Three weeks ago, I sat down to write this essay. However, before landing on the version you are currently reading, I wrote four separate stories about relationships.
The first essay I wrote was about my mother.
It discussed one of the last conversations we had before she died. I’d just driven my car west from Connecticut to Colorado when I called her. I can still hear the sound of her laugh while she choked back the urge to cry.
She’d never known anyone who’d driven across the country before. She thought it took guts. I told her I was scared, being that it was my first time away from home. And when I called her crying not a few weeks later, she advised: stick with it and trust yourself. And don’t forget to follow your heart.
The second story was about a long, letter-writing affair I share with a man called Tom.
We were introduced by a mutual friend. She thought our shared affection for the outdoors was enough to build something on. What followed was twelve years worth of writing.
When Tom and I started corresponding during autumn 2006, we hadn’t met. In fact, all these years later, we’ve only met a handful of times. Nevertheless, we still write.
Writing to each other has offered an expressly intimate relationship with little attachment or expectations. We are lovers and friends and lone warriors at once. These letters have allowed us the space to be vulnerable enough to anchor ourselves into each other's lives. And even during times when our pens went silent, we held each other accountable for one another's growth. It’s impossible to endure the often bloody and bruised battle toward manhood, womanhood, and selfhood alone.
The third essay was more general about friendship. And how our friendships are like great mirrors, teaching us about ourselves. In fact, I'd say all relationships are like this. Revealing to us where we idealize and where we connect. Where we struggle and where we shut down.
Recently I started to struggle with a friend. It was as if we lost a sense of balance in our relationship. Though, I couldn't quite place why. But when I found myself blowing her off one afternoon when we were supposed to meet, I had to ask myself: what's really going on?
We were texting about the location where we were going to meet. Each time her messages came in, I felt my anxiety increase. At the same time, I was fielding other text messages that were coming in about a potential work opportunity. I wasn't focused.
I sent a hurried and sharp text canceling my plans with her. I told her she was being impatient.
Not three minutes later, I realized she wasn’t being impatient. I was. I lost patience with myself.
I have a lot going on. I'm looking for work, a place to live, am writing a book, and in the middle of a move. I'm tired.
That afternoon, I was especially so. Crumbing under the weight trying to solve all of life’s mysteries in one go, I felt raw and exposed.
I didn't want her to see me that way. Also, I didn't want to see myself. So instead of leaning toward a healing space of intimate connection, I ran away in shame. I do this often. And on that day in particular, I’d forgotten about love’s greatest precursor: vulnerability.
The last few years of my life have not been without challenge. Though, I think it’s impossible for any of us to age without experiencing discretely personal, yet universal, struggles like loss or despair. Some may even argue that a day without struggle is a day on the wrong path. So, then how do we get through the mud? Our relationships, of course. Though, they can't flow well if there isn't mutual respect and trust.
The same friend came over to see me not a few days later. And when I allowed myself to fall into her arms, honestly that felt a whole lot better than pushing her away. I was a better friend to both of us in that moment.
So it was while I was in a yoga class, upside down in headstand, that the topic of my fourth essay came to mind.
That day, the yoga teacher offered to be my “wall” in the center of the room. Even though I can do a headstand without the support of a teacher or a wall, I liked the idea of her being there with me. There is always more to learn.
With a gentle touch, she guided my two legs into a straight line and reminded me to keep my core tight. But something strange happened when she let go. I panicked. The shape she put me in was unfamiliar. I wanted to go back to my old way. A way which was comfortable, in spite of being painful in my neck. This is how I came to know that our relationships can help us shed impossibly useless stories that we attach ourselves to. And that healthy, loving relationships can help us thrive.
Like most people at the start of the New Year, I set an intention: move toward love, instead of away from it. I thought this sounded good. Except, I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant in practice. And did I mean self-love or romantic love or a greater sense of spiritual connectedness? Perhaps all of it, perhaps none.
I wrote those four essays because I was curious about the different kinds of love I've experienced in my life. About the different types of relationships I’ve shared with other people, while highlighting the interdependency of our life-experience. Our being. I also wanted to explore the spaces where I've closed off and where my relationships have helped me grow.
What my reflections offered me was the wisdom that love cannot be codified or measured. But without a doubt, it nudges courage over fear each and every time.
And that my friend, takes guts.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus is a writer, educator, and seeker — seeker of truth and beauty. Her work explores themes of trauma, heartache, loss, and family violence, reminding us to ask ourselves, who are we afraid of? You can follow her on IG: @beautystills or drop her an email to share a secret or two: email@example.com
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