Of False Bravery and Half-Truths

I waited for the elevator to make its way to the ground floor of the parking garage. It was one of those places in downtown Santa Monica that always smells a little like urine, even when it’s not hot outside. The kind of garage that always has a few lights blinking and crackling, threatening to burn out. The kind that makes you wish the sun were still out and that you weren’t by yourself.

The elevator arrived and I stepped on, followed by five men speaking very loud and animated Korean. They smelled like stale beer and cigarettes, and together we more than filled the small space. One of their arms kept brushing against my REI shopping bag, and another gave me a full body scan with his eyes. We had no air left for anyone else to breathe in that elevator, but I wished that someone else would join us. Someone who might make me feel safe.

We began our ascent, only to jerk to a stop and lurch down a few feet before we reached the third floor. The men exclaimed, “Oh My God” in English, while gazing at each other with panicked looks. When they then looked over at me, I smiled calmly, as if we weren’t trapped together in an elevator between floors of a Santa Monica parking garage, instead of driving our cars safely home.“Don’t let them see your fear,” the voice in my head whispered. “They need to think that you’re brave.”

I wasn’t. I was scared even before the elevator doors closed around us. I was scared even after we all got out safely. But I couldn’t let them see that. Maintaining that illusion of bravery felt crucial. If felt like it was all that I had.

It’s what I’ve always done.

When I was a kid, I needed everyone to see that I could do everything considered scary, and do it by myself. That meant not hesitating before diving off the high dive, running to the front of the line to ride the tallest roller coaster, or watching horror movies that secretly terrified me. Often it meant impulsive decisions with little regard for consequences. I was no adrenaline junkie; it was all about trying to manipulate people into seeing me as “brave”. To me, scared equated with weak, and that was unacceptable. Fast forward thirty years later and I’m still that five-year-old kid, yelling, “Look at me! Look at what I can do” from the high dive.

Last weekend, a stranger marveled at the fact that I could attend a friend’s wedding without a date. She could never do that, she told me, unsolicited. She would rather just stay home than ever go to a wedding alone. I was rendered momentarily speechless, as I so often am when someone else voices feelings I don’t want to admit to also having experienced. I quickly moved away from the conversation, eager to get away from her and her (our) fears.

Instead, I went home and rallied against that fear. I posted a status update to my Facebook page that I hoped would reinforce me as that brave, independent person I needed everyone to see.

“If I only went places where someone accompanied me, I would never go anywhere. Don’t be afraid to do the things you want to do because you don’t have a ‘date’. You are your own best company.”

I’ve written before about the importance of loving your life even if it’s not exactly what you pictured. How you can appreciate what you do have, and take advantage of all that comes with it. How traveling alone, for example, can be wonderful and even more fulfilling than traveling with a companion. I even quoted the song “Brave” recently, as a reminder of how important it is to speak use your voice. I know these things are all true.

But.

But. The truth is always in the buts. The howevers. The excepts.

But they’re half-truths, at best. Words that are, indeed, true but that don’t begin to tell the whole story. It’s like stitching together patches of a quilt when you don’t actually know how to sew, and ignoring the holes you’ve left all over. I’ve stitched together this tale about being happy, self-sufficient and brave, while neglecting to mention all the holes throughout: loneliness; sadness; fear. There’s a quilt, sure, but it isn’t the truth.

So here’s the whole truth. The whole truth is that I don’t want to go to weddings alone; I go alone because that’s the best option I have. The whole truth is that I travel alone because I don’t have a partner to travel with me, and the alternative of not going anywhere is so much worse. The whole truth is that I still struggle with speaking up because I am so worried about what others will think. The whole truth is that being single can be liberating and empowering, but simultaneously isolating and terrifying. The whole truth is that I am scared all of the time.

The whole truth is that you can love your life, and still yearn for what is missing.

Sometimes, I take the easy way out, and I pick just half of the truth—the half that doesn’t make me look weak, or feel vulnerable. The half that feels good to post on Facebook. I’m still that little a kid putting on a show. Look at me! Look at what I can do!

It’s difficult to reconcile: being proud of what you can do alone, and desperately wanting to not have to do it.

I wrote earlier this year about how turning 35 meant letting go of a life I had imagined for myself and replacing it with something else, something I was already living. But the real truth there? (Again, the but). I stopped short of the part where I admit that even in my happiness, there is still sadness. That I do still want a husband, and I do still want children. I have accepted that I don’t have them now, and I have made my life work without them because that’s what I had to do. It wasn’t brave, or strong, it just was.

Because you adapt, and you let go, and you accept, or you won’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.

If I could go back and re-write that “Confession: I am 35” essay, if I could post it as a Facebook status with the whole truth, it would read differently.

I am 35, and it’s wonderful, lonely, exciting, full, liberating, strange, multi-faceted, sad, challenging, adventure-filled, eye-opening, ever-changing and completely scary every single day. It’s real life, in all its complexities. 

And it’s mine.

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27 thoughts on “Of False Bravery and Half-Truths

  1. Katie, That was so moving. I think, in some ways, everybody feels just like that. Even really good lives have sad, lonely, bad parts about them. You do just have to deal with what you’ve been dealt at that time. I always wish you only the best, and I’m sure someday you’ll get it. You are such a special person to me.

    • Thank you Peggy. That means so much to me. I was just thinking about you tonight, while eating sunflower seeds (I will never be able to separate them from you). I’m lucky to have you in my life for over 30 years(!) now!!!

  2. Thanks for always writing from your heart and soul and for sharing your deepest thoughts and fears. You are very brave every time you write. I love the way your write but more importantly the messages you convey touch me and many others. Keep following your dreams and I hope you will be happy, at least most of the time. I love you.

  3. It’s courageous to even try and explain the complexities of loving and valuing your life as it is but still wanting more. And you have greatly succeeded in doing so! Yay, I’m not alone, thank you Katie for sharing.

  4. I’ve read your posts before and I am always moved – and haven’t commented till tonight. You are a beautiful writer. This post struck a nerve with me because I also read your original “Confession” post and thought to myself “what a balanced, self-actualized attitude. I wish I had felt that way when I turned 35.” The truth is I was scared too, a lot – that I would never find the partner and love I wanted. This post was perfect because you told the entire truth – and ironically being this vulnerable is one of the bravest things you can do….so, thank you for that. And P.S. You still have time to find your partner and have a family…if that’s what your heart desires.

  5. Pingback: Of False Bravery And Half-Truths | Thought Catalog

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  7. Your article about being single at 35 resonated with me deeply. I’m a 37 year old man still single and loving life, but part of me is lonely and scared. I have never been totally honest with myself about how being single makes me feel. You absolutely nailed the emotions I’m feeling. I sincerely thank you and hope you continue to share your gift for expressing your perspective with us.

  8. Oh, this is so gorgeous. This line: “The whole truth is that you can love your life, and still yearn for what is missing.” Yes. I wrote a year or so ago on Facebook that I felt that most of our suffering as humans comes from our attachment to how we thought it was going to be. I so believe that. Of course, releasing that is incredibly difficult … at least, it is for me. Your words are such an inspiration. Thank you. xox

  9. Pingback: “How Old Is Too Old To Be Single?” | Confessions of an Imperfect Life

  10. Pingback: half truths | thebitterbabe

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