I’m still holding back, because obviously I can’t say everything I’m feeling. I have to keep things vague, jumble up all the men, the lovers and the exes, but I tell myself that’s okay, because it doesn’t matter who they are. It matters how they make me feel. Stifled, restless, hungry. Why can’t I just get what I want? Why can’t they give it to me?
I’m the next act
Waiting in the wings
I’m an animal
Trapped in your hot car
I am all the days
That you choose to ignore
You are all I need
I’m in the middle of your picture
Lying in the reeds
I’m a moth
Who just wants to share your light
I’m just an insect
Trying to get out of the night
I only stick with you
Because there are no others
You are all I need
I’m in the middle your picture
Lying in the reeds
It’s all wrong
It’s all right
It’s all wrong
“all those nights with the phone warming the side of my face like the sun. you made jokes and sure, i may have even laughed a little but mostly you were not funny. mostly you were beautiful. mostly you were unremarkable, even your mediocrity was unremarkable. when friends would ask ‘what do you like about him?” i would think of you holding a bouquet against the denim of your shirt. i mean, you had my face as your screensaver for gods sake, do you know what that does for the self-esteem of girl with an apparition for a father?
hey, do you remember the quiet between us in all those restaurants? all the other couples engrossed in deep conversation and us, as quiet as a closed mouth.
that one afternoon when i asked ‘why do you love me?’ and you replied as quick as a toin coss ‘because you’re mad, because you’re crazy’ and i said ‘why else?’ and you said ‘that mouth, i love that mouth’ and i collapsed into myself like a sheet right out of the dryer.
you clean, beautiful, unremarkable boy, raised by a pleasant mother, was i just a riot you loved to watch up close? there were times i picked arguments just so that we could have something to talk about.
last week, i walked through the part of the city i loved when i still loved you, our old haunts. you know, even the ghosts have moved on.”
― Warsan Shire
“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
― Anaïs Nin
There’s a certain freedom that comes from building a relationship through a screen. There’s a certain lack of accountability that comes from building a relationship through a screen.
I met Frank Churchill on a holiday trip to New York City. He grabbed me as I walked past him with my friend towards the back of a club in Chelsea.
“I just have to say,” he said, eyes serious and piercing, “‘you are the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.’”
I smiled and allowed him to pull me closer. His hand moved seamlessly from my elbow to the small of my back.
“Is that so?” I asked, our faces dangerously close to each other. Strangers shouting out orders to apathetic bartenders bumped into and nudged themselves around us.
“Yes,” he responded. “Let’s go.”
I didn’t have much time to spend with Frank before I left for California. But I felt like I knew the basics of who he was through our conversation held the evening of our meet-cute: pizza, rescue cats, Catholicism, the law. He had piqued my interest during a drought of dating-related interest. Although I am not one to delve into long-distance relations, I had enough to build a base until I could return.
Over the next few months Frank would text me asking me to come to New York to visit him. “I can pay for your flight with miles. You can stay here. We can see Hamilton.” Each conversation followed a similar format and occurred at a twice-monthly frequency. I had to begrudgingly decline each invitation since my private practice was taking off, but I promised that I would visit as soon as possible.
When the PhD program I applied to in NYC-adjacent Boston rejected me mid-February, I delivered him the bad news.
“Are you serious?? I’m sorry.”
“Eh, I guess it wasn’t in the cards for me,” I responded, trying to downplay my disappointment.
“Not going to lie, I was holding out hope that you would move to Boston and we could start dating.”
“Me too,” I ended. Sad-face emoji.
I thought about Frank three days later while pretending to get ready for church, aka taking 20 minutes to apply eyeliner and half-heartedly watching reruns of The Good Wife on my laptop. I had finished feeding my Neko Atsume cats and pulled up Facebook, in a natural progression of procrastination, to reminisce about the missed opportunity of a boy in New York. There, on my newsfeed, were two enlarged images, a picture of Frank and a picture of a dowdy redheaded stranger, connected by the word…
My heart momentarily stopped beating. I muted The Good Wife to restore focus. I scrolled back through my feed to make sure I wasn’t misreading the message.
It had to be some sort of hoax. I had spoken to Frank Thursday night about flying out to see him. Surely someone must have logged on to his page and posted a joke relationship change.
“288 likes. 56 comments.”
I scrolled through the comments section, searching for any suggestion that this wasn’t real.
“Congrats!” “We love you two together!” “It’s about time, man!” followed by reposts of Snapchat pictures of them kissing. A feeling of disgust fell over me. I was going to throw up. I was actually going to throw up. And yet the lump of emotion stuck to the inside of my throat, just making it more difficult to breathe.
I threw my phone across the kitchen table and pressed my palms against my sternum, willing my chest to rise and fall. My breathing resumed, along with my pulse. Now it was racing, agitated, my blood becoming claustrophobic in my veins. I stood up and began pacing.
Who was this guy? What sort of double life did he lead? I heard my father’s voice in my head, “Never trust lawyers.” He had seen too many episodes of The Good Wife to think otherwise. “But he seemed so normal!” I said aloud to my father’s voice in my head. Thick shame covered my body. I was the other woman. I was an idiot for believing this guy that I hardly knew. Was I so desperate for attention that I would allow myself to be used by someone so cliché, someone so stereotypically slimy? Was I so desperate for connection that I allowed myself to be blinded by the promise of a guy with religion, a love for neglected cats, and (supposedly) Hamilton tickets? “He probably didn’t even HAVE Hamilton tickets!” I found myself yelling to my empty house. My cat Sophie looked up from her cat tower, annoyed at my sleep-disturbing volume.
Determined to prove to myself that I wasn’t just another fool, I raced to the table and grabbed my phone. I investigated all of his social media: Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Nothing. There was no sign of a girlfriend let alone a fiancée on any of these sites.
I pulled up our texts from Thursday night. There it was, “Not going to lie, I was holding out hope that you would move to Boston and we could start dating.” Was I missing something? Did that not mean what I thought it meant?
I penned a new text, careful to not sound like the level of crazy that I felt emoting from my pores. Even in my reactive state my subconscious cared about how I looked like to this liar. I would later discuss this with my therapist.
“So you’re engaged?” I typed.
After a minute of no response, I grew more courageous.
“Well, you probably shouldn’t have been texting me telling me that you wanted to date me on Thursday if you were planning on getting engaged this weekend.”
I sat back, pleased with my texts, daring him to respond.
Within minutes of my texts Frank had blocked me from his Facebook page, a fact I found out while trying to screenshot his relationship status for my sister. Upon realizing this, part of me was offended. He was taking measures to ensure that I didn’t post anything incriminating on Facebook. “Didn’t he know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t do anything like that?” I asked myself, automatically incredulous. “Well, I guess he didn’t know me at all.”
I just got out of a relationship with a perfectly lovely individual. He was tall. He had a job. He was nice to me. He came from a corn-fed, family-values-type background. And yet, part of me was never committed to us. Part of me wanted to redownload Bumble (a less sketchy version of Tinder), attend the singles dances, and/or Facebook stalk the groomsmen in my friends’ wedding photos. It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy; I think I was. But something deeper, something more sinister like a full-body version of restless leg syndrome was lying in wait, prompting me to look a little longer at each of the wedding band-less men who checked me out at the grocery store. I felt unsettled.
Many of you may follow this up with “But Cait! That’s how you know you’re not in the right relationship.” I would agree with you, but I would also counter with “But what if I have felt like this to some extent in every relationship I’ve been in. And what if I admitted to feeling like this to some degree in every school I’ve ever attended and in every job that I have ever held? Do I get to write all of those off as ‘just not right,’ too?” To which you would respond, “DAMN DANIEL, I didn’t mean to start an existential query. We’re going to stop inviting you to Bachelor viewing parties if you can’t engage in normal chit-chat.”
Although I might vocalize it more frequently than is socially appropriate, I believe that I’m not the only one my age who feels this way. Also, there is science to back this phenomenon up.
FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is actually an primitive condition rooted in our drive to survive. Our survival as an individual and our survival as a community/people/species was once determined by our ability to be aware of threats to both ourselves and to our larger group. To be in the know often had life-or-death consequences. For example, to not be aware of a new source for water meant that you missed out on something that could keep you alive. When people evolved from transient hunting and gathering situations to stable farming communities this innate need to be in the know began to be utilized in a different way. Survival became less based on an individual’s efforts and more dependent on community interconnectivity. Thus our instinctual drive to need to know became less about physical life-or-death threats and more about societal life-or-death.
The problem is that although we don’t need to respond to being in the know with the same urgency that our caveman forefathers did, our brains still experience these evolved threats in an archaic manner. The limbic system, specifically the amygdala activates and responds to these threats in a visceral fight-or-flight response. What was once essential to our survival and triggered very infrequently now becomes problematic as our awareness of possible “threats” have amplified through the ever-increasing platforms for information and awareness (social media, newspapers, the internet, group texts). A constantly triggered amygdala can lead to prolonged and habitual stress, depression, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, etc.
Of course this problem is larger than Instagram-fueled travel envy for a group of twentysomethings. Walk in a straight line long enough and you will bump into a single young adult who is struggling to the point of debilitation with navigating their relationships, careers, and future. FOMO is making us afraid to act, for the fear that any movement is movement away from a potential route to our end-all-be-all happiness.
Here’s the thing, though. All decisions reduce more freedom than they create. So what starts out as the action-promoting thought process on our real-life Choose Your Own Adventure book becomes a battle of making choices versus preserving freedom. Our amygdala is triggered. What information are we missing that is vital to our survival? Having too many choices promotes indecisiveness, and so we are left in a perpetual state of ambivalence towards making a decision on our futures.
This ambivalence is a luxury, which is only made affordable through the current state of globalization, advanced technology, and upward mobility in society. A case could be made that it only exists because of the endless sea of opportunities as they react with the subjective experience of the emerging adult. Emerging adulthood, a term coined by developmental psychologist Jeffrey Arnett, is the phase of the life span between adolescence and adulthood, roughly age 18-27. This stage is characterized by “identity exploration, instability, self-focus, and feeling in-between.” So in a social climate and an age hallmarked by ambiguity, emerging adults have developed intolerance to the unknown. Many stand by as opportunities to contribute, connect, and progress come towards them and then slip through their open fingers.
What can we do to not fall victim to all of this? I’m not 100% sure, since I am more of a fellow traveler than an expert on this subject. However, I have found some things to be helpful in reducing distress and in enabling me to be functional in the midst of uncertainty.
Are you being picky because of this FOMO phenomenon or do you actually not like your job/school/love interest? Figure out how to differentiate between the two. Try to recognize the circumstances around which you are most triggered to have a FOMO reaction. IDK go to a therapist or something.
Reduce your social media usage.
Take a break from Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat/Twitter. Just delete Twitter because that thing breeds anxiety and toxicity. Give your brain a vacation from identifying threats that aren’t even relevant to your situation.
Focus on now.
While it is near impossible to only focus on the present moment when you are simultaneously at an age where you need to make important decisions, know that anxiety can only live in the past and in the future. Use thought-stopping techniques to shut down debilitating rumination loops regarding the diverse ways your future might be limited. Read this quote and breathe.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
― Corrie ten Boom