I have been divorced for 4 years and when I became single, I found that the first or the second question I was being asked by friends and acquaintances was, are you seeing anyone? And god-forbid if I wasn’t: my friends racked their brains to think of single people they knew. It started to feel as though being a single person was a designation that separated me from the rest of the people. After a while, I think I started believing them. I started to think I was nuts for kind-of wanting to be single. There are the practical reasons for being in a relationship: splitting expenses, someone to have sex with, someone to go to the dump, etc. But there are also emotional reasons: to feel loved, and to feel needed, to have someone to share ideas with, to have someone to go dancing with. These are all things that most people, in fact, do want for themselves.
I know it might sound like I am single based on this intro, but in fact I am not. I am a single mom with a challenging job, and a boyfriend. He has been a lovely man; I have told him I love him. There is much to love: he is funny, kind, sexy, a great cook, a deep thinker, artistic. We’ve been together for 7 months, but lately it seems the relationship remains in the pupa stage of development. We have sex, all over the house, not just on the bed, and not just at 10:15 pm before going to sleep. We go out to good restaurants. On a Sunday morning, we might watch a movie, and have Bloody Marys. We have a tiny, two-day honeymoon every other week. I was single for more than 3 years and by the time I met him, I needed skin on skin contact. I needed another adult in my life to cook, drink wine, and sleep with. But now, 7 months later, we are still doing all of the things new couples do and not much else.
Once upon a time, before I was in a relationship I had every other weekend to myself. I remember when those weekends felt like torture, after my divorce- when the idea of not being with my daughter every day was horrifying. I spent some of that time engaging in piteous self-defeating behavior: crying, drinking, and reading 3 novels in a weekend. Later though, that free time became the foundation on which I built each week of my life. I had time to work without interruption, to think without distraction, to learn new ways of coping, and being. I used that time to walk, to create, and to organize my house and my thoughts. I learned who I was. I liked who I was.
When I started writing this essay, I was still in the throes of figuring out what to do about the skin-crawling feeling I was starting to have at the thought of spending time with my boyfriend; that poor, sweet, conscientious, gorgeous man. I want to want to be with him, but right now I’d rather jump off a cliff than sit, talk, eat, drink, and sleep with him. So, a couple of weeks ago, I told him I needed a weekend alone. I was nervous to say it, but I wasn’t sure why. I knew what I needed, and as a 47 year-old woman, I have no problem stating what my needs are. But then he started to cry. No single tear sliding silently down his cheek, but measurable tears, and real sobs. Maybe even a plea. I went home and had to really talk myself out of the guilt I felt about his response. Before telling him I needed a weekend to myself, I thought I would be able to problem solve this thing; take more time for myself and then I will start to want the relationship again. But that response, those tears, the guilt I felt- started a small angry fire in me. As I felt it, I stoked it, and it grew, snuffing out my guilt.
And then I did typical stuff on my alone weekend: laundry, paid bills, vacuumed the house, read. I went to church for the first time in months, took a really long walk, and made a sculpture out of clay. Yep, I really did all that stuff. I also asked myself, am I meant to be alone? Did I over-react? Will I always search for an out when I reach a point of a relationship where I might become vulnerable? Are these symptoms of a problematic personality, some sort of disorder that will ultimately lead to my future death with my corpse chewed on by my cats before someone finds me?
I got my needs met, but it was hard to do. And it continued to be hard to do: he visited when I was sick, and I wanted to sleep alone so I asked him to go home. He cried again, and confronted me about my desire for alone time: Was I trying to get rid of him? Had I stopped loving him? Was I using him as a plaything? (He really said that). It was a 2-hour conversation with a high school principal in which my every statement was questioned, and picked apart. My every feeling was discounted; “that doesn’t sound like a real thing”. (He really said that too). I started feeling a familiar shame. That same damn shame I always felt when my ex-husband always made himself right and me wrong. Back then I believed it. But now, after 3 1/2 years of being in charge of my happiness, I say screw you to shame. Maybe I am meant to be alone. Sure, I’ll miss being touched, but at least I’ll be able to spend huge, vast swaths of time alone and be proud of myself for the work it took to be happy about it.