2016 was a year of bad relationship juju. I had been divorced for quite a long time and had decided to get serious about getting back on the relationship horse. I was ready to give it a real go and find true love. I lived with and loved someone who was hiding a problem with untreated bi-polar disease and alcoholism. That was traumatizing and way too much for me. I took a few months off and decided it wasn’t going to get me down, so I gave love another go. He turned out to be hiding a not-a-one-woman-man problem.
In early 2017 I opened the paper to read my 2017 horoscope in a nutshell. It stated, “Your love life will not improve in 2017.” I laughed. Really?! I had no intention of repeating 2016, so right then and there I looked to the skies and said, “Thank you for being honest. If that’s the case then I’m just going to skip dating in 2017. I’d rather have no experiences than to ask for a second helping of 2016. ”
When I told my friends about my plans I received two different sets of responses. My single friends thought I was crazy and that I wouldn’t make it a whole year. My married/partnered friends looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Hmm. I think if my partner left me/died/took up with someone else/moved away I might decide to be single too.” As the year progressed my single friends still thought I was crazy and that I must be lonely. They expressed concern that I was foolishly wasting time as there was no time to lose. The older you get the harder it gets to find a partner, I kept hearing. My single friends stated very clearly they had NO interest in participating in my experiment. They wanted to be attached.
My married/partnered friends started quietly voicing their discontents to me. “I’m so jealous of your life right now” and “I don’t know…you might be on to something. I wish I could do that” or even flat-out, “I wish I was single” was something I started hearing more than once or twice.
Sooo, let me get this straight. Single people want to be married and married people want to be single. Could it be that relationship status is like so many other things in life? Human nature dictates that we want what we don’t have. The grass is greener and all that. Could it be that being in a long-term relationship doesn’t necessarily lead to contentment? Is it possible to be single and happy?
I came to understand that I was carrying around a set of preconceived notions that looked like this.
- Married/partnered people are happier than single people.
- Married/partnered people are more valuable and important than single people.
- Married/partnered people are real grown ups.
- Married/partnered people have “arrived”.
Where did that idea come from? Who told me that? Is it really true? I couldn’t say. One of my jobs in 2017 was to get a grasp on vague ideas that I have been living with and put them into concrete words. Then, turn them over, around, and upside down and consider them. Coincidentally, this link was in my daily news feed today. CNN discusses new findings on the supposedly inferior lives of single people. I started to question my list of assumptions.
Certainly there are people who are happily married or with long-term partners and wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s awesome! But what has my experience been? Do I have an increase in happiness when I am partnered? Roger that. I hear you loud and clear. That would be a NO. When I’ve been with a partner I sure spend a lot of time crying. When I’m single, I’m pretty happy. I wonder if the only thing that has kept me from accepting and living fully in my happiness was the unease in the back of my mind that my experience wasn’t lining up with my preconceived notion. Wait, this isn’t actually possible because it’s married/partnered people who are happier!
While reading my favorite author of 2017 Amor Towels, I came across this statement in his book “Rules of Civility”.
“Mostly, he said, I’ve been thinking about what I’m not going to do. When I think of the last few years, I’ve been hounded by regrets for what’s already happened and fears for what might. By nostalgia for what I’ve lost and desire for what I don’t have. All this wanting and not wanting. It’s worn me out. For once, I’m going to try the present on for size.”
All this wanting and not wanting. It’s worn me out. I decided to stop wanting or thinking I was supposed to be wanting what I didn’t have and just…live my life. No more sizing people up, no more online dating, no more set ups. I’d just say no thanks on principle, no matter how nice a guy might seem. Instead I spent time with my friends doing the normal things, movies, dinners, going for runs and bike rides. I visited my family. I backpacked with my neighbors. I took a trip to Mexico alone and had a ball. I cooked meals and had people over. I went to book club. Did lots of ski trips with a co-worker. And of course, I pondered. I wondered and I wandered.
I tried not to decide ahead of time how I was supposed to feel or what I was supposed to be experiencing in any given moment. Traveling alone? Gosh how lonely, right? Actually, it wasn’t. I found I enjoyed meeting people I might not have much in common with and would not have otherwise interacted with. They were all so nice to me.
On the flip side, one evening at home I prepared a really nice meal. In general I find, “If you cook it, they will come.” But this particular evening everyone I knew was busy, sick, out-of-town, etc. I felt a little stone in my chest. In keeping with my new practice, I sat down for a few minutes to step back and observe and see what this was. “I really would have enjoyed sharing this beautiful meal with someone. I feel a little bit lonely right now,” was about the sum of it. But instead of jumping up and rushing to do something to make it go away, this time I sat with it. I sat and noticed it and didn’t call it good or bad or decide that I shouldn’t be feeling this way because…nah. Me and lonely just hung out for a few minutes. And guess what? It was ok. I came out the other side. I didn’t die, my nose didn’t fall off, I was not emotionally scarred, in fact, I didn’t even cry. Then lonely moseyed off down the road and I went and rather enjoyed my beautiful meal. Lonely is just one of a hundred emotions you as a human being are bound to experience once in a while. Single or not. This small experience cemented for me that fear of lonliness is not reason enough to be in a relationship. Especially a bad one. There’s nothing lonelier than giving of your self to someone who doesn’t care.
I’ve been happy with my experiment so far. It has gone so well that I intend to carry it on into 2018. You may have noticed I modified the title of my blog. I hope I don’t alienate the married or partnered readers. The intention is to give confidence to everyone, single or not to have your own experience and get out there! I know MANY married/partnered people who won’t go do anything without their significant other. I encourage you to try it. Your partner doesn’t want to see “Zombie Kings from Hell?” No worries. You go see it! One coworker looked at me and his jaw dropped when I told him I was going to Mexico by myself. “I’ve never even eaten at a restaurant by myself” he confided. It was my turn for the jaw drop.
So, here’s to being single and happy, be it for a few hours or a few years. Enjoy!