This is the second in a series about what I learned in 2013. The back story is that I started the year with a break-up, moved four times, lived in a warehouse with 13 roommates, traveled to Japan alone and discovered that online dating can be fun. These posts highlight insights gained along the way. You can read the first one here.
There was the nagging feeling I had toward the end of two major, cohabiting relationships. It was, simply, that I was alone. Not that I didn’t see the boyfriend every day, not that we lived in silence; yet even in the good moments, the isolation was an undercurrent, a cold throb that made it hard to enjoy pleasant times together. It always begged the question of whether I be happier actually on my own instead of just feeling alone.
It’s gutting to realize you would be better off without the person you’ve invested years in, walking away from the comfortable–and comforting–life you built together. This holds true for friends as well as domestic partners, even family members. The unknown is scary, but even scarier, at first, is the rip-the-band-aid-off pain of severing intimately enmeshed lives. The horror of separating; retiring the concept of ‘we.’ Becoming an I and only an I, in your thoughts and and to others (for what it’s worth, this was my brain on a break-up).
Going it alone requires tremendous fortitude, a fuck-it meets can-do attitude. You must be willing to admit all the ways you were wrong–and, perhaps harder, all the ways the other person was right–as well as accepting the myriad future mistakes to be made. Most of all, it requires the strength to love your flawed, humble self. It’s a phoenix process, dusting the char off your wings as you confront a new set of possibilities.
Obviously, being alone can be hard. If you just went through a major break-up, some of your couple friends may fade out faster than a one-night stand. Your grandma may fret about your mental state and family-making prospects, while near strangers give you pep talks about how the right person is out there, presumably in cryogenic stasis awaiting your fairy-tale arrival to set them free. And, in a continuing challenge to your social graces, well-meaning co-workers, acquaintances and even really good friends will try to hook you up with awkward singles solely because you are both not in a relationship right now.
But, more often, being alone is awesome. After dragging yourself out of bewilderment and self pity, you are forced to become someone new and improved: the Ultra You. All that emotional hard work of figuring out why things turned out the way it did puts you far more in touch with yourself. In the realm of daily pragmatic matters, you discover the true extent of your capabilities, as things the other person took care of are now something you have to do. You chance upon hitherto unimaginable passions like redecorating your walls just to use the beast power drill you splurged on as a symbol of self-reliance. Or you start making increasingly ambitious meals until it dawns that your friends are not just being polite when they compliment your cooking. Or you get over your stage fright and blossom into a famous stand-up comedian thanks to all your failed relationship fodder. Personally, I took an eight-day trip to Japan solo and then spent a summer living in a huge communal warehouse, experiences that dragged me right out of my comfy, hyper-self-analytical shell. These are just a tiny, infinitesimal fraction of what you could do. Alone.
Mostly though, you get through life the best you can. You focus on enriching your existing relationships, making new ones and, if you’re lucky (and it’s healthy) reconnecting with that person you were with before in some fresh form. You are older, wiser, solidified and open to whatever comes your way. You got this.