As young women, we feel tremendous societal pressure, especially when we’re single. We are pressured to be in a relationship, to justify our life choices, to fit into a conventional mold. Inspired by Erika Funkhouser’s poem “When She Lies Down at Night,” I want to talk about how we can deal with loneliness and how we may be able to let go of social pressure.
Read the full text of the poem, and my essay on it, after the jump!
On Loneliness, and Lying Down Alone
What happens when you are alone, single, and there is no one to fill the void? How do you sleep at night? How do you persevere, alone?
If you believe book phenomena like The Secret, then the wisdom you hear is to sleep on one side of the bed. Make room in your life and in your soul for “that special someone” to enter. I’m paraphrasing, but everyone’s heard that story, right? Or, you can read The Rules, where if you decline to be witty or sarcastic, then the love of your life will sweep you off your feet (as long as you don’t sleep with him before date 3).
Personally, I can’t tune into tips or take action in my life on the basis of mass media’s cult obsessions. The pursuit of love, the pursuit of yourself, the pursuit of happiness (whatever that means for you), I see as a deeply personal, day-to-day endeavor, where emotions are rich, and sadness is – sometimes – your most devoted and helpful companion. This is the personal journey our book, Dating & Hookup, is about (except um, it’s way more fun than this post will make it sound!!). Fuck the one-size-fits-all “solutions” and lists of easy (not) ways to get that life, that happiness, that ring.
I look to poetry as a touchstone for emotional insight and healing. I also look to Backstreet Boys videos. But what most recently has resonated is a poem by Erica Funkhouser, one of my favorite contemporary poets, who can speak with spare emotional truth about my troubles, our sadness.
“When She Lies Down at Night” is the title, first line, and apt description of what we do, every night.
(When she lies down at night) “She tries to let the loneliness be another body.” The emptiness, the alone-ness, the singleness sometimes feels so present, and so intense, that it IS like another being we carry with us, or hold hands with, throughout the day – providing for, compensating for, explaining away. We may try to extricate ourselves at night – when we are finally, truly alone – but the fact of this other, external “body” only exacerbates our troubling feelings. We cannot be by ourselves, and yet we cannot embrace our loneliness. This is where we say: WTF?!
What do you want of me? she asks, / as if to a troubled lover. Our loneliness as lover begs the question: is there any difference between being dishearteningly alone and duking it out in an unhappy relationship, constantly begging – verbally or just mentally – what can we possibly do to salvage things?
When there is no answer, she lies beneath her own eyes / as if they were an uncertain ceiling, / wondering why she was given these ears, / this history, this imagination. We are women of unique capacities. Why? Why do we strive, and why were we given our emotional power, when most of what we feel is suffering?
Sleep is the hardest work of the day. We find this to be true.
The steadfast insomniac / tosses and turns on the empty side of the bed, / giving up nothing. In this final line, the tables are turned. If we are giving up nothing. If we are steadfastly self-contained. If we shirk vulnerability and cling to our (beloved) loneliness, then every night we will struggle to free ourselves from the empty, cavernous, bereft bed of our own making.
There is no solution to loneliness. There is only our capacity to give ourselves full-heartedly to our emotions, to our relationships (and non-relationships) with the guys in our dah, to our friends and our family, to the richness/excitement/confusion/challenge of everyday life experience. We must give up our illusion of control. We must explore emotional honesty. We must value our lonely selves, while loving those who fill our lives with smaller bits and pieces of happiness and fulfillment. And only then (I think) will we have nothing to toss and turn about at night, regardless of what person or fantasy is or isn’t taking up the space beside us.
this poem is from the Erica Funkhouser collection PURSUIT
More books by Erica Funkhouser:
Buy them! Get them from the library! Email rebecca at jrcreativemedia dot com to borrow my copy!
Sure Shot and Other Poems
The Actual World
Rebecca Coale - aka Becky - is a writer, musician and producer. She and childhood best friend Jessica Donalds created Dating & Hookup and founded J&R Creative Media. Becky blogs about love poetry and modern life & womanhood. She lives with her husband, Howard Coale, and their family in Manhattan and Philadelphia.
datingandhookup.com is a website that explores modern romance in the Millennial era – which, let’s be honest, looks nothing like we were taught to expect. We feature essays, advice and social commentary with humor, compassion and brains, and we vow never, ever to publish a piece called “The 10 Best Ways to Satisfy Your Man in Bed”. Do click to submit your work to us. We love you.
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