Today isn’t an anniversary of such, but being the beginning of Spring maybe it’s worth mentioning. For the first time since I was 17 years old, I am not in a relationship, chasing someone, talking to someone, or dating someone–and it has been like this for about three months now. It has been the longest time I haven’t been involved in these kinds of shenanigans, and it feels pretty…nice.
People are hardwired for connection, but I don’t understand this Fear of Missing Out mentality that we get when we feel we have to be in a relationship with someone. As though a connection, even an unhappy one, justifies our existence. When my first romantic relationship ended, I had been seeing her for three and a half years. Our relationship started off as it often does with teenagers, intense, hormonal, pushing the envelope, and then it became a long-distance relationship. Back in the 90s, we wrote letters back and forth because nobody could afford to pay that phone bill. I still have many letters from her from that first year or so and they have brought me comfort in rough times. Times when I felt unloved and unvalued. Then we had a few years together where we lived an hour apart. The letters stopped once we saw each other every weekend.
But when the relationship ran its course–she never wanted to get married or have kids, and I did–I jumped into dating several young women over the course of the next year. I had a period of about a month when I wasn’t talking to someone or going out. I was 22. I thought my years were running out. I started dating someone from one of my classes. I wasn’t that into her, but back then I couldn’t be alone. We wound up moving in together (rent was cheaper) and getting married. It was not a good marriage.
At 39, I made up for lost time when we separated and divorced. I don’t think I went more than a few weeks without talking to someone or going out. I had picked up exactly where I had left off at 22. Everyone tried to warn me to take a while to get my shit together before I jumped into anything new. What 22 year old ever listened to reason?
I went through a four year on and off situationship with someone from work. I flirted seriously with a few almost as soon as that finally ended (and a few times in the off-again weeks). I wasn’t even over that damage when I met my last girlfriend. She listened to a lot of crap about that one, she validated me, reminded me of my value. Like that box of letters I have from 25 years ago. I hope I did the same for her. But I had only been in that mode of “Fuck it, I’m going to work on me,” for about two weeks before we met and started dating.
After things ended with us, it was a whole week before I was already talking to someone. A woman who had been my friend for a while, and in my orbit through much of that previous brain damage. Again, I was chasing, and I was relying on someone else to boost my ego, tell me nice things, and “heal”. I had a fucked up belief that if you aren’t alone you are fine. We are always just the other half of that piece of the puzzle until we can be whole with someone else, right? We build up our walls, and paint them to look how we hope others will like them.
It has been three months since I decided to let go and consider my worth. That I deserved more than the bare minimum of a situationship, or fighting for the bare minimum. Throwing everything I could into it. Watering dead plants.
At 46, Today, I no longer have that panic that being alone means I am broken. I’ve been alone with the wrong person occupying my time more often than I would like to admit. I wish I would have had the emotional maturity at 22 to say I needed to take some time to get my shit together. The last few months has left me with too many questions. Why wasn’t I good enough for more than the bare minimum? Why was I already on my way out just when I thought things were getting good? Is my love not good enough for other people?
After three months, I am finding peace. Some days are harder than others. Especially up here where options are limited. But maybe that’s what I’ve needed all along. A place to just find quiet solitude and feel comfortable in my own skin. That mountainside where you look out and realize either you start burning the books you brought along with you, or freeze to death surrounded by something that could have been keeping you warm, but were afraid to let go of.
In my case, it has been that bad habit of always thinking I’m lonely, when I’m just alone and pretty good company. Plus I have a yellow lab, and she makes me laugh every day. Sometimes that is all you need.
Today, I am 46. I have written three books over the last two years. I have had something in my chest woken up a few times, which I thought were cold and dead ashes. And I have realized how stuck I have been in my life. Always waiting to get it moving after I meet the right person to share it with. Sometimes you have to do it yourself, and by waiting, you are holding yourself back. It’s a hard cycle to break, but taking the time to do the work is worth it.
Where I am might not be the most exciting place to live, and it is so far away from a lot of things (such as good coffee), but it is exactly where I need to be.