She was beautiful and intelligent but nothing about her moved me. I could see that between us we had the tools and the opportunity to build a relationship in much the same way Jessica and I had: with intelligence, camaraderie and a little self-deceit. As I drove away from our date I knew that to continue to see this person would be to re-live a familiar battle between my heart and mind: mind would attempt to convince heart that it should be moved by her “objective” beauty and intelligence, and that it should let go of its childish romanticism. “You can’t have it all. And if you don’t want a prize like this then you don’t get to complain of being lonely!”
The heater rattles as I watch the rainfall from the window above my desk. Instead of enjoying the view I question and doubt myself relentlessly. What is it that you really want? Maybe you don’t feel anything because she’s actually available . You’re always going to be alone if you don’t compromise on some things.
I look for a photo of Autumn. I pick my favorite: it’s a recent one of her looking straight at the camera with her head slightly tilted and resting upon her hand. She has a head cold making the dark lines under her eyes slightly more pronounced. Her nose looks like it has been rubbed raw a bit by tissue paper. She is wearing a cotton t-shirt as if she has decided to turn in for the evening. There is no objective reason why this photo should move me so deeply. Yet it does.
I look at her eyes and see love, kindness, intelligence and familiarity. It excites me that in an instant those same eyes could suddenly convey strength or excitement or anger or passion. I look at her wispy blond hair and remember how it feels to stroke her head. I recall so vividly the way I loved to press my nose against the back of her head that my memory makes my nose warm. Her smile is slight; you have to infer that it’s there from the look in her eyes and the lines that look like lightly drawn parenthesis around the edges of her mouth. She looks as though she is daydreaming of something sweet. I realize I’m going into fantasy. I stop myself. I close the photo. The point is that looking at this I don’t need to convince myself of anything and, just as importantly, that has been true since the first evening we spent together.
In a recent interaction with her I had I put my foot in my mouth. As I tried to dig myself out of the hole she managed to confront me on my disowned intentions while simultaneously reassuring me that she knew what was in my heart. She worried that she had gone too far in her confrontation and I told her that, if anything, it made me feel seen. I didn’t tell her this but I realized in that moment that Autumn has learned to trust herself. I felt like I was falling in love with her again in that way that happens when you learn something new and wonderful about someone you already love.
Autumn’s intelligence isn’t the byproduct of advanced degrees or a privileged upbringing. It’s hard earned. It’s the the wisdom of someone who has made their way in the world independently since late adolescence. Of someone curious and self-taught. Of someone who has had to overcome trauma and various disadvantages to love herself and be successful. She is deeply intelligent, yes. Yet what I love most about her is her heart-wisdom. I don’t need to convince myself to be moved by that either.
I didn’t intend to write a love letter. I just ended up here. Digressions aside, what I realize from looking at the photo is not that I need to be with Autumn; it’s that I need to be moved from the beginning like I was with Autumn. From there it can go up or down but I need to feel something. I’m not talking about “love at first sight” or “soul mate” stuff. I just don’t want to have to convince myself to want to see someone again. Acknowledging that isn’t going to drastically or immediately change my life, but it does take some of the self-pity out of my loneliness to remember that my solitude is often a chosen one. I don’t know if it’s fool-hardy or if it’s wise but I carry this belief that I’d rather be alone than settle for someone out of fear of loneliness.
Maybe now I can enjoy the sound of the rainfall.