Lately, I've had to open a lot of jars by myself. First it was the coconut oil; you know how sometimes the oil hardens into something soap-like? That stuff crusted up the lid of the jar, making it almost impossible to open. The first morning I tried for a good five minutes to get it open, wrenching at it with all my might and then walking around my kitchen, frantically rubbing my face like an MMA fighter pacing before she gets into the ring. The second morning I tried again for another few minutes, and it finally came free, and I shouted, "Take that, bitch!" at the jar and did a little dance in my kitchen. Two nights later, my pasta sauce wouldn't open.
I have now been single for just over a year, the longest stretch of my life since I started dating in junior high. In the last few months, I've done some dating and had some flings, but at the end of the day, I'm on my own. If that sounds a little depressing, I get it. That seems to be the default reaction to the idea of being without a partner. But a shift has occurred within my psyche in the past several months, one that I never saw coming: I like being alone.
That statement is not an easy one to defend. In our relationship-obsessed culture, aloneness is something to be remediated, and when a person declares their love of the single life, they are met with disbelief. The very act of publicly saying, "I enjoy my aloneness" means that you are overcompensating - if you're so okay with it, why talk about it in the first place? This double standard sticks out like a sore thumb if you're aware of it; rarely does one automatically have the same doubts of someone saying, "I enjoy being married", or "I enjoy having kids". And so people stay silent, and the happily alone feel alone in their happiness, forgetting that there are others out there who feel the same way.
There is, of course, the flip side: as with any situation, it is possible to be both happy and sad in one's aloneness. Most days I am content, but that doesn't mean I don't sometimes download Bumble on a Saturday night. However, after swiping left dozens of times and swiping right zero, and thinking about what I would have to do if I were to actually match with someone (go on a date - the horror!), I quickly delete the app and go back to sipping whiskey and watching Downton Abbey on my futon, relieved that I made it out alive.
Yes, I get sad. Yes, sometimes I feel deeply lonely. In those moments, I long for companionship, that presence in life that is just there - the kind where you know with certainty that someone is somewhere thinking of you, and is going to text or call you later to tell you how beautiful you are, or to make plans for next week, or for life. If you get your sense of self worth from romantic love, which is a trap many of us fall into, not having any of the above can be incredibly difficult. I've been there. Sometimes I still go there.
HOWEVER. Let us talk about the flip side: being in a relationship and still being alone. I have had firsthand insight into relationships, both others' and my own, that were outwardly happy but inwardly in shambles, each member retreating to their own corner. This is a situation in which I found myself far too many times in my twenties, and it stemmed from the idea that Alain de Botton frames as "an epidemic of loneliness created by the misguided idea that the only cure to loneliness is a romantic relationship". I didn't want to be alone, so I sought love. As a result, I was a part of some long-term, serious relationships in which I felt independent, but in retrospect, I was not. In my most recent relationship especially, I was technically free to live my life, and make decisions for myself. But the reality was that each choice, and my entire being, was tethered to another. I was dependent in a boundary-less way that made me lose ownership of my own life. I wasn't free to truly do what I wanted, ever. I felt like I could dream, but I couldn't. I felt like I could make plans for my future, but I couldn't. And worst of all, I felt like I couldn't talk to anyone about my struggles, which soon immersed me into the loneliest period of my life I have ever known.
Escaping from that relationship was - how to describe it? An unexpected sweetness; a light, happy sugar for my soul. Freedom comes when you shed toxicity masquerading as love. And I am grateful for every second of my experiences, because without them, and without being able to be on my own at this point in my life, I wouldn't have the opportunity to finally be in control of my own happiness and fulfillment. That is what being alone right now means to me. As Edith Wharton put it, "I believe I know the only cure, which is to make one’s center of life inside of one’s self, not selfishly or excludingly, but with a kind of unassailable serenity — to decorate one’s inner house so richly that one is content there, glad to welcome anyone who wants to come and stay, but happy all the same when one is inevitably alone".
So many people do not get the chance to do that kind of decorating. Put another way:
I have realized that when I find myself feeling lonely, it is usually an indication that I'm longing for someone to fill the spaces I'm still working to fill myself. On my own, I can't pretend those spaces don't exist any more. And there is heartache in that - it's easy to shrink inward, and not shine as brightly as I could, because I don't have the buffer of someone else to protect me from the world, even if the protection I thought I once had was just perceived protection all along. When I was in a relationship, I felt I was able to fearlessly be myself, because I knew that someone loved me for who I was. Now, I have to love me for who I am. I have to move through the discomfort of learning to be on my own and shining at the same time.
There are times I get stuck in old thought patterns about being alone, mental habits from when I was jumping between relationships and staying in unhealthy situations for far too long. Back then, I felt there was something odd about someone being single for an extended period of time. I felt sympathy for those people. To be perfectly honest, such thoughts usually make an appearance because the majority of the people I know are married; there's no easier way to feel bad about your aloneness than to spend most of your time with people who are coupled, no matter how much you love those people. But then I talk to others who are having the same experiences as me, and read books about solitude and articles discussing the ways our society is changing, and hear about women who are living their lives in full solo badassery, and I remember that I am moving forward on my own terms, of my own volition, and that no phase of life lasts forever.
"Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet/confinement of your aloneness/to learn/anything or anyone/that does not bring you alive/is too small for you.” - David Whyte