The Jewish holiday of Passover has come and gone. In modern practice, the idea of our deliverance from slavery is meant to be taken personally — not merely in the literal sense (as in, we, ourselves, were there in Egypt and were freed), but also in a more figurative sense (as in, how are we enslaved today? And what are we going to do about it?).
In fact, the translation of the Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means “narrow place.” The imagery of that resonates for me in a big way. In ancient Egypt, the Hebrews were limited by external forces. But most of us voluntarily put ourselves in narrow places, and create self-imposed limits to growth, to success, to happiness.
I know I do it.
Passover hit me sideways this year; I was feeling out of sorts in the days leading up the holiday, but I didn’t finally understand why until after first seder, which is a traditional dinner to commemorate the Exodus. It’s full of symbolism and song; a very visceral way for us to understand the story of our deliverance, celebrated raucously with our families. Simone had left for spring break in Tucson with her other family, so I was on my own. I opted to join a community seder (also known, in some circles, as an orphan’s seder), where I’d know a few people. The event was intimate and well-organized, with true warmth between the attendees, but it was not the family seder I’m used to.
And it wasn’t until I was driving home to my empty house that I realized how alone I felt, not able to celebrate this important, family-centered holiday with my daughter, or my parents, or my sisters. I have great friends, and Simone and I have a surrogate family in Denver, but my sense of isolation wasn’t assuaged by that knowledge. And the fact that I wasn’t even able to joke about matzoh and gefilte fish with someone special made things seem even more grim.
I’m alone a lot. And I’ve scaled back on the socializing these last several months due to a confluence of events and my own outlook. So that means I’m alone even more than I was before. I’m good with being by myself—I’m used to it, and I enjoy it. It’s important for all of us to find comfort and joy in solitude; to know who we are outside the context of our relationships, and to find strength there. I’ve found a special kind of peace in those times when I’m left to my own devices. But I also crave interaction, love and affection, physical and emotional warmth.
I knew it was okay to feel lonely and depressed about being by myself during the holidays. But I realized that I was putting too much stock in being without a partner to connect with—I missed Simone desperately, but I also missed the joy of sharing the holiday with a companion.
Fortunately (in a twisted way), I’d been through a succession of painful, ridiculous, dramatic events of the heart in the weeks leading up to (and including) Passover, which added to that sense of hopelessness I was feeling. I was deep in the wringer, my expectations and optimism being squeezed out of me day by fraught day, which colored my no-family, no-love blues a deep midnight hue. The possibility of finding that someone seemed so remote, but so important. Talk about being in a narrow place.
But that convergence of miserable events is just what I needed.
As I went to bed that first night, the lessons of Passover overlapped with the lessons of the past weeks, and I began to understand the nature of the narrow place I’d put my own self in, willingly (with the best of intentions).
I didn’t get to mitzrayim overnight. But I can say that pouring my heart and dreams into my February column is what finally landed me into a vise of my own creation. By telling the world (and allowing myself to feel) that all I wanted was something lasting and soul-enhancing, I created limitations to my own happiness. That column, and the thinking it represented, resulted in a change of perceptions, both for me, and for some readers.
What it meant for me was the belief that I should put an end to narratives that didn’t have much possibility of leading to my goals—an all-or-nothing conceit that kept me from living in the joy of the moment. It also kept me from enjoying the friendship and company of women in my life who didn’t fit the narrow definition of happiness I’d internalized. I’d set an ultimatum for myself (and no one else).
What it meant for some others was that I was shopping for a wife, for a match, for my one true love. That I’d put myself on a timeline, and was immediately ready to dive into whatever potential relationship presented itself. I didn’t make it clear in my column, that, though I’m ready for the love and fulfillment of a true relationship, I’m fully aware of the process inherent in getting to that point. I’m not ready to jump into something tomorrow. But my column made my long-term wish seem like an immediate need, rather than something I’m looking forward to someday. And that interpretation made me seem, depending on how well people knew me, either doltishly romantic or desperate for love.
It wasn’t helping matters that I’m actually wired to be doltishly romantic...which may be the name of my May column....
The kick in the ass I needed, though, came not from getting beaten up (again and again) for being warm and open and loving. It came from a buddy who was laughing at my latest story and said, “Eric, you do single so well. You must really love being single.”
I laughed, because he was looking at me with a mix of admiration and bemusement. He was smiling as he said it, and there was the slightest flavor of wonder in his voice.
His remark took me aback for a second, because, even though my social behavior in the first few years after the divorce was definitely centered on extracting every ounce of potential pleasure out of my newly single status, my habits and interactions have changed dramatically in the past 18 months. I still go out, but not as often as before. I still date, but I’m much more authentic and genuine when I do. I’ve become so much more careful about dating and how I let things happen, and I make a point of disclosing my feelings (happy or doubtful) about a situation as soon as I have clarity. If I like you and sense potential between us, I’ll let you know. If I’m not feeling it; if something is missing for me, I’ll let you know that, too. I don’t have the patience to play games — it’s more important to me to just be who I am.
But I forget that, in my social circle, I’m still “The Dating Dad,” and it’s going to be some time before perceptions about me — how I date, whom I date — catch up with the reality of my more recent behavior. I own that. I accept that. I just forget, sometimes. This blog feeds it, too; my willingness to share in my process makes everything I do seem a little more intense than maybe it actually is. I’m a writer...it’s my job to tell honest-yet-compelling stories!
But my buddy was right — I do “do single” well. And I forgot that I already have a happy, eventful, interesting daily life, love or no love. In my search for that right woman, I often forgot to be present to the joys of my everyday life.
Then Passover came, and, taking the holiday seriously, I pondered what narrow places I’d put myself into lately. It was pretty easy to see that scrunching my romantic outlook into a single goal (find someone special, get to know her, ease into a relationship) was limiting my ability to just be happy. To have fun.
I’m not lowering my standards. I’m not going to start dating indiscriminately. And I’m going to stick to being authentic and honest in every new situation. I’m still keeping myself receptive to the possibility of a strong, loving connection.
But I have opened the aperture, to let the focus soften, and I’m going to enjoy being single. I’ve given up on my search for love. Love can find me when the time is right. For now, I’m going to focus on the happiness that already blesses Simone and me. I’m going to take a deep breath, surrender for real, and splash around in the here and now.
Hell, it’s almost summer, after all.