How do you write a love story when you’re not sure if you’re destined to experience romantic love in real life? When you’re not sure what romantic love looks or feels like?
That is the question that I have been struggling with for months now. I can’t, at this time, properly say that I am working on a novel-in-progress. I began yet another draft of my work in progress in November as part of the yearly challenge National Novel Writing Month. I work in retail, so as my work became busier my energy levels suffered and I had to bow out of the ‘write a novel in a month’ challenge-but, I expected to get right back into it once things slowed down a few weeks into the new year.
However, at the end of last month my beloved great-grandmother died. Despite the ups and downs of her long health struggles, she and I always had a special bond. I am still grieving, but books have emerged as a salvation for me during this painful and complicated time. Reading is a respite from the ups and downs of grief, and my sister and I have bonded over talking about books and watching BookTube and BookTok videos about books and reading. This has rekindled my hopes that I can once again carve out time to write.
I began this blog after a hard breakup. It left me shaken, because I placed so much trust in my ex and that trust was not repaid in good faith. This was crushing to me, because I had placed so much hope in romantic love, and its ability to redeem my past with the future I hoped for.
There was violence in my home when I was a teenage girl, often directed at me by a close male relative. I knew friends at school who had worse home lives, but mine caused me tension that manifested as sleeplessness at night and lethargic fatigue during the day. I learned to speak less and spend more time on my own. I only felt comfortable around my younger siblings, not the adults in my life. I longed to have a steady boyfriend, because I saw this as a way out from this dynamic. The girls I knew at school met up with their boyfriends at the local mall or bookstore, they went over to their boyfriends’ houses, and by senior year some couples were even living together in apartments or motels. I longed for this, for someone to escape to and someone who wanted to take me away.
This dream stayed with me, and I turned to it whenever my life felt difficult. When my violent relative was no longer what I wanted to escape from, I dreamed of how having a partner would ease my financial struggles. In my 20s I attended an online college whose military affiliation drew lots of veterans and military spouses to the student body, and I envied my military spouse classmates, many of whom stayed home and attended class online. I also knew a lot of stay at home moms in the online independent author scene, in which I was active as a fan and a beta reader. A good friend I was close to for years, and who was also an Army wife, also roused my envy. She had, so I thought, the life I yearned for, that of a globe-trotting stay at home mom. I dreamed of leaving behind financial insecurity, but also getting a Mulligan in terms of family and creating a family with someone who loved me. I worked in a town with an Army base, and young soldiers doing their weekend shopping were a common sight amongst my customers. I hoped, yearned that some young man would take a shine to me, we would fall in love like in a wholesome but passionate Nicholas Sparks novel, quickly get married, and then begin our life of travel while having and raising children. None of my brief and casual friendships with young Army privates or Marines resulted in the love story I had been hoping for. Neither did the only two serious relationships I have had in my life, both with co-workers who became friends and then, more.
In the wake of the break-up, I had to look at the ways that trauma from the violence in my life as a young person and the anxiety that dogged me as an adult surrounding money and finances influenced my construct of romantic love and what I wanted my future to look like.
I think it’s probably not unusual for people to see a romantic relationship as the answer to their past hurts and present difficulties. Certainly, that is the model I witnessed in action growing up. However, these are precisely the latent preconceived motivations that can get in the way of true intimacy of any kind with another person. To love someone is to appreciate who they are, and to give that person care and respect. Having an agenda, even one driven by trauma, gets in the way of that, with heavy and burdensome projections and expectations.
In light of unpacking all of this, I have changed. I definitely had a “someday my prince will come” narrative. In my heart, I was still that 17 year old girl who would gaze longingly out the window at my driveway, wishing the boy I loved was pulling into the turn to take me on a long drive down a winding country road, that I could forget the arguments and attacks of my home sitting in the passenger seat, our arms brushing together as the wind competed with our laughter and the sound of classic rock music on the radio, as miles gathered between me and the home where I perpetually felt such fear and heartbreak. I was just as much the college student balancing coursework with a demanding 40 hour job in retail, wishing for the second time in my life that someone would free me from the life I was living, that I could postpone my degree to create the family and home I always wanted.
I looked at how my own ideas about romance, the way I equated it with salvation, might have influenced my writing. Most of my writing has either been in the romance genre or relied heavily on romantic subplots. However, my own failed relationship broke the illusions I had cherished, that soulmates had known each other in past lives and became whole when they found each other once again in this one.
I had to learn to feel whole just the way I am, to be strong and to love myself. I learned to forgive and reconnect with the family I have, rather than wasting my life pining for the husband and kids I don’t have, yet. I think I have fallen in love again…with a new acquaintance who’s quickly become a friend. It was an unexpected development, but it’s teaching me to sort out whether you are really in love or just enjoy someone’s company and appreciate their personality. If I do, in fact, love this person, as much as I admire their innate strength they are someone with profound private struggles that would require respect, compassion, and it wouldn’t even be dramatic to say sacrifice from anyone as close to them as a romantic partner. There goes my dream of being the one who is rescued. In real life, we must care for each other mutually and equally.
One day, maybe, my prince will come. But, he won’t be a fairytale archetype cut out neatly with a cookie cutter. He’ll be someone like me, with a past and wounds from broken dreams and old hurts, and we will have to be honest and mindful about our expectations. And in the meantime, I’m not waiting for the man anymore. I learned how to save myself.
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