pain had for the most part subsided, I did confide in some of my friends. They were furious, but I couldn’t understand why. They made me promise that, should it happen again, I would seek help. About six months or so later, I felt the same symptoms while working, although not nearly as extreme. One of the friends that made me make that promise was a co-worker, and I kept my promise. She immediately took me to urgent care, who in turn immediately summoned an ambulance, and I quickly found myself in the emergency room. And, yes, it was a real heart attack, resulting in a triple bypass because my arteries were too brittle for angioplasty. The surgeon did ask me about my history, saying that, based on the scar tissue, I had had a serious heart attack several months earlier.
My friends will not like reading this, but I often still wish that had ended me. Maybe it should have.
This is what loneliness does. For me, it leads to hopelessness, feelings of no self-worth, the belief that it will never end. It makes it difficult to reach out because I can’t believe I have any value anyway, and it makes me question if I even deserve to be comforted. As I write this, I am crying, wanting, longing for somebody to just hold me.
It will pass. I know this, but unfortunately, I also know it will return.
Valentine’s Day does this to me. It makes me reflect, much like New Year’s Eve and my birthday. On New Year’s Eve, I think about the past year, my successes, and my all-too-frequent failures. On my birthday, I think of my history, what I’ve seen, and ponder whether or not I have learned. On Valentine’s Day, I reflect on my loneliness.
Longing is such an integral part of my loneliness. I don’t just want to be held; I want to share. Sharing with friends is an important, but it’s not the same. They will be happy for me, or sad, but they’re not invested. They don’t know what is coming up on my horizon. They’re not pulling for me as strongly as a partner would. They don’t know the intimacy of my fears, my excitement, my hopes and dreams. When I come home, it’s to an empty house, a lonely room, a dark space that is cold on the hottest days.
I’ve had so many spirit soaring successes, so many heart breaking failures, and nobody with whom I could share them. I was elated to become the director of a forensic lab, with the only celebration being that of packing up my apartment and moving alone. I stood up proud and strong against a bully captain who accused me of things that he himself did with nobody to help me be strong. I was escorted out of the building the day I was fired and drove home to my lonely apartment.
All of this, I did with nobody in my life. Friends, yes, but nobody standing by my side. My life has been a lonely ride, and I cannot believe that it could possibly end any other way. I don’t blame anybody, though. This life is my responsibility, my failures are my own. I know my loneliness is my own doing. I know I’ve missed too many opportunities, blocked too many people out of my life when I should have been open and welcoming. I guess I was afraid of being hurt, but I cannot imagine how anybody could have possibly hurt me more than I have myself.
Enjoy your love. Celebrate them. Commune. And Happy Valentine’s Day.