Learning To Love The Grey: Leaving Behind The Ghosts Of Loves Past In New Orleans

I’m here alone. I’m free and clear of all attachments.

I’m here alone. I’m free and clear of all attachments.

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 Long Reads is a bimonthly feature, showcasing long-form essays. 

I like to walk in the rain.

I think that I think it is romantic.


I’m in New Orleans. I’ve come here on a whim. It’s for work, but also I needed this.

It’s my first night and it is pouring. I live in Los Angeles and I’m no longer used to rain so my body becomes a balloon filled with joy that I can’t contain and I am literally dancing in the street while music pours out of a club on Frenchmen Street.

I’m here alone. I’m free and clear of all attachments.

Or not.

This trip is plagued with flashbacks.

Normally, I would push them off. Memories make me maudlin and I don’t want to be maudlin anymore. But for now, I’ve decided to let them pass through. I want to look at them.

I’m trying to figure something out.

The last five years have featured a series of failed relationships and bad dating situations. Sometimes it’s my fault, sometimes not. Though it’s always a little bit of everyone’s fault, to be honest.

After the most recent one, I find myself really searching. Aching to change something. Get at the problem.

At a certain point, it’s not just bad luck.


My first heartbreak was at the age of 33.

I realize I am in love with this man one day while we sit in a bar watching football with his friends. He had biked there. In this moment, he is wearing nothing special, he is doing nothing of note. Looking for something in his bike bag, I think. I felt myself overwhelmed with love for him.

It ends on a quiet Spring night in my apartment. He stood alone in the kitchen and I sat alone on my purple velvet couch.

A month later, I decide to kill myself.

I don’t mean that in a dramatic hyperbolic way. I mean, I checked myself into a hospital because I genuinely could not see a point in being alive if I could not be with this man.

I know this sounds extreme. I do. It’s why I checked myself into the hospital and spent four years in intense subsequent therapy.

In the hospital I am diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I’ve written about it a million times and I’m not trying to dig deep into it anymore.

The truth is, I’m in recovery now. I feel on solid ground most of the time and I don’t want to be defined by it. It’s not who I am. It’s a thing I deal with.

But it cannot be separated from my history or the story of my relationships.


♦ MEN ♦

Different pictures of ghosts of men pop into my brain when I walk around this city at night.

I am in a bar and I’m dancing in front of a brass band you have probably seen on television.

Suddenly, The Tall Soldier is behind me. His giant frame towers over me. He holds me tight. He whispers something dirty in my ear.

I look at him. He taught me that I am sexy.

At the beignet place, The Boy With the Bike Bag sits in front of me. His face is covered in powdered sugar and we are laughing.

His eyes sparkle. He taught me that I have something important to say.

In my hotel room The Kind Man watches me take off my clothes.

I like his laugh. He taught me that I deserve kindness.

At the fancy restaurant, the one I have come to think of as Nevertheless I Persisted sits across from me. I think of his ears. I liked his ears.

His hugs are warm. He taught me that my weirdness is good.

These men aren’t all necessarily great loves or even particularly long relationships, but they are signposts of sorts.

Each represents a moment in time when something shifted for me and I was forced to change directions. To peel off another layer.


On the first night when I am Alone In The Rain, there aren't any ghosts following me.

I stop and take a selfie while the rain is falling. In this selfie, I cannot contain my joy. I am glowing.

I am happy to be in a city I love.

I am happy to feel free.

I allow myself to take the selfie in the rain and dance with a stranger.

A few nights later, in a bar, I kiss a different stranger. I realize halfway through, I am not attracted to him. He is nice and smart and he clearly likes me. In another time, I would go home with him.

Something is different now.

I don’t want to kiss anyone who won’t bring me home to their mother anymore, I tell him. I go to a restaurant that is open late and I eat Bananas Foster by myself.

I don’t want to be someone’s person for the night.

There was a time when I did.

There was a long time when I thought that meant something. I thought it made me whole. Valuable. Worthy.

♦ OH. ♦

A few months ago I was dating someone. I liked him.

One morning, I woke up to a text from him.

“Don’t respond,” said my brain. “If you don’t respond, it’ll be over. It will hurt for a minute, but it’s easier this way.”

I stared at his very innocuous text for twenty minutes.

The obvious hit me like a ton of bricks: My other relationships hadn’t worked because I hadn’t wanted them to work.

I keep myself safe. I do things to avoid men who are available and interested and when I meet ones who aren’t, I run straight into their folded arms.

I respond to the text. We date a bit longer. It ends.


A few weeks later I am in New Orleans.

I don’t think of New Orleans as a place where seekers go. Bali. India. A mediation retreat in Joshua Tree where you don’t talk for ten days.

New Orleans is not known for its spiritual properties.

I am forgetting Madame Leveau.

I am seeking… what?

Understanding? Clarity? Rebound sex?

I don’t know.

I don’t know what I want.

That’s not true. I want to get away. I want to not be sad. I want to not miss another man for another minute. I want to know what was wrong with me.

I do not want to be a person who keeps pushing people away.

I want desperately to be in a partnership and because of that, I do things that push people away.

If I sense I am about to be left, I cling harder.

If I perceive that you are not that into me, I try harder to be what you might want.

Why do I do this?

Why don’t I walk away from someone who does not want me?

My therapist would say that perhaps it has something to do with my father.

Sure. Why not? But how do I change it? What do I do the next time?

I don’t want to talk about my Borderline anymore. I don’t want to.


It’s inextricably linked.

I have to look at it to change.

I can’t believe I’m about to quote Dr. Phil, but here I go.

You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.


♦ WHO AM I? ♦

Without you, who am I?

On a second date many months ago, it is raining. It never rains in Los Angeles. I am happy. When we get out of the car, my date says, “I had a fantasy that we’d walk around before dinner, but it looks like that’s not going to happen.” I want to tell him that I love the rain and I would love to walk around and honestly I want to kiss him in the rain like we are Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell.

I don’t.

I sense that he doesn’t want to, so I tell myself I don’t want to.

This is the last time I will do this ever in my lifetime.

(I like absolutes.)

My Borderline has made me a person who is unsure. Who doesn’t know exactly who she is. Who tries to change so that she will be loved and ultimately can’t be loved because no one knows who they are loving.

My Borderline has also made me soft, tender of heart. A person who loves without reservation and fully and continues to try even when others might have stopped long ago.

I don’t want to talk about my Borderline.

But when I don’t talk about it, it ends up taking up a little more space. It fills up the quiet spots.

My Borderline doesn’t get to tell me what to do anymore.


I leave the ghosts in New Orleans.

They’ll probably visit occasionally; ghosts can do whatever they want.

But they’re not allowed to have space here anymore.

Loving means giving up control. Releasing something to the universe. It’s not prescriptive. There is no place for black and white in love. It’s the ultimate grey.

What a conundrum.

Someone who craves love so badly must find a way to live with her greatest enemy.

There’s a philosophy lecture in there somewhere, probably. I don’t know, maybe not philosophy.

I don’t want enemies anymore.

I’m going to learn to love the grey.

I’m going to tell people what I want and I’m going to be okay.


I like to walk in the rain.

I think it is romantic.

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