(Obviously this is a slightly delayed post if you’ve noticed me posting vacation photos for the past week…)

The cold has gotten into my bones and as usual in February I am finding it a struggle to do anything except eat and sleep. Luckily I am on a plane to Curacao and hoping to inject some life and happiness into my system through the powers of sea and sunlight.

I spent last weekend in St. Petersburg, which probably helped to kick this winter dread into high gear. It was a trip planned around a concert, with the added-on benefits of paying a dutiful visit to my grandmother and seeing a couple of old friends.

It was an amazingly strange, and shockingly depressing, trip. Every reunion was marred by the sadness and frustration that I saw in everyone’s lives. And moreover, I was left with a deep melancholy that stems from being simultaneously overjoyed to not be living there, and yet comprehending – on a visceral level – that I will never experience life as vividly as I do in that stupid, fucked-up abomination of a country.

I don’t know if it’s the language, or the people, or the cold, but I never witness or experience such vivid reality as when I’m in Russia. The Russians have no pretense, no veneer of politeness or happiness or sugar-coating, and they have no fear or hang-ups about experiencing pain to the fullest. I don’t know whether their capacity for joy runs as deeply, but I do know that their capacity to form close relationships runs deeper than any I’ve experienced abroad. Friends there love each other, fiercely, sincerely, completely. Even my friends, whom I haven’t seen or spoken to for anywhere from three to six years – they love me, and I love them, and I would do anything for them in an instance.

And yet in romantic love they often fail so completely. The push-pull of traditional culture and Western expectations burns brightly in Russia as in any other second-world (shall we say) country. My friends have all been married and scarred by it in one way or another, they have wrecked multiple relationships because someone believed they deserved more, or better, or happier; and yet they all still cling on to the goal of a marriage with several kids immediately-if-not-sooner.

This classic struggle between ‘shoulds’ and ‘wants’ mixed with this capacity for deep, intractable emotion – perhaps this is the reason that I have never been able to settle into my relationships with my last few serious, lovely, even-keeled, English-speaking, Western-world boyfriends. Perhaps neither I nor they fully understood my latent Russian darkness, my intangible ties to the suffering, the conflict, the desire for something pushed to the limits to test that it is really real. And I found their optimism and positivity revoltingly false, and their expectations of me stifling for reasons beyond my own ego (the crush of an entire culture’s expectations on my shoulders), and my own guilt over my conflicting desires for an all-consuming love yet with total freedom destroyed me, and them, and us.

And now I find myself a bit at sea, knowing only that the place I feel like myself is not a place I want to spend any time; that my fear of expectations probably stems from a background of following them blindly; and that perhaps it is simply not in my nature to feel at peace. At least I feel that in this case some knowledge (and perspective) is better than none.

About Varia

Traveler, writer.
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