The first weeks of spring were marked by cold and rainy days, so when the sun came out in full force, my friends and I decided to bask in it. I called my little sister (AKA “Patron Saint of Planning Shit”), slicked my hair into ponytail with styled edges, and jumped into a backless romper with tall heels. When I walked into the house her boyfriend shares with his two friends, I was stoked to find all there there punting around ideas about how to best take in some sun. Everyone was smiling and laughing. Someone put out a spread of wings. Another paired their phone to a large speaker. For the first time that week, I felt relaxed.
And then I saw him.
He bounded down the stairs in a floral hoodie and grey joggers and we just stared at each other. Stared and stared until we finally talked to each other. Then we exchanged numbers and, to my disbelief, texted and called each other every day after that. Finally, he did the one thing that no one else had done in the three years I was single: he asked me how I felt about him, and if I could see myself being with him. And the craziest part was, I actually could.
I’m almost dumbfounded that it was that simple. I thought about all the men in close orbit around me everyday, and realized that few of them had dared to do what he had done. An acrid dose of medicine I’ve had to swallow in all this is that having a roster of people vying for my affections in a superficial way was comforting to me for a long time, but it was also damaging for me. Though I still believe that every woman should spend as much time alone in their lifetime as they damn well please, I don’t think anyone should wall themselves off in a way that makes them completely cynical.
With that said, I had some apprehension in the beginning. I’m older than him and I didn’t want to fall into a pattern of dating younger guys even though they’ve been drawn to me lately. But, eventually that vibe melted away because being with him felt totally different. The best way I can describe it is that being with him felt like walking with a smooth ground beneath my feet and being with everyone else felt like walking on cobblestone–in heels. So there I was. Bowled over, submerged, and in love.
Can I tell you a secret, though? I genuinely thought that my little black book was the catalyst for my relationship. As I’ve mentioned before, the job, car, place, and advancements in my creative endeavors that I’ve enjoyed this year were all written in that book. I even wrote “بسم الله” as the header for the page about love, just for good measure and I was sure I’ve received it.
In fact, I’m certain that actually I did.
In a parallel universe, I would’ve given myself to this person over and over, rejecting all signs that we soared too quickly and were doomed to plummet. But that universe is boring. Boring and archaic. This universe is more advanced and in it, I am too. Confirmation of this is how fast I realized that the love that I was channeling into him was tapping my own reserve. I think that’s because it was delivered to me and was never meant for him. Imagine pouring water in a cup that has a hole in its side? That was me.
The lesson in it is quite simple even though I make it complicated every time I get lonely, and it’s this: you can find someone who rubs your feet, stares at you with such powerful longing that it catches you off-guard, and still fall just short of love.
He or she may cradle you in their arms and ask for you for babies and a future and mean exactly that–or nothing at all. I know this is true because my beautiful, temporary muse certainly did all of those things for me. But in the end I still wasn’t sure him, so even though he’d put me on a pedestal I found solace in doing what did I’ve always done; I ran.
I stayed there on my pedestal and left him with time and space to scavenge for what was closer to the ground: low-hanging, half-eaten fruit.
As quickly as my romantic hopes manifested, they fizzled. I held out hope for him not because of the things he said, but because what I’ve written down for myself has never failed me. But clearly, I’d done something wrong this time. The night that I ended the relationship, I went back and flipped back through my little black book again.
This time, I could only smile at how clever the lord’s loophole once I realized what it was. I stared at the words I’d written with my own hands several months before. and then traced them with my bright, coffin-shaped fingernails and read them softly. They sounded like a dua and lament. It was a short passage I’d written asking God for love. I’d written that I was ready, that I was sure.
But there was no mention of a man; I’d only asked for love.
And maybe that’s for the best? I try to keep in mind that I am the common denominator in all of my failed relationships, and I think that my ability to do so reflects growth on my part because I certainly didn’t look at it that way before. I’m sure that in another universe, a different me is tearfully texting him and burning his pictures even as she plans to go back to him. In this one, I’m lost in a calm so eerie that it gives me pause.
I’m letting myself process these events slowly. I’m thinking about what they mean and evaluating why my desire to latch onto someone right now is so formidable when I know that I need to continue to thrive alone for awhile. Most of all, I’m thinking about uncertainty in itself, and how writing things down with shaky hands and a heart full of doubt zaps the subtle sihr from my little black book. Ultimately, I realize that:
I wrote down love for myself, thinking it would manifest as some handsome stranger with a promise and potential.
I wrote down love for myself thinking that it would result in a chance meeting that would end in a small ceremony at the masjid, followed by a succession of brown babies.
I wrote down love for myself, thought I’d found it, then realized that I wasn’t even following my own cheat codes. My little black book didn’t betray my, I did. I simply made an assumption and broke my own rules (which are, incidentally, rules that are on loan from the universe and its Architect). I wrote down love like I wrote down everything else, but gutted the work that needed to be done. If networking and speaking on free panels was the prerequisite for all of my paid public speaking, and budgeting and cutting expensive habits to increase my credit score was the work I needed to do to get a car and home, then why should the work I have to to open myself up for love be any different? I wrote down love for myself but I’m still too vulnerable for it, and I’m fine with that. I already have, within this first failure, all that I need to move forward. I’ve been out of practice, but now I have a new reminder of what love is not.
I have a reference point. and that’s a good start.
In this universe, this version of me refuses to carry spite in her heart. I won’t be jaded, either. Instead I’ll move cautiously and sample the sights and sounds that feed me along the way, until my heart finds what it’s looking for, even if it ends up finding only myself.
This parallel has different rules of engagement, after all, and they’re simple. As long as I believe in a universe that won’t punish me for opening myself up for love, then it will feed it to me differently than before, and in many forms. On this alternate plane, there are no failures so much as there are stepping stones.
I already wrote down love for myself in my little black book, and because of this, I know what will happen next even if I don’t know the order. First, I’ll scribble a few more details on that same page that describe how I want to give and receive love–down to the letter. Then, I’ll amend it repeatedly as I see fit. One tearful day after that, I’ll likely try to erase it entirely after my heart gets broken again. Finally when those tears dry, I’ll look down and see that the basmallah with my passage beneath it is still there.
Because in this universe, I’ve written it in pen.