By Cassie Sheridan|
There’s a journal I revisit every couple of years. It’s filled with poorly written sentences and names and angry cross-outs that happened later, when my advances had been scorned.
You’ll find intricately colored doodlings around every synonym for love. But turn the page, and the next day in angry, black-smeared ink records my heart being shattered.
The hearts and the hate, and the frequent assertion that I felt love and loathing and confusion all in the same week, is proof that I didn’t have the vocabulary for what I was feeling.
But more and more I’m realizing that while my emotional interpretation has evolved, when it comes to saying what I’m feeling, I’m still just a 13-year-old drawing hearts in a notebook.
And it isn’t just me.
If you listen, you’ll notice the people around you are still confused, bewildered and searching for the right words.
The socially saturated term ‘love’ doesn’t feel powerful enough for what we feel when it’s directed towards another person.
We love coffee in the morning, and we love cancelled 8:10s, and we love sunny afternoons in Cathedral Park, and we use the word so much that it feels weak when we use it to communicate the things that really matter.
There’s no easy way to describe the emotions behind, “We hooked up once and I kind of like them, but I’m confused and I think they are seeing other people.”
There’s no simple label for saying, “We broke up and I don’t think I want to be back together, but I can’t stop missing them.”
We lack the terminology to sum up the emotional helplessness of losing something you never really had, or feeling forgotten by the person you once whispered secrets to at 5 a.m.
Instead we talk about it for hours, speaking in circles around the complex emotions we have, when the words we are searching for may be as simple as:
“I miss them, and they forgot me.” “I still love them, but I don’t want to.” “They hurt me, and I don’t know how to heal.”
The problem is, these words feel insignificant and weak and overused compared to what is happening inside of us. They seem to lack the strength to encapsulate how we feel.
When language fails us, we sometimes don’t want to use it at all.
We shutter our heart, and smother desires and passions and heartbreak, running away from something that is inside of us.
You can hide from a person. You can change your routes and the spaces you go, but despite incredible advances in the sciences, to my knowledge, there’s still no safe way to hide from your own heart.
We are trapped by gendered expectations of what we should be feeling and saying, and the stereotypes masculinity and femininity bring with them. There’s no room in these tight boxes for individuals to express what they feel without consequence and judgement.
We limit ourselves through our words. We limit ourselves through the stereotypes we perpetuate and we must be stopped.
I feel like the poet Jack Gilbert in “The forgotten dialects of the heart,” wishing and dreaming for lost vocabularies that may express what we no longer know how to.
Our problems aren’t new. So why hasn’t our language kept up?
I keep thinking that the right words exists, but we aren’t using or finding or wanting them at all. They’re hidden in the pages of our favorite plays, or the cinematic genius of “Gone with the Wind,” or in the lyrics of the songs we listen to alone late at night.
There’s a reason these pieces of art resonate with us. They’re communicating something we are unable to, and are afraid of.
Maybe we should all start spending a little more time with ourselves, examining the reason Fred Astaire’s crooning makes us cry. Maybe instead of talking circles around our problems, we should find the right words and make them simple and strong.
Before we can talk about what is going on in our romantic culture, we need to recognize we are already limited by the ways we choose to talk about our feelings and the ways we choose to express them.
We can’t scribble angry hearts in a journal forever. At some point we all have to say: “I do,” “I will,” “I always have,” “I miss you,” “I want you,” or “I’m done with you,”’ to somebody. And make sure it matters.