by Rachel Brasell
It seems like a set up, the way we’re wired for connection but always needing to let go.
Think about it. If we don’t connect with each other, we don’t further the species. And, depending on how you look at it, that may not be such a bad thing. Damn, humans are kinda gross, dirty, and wicked selfish, but it’s difficult to override this weird, basic biological directive—but I digress.
Our children would die without this connective wiring. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to fend for ourselves if we were old, sick, or lame. We may not even be able to procure our basic necessities without it; some of us are much better at providing shit than others. What if we didn’t hunt in packs? Fewer successful hunts, no delicious animal fat, and more gnawing on unsatisfying bitter plants forever.
Boring-ass veganism por vida, unless one of you is a fabulous, inventive vegan chef, which cannot possibly exist—especially in the caveman days. There is no way a caveman decided that meat was not longer an option because aw, sad animal hunts. Anyway, we need each other in this fucked up essential way. And it totally fucking blows.
We’re never static. Childhood is nearly constant change. Sometimes I don’t see my kid for two days when he’s at his dad’s house. When he comes back, his neck is thicker, he’s four inches taller, and he suddenly looks like a man. That happens in two days.
When your kids are really young, sometimes you pick them up from preschool, and they tell you something so grown up and insightful. You’re staring at them in the rearview mirror of your minivan. They’re all strapped into their car seat with those ridiculous five-point restraints, and you think, “Who the hell is this kid?”
School pictures make you realize that your kid is on the cusp of being the next age. By the end of the year, they look like a different human being. Maybe like a little realtor ready to get you into that cozy home. Jesus. How did that happen? How did you go from wearing a Spiderman shirt and light-up shoes to looking like a goddamn realtor?
We get used to changing when we’re young, too. In my twenties, I was so used to changing in this rapid-fire way that I thought nothing of change. No biggie. I changed all the time. It was almost like shape-shifting or morphing. Oh look! Now I’m a werewolf. Cool. Where the party at?
Not only was I constantly changing, I moved a lot: around the country, traveling. I’d neglect packing before asking people to help me move apartments, then I’d be surprised at how bummed they were when they came over to help me. We’d just throw the unorganized mess into the back of a truck.
I had an old, marbled red bowling ball with “Lucky Strike” etched above the finger holes, a turquoise hollow-body guitar I didn’t know how to play, and milk crates full of heavy-ass records that I hauled around the country with me. I changed relationships, jobs, schools, music genres, styles, cars, homes, drugs, whatever. Nothing stayed the same. I cared not for consistency because I didn’t know what the fuck it was.
Maybe it happens when you decide to have kids, this desire for consistency. Lord knows every baby book on the planet bosses you on how vital consistency is for a baby. Put them to bed at exactly the same time every night or things will go horribly off the rails, and you will rue the day you thought you could get thirty extra minutes of talking with the neighbor. Feed them at exactly the same time or they will freak the fuck out like a gremlin and make you regret it.
Maintain a scheduled routine so that they can predict what happens next in their day, or they might end up a jailbird and blame you for everything. And for a while, these consistent routines make life easier. It’s so much easier to read a book to your kid at 7:30 to get them asleep by 8:00, all so you can have a whole goddamn thirty minutes of CSI: Miami to yourself before nodding off on the couch like a junkie on a bus.
That’s all you get: half an episode. Anything else is just asking too much. It could take years to finish a movie. And just forget reading whole books indefinitely. Unless it’s Bedtime for Frances, you ain’t getting any fucking culture for a while.
But we get used to it, swayed into thinking that there isn’t a whole lot of change happening during this time. But it’s a damn lie. Maybe it’s under the surface or dormant, but it’s there. It’s still happening; we’re just distracted by constantly anticipating someone else’s needs.
That is the commitment to connection so vital to our survival. We commit over and over to the tiny, adorable, incredible little fuckers in our care. And if we’re lucky, we also commit ourselves over and over to the person that we’ve partnered with to raise them with. But sometimes we don’t make it through the entire child-rearing experience because change is always happening within us. Always.
As much as we seek to create consistency for our children, we cannot sustain our own. It’s impossible. And yet, we promise each other “until death do us part.” Lord, what a set up.
Lest you think I am a bitter, unromantic type, I do think it is wholly possible to be with a person who can both interest and sustain you your whole life. I think we can have dynamic, amazing, sweet, sexy, interesting, romantic partnerships. It’s totally possible. Not bloody likely, but possible.
I’m not sure if we are meant to have partnerships with the people we choose to have or raise children with. I think everyone in the world should fall in love and get married, and I think everyone in the world should split up and get divorced. It is the ultimate act in powerlessness. That and letting your children go.
Maya Angelou, the world’s most quoted sex worker and all-around genius, said once that she believes that we often marry someone else’s husband (or wife). I don’t know about you, but I trust a woman who managed a stable full of fillies AND wrote a few bestsellers—that’s some dynamic shit right there. And I know I was married to someone else’s spouse. He was never really mine.
We cultivate this ideal of staying with one person, bend ourselves trying to accommodate it. We hold fast to each other because we’re so bad at letting each other go. But ultimately we never can stay with one person. People die.
As many promises as we make to each other—we’re never gonna change or want someone else or want any other kind of life, job, house, person—eventually, someone has to die first. We cannot keep that promise forever. This is the part where it feels like the ultimate frame up.
No matter how deeply you love someone and want him or her to be stuck to your side for an eternity, or at least be a good road-trip buddy for a long while, it’s impossible. We have to let them all go eventually, one way or another.
It’s why losing a parent is so devastating. We think of them as fixed, even as we age. We get used to how they change and morph into old people, get impatient with waitstaff, and embarrass us with how they stopped giving a fuck about common courtesy just because they’re old, goddamnit. They’re still that parent we’re used to—even when they suck.
My dad made the same stupid puns all his life. He loved playing games, reading, politics. He always sounded like a Texan even though he hadn’t lived there in a blue moon. He was kind of a stubborn, egotistical dick, refusing to see his part in anything. And then he died. He had almost no introspection that resulted in any long-lasting change.
We hadn’t spoken in almost two years, and it still hurt like a motherfucker when he died. He was my dad, and I was strung out on his potential all my life. It’s a pattern I repeat in romantic relationships: I project all my best qualities onto someone else. I add a few of their best qualities, only see them as their best self, and get strung out on their potential. It’s terrible, hurtful bullshit that has resulted in my staying in relationships that aren’t any good for me. And yeah, I blame my dad.
Now that I’m aware of it, it’s my responsibility to change it, but it’s his damn fault. All of our parents bare some of the burden of how we act in relationships. It’s an ugly fact. Embarrassing too. I hate having daddy issues. But I wouldn’t have them if he had been a better dude. So there’s that.
Someone once told me that it was a very brave thing to love someone. I had no idea what they were talking about at the time. I thought, “How can it be brave to just do the thing you’re naturally inclined to do?” Then I got dumped, and I realized what they meant. To invest in someone, to keep putting money in that particular bank when it’s not even FDIC insured is a huge goddamn risk. It’s so risky, no one knows what the fuck they’re doing ever.
Everybody comes with giant, loaded body bags full of blood, meat, and viscera that they’re hauling around. No one is ever separated enough from the people they need to be separated from. And kids always complicate everything—whether it’s established partnerships or the decision to break up or dating—they just make everything more complicated.
People are selfish dirtbags, but they can’t really help it. They don’t usually even know they’re selfish dirtbags. Nobody is ever guaranteed anything. We are not guaranteed a damn thing. It’s fucked up. Sometimes people decide that the risk isn’t ever worth it. It’s easier to distance yourself emotionally, or stick to sleeping around, or just opt for couches and Netflix. Alone forever.
It’s a huge and hopeful thing to love another person. Especially with the knowledge that no matter what happens—you have the affair of the century where the stars all align and I’m totally wrong about soul mates not existing and you find yours—you will still lose them. It will hurt in the end. Someone will end up crying.
We will end up alone. It’s either incredibly, incredibly brave or ridiculously stupid. Love will tear us apart again. Sing it in your best Ian Curtis voice—dance like him too. It makes it a little less painful.
Next time I fall in love with someone (there will be a next time; I am dumber than a box of rocks and a hopeless romantic), I’ll try this: every time I wake up next to him, I am going to look at him and think, “Oh look! He’s here again! How nice.”
And if we ever make it far enough that we live together and he walks through the door after work, I will say, “Oh! Hello! You’re back again! Imagine that.” Not because I will be surprised that someone would come home to me (despite being dumb as a box of rocks, I’m pretty fucking awesome; I may be the best girlfriend in the world, a bit of an over-thinker and intense, but funny as hell with killer taste in music—so pretty much the best), but because I know that he will never be permanent. He never has to be. And neither do I.
If there is a way to become secure in uncertainty, I’m going to try to achieve it. If there is a way to go all in and know that the whole thing is a gigantic, stupid crapshoot, I’m doing it. If there’s a way that I can rest comfortably in my insecurity, I’m gonna fucking rock it. Also, fuck potential. You either are or you’re not. There is no try.
Ask me in a few years how I feel about all of this—if I haven’t been crushed by some devastating heartbreak and have decided that Netflix is my one and only true love. I’m sure it will have changed again. Ain’t no stopping that shit.
About the author: Rachel Brasell is a bleeding-heart do-gooder at a small non-profit and a social-work student. She’s a mother who writes shit that would embarrass the hell out of her own mother. She believes everything is about relationships, unless you're a hermit. And even then, you're probably a hermit because of a relationship.