Being single for so many years, I’ve gotten pretty used to being unseen. Saying I’ve gotten used to it doesn’t mean I like it, or even that I’ve accepted it, but I’ve developed a comfortable routine that takes my own invisibility for granted.
Perhaps other singles can relate: It’s unsettling to discover you’re not as invisible as you think you are. That despite the constant, nagging sense of being unknown and unlooked-for, you’re still capable of being observed. This fact has startled me a number of times in the past year. After a good decade of feeling trapped in invisibility, I’m discovering I’m not as unseen as I thought. Some stranger will make an unexpected observation, an acquaintance will remark on a peculiar trait, a closer friend or mentor will point out some flaw, and I’m left feeling at once exposed and a little ridiculous.
When did the invisibility I thought I hated become a crutch? I’ve railed against it for years, whether as a wallflower at school dances, as the “sweet, quiet girl” at the office, or as the introverted friend and roommate. I’ve spent many a long night after a party or social event, sitting on the edge of my bed and grappling with it into the wee hours of the morning. Yet now when the veil gets torn back for a brief moment, I recoil.
Why can’t we move forward in life–and in love–without some lifting of the veil? I guess it all comes back to my least favorite word: vulnerability. We must be seen in order to be loved, and that means not just the pleasant parts we like to show off before company, but the ugly parts also. Yes, I have character defects, loads of them. As long as I’m invisible, though, I can keep them (mostly) to myself. To be visible automatically requires some level of vulnerability, but it’s the only way to be loved.
And I suspect that ultimately, it’s not entirely unpleasant. There’s relief in being seen, recognized, and even (sometimes) accepted. Maybe the genuine encounter with the other is worth the initial discomfort of exposure. Maybe love really does smash through our carefully constructed barriers and make us new and whole in spite of ourselves.