It’s become a loaded cliché to say “I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you” to your romantic partner. It can take on several different meanings depending on the speaker. It could be a genuinely helpless, agnostic inquiry into the unknown, or it could be the linguistic weapon of an emotional abuser. It could also mean absolutely nothing.
I’ve expressed this sentiment to my partner of eleven years before, so I decided to indulge in a little thought experiment to see what it truly means to me, and to postulate an answer to the question.
The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, so it follows that I should begin with the one time we were briefly broken up, as it’s the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing this kind of loss. While I was still a senior in high school, I broke up with her on April Fool’s Day. No, it wasn’t a prank. I’m not a monster; I’m just an idiot. I knew it was the least sincere day of the year, and I knew I was breaking up with her, but I didn’t connect the two in my head. Luckily there was no confusion or anything. She knew I wasn’t that much of a scumbag.
As I drove home from her house, having severed our romantic ties, I felt good. It went about as well as I could have imagined. There were tears for sure, but we wound up in a place that felt optimistic. We would still genuinely try to be friends. We would still try to be in each other’s lives. I suddenly felt like a world of opportunities had presented itself as I drew closer to the next chapter in my life.
That feeling was quickly supplanted by the illuminating solitude of insomnia. I didn’t sleep for a second that night. Through endless tears and literal chest pains, I finally begun to understand what she meant to me. Breaking up with someone is supposed to be painful, but it shouldn’t feel like that.
Our road to getting back together was quick, yet stupid in that juvenile, high school sort of way. The habits we had formed didn’t just go away. I still waited for her outside of her classes so we could walk together during passing period. When an important relationship in your life is terminated abruptly, its nuances don’t just disappear immediately; they fade away over time.
Now let’s add nine more years of affection and codependence and let’s change the situation. I know I’m not just going to break up with her out of the blue again. If I ever were to lose her, it would either be the product of years of failures to treat each other well, or she would have died. Let’s focus on the latter.
Funerals are perhaps humankind’s most paradoxical convention. They are all about the departed, but in reality they’re actually not about them at all. They’re a proxy for grief, a public display of the remnants of connection. The funeral planning process itself, as well as the actual ceremonies that follow, are always rife with drama and conflict.
We relate to any situation by making it about ourselves, which is exactly what I’m doing with every word. If she died, the world will have been robbed of one of its sweetest people, and I’m making it all about me. What would I do if I lost you?
The Fear Of Public Speaking
Anxiety and ego are connected, and there’s perhaps no greater example of this than the stress that comes with speaking at a funeral. It’s not supposed to be about you. You shouldn’t care what anyone thinks about your speech. You tell yourself that you only want to do right by your deceased loved one, but really you crave the approval of the entire mournful congregation. It’s only natural.
While I think about death a lot, I’ve never really thought about what I’d say at her funeral, if she were to pass before me. I’ve long assumed that I would die before she does.
I think I’d try to open with a light-hearted story, one that paints the vibrant colors of her spirit. I’d talk about her laugh. She doesn’t laugh like anyone else I know. She has three distinct ways of expressing her amusement. She will either bellow with the maniacal laughter of the cutest supervillain of all time until tears start flowing, let slip a muted chuckle that sounds like a wet fart, or she’ll emit the softest, sweetest giggle. Causing any one of these is one of the great joys in my life. There it is. I’ve made it about me again. That didn’t take very long.
Grief doesn’t really set in until after the funeral. When someone that close to you dies, the feelings you experience are sort of superficial. You’re overwhelmed by sadness, but you’re too close to the picture to see it for what it really is. You have to spend the next several days planning the funeral and making phone calls.
No, the real grief doesn’t set in until later, until you really begin to feel their absence. I only know this from observing, however. I’ve dealt with deaths in the family, sure, but I’ve never lost someone who even comes close to her importance to me. We also got back together so soon after our breakup that the funeral period hadn’t really ended.
Who Am I?
The truth is, I don’t really know who I am without her, rendering it impossible to conclude with any certainty what I would do in her absence. We’ve been together for all of our formative years. We’ve grown together, but we’ve grown inward.
The fear of the unknown is the most real but least tangible fear we experience. Anything could be waiting for us on the other side, good or bad. The best case scenario is that, after a reasonable mourning period, I would have the strength to move on, and in doing so, I would learn a great deal about myself.
The Worst Case Scenario
I think about suicide a lot. I fantasize about no longer being alive. That doesn’t necessarily mean I want to die, though. I’ve been fantasizing about my partner’s funeral just to write this, but that doesn’t mean I want her to die. While no one knows for sure what awaits us after we’ve left this mortal coil, we do know for sure what we leave behind. There would be no more anxiety and sadness from the world we know.
I like to believe I’d never actually do it myself, but if I think about it this much during periods of relative happiness, the barrel of a gun might seem quite tantalizing during mourning.
Eggs And Baskets
This thought experiment has funneled me to a far more comprehensive conclusion than I had anticipated. I expected to write reverential words about her, to deprecate myself, and to conclude that I’ll never really know unless it happens. I now know that that’s not good enough.
We have to write the answer to that hypothetical question before it becomes a reality. We have to live our lives in such a way that we would eventually be okay without each other, and that we know we’d eventually be okay without each other. One’s mortality is far too great a burden to place entirely on the shoulders of another.
I think I understand where that stupid cliché “Before you can love others, you must first love yourself” comes from. I still think it’s bullshit, but I get it a little more. It implies a selfishness to love, that someone who doesn’t hold themselves in high regard couldn’t possibly love another in a healthy fashion. I don’t love myself at all. In fact, I don’t really even like myself, but I love her and she loves me.
It calls into question where the source of self-worth really is. Do I just believe she has bad taste? Am I just too critical of myself? Will I ever see what she sees? Could anyone else ever see the same thing in me?
So, what would I do if I lost you? We both need to be certain of the answer, but we also need to stop asking the question. I’d need to keep going. I need to find other things in my life now that sustain me. If this all seems obvious, it wasn’t to me. I tend to indulge in fatalist romanticism, that she’s the only thing keeping me going, that she’s all that stands between me and oblivion. We can’t allow this to be true.