So, an email chat with this lovely lady got me thinking. Why don’t we know how to be alone?
She and I are both going through similar things: mourning a transition in close relationships in our lives, getting used to the idea that we may have to be and live and exist on our own for a while… for maybe a long while. We’re both frightened by the prospect, both nervous about moving through this new world of aloneness.
I spoke with my therapist about that very thing this week. I find myself positioned between my past self and my future self. My past self is young and afraid. She doesn’t believe she can care for herself. She knows she’s going to be lonely. She worries she’ll fall apart. On the other hand, she’s a romantic. She loves and values the people in her life, reaches out when she’s in need, allows others to take care of her.
My future self is confident, comfortable with being on her own. My future self enjoys the people in her life but is ultimately self reliant, needing and relying on no one. She can take care of herself, motivate herself, reach all her goals. She follows her own path and doesn’t make life decisions based on what others want from her. In all honesty, though, this supremely independent future self is also a little bitter, mistrustful of those close to her because she’s learned that others will always let you down. She doesn’t let herself get too attached to people. She’s convinced herself that she can’t – and thus, won’t – trust other people to come through for her or be there when she needs them. So she convinces herself she’ll never need them.
Neither of these women is fully me. They both have strengths and faults. They’re each wrong about certain things, and wise in others. My challenge right now is finding the balance between them.
Bottom line is, it takes a lot of courage to be alone. It takes a lot of trust in oneself, a lot of determination. But being alone is not without its perks. It means the freedom to self-determine; to make the choices that work for me and only me. I think women are often taught to sacrifice their dreams and desires on the altar of Family, Responsibility, or Relationship. There’s always someone else we have to take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, encourage… And in return we’re given the vague impression that it will come back around somehow, that there will be someone to take care of us, watch over us, look after us, nurture and encourage us. I think there are probably more lonely women who are in relationships that lonely women who are alone.
So I will take care of, watch over, look after, nurture, and encourage myself. First and foremost. By myself. Without expecting or hoping that there will be someone else there to do it for me. And when loneliness does strike (and it will)… I’ll do what I need to do to get through. I’ll call a friend. Play an instrument. Paint a D&D mini. Go for a walk. Learn a language. Write a blog post more than a day in advance. Browse the internet until my eyeballs fall out. Develop interests.
I’m good at being a friend to others. Let’s see how good a friend I can be to myself.
I can still feel your hands on my skin.
The electric crackle through my core
leaves a distraction like the scent of ozone
after lightning strikes twice.
I can hear your voice
like a bell that’s already been rung.
The note lingers in the air.
I don’t know where I’m headed.
I’m the captain of a ship with no mast.
My sails are filled with dreams,
but there’s nothing to hold them up
and I know there’s a storm brewing.
I can taste the rain
in the ai
and on your tongue.
The warning bell is ringing.
There are clouds on the horizon.
This may be the hurricane
that sweeps me away.
This could be the shipwreck
that lands me in a New World.
So bring on your lightning, your electric hands.
I’ll navigate the cliffs, drenched
in a monsoon of kisses.
Sound the bell until my bones start ringing.
I’ll sail into the black clouds, singing.
So I’ve decided to try and eliminate “I’m afraid” from my vocabulary. As in, “I’m afraid my date will find me unattractive,” “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me,” “I’m afraid of the dark.”
Instead, I’m replacing it with the phrase, “I’m aware.” As in, “I’m aware of the possibility my date may find me unattractive,” “I’m aware my girlfriend may someday leave me,” “I’m… aware of the dark.”
This serves two purposes. The first, and most relevant, is that it re-phrases certain fears. “I’m afraid my girlfriend will leave me” is a phrase laden with insecurity and anxiety. It’s ever-present; there is no time frame around her leaving. It could happen at any moment. It connotes a desire to hold on, to prevent the leaving from happening. It connotes a clinginess, a neediness, an ever-tightening grasp.
“I’m aware that my girlfriend may someday leave me” is not only a more accurate phrase, but also a calmer and less insecure one. We’re aware. It could happen. That’s kind of okay. Sure, it would suck if she left – but we were prepared. We knew. She’s free to leave, here. We can let her go. And we’ll survive being left.
Or let’s go with an even more literal version. “I’m aware my girlfriend will leave me.” Here we’ve directly swapped afraid for aware and left everything else the same. While the sentence itself is a bummer – she’s definitely leaving, we already know about it – it’s a much more confident voice that speaks than the one that says, “I’m afraid.” In fact, this sentence almost sounds like the speaker is making a choice. The leaving is a done deal, a foregone conclusion – so no use worrying about it or fearing it.
This highlights another purpose: the groundless fears. “I’m afraid of the dark” vs. “I’m aware of the dark.” The second sounds almost nonsensical – almost everyone is aware of the dark. Or what about “I’m aware that darkness may happen.” Also silly. Using “aware” helps pinpoint fears that are not exactly grounded in reason – fears that needlessly hold us back.
That said, here are some of the fears I’ve been wrestling with lately:
I’m afraid of living on my own and failing to pay the rent.
I’m afraid I’ll end up alone.
I’m afraid of being judged and left out of my community.
I’m afraid no one will believe me.
I’m afraid I don’t deserve to be happy.
I’m afraid I’ve wasted my life.
I’m afraid I’ve made a huge mistake.
I’m afraid of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay.
I’m afraid the divorce will be hard.
I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends and end up lonely.
So, to rephrase:
I’m aware that I may fail to pay rent once I’m living on my own. (I will have to budget carefully, work hard, and remember that I have options if I can’t afford to live on my own.)
I’m aware that I may end up alone. (Part of me is almost comfortable with this notion. The other part of me thinks it’s only a very very remote possibility anyway.)
I’m aware that some people in my community may be judgmental and want to exclude me. (That’s life. They’re assholes anyway.)
I’m aware that many people may not believe me. (This is a lot of big heavy news to swallow. It may take some folks time to process. And if strangers don’t believe me, well… they don’t have to.)
I’m aware that I may not deserve to be happy. (Okay, that’s just patently untrue.)
I’m aware that I may have wasted my life. (Also patently untrue. I’m not done living it yet.)
I’m aware I may have made a huge mistake. (Yeah. Wouldn’t be the first.)
I’m aware of what everyone in my life will think when I tell them I’m gay. (Well, no. If I knew what they’d think, I wouldn’t be afraid of it now would I? But I can’t control it anyway, and I don’t know what they’ll think, so why spend the energy?)
I’m aware the divorce will be hard. (Truth. But I can prepare.)
I’m aware I’ll lose all my friends and end up lonely. (Wild hyperbole and also untrue.)
So there it is. I have a lot of big changes ahead of me, but they’re not quite as scary anymore.
And, yes, all of the above is true. About a month ago, I finally came out to my husband as a lesbian. The story behind why and how I know I am is one for a different time, and telling it will probably involve the consent of a few involved parties. Suffice it to say this is a period of massive upheaval for both myself and my husband, and I am currently re-evaluating nearly everything about my life as he and I navigate what will eventually be a separation and divorce. I am posting this publicly not to gather support or sympathy, but merely to give anyone who regularly reads this thing a heads-up. I do my best to post every Friday; there will probably be a period coming up here where I can neither vouch for the regularity or quality of these posts. I am aware that I could burn myself out on this, and I like this blog too much to blow it off and just let it die. I’d rather take it slow for a while.
If any of you writerly types would be interested in doing a guest post and giving me a week off, I am certainly open to the thought. Send me an email at pennypennybobenny [at] gmail [dot] com and let’s bounce some ideas around.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’ll keep you posted.