The kids and I spent the last week at family camp. Emandal, farm on a river, the best week of the year hands-down. We attend the same session every summer – Week Five – and have a wealth of camp friends who do the same. Every August we reconvene, check in, break it down, talk about what’s next.
If last year was about processing my divorce, this year was taking a deep look at romantic love. Chatting with my friends, at the farmhouse, at the river, at the campfire, slowly peeling back the layers of what I want and why.
My friend, Bonnie, brought tarot cards and gave readings in the gathering dark after dinner. Every reading felt uncanny. It’s like visiting a psychic – hearing what you didn’t know you knew. Same thing for tarot, it turns out. The cards said that the world is at my feet. There is darkness behind and light up ahead. But to get there, to fulfill those dreams, I need to take care. I need to take some time to retreat, to pull back into my shell, to restore. I need to be careful of putting obstacles in my way, specifically dalliances with men who aren’t available. And I need to relinquish control – which I took to mean both control of finding my love and manipulation of the relationship once it manifests.
I was joking at the beginning of the week about a dating site I want to start called “Vali-Dating”. You shop for dates but are really just there to get your ego stroked. To know that someone in the outside world finds you attractive, finds you worthy. I’ve used dating websites before this way, mostly unconsciously.
But then later in the week, at the final campfire, during what my friend Chip calls “Campfire Stage Four”, when the kids have departed, the bourbon has been uncorked and the coals burn low, Chip said something that sunk my vali-dating joke straight down to the bottom of the river.
I was telling him how I struggle with the idea of love. How I want this thing, this great love, so badly, this complete union, this truly-madly-deeply. But how, as yet, I haven’t been able to achieve it. He said a lot in response but the sentence that made me burst into surprised tears was this: “You need to stop looking for validation”.
Because I do. That’s my M.O. I believe myself to be smart, charming, sexy, fun – at least I believe that in my head. But my heart isn’t sure. My heart believes I’m not quite worthy. And so I look for proof that I am, generally in the form of a male gaze.
Yesterday we all went down to the river to swim at the base of Skull Rock, a giant piece of granite thrusting towards the sky. Mae immediately scrambled to the top, a good twenty or thirty feet up, and leapt with a joyful yelp into the water. As the afternoon progressed, more kids and adults climbed and jumped. Mostly kids, mostly men. Soon my friend Elizabeth eased her way up. Then Bonnie. Looking at these women climb that rock face – not easy and frankly quite scary – then fly out into the abyss, I was awed. Not only because they looked like the cover of an Athleta catalog, all tensed muscle and bikini. But because they were risking failure, going after something they wanted, not worrying about how they appeared to others.
I didn’t climb Skull Rock. I’m not great with taking physical risks, I have old beliefs about a lack of upper body strength (surely cured by teaching barre class), but mostly I was afraid of how awkward I would look to the crowd gathered below, this group of people who love me no matter what.
So what if I lived as if no one was watching? What if I just didn’t give a shit? What if I climbed the rock, followed my own compass, maybe even forgot about love for awhile?
The cards – and Chip – seem to think I should spend some time alone. Burrow into my new house, cuddle up with my kids, make my art. Stop looking around for who’s watching. Maybe heal this old heart of mine, once and for all.
And who knows, maybe next year I’ll scale Skull Rock, slowly, carefully, probably awkwardly. And take a huge leap out into the air; free.