Kathy has been in London all this week. I hate it when she's gone. A weird thing that I think often, when she travels, is "If Kathy died, this grey, bleak, horribleness would be my life." I can be a little morbid, I guess. This trip, this feeling was particularly acute. Maybe it is because I finished a really, really depressing book yesterday in which one character's onion farm fails and his wife leaves him, so he tries to kill himself but instead shoots himself in the shoulder and loses the arm, and another character drunkenly drives his car off a bridge at 8:30 in the morning after losing his business, having his house repossessed by the bank, and his lover (the wife of the onion farm guy) breaking up with him.
I don't think it's just the book, though. As I was walking into work today, thinking about how it Kathy died, the grey, bleak, horribleness would be my life, I also thought, "Well, I didn't use to feel like this about her not being around. I used to live semi-alone in that apartment in Hell's Kitchen, and be totally fine with being alone, or whatever. I never used to get all sad and bored and lonely. What's up with that?" I feared I had become too dependent, or at least that I had lost a vital, independent part of myself.
As an erstwhile fiercely independent thing, living in New York City, I used to find the solitude liberating. But now, instead of feeling liberated, I just feel sort of lonely. This made me incredibly sad. I liked that independent young woman, living in Manhattan, struggling with her job, making it through. Where did she go, and when did it happen?
The reality of it is that she has been gone for a while. For years now, I have disliked it when Kathy traveled. I have lived with a family, which has become, now, my family, for years. This realization was so shocking to me.
This, right here, is why I think rituals are so important. I think the reason that the loss of my single self hit me now, I think what's up with that, is that I am engaged. Becoming engaged has affected me on a much deeper level than I anticipated. Kathy and I talked about getting married for months before we became officially engaged. A part of me viewed it as bit of a formality. At times, I suggested to Kathy that we forgo the ritual of the big wedding, and just quietly get married and be done with it. The marriage is the important part, not the wedding, right? And if so, what's the difference?
This is the difference. Without ritual, the transitions of our lives can pass us by unnoticed. Even moving in together was so gradual that I only noticed the superficial aspects of it (like the now-infamous towel fight). It's a shame to me that the modern wedding industry has made engagements about rings, weddings about dresses, and bridal showers about linens and cookware. Engagement is much, much more than a ring. It is a time to look at yourself, and your life, and say goodbye to your single self.
Or, in my case, it is not so much my single self that I am saying goodbye to, as a particular young self. As I've mulled this over, I slowly realized that the changes I've gone through in the last few years have somewhat less to do with the deepening emotional intimacy and commitment I have with Kathy (although that is a piece of it), and somewhat more to do with a subtle shift into true adulthood. I can't concretely identify what I mean by that, only that there has been some sense of becoming more at home in myself than I was before. I care less about what other people think of me, and more about what I think of me. I worry less about fitting in, and more about building a life I fit in.
And so, it is with that perspective that I say goodbye to the younger person I used to be. I'm still lonely with Kathy gone, but ultimately I am grateful for the opportunity, sharpened somewhat by the transitional phase of engagement, to let go of, and grieve, for who I used to be -- so that I can more fully embrace who I am at this stage of my life. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty wonderful stage.