I lived in London when I was twenty. I was technically homeless and desperately broke but I didn’t have the papers an American needs to get a job in London, so I spent most of my time walking the streets searching for coins that people had dropped.
I’m in my early 20s. I’ve been in a serious relationship with the same guy for six years—on and off (the “off” portion taking place when I was younger). I have been very distracted and have been second-guessing the relationship for a while now, but I can’t come to grips with losing this person that seems to be right for me permanently—and of course I don’t want to break his heart. Then again, I don’t want to settle and have regrets later in life. I feel like we want different things out of life and we have different interests—but I just can’t decide! I have talked to him about my feelings for the record, but to no avail. We went on this little “break,” but god knows breaks never work.
Basically, my biggest fear is being alone and never finding anyone that measures up. It doesn’t help that my closest friends are settling down with their boyfriends and are talking about marriage (cringe)! Honestly, I feel like marriage and that kind of commitment represents a loss of personal identity…I’m not sure why. But I would love your advice Sugar. Please help!
Scared & Confused
Dear Scared & Confused,
I lived in London when I was twenty. I was technically homeless and desperately broke but I didn’t have the papers an American needs to get a job in London, so I spent most of my time walking the streets searching for coins that people had dropped. One day when I was searching for coins a man in a business suit approached and asked me if I wanted an under-the-table job three days a week at a major accounting firm that has since collapsed due to corruption.
“Sure,” I said.
And this is how I became coffee girl one two three.
Coffee girl was my actual job title. The one two three was tacked on to communicate the fact that I was responsible for providing fresh and hot coffee and tea to all the accountants and secretaries who worked on the first three floors of the building. It was a harder job than you might think. “Coffee girl,” men would call as I passed them with my tray, often snapping their fingers to draw my attention their way. I wore a black skirt over white tights and a black vest over a white shirt and I was almost always out of breath. Banned from the elevator, I had to race up and down a stairway in a stairwell that ran along the back of the building to get from one floor to the next.
That stairwell was my sanctuary, the only place where nobody snapped their fingers and called me coffee girl. During my breaks I walked down to the first floor and went outside and sat on a patch of concrete that edged the building that housed the major accounting firm that has since collapsed due to corruption. One day while I was sitting there an old woman came along and asked me where in America I was from and I told her and she said that years before she’d visited the place in America where I’m from and we had a nice conversation and each day after that she came along during the time when I sitting on the patch of concrete and we talked.
She wasn’t the only person who came to talk to me. I was in love with someone at the time. I was married to that someone. And I was in way over my head. At night after I made love to this man I would lay beside him and cry because I knew that I loved him and that I couldn’t bear to stay with him because I wasn’t ready to love only one person yet and I knew that if I left him I would die of a broken heart and I would kill him of a broken heart too and it would be over for me when it came to love because there would never be another person who I’d love as much as I loved him or who loved me as much as he loved me or who was as sweet and sexy and cool and compassionate and good through and through. So I stayed. We looked for coins on the streets of London together. And sometimes he would come and visit me at the major accounting firm that has since collapsed due to corruption while I was on my breaks.
One day he came while the old woman was there. The man I loved and the old woman had never come at the same time, but I had told him about her—detailing the conversations I’d had with her—and I had told her about him too. “Is this your husband?” the old woman exclaimed with jubilant recognition when he walked up and she shook his hand with both of her hands and they chatted for a few minutes and then she left. The man I loved was silent for a good while, giving the old woman time to walk away, and then he looked at me and said with some astonishment, “She has a bundle on her head.”
“She has a bundle on her head?” I said.
“She has a bundle on her head,” he said back.
And then we laughed and laughed and laughed so hard it might to this day still be the time I laughed the hardest. He was right. He was right! That old woman, all that time, all through the conversations we’d had as I sat on the concrete patch, had had an enormous bundle on her head. She appeared perfectly normal in every way but this one: she wore an impossible three-foot tower of ratty old rags and ripped up blankets and towels on top of her head, held there by a complicated system of ropes tied beneath her chin and fastened to loops on the shoulders of her raincoat. It was a bizarre sight, but in all my conversations with the man I loved about the old woman, I’d never mentioned it.
She has a bundle on her head! we shrieked to each other through our laughter on the patch of concrete that day, but before long I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was crying. I cried and cried and cried as hard as I’d laughed. I cried so hard I didn’t go back to work. My job as coffee girl one two three ended right then and there.
“Why are you crying?” asked the man I loved as he held me.
“Because I’m hungry,” I said, but it wasn’t true. It was true that I was hungry—during that time we never had enough money or enough food—but it wasn’t the reason I was crying. I was crying because there was a bundle on the old woman’s head and I hadn’t been able to say that there was and because I knew that that was somehow connected to the fact that I didn’t want to stay with a man I loved anymore but I couldn’t bring myself to acknowledge what was so very obvious and so very true.
That was such a long time ago, Scared & Confused, but it all came back when I read your letter. It made me think that perhaps that moment delivered me here to say this to you: You have a bundle on your head, sweet pea. And though that bundle may be impossible for you to see right now, it’s entirely visible to me. You aren’t torn. You’re only just afraid. You no longer wish to be in a relationship with your lover even though he’s a great guy. Fear of being alone is not a good reason to stay. Leaving this man you’ve been with for six years won’t be easy, but you’ll be okay and so will he. The end of your relationship with him will likely also mark the end of an era of your life. In moving into this next era there are going to be things you lose and things you gain. Trust yourself. It’s Sugar’s golden rule. Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.
And look for coins on your way.
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